“The Goat is our real mother! She is everyone’s real mother!”
—Nadia Bulkin, “Red Goat, Black Goat”
From the 1930s on, fans and writers have tried to give shape and order to the Mythos. It is a participatory ritual: the reader’s understanding is always unique, built and shaped by what they have read, what connections their intellect has made, how their imagination fills in the blanks. There is no one canon. There are only possibilities.
In “Red Goat, Black Goat” Nadia Bulkin cracks opens up a new possibility.
It is a story of Shub-Niggurath only by inference. Bulkin eschews the tropes of Mythos pastiche. The Black Goat of the title is a hint, at best; a suggestion of the epithet “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.” Yet the entity in this story is never named as such; there are no tomes, no familiar place names. “Red Goat, Black Goat” does not partake of the “lore” of the Mythos in the tongue-in-cheek manner of “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer or “Shub-Niggurath’s Witnesses” (2015) by Valerie Valdes.
Bulkin carves her own bit of lore, with the bloody skill of an Indonesian horror film. The setting is not played up as some exotic bit of the “mysterious Orient” as it might have been in Lovecraft’s day. She grounds and develops the setting as Lovecraft did Dunwich, the characters an organic part of the whole so that none of the non-English terminology that peppers their thoughts and speech seems false or unnecessary.
At the same time, “Red Goat, Black Goat” partakes of the essence of the Mythos. The Goat is something outside the system of superstition that the characters know; it exists beyond their framework of understanding. Aspects of it echo themes developed by other writers; the terrible all-mother Cybele of “The Rats in the Walls,” or “Koenigsberg’s Model” (2011) by Peter Tupper, but it is far less defined than even those incarnations.
Nor is the story leavened by any real attempt at humor, wry or otherwise; there is gore, but not the microscopic dwelling in viscera that is splatterpunk. Bulkin moves quick, lest the tale be bogged down in dirty details. Her horrors are passing, visceral images that build shortly toward mini-climaxes, her pacing cinematic as the narrative moves swiftly toward a point of finality—not the ending of a story, but the closing of one chapter.
It’s a good story that leaves you wanting more; Bulkin could have written “Red Goat, Black Goat” out as a Javanese Gothic novel and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place. There are no answers, really, and that’s okay. Readers will fit this into their own personal understanding of the Mythos just fine; one more incarnation of Shub-Niggurath, one more thread in the endless tapestry. It’s a story that should be part of more reader’s personal Mythos.
“Red Goat, Black Goat” was first published for free online in Innsmouth Free Press #4 (June 2010); it has been reprinted in Lovecraft’s Monsters (2014) and Nadia Bulkin’s collection She Said Destroy (2017).