“Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” (2018) by Fiona Maeve Geist

The comments frequently contain the cryptic couplet:

The wallowing darkness of rutting pigs
Suckling at the teat of a stillborn goddess

—Fiona Maeve Geist, “Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” in Ashes and Entropy 133

The weft of the story is built on the bones of Cyclonopedia: Complicity With Anonymous Materials and Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal UndergroundThere are threads of Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson in the warp, though nothing so garish as a direct callout to “The Rats in the Walls” or “The Hog.” Mostly, it is dense ideas fired at machine-gun speed but with great precision, perforating the paper targets of a pretty fundamental premise:

  • What if Black Metal got into something properly Lovecraftian?

Which is not to say that metal hasn’t already gotten pretty Lovecraftian at times, with everyone from Arkham Witch to Innzmouth, Morbid Angel to Nox Arcana getting in on the act. Bands have named themselves after Shub-Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth, and the Lovecraftian influence spreads across genres, from the 70s psychedelic band H. P. Lovecraft to the punkish Rudimentary Peni to the rocking Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. All that really binds them together is Lovecraft.

Black metal, though, has a certain appeal. While getting a little long in the tooth, it has always been a subculture that sought certain extremes, reveled in rebellion, wrestled with the consequences. Which is probably why Geist wisely doesn’t look to name-drop actual Lovecraftian metal bands, instead building a new mythology and symbolism for her protagonist to pursue. One that marks itself with ouroboros of twined maggots and the face of a corpulent sow.

Geist’s protagonist Kelsey is a journalist in the way Arturo Perez Reverte’s Lucas Corso from The Club Dumas is a book detective. Someone puts them on assignment, gives them money and tells them to sniff it out like a good truffle-hunter. It’s a classic plotline which has worked for everyone from William Gibson on down, and Geist makes good use of it. In the words of one famous journalist:

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
—Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt 530

So much for the “Black Metal” of the title; the “Red Stars” gets into the Marxist connections of the Brotherhood of the Black, Corpulent Sow, the weird connections that metal music has had with politics over in Europe. This is closer to Cyclonopedia or Charles Stross’ Laundry Files than most anything else in the Lovecraftian milieu; old conspiracy theories, shades of cyberpunk, the occult underground of the Cold War gently unraveling in the present day.

This isn’t a mystery that you need a key to, although at least a passing familiarity to the bones of what the characters are referring to and experiencing certainly help. As prose goes it’s fairly dense, but there’s a texture to it. New flesh on old bones; the ending isn’t particularly surprising, but neither is it unsatisfying. Mythos readers often like works like this, spiritual heirs of John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns and “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” where the search for something leads to a personal transformation or transfiguration.

“Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” was published in Ashes and Entropy (2018), it has not yet been reprinted. With Sadie Shurberg she wrote the essay “Correlating the Contents of Lovecraft’s Closet” in Lovecraftian Proceedings No. 3 (2019).


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

“Are You There, Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” (2018) by Beth W. Patterson

When the other two would leave the cabin together, I’d try doing my pectoral exercises in private, in hopes of expediting my development into womanhood. bending my arms, I’d swing my elbows in and out, chanting under my breath, “Get back, get back, I must increase my rack!” But of course I’d inevitably start to feel silly and switch to pushups, whispering, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah ‘nagl fhtagn.”
⁠—Beth W. Patterson, “Are You There Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” in Release the Virgins 50-51

Judy Blume’s 1970 classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a story about a 6th-grade girl who, without much formal guidance or religious affiliation, finds a personal relationship with God while going through the normal pitfalls and travails of school and puberty. Beth W. Patterson’s twist on the subject shifts the setting to an equestrian summer camp in the contemporary period, and her title character Judy has more interest in the Virgins and Lovecraft than Judaism vs. Christianity. The mafia, cursed Indian burial mound, and zombie horse scare are just icing.

The story was made-to-order for the anthology Release the Virgins, which has as its raison d’être one brief anecdote (told in the foreword) and one simple commandment (followed by a caveat):

Every story must contain the phrase ‘Release the Virgins’ somewhere […] After a week, I amended the process with the admonition “No more unicorns!”
—Michael A. Ventrella, “Introduction” in Release the Virgins 9

The story is not Mythos in any real sense, and claims of Lovecraftian might be dubious: there is nothing of super-nature in the story, at least nothing that isn’t explained away before the end. But there is something interesting just in the idea of a young girl with a personal relationship to Cthulhu, which reminds me a great deal of Scott R. Jones’ When The Stars Are Right: Toward An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality (2014) or even Phil Hine’s The Pseudonomicon, because as dogmatic as folks might be about the artificial nature of the Cthulhu Mythos and skeptical about the nature of spirituality, some folks just have a Cthulhu-shaped hole in their hearts and need something eldritch to fill it.

