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Recently, Kirsten and I caught the new Netflix documentary Devil at the Crossroads about the life of Blues legend Robert Johnson.

In June of 2004 I had to attend a class at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi for four weeks.  Keesler is located on the Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Mississippi right down the road from Gulfport – a very popular vacation spot.

My weekends were free and I spent my time going for runs on the boardwalk, swimming in the ocean, playing some classical pieces on my guitar, catching up on reading, and writing a story churning around in my head. But one particular weekend a series of strange occurrences beset me and left me with a rather bizarre story to tell.

Friday after class I returned to my hotel room a little tired and decided to take a nap before dinner.  During this nap I had the strangest dream.  I was driving in a big convertible Cadillac down a country road when I came upon a black man running down the side of the road.  As I approached he turned and I could see terror sprawled on his face.  His wide eyes saw me and he thrust his thumb in the air indicating he needed a ride. I slowed down and noticed in his other hand he was carrying a worn guitar case.  I stopped to pick up the man and he removed his hat to wipe the sweat from his brow as he hurriedly climbed in.  He thanked me and introduced himself as Robert.  I started driving again and I noticed he kept turning to look nervously behind us as we drove and made small talk.  Obviously something was after him and he kept searching to see if it was behind us.  Finally, as we passed a sign which said Union Church, the dream ended with a large dog racing into the road ahead of us.  As I slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting the animal he screamed something about the hellhound.

I awoke from this dream with a start and was momentarily confused as to where I was.  As I regained my bearings I thought about the dream.  The dream was easily interpreted as a meeting with Robert Johnson, the infamous blues guitarist and native of Mississippi.  It struck me as a strangely vivid dream and my thoughts kept returning to the story of how Robert Johnson had supposedly met the Devil at a crossroads near Clarksdale or Rosedale in order to make a deal with Satan. Supposedly he had traded his soul for fame – it was an old myth which had been retold many times, in many different forms.  The story of Faust and Paganini were probably the most famous versions; but the Robert Johnson story had spawned similar stories about the members of Led Zeppelin and was recounted by other artists including Charlie Daniels.  There was even a movie made in the eighties called “Crossroads” about the legend in which the protagonist avoids losing his soul by playing an arrangement of a Paganini violin caprice on the guitar.

I went to get some dinner and thought more and more about the story of Robert Johnson.  The details were sketchy but the legend had prevailed.  Johnson had been an untalented blues guitarist who hung out with notable bluesmen Willie Brown, Charlie Patton, and Son House.  He left Robinsonville and returned home to Hazlehurst where he met Ike Zinnerman.  Zinnerman, an Alabama native like me, used to proclaim he had learned to play guitar by sitting on a tombstone in an old graveyard late at night.  Most people believe it was under Zinnerman’s tutelage Johnson became such a good guitarist.

But rumors began to spring up it wasn’t Zinnerman at all which caused Johnson to become so suddenly good.  When Johnson returned to Robinsonville his old idols took notice of his marked improvement and Son House began to tell of how Robert had met Satan down at an old crossroads in order to sell his soul in exchange for his blues playing abilities.

Robert himself never denied this rumor and, in fact, wrote several songs such as “Me and the Devil Blues”, “Hellhound on My Trail”, and “Cross Road Blues” that seemed to confirm the story.

Supposedly, according to another blues guitarist named Tommy Johnson, a person wishing to make such a deal with the Devil would sit at the crossroads about midnight and play their guitar until a strange black figure would arrive.  This black figure would, of course, be Satan himself.  Satan would take the person’s guitar, tune it, and give it back.  This would be the end of the deal and the person would suddenly possess supernatural skill and whatever fame and fortune they so desired.  But in all such tales there is never a satisfactory end and the poor individual who pays their soul usually is haunted by tragedy and pain.  In the case of Robert Johnson, he died of poisoning from one of two possible people in a jealous love triangle only a few years after tasting a little of the enormous fame he now possesses.

