Trick…or the Other Thing, by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

“Nearly 11 o’clock. Insistent bell again.
“Fuck.” Atticus opened the door. Glower, takedown power pushing the same energy that shotgun projectiles deliver at impact.
“Trick…
or the other thing?”
Christ. Wasn’t even a kid. Guy. Over seven feet by any measure. Old old guy, goddamn senior by the look of him. Black as Miles Davis poured liquid smooth from the coffinBLACK that lies between the stars.”

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Nyarlathotep often appears as a very black man, darker than night, and sometimes as an avatar of the Devil, as in HPL’s “Dreams in the Witch House.” You may freely read into this HPL’s noted racism, or not, as you prefer.
In 1921 HP had a dream which he described to his friend in a letter in this way: it was “the most realistic and horrible [nightmare] I have experienced since the age of ten.” In the dream he was enjoined by another friend “Don’t fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible—horrible beyond anything you can imagine—but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterwards. I am still shuddering at what he showed.” And this became the basis for one of Lovecraft’s most enduring creations and a mythos pantheon regular, Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, the Man of a Thousand Faces, who takes center stage in our story today. He’s also appeared in a variety of ways in several HPL tales, and I’ll try to show you some artist depictions of those throughout this entry. He’s been a big part of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, into which sadly I’ve never delved, as well as many stories by other authors.

Like the last entry, this story is found in Mike Davis’ edited anthology, Autumn Cthulhu, published by Lovecraft Ezine Press in 2016. I wasn’t going to read two in a row from the same anthology, but when I saw the byline for this story, I just kept on reading because I’d heard so much about Joseph Pulver and had been wanting to read one of his stories. He works a lot with the King in Yellow cycle, which isn’t a Lovecraft creation but has been adopted into the mythos by many owing to its kissin’ cuzzin status.  I hadn’t read Pulver yet because I’m still making my way through the original The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. But here was a Pulver story in the anthology that was in my hands, so why not just keep reading, right?

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Nyarlathotep is described in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” by HPL, as looking like an Egyptian Pharaoh.

I mentioned last entry, too, that I wasn’t as big a fan of the next story and I have to say a lot of that distaste stems from Pulver’s distinctive writing style. You get a taste of it above in our lead quote. He writes with almost a free verse poetical style, inventing words, mashing words together, and in this story at least, sometimes just putting in song titles instead of describing a mood or something.  It’s…interesting.  Immediately, I did not care for it. However, I felt like it lightened up a bit as the story went on. Funny thing though, when I went back to look at it again prior to writing this, I saw that it didn’t, so perhaps I just had gotten used to it.   Needless to say, it’s not going to be for everyone.  I’d be willing to give it another try, though, now that I know what I’m getting into, but going in cold, I was turned off a bit.  Purely subjective analysis. Take it for what’s it worth – just about nothing.

the_haunter_of_the_dark_by_marcsimonetti[1].jpg“Trick…or the Other Thing” is a basic revenge story when you get to the heart of it, decorated for Halloween and tossing in Nyarlathotep for a mythos flavor.  I have to say, I really like the title. It made me chuckle and shudder in quick succession.  We’ve got a washed up, drug addled rock musician named Atticus and his cheated on and emotionally abused girlfriend Marilyn calling it quits, and Nyarlathotep makes visits to both of them, in different forms of course. To Atticus he appears as a costumed Tutankhamen trick-or-treater (not so much a costume, but what does Atticus know), while to Marilyn he shows up as a grandfatherly gentlemen accoutered in a black wool Armani sweater. Sadly, to neither of them does he show up as the hideous bat-winged thing from “The Haunter of the Dark”.  See left. Marilyn’s encounter goes exactly as she hopes, though she may not have realized it at first, may not even realized that she had such dark hopes.  But she trusts the elderly, besweatered man, and opens up to him.  Or rather, she is opened up by him. One, an outcome of being vulnerable with a caring stranger, the other a violation from beyond the stars.  In response to the dusky gent’s titular question, Marilyn replies, “Treat, please. I really could use one.” Pulver elaborates, “Fast, almost excited. Generally she’s a listener, a good one, but if she warms-up to the person she’d dive into conversation. Marilyn’s shocked how easy that slipped out. Feels like she’s been unlocked or unwittingly pried open.” Yep. That’s creepy.

Nyarlathotep, of all of Lovecraft’s mythos gods, plays the most with the world and the puny, insignificant humans who walk the earth. We don’t know why. Perhaps he enjoys a perverse pleasure in control, in bringing suffering, or just in kicking the ant pile. Sometimes, he even gets out his magnifying glass after he’s kicked the ant pile of humanity and focuses the energy of the distant, dark suns of Carcosa into an incinerating beam of malevolence. As he does here. It does not go well for humans in this story, and perhaps the most Lovecraftian thing about it, aside from the Crawling Chaos of course, is how easy it is for this visitor from beyond to mess with us, to stir us up, to interact with us, and ultimately to ruin us. We don’t matter. We are below the threshold of caring.

It’s hard for me to wholeheartedly recommend this one to all of you cultists out there, and the only reason is the style of Pulver’s writing is going to present an obstacle. Like I said, I didn’t like it at first, although I enjoyed the story. It wasn’t a mind blowing story. It wasn’t an original story. It didn’t go in new or interesting directions. However, all that said, it was a fun plot, and at the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s about? I’ll be willing to give Pulver another try and whether you want to give him a try at all is up to you. But go into it forewarned as I was not. If you’ve read Pulver before, what do you think of his style? Is it a boon or a bane to you?  Pulver himself is undergoing some serious health crises and so we do wish him well and hope he recovers fully soon.