Which is really the most endearing part of the story. Judy doesn’t really seek intercession or favor, isn’t a young sociopath or fanatic looking to sacrifice her friends to awaken the dreamer of R’lyeh, but wants…someone she can honestly address her innermost thoughts and desires to.

Are you there, Cthulhu? It’s me, judy. I know you must be awfully busy in the mighty city of R’lyeh, and might not hear my thoughts with you being dead and all. But my friends don’t understand me, and I really think that I could ride Slipper if the counselors would only give me a chance. People say that you will be ready for resurrection when the stars are ready. Don’t you think the stars are ready for me too, Cthulhu?
⁠—Beth W. Patterson, “Are You There Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” in Release the Virgins 51

If there’s ever proof that Lovecraft can be applicable to more than just horror and weird fiction, I think it’s summed up in that final line. For those who are less interested in personal spirituality and want a story with horses, virgins, and Shub-Niggurath, I would recommend Charles Stross’ excellent novella Equoid (2014), which covers all of that very nicely…but would probably have not made the cut for the Release the Virgins anthology. Too many unicorns.

“Are You There Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” was published in Release the Virgins (2018); it has not yet been reprinted.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“A Creak in the Floor” (2018) by Victoria Dalpe

Don’t you know there was a mill on Copp’s Hill in 1632, and that half the present streets were laid out by 1650? I can shew you houses that have stood two centuries and a half and more; houses that have witnessed what would make a modern house crumble into powder.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model”

A story doesn’t have to reference Richard Upton Pickman by name to invoke “Pickman’s Model.” When you boil Lovecraft’s story down to its essence, the soul of it’s core message is simple and perfect: there are monsters in the earth, and they eat the dead. So that is what Victoria Dalpe takes a her premise. No Necronomicon, no blasphemous artwork—just a bunch of art school kids renting a space in an old mill in Boston that’s been converted into illegal housing.

The art school kids tell each other stories, urban legend-building in real time, Dalpe working from her Lovecraftian substrate and layering on all the hints and suggestions. The girl who died in the elevator. The guy that got mugged. Where’s Pete? If this was drawn out to novella length or adapted to film, we might get the full Lovecraftian investigation, the secret history unveiled one onion skin at a time. The inexplicable rendered down, explained, pre-digested for the audience.

“A Creak In The Floor” is a short story. It doesn’t have time for that. Everyone knows what it’s about, or they should. Dalpe ends the story by going for the jugular. And she didn’t need a single reference to Pickman to do it, barely uses the g-word. Compared to a lot of Lovecraftian pastiche, it’s refreshing to see someone that can invoke the Mythos without calling the old names. It is reminiscent of “Pugelbone” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin in that way, though Dalpe’s tale hews a little closer to the Lovecraft canon.

If the things-beneath-the-mill are the crux of the story, Where is Pete? is the key to the plot. It is what drives the protagonist Charlie Chan deeper into the darkness. Pete is the reason Charlie is there. Pete is the boy Charlie is in love with. The human connection draws Charlie inexorably in after his friend, his hinted-at one-time lover. The missing Pete’s interpersonal connections with his flatmates is woven in and around the urban legends that Dalpe builds, much as Pickman himself has been built up from Lovecraft’s ghoulish artist, drawing bits of legend to his own personal Mythos as writers weave their stories around him—like “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” (2008) by Caitlín R. Kiernan, or “Pickman’s Modem” (1992) by Lawrence Evans-Watt.

Victoria Dalpe turns the page before we see what crimson end is in store for Charlie, and that is appropriate. While his story could have gone on, the story that Dalpe was telling really ends with the final revelation. In a twist of irony that only Lovecraft readers will get, it once again involves a photograph from life…

“A Creek In The Floor” was published in Pickman’s Gallery (2018). Victoria Dalpe’s other Lovecraftian contribution includes “Mater Annelinda” in Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath (2014).


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)

“Moonshine” (2018) by G. D. Penman

Hogan’s smile slipped again. “You’re asking me to roll over and take it? How is that going to look?”
“Better than an FBI raid on Innsmouth or the mob squad kicking in your door, I’d bet.”
—G. D. Penman, “Moonshine”

Detective Vergil Levard of the catches a cold one, and the hunt for the murderer takes him from Jimmy Hogan’s speakeasy in Arkham to the small seaport of Innsmouth and back. An investigation only hampered by two things—the victim’s tattoo, which ties into Levard’s unquiet past, and the strange attraction between Vergil and Jimmy…and the 1920s is a dangerous time for bootlegging up the Miskatonic River or lifting shirts.