Just where this notorious and mystical crossroads is, is also a matter of some speculation.  Most accounts place it somewhere around Clarksdale and Rosedale in the northwestern corner of Mississippi.  But this doesn’t really seem to fit with Johnson’s sojourn back to his hometown of Hazlehurst.  Something in my dream kept gnawing at me.  It was the place name of Union Church – I had never heard of this place before in my life.

After eating I returned to my room and proceeded to peruse the road atlas of Mississippi.  I quickly found the cities of Clarksdale and Rosedale.  It took me a few more minutes to locate Hazlehurst off of I-55 and Highway 28.  And then I saw something which gave me a little bit of a shock – southwest of Hazlehurst was a town called Union Church!

Suddenly, the sign in my dream flashed back into my mind and I could see there was a number alongside the name of Union Church and the number was nine.  I looked at the map and calculated nine miles outside of Union Church coming from Hazlehurst would place the location of where the hellhound stopped the car in my dream inside of the Homochitto National Forest at the crossroads of Highway 28 and Highway 547.  For several moments I sat in bewilderment wondering what the dream could mean.  The similarity of the dream to the map was eerily accurate.

The dream and my following discovery on the map kept buzzing around in my head.  As I sat in my hotel room and strummed on my guitar I wondered how long it would take to get to the Homochitto National Forest.  I sat down with the map again and did a rough calculation of approximately 180 miles.  If I drove 60 miles per hour from Gulfport to Highway 28 and then 50 miles per hour on the smaller highway till I reached the forest, I concluded I should be able to make the trip in four hours pretty easily.  I looked at the clock and it was almost 6:30 p.m.  That would put me at the crossroads this very night at around 10:30 p.m.  Plenty of time to make it before midnight.

Before I had time to question the absurdity of my actions I had grabbed a few articles of clothing, some toiletries, the road atlas, and my guitar and was pulling out onto I-90 from Biloxi to Gulfport.

As I drove the two-door rental car along the coast I pondered just what it was I was hoping to achieve on this trip.  Would I really meet someone claiming to be Satan at the crossroads?  If I did have a chance to trade my soul for fame, fortune, and guitar virtuosity, would I do it?  I used to dream of being a well known guitarist but that had faded over the years. While I still enjoyed music and worked hard at improving my playing, I really had no desire to be known for my playing ability.  I still entertained dreams of being known for my compositional ability on the classical guitar but that too was secondary to my real passion – writing.  If I had to choose what posterity would remember me for it would be as an author of short horror and weird fiction.  Now, if I had the chance to trade my soul for fame, fortune, and writing virtuosity, I would definitely do it.  That’s how badly I wanted to be a well known author.

I recall the drive very well.  I grappled with the urge to smoke on the drive is why.  I used to be a very unusual smoker.  I never really was a true smoker by any stretch. I never smoked during the day for one. When I did smoke was when I had a few beers in the evening.  I would smoke when really bored or when stressed out about something, too.  I always exercised fairly regular to ward off the bad effects of smoking so I didn’t really over worry about my habit. I did want to quit completely because I knew it was unhealthy.  I had been doing pretty well on the trip so far at quitting but the drive was really boring.  Finally, I gave in to my desires and stopped to buy a pack of smokes.  After having the first wonderful cigarette I cursed my weakness and vowed to quit after I finished the pack.  I had done it many times before but this time it really stuck in my memory.  You’ll understand why in a moment; but first, let me tell the rest.

It was about 9:45 when I reached Hazlehurst.  I briefly entertained the idea of stopping and seeing one of the town’s Robert Johnson tourist attractions but decided it would take too long.  No, I was being driven by an inexplicable force and my only concern was my dream-revealed destination.

The rest of the drive was over quickly and I soon was entering the Homochitto National Forest.  The crossroads was immediately inside the forest and before I realized it I was upon the Highway 547 sign.  I stopped quickly and pulled over on the shoulder of the road staring at the sign which said Union Church was nine miles down the road.  I looked at my watch and it read 10:27 p.m.  I sat for a few minutes and smoked another cigarette. The traffic on Highway 28 was light – only an occasional car passed by.