This new site is starting to get some followers, which is great, and site traffic is doing moderately well.  So, would you do me a favor, friends?  If you like what you’re reading here, give the post a like, maybe give the blog a follow? Better yet, tell your fellow Lovecraftian friends about it and share links to reviews you’re interested in.  Of course, I still hope to get some comments going and see where some discussion might lead us. At the end of the day, even if all you do is read the post, know that I very much appreciate you and your taking the time to visit this non-Euclidean corner of the internet.

This review was composed while listening to the Spotify playlist, “Ancient Egyptian Music” compiled by user eradiel.  I wonder how they know what that kind of music is, but it worked for me.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar

Incontrovertible testimonies of the Mi-Go: “After balancing the scales of a slight disaster involving Mindless Jaws and Things in the Water, Nyarlathotep turned to face a deranging corruption gnawing on the hearts of mortal rivers. As the mortal things departed their worldly-shells, he remembered his conversation with Marilyn about Atticus.”

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Probably my favorite interpretation of Nyarlathotep. Artist: saltibalzane (Deviant Art)

 

 

The Well and the Wheel, by Orrin Grey

“If you’ve never walked into a house where someone once lived but no longer does, then you’re lucky. I recommend avoiding it for as long as you can manage. It’s a different feeling than walking into a house that happens to be empty, say because everyone is at work or out to a movie, or even a house that’s sitting empty because it’s for sale. There’s a vacancy that houses only get when their occupants have vanished in the middle of things, as if you can feel the vacuum left behind by death. That’s what I felt as I stepped through the front door of my dad’s house for the first time.”

creepy house

And so we come to our first haunted house story! Well, sort of. At least, it starts off that way. This story I came across in the anthology called Autumn Cthulhu, edited by Mike Davis and published by Lovecraft Ezine Press in 2016. I’ve read a few out of here now and I can tell you, they’re mostly excellent. autumn-cthulhu[1].jpgThe theme of the collection is Halloween stories, or at least Autumn stories, which just so happens to be my favorite time of year, so yeah, I’m excited for this book.

Emmy’s dad has just passed away, seemingly peacefully, in his front porch rocking chair at the house in the woods he retreated to following his divorce. Following a fight with her roommate, Emmy decides to move in to her dad’s old house for a while. She’s not emotionally ready to sell it yet and it seems a good hideaway from the world and her problems for a while.  As you can see, the story opens rather…normally…for one of these types of stories, but Lovecraft did that often as well. The horror of Lovecraft’s stories was partially to be found in the fact that the awful encroached upon the mundane; the unnameable thing in the house down the street, if you will.  We only get one hint that something might be off (save for the super creepy house in the woods whole thing).  When Emmy’s dad died, he was clutching a note to her that read, “Sorry Emmy.”

When I was reading this, there was one point, and I mean one sentence, on which this story just turned. I had to go back and reread it to make sure it was saying what I thought it was saying, but wow, did it sneak up on me and then just slap me across the face. Let’s put it this way: Emmy’s dad went to desperate and terrible lengths to protect his daughter. Her discovery of this shattering fact propels her through the rest of the story, but before it does, she has to take a minute.

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Come on, you thought of “The Ring,” too, didn’t you?
“I thought that I might be sick, that I might vomit up what little food I’d managed to eat in the last twenty-four hours out behind the house…” This nausea drives her outside, and that’s where she sees the well. Because of what she’s discovered, she knows that water isn’t the only thing in that well, and though she has absolutely no desire to do so, she cannot help but take a look deep down in it.  This craving of knowledge is another Lovecraftian hallmark, and well put to use here by Grey.  At great personal risk to themselves, Lovecraft’s heroes often seek to know something they know they have no business knowing. Think here of William Dyer, Randolph Carter, Charles Ward. And it usually costs them at least their sanity if not their lives. This need for gnosis motivates Emmy beyond the pale of normal behavior.

Of course, I won’t say how the story ends, gentle reader, that’s for you to discover, but this was a good one. It’s got an originality to it somehow despite its dressing and familiar set pieces.  I believe that’s tied to the fact that what you’re waiting for isn’t what ends up happening.  What does happen is a far superior ending to the cliched one you might have been anticipating. I’ve gotta say, this was another story that kinda creeped me out. Now, I was reading it late at night with the lights down low, but that turn it takes in the middle just did it for me.  la_roue_de_fortune[1].png

The writing here is very good at pulling you along, too.  You almost want to linger for a moment, as if to get your bearings in this new house of yours (hers), to look around, to breathe in the must and sawdust of years.  But Grey’s prose, like Emmy’s tremulous discovery, shoves you forward to where you do not want to go. It’s not weighed down like Lovecraft’s can be sometimes, which rather modernizes the writing. Maybe that’s not the right thing to say, perhaps it popularizes it rather than modernizes it.  I will also say this – there’s a definite mood created by story, an atmosphere of dread that’s not always present in these post-HPL Lovecraftian stories.  It’s very good, and it’s fitting, given the theme of the anthology.

Have a care around wells, my friends. Their bottom is not for you. Unless, of course, it is.

That does it for this one. Stay tuned for next time, though, because I’m not sure I have such good things to say about it, and it disappoints me because I was excited to finally read one by this next author. I’m hoping it’s not indicative of their style, because I know they’re well thought of in the field. While writing this one, I listened to the 4th disc of the “Panorama of American Piano Music” collection, which sounds some fairly haunting notes.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar

Autumnal words of trepidation: “It was a cold October day, getting on toward evening, and though it was no longer raining, fog hung thick over everything…It felt as if I had stumbled out of the house and into a different world, for more reasons than one.”