While Lovecraft set most of his stories in the contemporary period, the tales themselves don’t often evoke the tone of the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age. That’s not to say the Great Depression and Prohibition entirely pass the Cthulhu Mythos by; Lovecraft himself has his protagonist quietly procure a bottle of bootleg whiskey to ply Zadok Allen with in “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” but for the most part such human institutions take a back seat to the stranger horrors. Nor did Lovecraft or his immediate collaborators attempt to fuse the hardboiled detective style, made infamous by film noir, with the early Mythos—all that would come later, as succeeding generations of authors visited and revisited the old ground. Lovecraft himself wrote:

There is certainly room for another Antarctic tale—in fact for many more, if told by different authors & with wholly different elements & stresses. No field, as such, can be said to be really exhausted; for a scene or theme is merely an auxiliary of the artist in his unique expression of himself. There can be as many different & non-conflicting stories about the same thing, as there are different artists.

—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 25 Dec 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 285

Penman certainly takes different stresses. The setting is well-researched, peppered with period slang appropriate for a hard-nosed cop and a bootlegger to bandy about, and the homoerotic attraction between Vergil and Jimmy is quick, but not forced, immediate, or without social and personal hurdles. The development given to their relationship is part and parcel of the plot, as are some of the reasons why Vergil is hesitant to enter into it—homosexuality could still get you fired, in the 1920s, and might get you killed. This isn’t a stress normally made in Lovecraftian works, although Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows made a point of it in their comic series Providence (2015-2017).

In a longer work, this might have been explored further—and “Moonshine” definitely has the bones of what could have been a hardboiled or atmospheric psychological horror novel, but the balance is struck toward a story that is shorter, punchier, and faster paced, a touch more Dashiell Hammett than Lovecraft. Readers familiar with the Mythos will have already seen a couple plot twists coming—once Vergil and Jimmy hit Innsmouth, it’s only a matter of time before a few old faithful horrors come into play—but Penman has a few tricks up his sleeves, and a couple permutations that are both original and fitting. No Elder Signs or incantations come in to save the day, no convenient Necronomicons are pulled out of muscular keisters. Like a good detective, Vergil pieces the story together…and with a bit of a bluff, the duo survive.

There is one interesting exchange which deserves a bit of a deeper look:

“That’s why I was scared when you first laid one on me. I thought this thing…This thing we are. It was something they’d done to me. Something they’d put in me.”

Vergil Levard’s confession of a past growing up within a cult of his own is a little less shocking to contemporary sensibilities—the dark side of new religious movements in the United States over the past hundred years makes mumbled ideas of “Blood rituals. Really evil stuff […]” as quaint as Lovecraft’s always-off-the-page orgies and rites concerning his own cults—but there is a fundamental recognition of the homosexual experience here which is not often included. The culturally-impressed self-loathing and self-denial, the idea that there is something wrong or alien with them—and maybe that there is someone or something else to blame for that, some malign influence or experience that caused them to be like this. That doesn’t turn out to be the case in “Moonshine,” but it’s a part of the LGBTQ experience which gets little play in Mythos stories, and the very act of opening up about it is obviously a tremendous relief to the Detective, even if he comes to the conclusion that maybe Yog-Sothoth isn’t the reason he’s gay.

It is a rare instance of a positive personal revelation in a Mythos story, and there are thematic parallels with the personal revelations and acceptance of the nameless protagonist in “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” While Vergil Levard maybe hasn’t processed all he experienced as the child of a cult, he has at least come to some greater knowledge and acceptance of himself. The parallels were addressed by Robert M. Price in a footnote in his essay “Homosexual Panic in ‘The Outsider'” (1982):

Faced with so repugnant a prospect as recognizing as his own a sexuality he has always regarded as perverse, the homosexual may for a time try to avoid admitting to himself what he knows only too well to be true. In the classic “reaction formation” pattern, he will redouble his detestation for acknowledged gays, for he “regards as an enemy anyone who appears to be a mirror image of himself, because his enemy is himself” (Weinberg, p. 81) (emphasis added). The parallel to Lovecraft’s story is stunning: the Outsider at first fears the monster as a dangerous Other. Yet he soon discovers that the hideous enemy is himself, literally his own mirror reflection. *

* “The Shadow over Innsmouth” may be interpreted in a similar light.

In “Moonshine,” Penman toys with this formulation—Jimmy Hogan is both a criminal and out-and-proud, while Vergil Levard is both police and in the closet—but in this case, opposites do attract. Of course, in this case it helps that they have something of a common cause and, soon after meeting, a common enemy: the conflict helps drive what might otherwise have been a couple chapters of self-loathing, introspection, bad feelings and missed connections—not bad stuff for a novel, but would have ruined the pace of a fast-set story like this.

G. D. Penman has written and published a number of short stories, but “Moonshine” published through the queer small press JMS Books, is his first Mythos story.


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)