I waited until there was no traffic coming in any direction and then I retrieved my guitar from the back seat and found a spot to sit. It was a nice night – hot but clear. A slight wind blew from the west which served to make the heat at least tolerable.  It was fairly dark but I could see well enough to find a dead log at the edge of the woods on which to sit.  I was close enough to the road to see it but hidden enough where passing cars wouldn’t notice me.

I opened my guitar case and pulled out my guitar.  I felt a little weird about the whole affair but I thought it would at least make for a good story to tell my friends.  At first I started playing some blues licks but I felt the need to play something a little more challenging.  So then I started playing Paganini’s Caprice No. 24 for the Guitar.  This was a rather difficult piece I had been working on recently and it somehow seemed appropriate at the time.

I played this piece and then played a few others then took a break to smoke another cigarette.  Then I got up and walked around for several minutes and returned to the log to sit and wait.

It was getting close to 11:30 and I was growing bored of this whole ordeal.  I decided to play the Paganini piece one more time before calling it a night.  My attention was completely focused on my guitar when a voice made me jump and scared me so bad I dropped my guitar as I rose and retreated from the voice.

“Whatchoo doin’ out here this late at night, boy?”  I recovered enough to regard an old black man standing at the edge of the road about 20 or 30 yards away.

I really didn’t know what to say in reply so I made up a lie. “I’m just passing through and was getting sleepy at the wheel so I stopped to get some fresh air and wake up a bit before continuing on.”  Was this really the Devil coming to make a deal with me?  The old man sure didn’t look like the Devil to me.

“What kinda music you playin’?” he asked walking a bit closer.

“Oh, it’s classical music,” I said by way of explanation.

“Uh huh,” he mumbled as if not really caring.

“What are you doing out here this late?” I asked.

“On my way home.  My name’s Esau,” he said.

I introduced myself as I walked over to meet him and shake his hand.  “Do you want to tune my guitar?”  I couldn’t believe the words came out of my mouth as I spoke them.  It sounded so ridiculous and I cursed myself before I had even finished the sentence.

“Tune your guitar?” he said in confusion.  “Tune your own damn guitar, boy.  I don’t know how to play no guitar.”

“I’m sorry,” I said uncomfortably.  I produced a cigarette and lit it.

“Mind if I get a smoke from ya?” he asked.

“Not at all,” I said offering the pack and my lighter to him. He took a cigarette and lit it, took a long drag, and made a face as if he were relishing the taste.

After a moment he looked at me and said, “Well, I guess I best me moseyin’ along.”

“Yeah, me too,” I said.  I remember thinking if he were the Devil then he sure didn’t make me feel scared; and he sure didn’t seem to care about making any kind of deal for my soul.

“Well, it was nice meetin’ ya,” he said as he headed back to the road.

“Nice meeting you too,” I returned.  I picked up my guitar and began putting it back in its case. He made one last comment before getting too far out of earshot which completely changed the harmless little encounter into something I swear made me think he was actually the Devil.

“Thanks for the smoke, boy.  I’ll settle up with you when I see you again.”  This last comment struck me as so strange I couldn’t formulate a response.  Before I realized it, he had disappeared into the darkness.

You might well think this chance encounter was just a coincidence and his comment at the end meant nothing at all.  I would’ve dismissed it too if the story had ended there.  But it didn’t.

I had planned on spending the night in my car and heading back to Biloxi the next morning but I was too rattled to sleep – especially at the crossroads.  So I drove back that night.  I had pretty much convinced myself my imagination was running wild trying to attach some weird meaning to an otherwise harmless encounter by the time I reached Hattiesburg.

I smoked as I drove and promised myself that after this pack was finished, I would quit again.  The pack was getting low and just after I went through Gulfport I pulled the last cigarette out of the pack and nearly had a wreck at what I beheld.  The cigarette was a solid black cigarette with one white marking on the side – a skull and crossbones.

I had to pull over to the side of the road to catch my breath.  My heart was thundering inside my chest.  My mind reeled at the meaning of the cigarette and just how it could’ve gotten in the pack.  Did the old black man use some slight of hands or was he really the Devil?

It took me several minutes to regain my composure. I drove back to my hotel room and sat on my bed looking at the cigarette wondering what to make of it.

Finally, I decided it was the Devil I had met and he knew it wasn’t virtuosity on the guitar I wanted.  No, he knew it was virtuosity in writing I desired.  That was my passion; my weakness.  I also knew the deal would be made if I smoked the black cigarette.

I can’t say how long I sat there struggling over whether or not to smoke the black cigarette.  I won’t tell you what I finally did but one day you’ll know…one day, you’ll know.

 

I am super excited about one of my stories from The Other Side of Despair being featured on the latest podcast episode of Random Transmissions. This podcast is super cool and you should go and check out all the episodes!

Random Transmissions

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My story “Shockley House” was published in this year’s Halloween anthology The Yellow Booke.

Hi! If you’ve read any of my blog and my weird writings, please take the time to post a comment about your thoughts and impressions. I’d love to hear what you think!

Also, here is an interview that I just did that delves a little deeper into my artistic vision.

Interview with David Garrett

For those writers and bloggers who have steadfastly followed the last two stories I’ve posted, I would like to say thank you for reading them. After I published my collection of short stories in 2010 I decided to take some time away from writing and figure out a new direction. Finally, I decided to write a novella that was a Lovecraftian, Cthulhu Mythos story – The Scourge of Wetumpka. That took some time to write but turned out quite well. Coming off of that I began writing Psychological Horror short stories. When I use the term Psychological, I am using it in the true sense of the term as having to do with Psychology. I have a Master’s in Psychology and I really enjoy Psychological thrillers with horror or dark fantasy overtones. The first couple of stories were “Alone” and “Shockley House”. I was very pleased with “Shockley House” but wound up re-writing “Alone” in order to make it deliver the right effect. After those two stories, I began to get interested in the use of Symbolism and the techniques used in Impressionism. The last two stories, “The Land of Nod” and “The Murklor”, explore using those techniques in writing weird tales. What makes them really work on a blog is that each day (or every couple of days) a new glimpse or vignette is added to the overall impression of the piece. In “The Land of Nod” I tried to do that by adding more bits of symbolism to the canvass of the story. In “The Murklor”, I tried to do that by adding new vantage points – usually in the form of different writing techniques. Overall, I’m really liking this new direction of Impressionistic Weird Fiction. It’s fun and offers so much freedom.

BTW, I can’t take credit for inventing it. Here’s a really good interview about what I’m trying to achieve in my writing:

The Insomniac Propagandist

One final note – the ciphers in the story “The Murklor” are very much real. They aren’t just thrown together to make the story weirder than it already is. Each one was methodically designed and does have a real solution.

My latest music composition went live today. It’s a new symphonic addition to the Cthulhu Mythos Music called:

The Madness of Cthulhu

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The following stories are the best short horror stories of all time – in my opinion, at least. After many of the stories there’s a number that corresponds to an anthology or collection that can be found at the bottom of the post. If there is no number, I found the story in the public domain:

 

The Death Wagon Rolls On By           Andersson, C. Dean           28

The Night Wire           Arnold, H. F.

The Dead and The Countess           Atherton, Gertrude

The Room in the Tower           Benson, E. F.

A Tough Tussle           Bierce, Ambrose

An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge           Bierce, Ambrose

The Boarded Window           Bierce, Ambrose

The Damned Thing           Bierce, Ambrose

The Middle Toe of the Right Foor           Bierce, Ambrose

The Moonlit Road           Bierce, Ambrose

The Secret of Macarger’s Gulch           Bierce, Ambrose

The Suitable Surroundings           Bierce, Ambrose           20

Medusa’s Coil           Bishop, Zealia           34

The Curse of Yig           Bishop, Zealia           34

The Mound           Bishop, Zealia           34

First Hate           Blackwood, Algernon

Running Wolf           Blackwood, Algernon

The Wendigo           Blackwood, Algernon

The Willows           Blackwood, Algernon

The Ensouled Violin           Blavatsky, Helena

Fane of the Black Pharaoh           Bloch, Robert           23

Notebook Found in a Deserted House           Bloch, Robert           9

The Rubber Room           Bloch, Robert           5

The Shadow from the Steeple           Bloch, Robert           9

Curfew           Boston, L. M.           11

All Summer in a Day           Bradbury, Ray           12

Next in Line           Bradbury, Ray           13

Skeleton           Bradbury, Ray           13

The Jar           Bradbury, Ray           13

The Wind           Bradbury, Ray           13

Canavan’s Back Yard           Brennan, Joseph Payne           5

Bells of Oceana           Burks, Arthur J.           25

The Grave           Cacek, P. D.           30

The Chimney           Campbell, Ramsey           32

The Guide           Campbell, Ramsey           11

Among the Wolves           Case, David           32

The Limping Ghost           Chetwynd-Hayes, R.           11

Fishhead           Cobb, Irvin S.           7

Man Overboard!           Crawford, F. Marion

The Dead Smile           Crawford, F. Marion

The Screaming Skull           Crawford, F. Marion

The Horla           De Maupassant, Guy

The Terror           De Maupassant, Guy

Was It a Dream?           De Maupassant, Guy

Ithaqua           Derleth, August           23

The Peabody Heritage           Derleth, August           41

The Thing That Walked on the Wind           Derleth, August           23

The Oram County Whoosit           Duffy, Steve           39

Charon           Dunsany, Lord

The Entrance           Durrell, Gerald           6

A Rose for Emily           Faulkner, William

The Shadows on the Wall           Freeman, Mary Wilkins

The Mummy’s Foot           Gautier, Theophile

The Yellow Wallpaper           Gilman, Charlotte Perkins

Innsmouth Bane           Glasby, John           16

The Old One           Glasby, John           37

August Heat           Harvey, William F.

The Horror in the Burying-Ground           Heald, Hazel           34

The Horror in the Museum           Heald, Hazel           34

Out of the Aeons           Heald, Hazel           34

Winged Death           Heald, Hazel           34

How Love Came to Professor Guildea           Hichens, Robert

Keys and Locks and Open Doors           Hicks, Jane Wallis

A Voice in the Night           Hodgson, William Hope

Out of the Storm           Hodgson, William Hope

Dig Me No Grave           Howard, Robert E.           19

Recompense           Howard, Robert E.

The Callenge From Beyond           Howard, Robert E.; Lovecraft, H. P.; Long, Frank Belknap; Moore, C. L.; & Merritt, A.           19

The Hoofed Thing           Howard, Robert E.           19

The Thing on the Roof           Howard, Robert E.           19

Worms of the Earth           Howard, Robert E.           19

The Floor Above           Humphreys, M. L.           25

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow           Irving, Washington

Wolfert Webber, or Golden Dreams           Irving, Washington

The Sticks           Jacob, Charlee           28

The Aquarium           Jacobi, Carl           23

The Monkey’s Paw           Jacobs, W. W.

Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad           James, M. R.

The Ash Tree           James, M. R.

The Church at Garlock’s Bend           Kaufman, David           29

The Thing in the Cellar           Keller, David Henry

The Church Grim           Kincaid, Jack           24

Children of the Corn           King, Stephen           10

Graveyard Shift           King, Stephen           10

Gray Matter           King, Stephen           10

Jerusalem’s Lot           King, Stephen           10

One for the Road           King, Stephen           10

Sometimes They Come Back           King, Stephen           10

Suffer the Little Children           King, Stephen           20

The Man who Loved Flowers           King, Stephen           10

Bells of Horror           Kuttner, Henry           23

The Crawling Sky           Landsdale, Joe R.           39

Mad Dog Summer           Landsdale, Joe R.           30

Green Tea           Le Fanu, J. Sheridan

In Amundsen’s Tent           Leahy, John Martin           25

Where Does the Town Go at Night?           Lee, Tanith           16

A Madman           Level, Maurice

The Shadow, The Darkness           Ligotti, Thomas           30

At the Mountains of Madness           Lovecraft, H. P.           15

Cool Air           Lovecraft, H. P.           15

Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family           Lovecraft, H. P.

Herbert West – Reanimator           Lovecraft, H. P.

Imprisoned with the Pharaohs           Lovecraft, H. P.           15

Pickman’s Model           Lovecraft, H. P.           14

The Beast in the Cave           Lovecraft, H. P.

The Call of Cthulhu           Lovecraft, H. P.           14

The Colour Out of Space           Lovecraft, H. P.           14

The Haunter of the Dark           Lovecraft, H. P.           14

The Lurking Fear           Lovecraft, H. P.

The Rats in the Walls           Lovecraft, H. P.           14

The Shadow Out of Time           Lovecraft, H. P.           14

The Shadow over Innsmouth           Lovecraft, H. P.           14

Aunt Hester           Lumley, Brian           31

Cement Surroundings           Lumley, Brian           40

Fruiting Bodies           Lumley, Brian           32

Recognition           Lumley, Brian           40

The Fairground Horror           Lumley, Brian           39

The Diary of Alonzo Typer           Lumley, William           34

The Night Sea-Maid Went Down           Lumley, Brian           40

Discovery of the Ghooric Zone           Lupoff, Richard A.           9

Novel of the Black Seal           Machen, Arthur           25

Novel of the White Powder           Machen, Arthur           25

Remembering Melody           Martin, George R. R.           4

Crickets           Matheson, Richard           26

He Wanted to Live           Matheson, Richard           16

The Doom that Came to Innsmouth           McNaughton, Brian           39

The Yellow Dressing Gown           Monette, Sarah           33

The Ghost of the Capuchins           Montfort, Eugene           8

Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity           Morrell, David           3

What Nature Abhors           Morris, Mark           38

The End of Wisdom           Myers, Gary           22

Major Prevue Here Tonite           Nolan, William F.           17

The Beckoning Fair One           Onions, Oliver

Berenice           Poe, Edgar Allan

The Black Cat           Poe, Edgar Allan

The Cask of Amontillado           Poe, Edgar Allan

The Fall of the House of Usher           Poe, Edgar Allan

The Man in the Crowd           Poe, Edgar Allan

The Narative of Arthur Gordon Pym           Poe, Edgar Allan

The Oval Portrait           Poe, Edgar Allan

The Tell-Tale Heart           Poe, Edgar Allan

The Disinterment           Rimel, Duane W.           34

The Spheres Beyond Sound (Threnody)           Rainey, Stephen Mark           29

The Last Reel           Rucker, Lynda E.           38

The Tale of Toad Loop           Sargent, Stanley           37

Ghasta, or The Avenging Demon!!!           Shelley, Percy Bysshe

The Double Shadow           Smith, Clark Ashton

Listen           Smith, James Robert           35

The Body Snatcher           Stevenson, Robert Louis

The Squaw           Stoker, Bram           2

Beyond the Door           Suter, Paul           25

Resettling           Tem, Steven Rasnic & Tem, Melanie           17

Spawn of the Green Abyss           Thompson, C. Hall           23

The Howler in the Dark           Tierney, Richard L.           27

Drums           Trotter, William R.           35

The Fare           Vail, Chris           22

Blind Man’s Bluff           Wakefield, H. R.           8

Along About Sundown           Wellman, Manly Wade           21

Goodman’s Place           Wellman, Manly Wade           21

Rock, Rock           Wellman, Manly Wade           21

The Pineys           Wellman, Manly Wade           21

The Country of the Blind           Wells, H. G.

The Tomb of the Old Ones           Wilson, Colin           36

The Barrens           Wilson, F. Paul           18

Moonlight Sonata           Woollcott, Alexander           1

1.  Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural

2.  The Colour Out of Space – Tales of Cosmic Horror

3.  Prime Evil

4.  Fears

5.  Gallery of Horror

6.  Visions of Fear

7.  The World’s Greatest Horror Stories

8.  Ghosts

9.  Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

10.  Night Shift

11.  The World’s Greatest Ghost Stories

12.  A Medicine for Melancholy

13.  The October Country

14.  Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre

15.  The Road to Madness

16.  H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror – Vol 2

17.  Post Mortem – New Tales of Ghostly Horror

18.  Cthulhu 2000

19. Nameless Cults – The Cthulhu Mythos of Robert E. Howard

20.  Nightmares and Dreamscapes

21.  The Devil is Not Mocked and Other Warnings: The Selected Works of Manly Wade Wellman Vol. 2

22.  Strange Tales Issue No. 8

23. Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos

24. Insidious Reflections No. 6

25. H.P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Weird Tales

26.  Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

27.  The Howler in the Dark

28.  Cemetery Dance #57

29. The New Lovecraft Circle

30. 999

31. The Whisperer and Other Voices

32. The Mammoth Book of New Terror

33. Weird Tales March/April 2008

34. The Horror in the Museum

35. Song of Cthulhu

36. The Antarktos Cycle

37. The Tsathoggua Cycle

38. The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror #18

39. The Book of Cthulhu

40. Haggopian and Other Stories

41. The Watchers Out of Time

Having put much thought (and research) into a new story arc that will be the backdrop to a new series of stories, I’ve just about finished the first story that will likely weigh in at some 6,000 – 7,000 words. I’ve dubbed this cycle of stories the Wetumpka Cycle for the name of the town and its history in Alabama. These stories are to be integrated into the Cthulhu Mythos and will draw on much of the creatures, deities, and arcane literature that many authors before me have contributed to the Mythos.

Of course I will be adding my own elements to everything. A few of the books I’ve decided to draw on are real books:  Tyson’s Necronomicon, the Nocturnicon, and The Book of Nod. There are various other real books that aren’t contemporary works that I’ve researched and will use. Mostly they are books on witchcraft, demonology, Hermeticism, and alchemy.

The plot of the larger arc that unfolds is based on some very real events in Alabama’s history. In Wetumpka, Alabama is the site of the state’s only confirmed impact crater. Matter of fact, I currently live inside of the caldera. The asteroid that caused it impacted the Earth many millions of years ago and was estimated to be as large as a football stadium. The result is that the current crater is about 5 miles in diameter. In the Mythos, this asteroid contained an alien metal that possessed sinister powers and was a conduit through which an alien, outside force could project its influence causing the psyches of the humans that would come to settle the area and come into contact with the metallic ore of the asteroid to change. The result usually being a gravitation towards madness, violence, evil, abuse, and various other dark behaviors.

The metal lay dormant for millions of years waiting to act on a sentience. The Native Americans were the first people to settle the area and they were the ones to discover the metal. Sensing the uniqueness of the metal, they revered it and incorporated it into their rituals. When Hernando de Soto came with his conquistadores through Alabama in the 1500’s they took the metal and fashioned it into a set of shields; but before they could leave the area the Indians rose up at the Battle of Mabilla and took back the shields. After that they were re-incorporated back into the rituals of the natives – thus becoming the object of the Brass Plate Dance in the Creek’s Green Corn Festival.

History lost them after white settlers arrived and the Creek War ended. Many legends as to their fate have circulated but the plates’ whereabouts remain a mystery. That is until it’s explained in the Wetumpka Cycle.

Trying to define just what the genre of Horror Fiction encompasses is a rather difficult task.  The problem is that horror is based on the emotion of fear, and fear is a basic part of the human experience.  It would be akin to trying to lump all tales, stories, myths, and novels that have any element of anger in them under a genre called Mad Fiction.  The emotion of fear and elements of horror are an integral part of a good tale.  Even before the invention of the written word, tales involved elements of fear and horror.  One could very well imagine early man sitting around a campfire listening to a storyteller recount some myth or legend with everyone cringing at a part where the hero faced some horrifying event.  But over the years tales that were specifically designed to delve into the fears of humans have evolved into a complete genre of fiction.  Trying to classify all tales of horror into their well-organized sub-genres is a really difficult task and is most likely impossible.  However, I would like to try and throw out many of the sub-genres that are in existence and give an archetypical description of that sub-genre.

Dark Fiction is many times seen as a term that is synonymous with Horror.  Unfortunately, the term just hasn’t caught on as well as Horror and will probably never usurp the throne.  It sounds like a more dignified term but people are used to the word Horror.

Dark Fantasy sounds similar to Dark Fiction but it is usually used to describe Fantasy stories that are set in an ominous or dark atmosphere – sort of a merging of Fantasy with Horror.  When I think of Dark Fantasy I usually think of the Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock.  Elric’s world is a world of sword and sorcery but the tone of the tales are dark and horrific in nature.

Supernatural Horror is used to describe horror stories that host creatures that are classically considered to be supernatural creatures.  The typical list would include ghosts, spirits, demons, vampires, werewolves, and zombies.  There have also been many sub-genres sprung out of these specific creatures – most notably are Vampire Horror, Ghost Stories, and Zombie Horror.  Supernatural Horror doesn’t necessarily have to use creatures of myth and legend.  There are also Supernatural Horror stories where there is an unknown or unnamed presence or force that produces the supernatural element needed for the classification.  The Willows by Algernon Blackwood is a good example of a Supernatural Horror story that uses an unknown supernatural force to produce a quite effective sense of fear.  Stories about haunted places also fall under the canopy of supernatural.

Weird Tales and Weird Fiction are two terms popularized by the pulp magazine Weird Tales.  Although the magazine tried to publish stories that crossed many genres or couldn’t be categorized due to the fact that the tales were just too weird to fit a category, the terms have been hijacked by horror writers influenced by H.P. Lovecraft or who were influences to Lovecraft.  Other sub-genres that have evolved that are akin to Weird Tales are Lovecraftian Horror, Lovecraft Mythos, and Cthulhu Mythos.  These sub-genres are largely Lovecraft pastiches and/or writers who influenced or expounded on Lovecraft’s style or subject matter.  Incidentally, I haven’t seen the word pastiche used so much as in connection with H.P. Lovecraft.  I think it is a right of passage to write a Lovecraftian Horror pastiche at some point in a horror writer’s life.

Gothic Horror is another of the larger sub-genres of Horror Fiction.  Gothic Horror describes the formative styles of horror elements in eighteenth-century English literature.  Typically, the stories have oppressive, dark atmospheres and are set in large, brooding castles or locales.  It was this type of literature that influenced the early horror writers of the short story format in both England and the United States.  When I think of the quintessential Gothic Horror story I think of The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Alan Poe.

Dark Suspense and Thriller are two categories used to denote a sub-genre that is a mixture of Horror and Mystery in the former and Horror and Adventure in the later.  Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence stories are good examples of Dark Suspense and Robert E. Howard wrote many horror stories that have his typical flare for adventure in them.

Psychological Horror is used to denote horror that is designed to affect the reader by building tension and fear within the psyche.  Usually, this type of horror is more subtle in its presentation and doesn’t use external forces to explain the horror.  It is common for Psychological Horror to present an altered or warped sense of reality.  When I think of Psychological Horror the first short story that comes to mind is The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.

Contemporary Horror is the name given to the modern style of short horror writing that emerged around the 1960’s and 70’s.  This style of writing abandoned the Gothic Horror style and dispensed with verbosity of writing, ancient settings, and a reliance on subtler storytelling to achieve the intended effect on the reader.  Contemporary Horror typically uses modern settings and tends to be more graphic in nature.  Sub-genres that have emerged from Contemporary Horror are Erotic Horror, Noir, and Splatterpunk, which push the limits of what is acceptable in the mainstream by using blatantly graphic sex and violence and is usually set in an urban environment.

References:

http://horror.fictionfactor.com/articles/subgenre.html

http://web.utk.edu/~wrobinso/590_lec_horror.html