Free Original Fiction from Weird Tales Issue #356

December 20th, 2010

“Secretario” by Catherynne M. Valente

© 2010. Catherynne M. Valente. All rights reserved.

In the City, there are three kinds of people: the dead, the devils, and the detectives.

The dead are women; the devils are men. Have you ever noticed that? The detectives, by law, can go either way, but look around: you won’t see too many skirts.

So begins the diary of Mala Orrin, my superior in all the ways that count. She smelled of leather, not the black, soldierly kind, but the warm, beaten brown leather of a briefcase often oiled and well loved, or of a journal often thumbed. She wore long trenchcoats; a hat the color of wheat. Sensible shoes, the kind of shoes you wear to run after people. After devils.

I never saw her face. Her hat, cocked at the same angle, cast its shadow on her face like a knight’s visor. A woman, obscured.

And I never noticed. I should have. Everything she ever wrote down, I read. I sat at a desk and took her dictation,  requisitioned her pistols, had her coats cleaned when the blood-spray got too noticeable. But every time she looked down at a body, impassive as a god, her cigarette Hephaestean, her mind Athene, she could see the pattern, and I saw only her.

Every case begins with a body. To be more precise, it begins with a detective observing a body. How it lies, how it tells the truth.

This is what a dead body looks like:

It is female. Its natural habitat is a dark alley, full of rain-puddles. It is only recently dead-no corruption has set in, not yet. Her skin is perfect, two and a half shades paler than in life. Her hair fans out around her head, floating in the rainwater like a mermaid. She is wearing something that shows her thighs, her breasts, black silk, or red. The fabric folds suggestively, not quite showing her nude, but nearly there. Her lips are scarlet; her shoes are black. Her name is something simple and anonymous: Anna, or Sarah, or Claire. Because it doesn’t really matter who she is. She is waiting for the detective; she’s already met the devil. She lays like a lover for the detective to use, her legs open, her mouth open, her eyes open, her wounds open, everything about her open, inviting the gaze of the detective, that death enthusiast. The detective is a libertine—he has eyes for all of them. They bleed for him, so that he will know her. So that someone will know her.

But I don’t see a lover. I look down as the rain sluices off the brim of my hat and her blood is running into the gutters and I see a mirror. I am she and she is me and we are going to go into the dark together.

This is why the other detectives are men. It’s so ugly, the other way round.

I don’t believe she was the only one. Surely, in the history of the City, there was another woman detective. There must be a feminine noun, in the language of the City. Detectiva. Something. But to be honest I can’t think of one. I was her secretary, her understudy, her second. She never consulted me. The girls in the steno pool never asked me to tea. It was a lonely life, and I had to fetch my own coffee. Mala Orrin and I ate together in a diner across the street from the office. She always had steak, rare as a gunshot wound, scotch with two ice cubes, and a slice of cherry pie with kiss of ice cream. I always had salad. Toast. Coffee—black. I don’t like to eat anything red. If there are only three sorts, then the steno pool is only the waiting dead, and I a waiting devil, for I was never any kind of detective. Either way, red reminds me of these things, and I don’t want to be reminded.

There must be a word, in the language of the City, for a male secretary. Secretario. Something. It was decided by the higher-ups that if we were to suffer a woman detective, she must have a male secretary. The natural order must be maintained. The doorman leaned out into the street and whistled—I turned my head. That’s how I was chosen. I turned my head at a sharp, high sound, and they offered me ten dollars a day to keep her notes in order. Good money. And there’s never any shortage of bodies in the City. Detectives do a brisk business here. You could say it’s our primary industry.

This is what a devil looks like:

It is male. It wears black. He skulks—that is his primary means of locomotion. His face is broad and craggy, his eyes dark. Everything about him is closed: his lips, his heart, his coat. He hunches-over a weapon, an erection, a deformity, a secret. His hands are big; there is a lot of meat on him. His name is something simple and anonymous: John, Jim, Nick. Because it doesn’t really matter who he is, either. He is not quiet when he hunts the dead girl-already dead, from the moment he saw her. He killed her with looking, with wanting. All that’s left is the denouement.

He never uses a gun. It’s a knife, or garroting-sometimes, if he loves her especially, he will beat her to death. It has to be intimate, or it is no good. A woman has two lovers in her life: her murderer, and her avenger. First she lies down beneath the devil as he cuts her, blood trickles beautifully, delicately from her mouth, cinematically, as though anyone but the devil could see how perfect the trickle truly is. It is all for him. He is careful not to rip her clothes; he is courteous to the detective, who will come after. He does not want to spoil the scene for him.

Every time my office takes a call, hears a name, an address, I think: this time the body will be a man. He will be laid out for me, so thoughtfully, his angelic face in a rictus of foreknowledge. Death will have worn a woman’s face, and opened him up, passing this body from herself to me. I will reach out into the shadows and touch that devil, and she will take my hand, and we will understand each other.

All detectives ever do is summon devils. Out of the night, out of blood ritual. Logic is a lie. Deduction is a fell rite.

It’s not hard for a secretary to pick a desk-lock. They aren’t sturdy things. I took her diary. She’s gone; she won’t mind. And the diary of a great detective—surely I could open it to any page and solve a crime, read from it as from a book of spells and reveal the depths of the shadows, the glint of truth in the grime. If I had a deftness at deduction, even a drop, I’d have gone to the College, and have my own secretary by now. Someone nice, in a pale blue wool suit, with her hair done up just so, and her coffee would be perfect, every time, black as the bottom line. But the College takes them young. Children who sleep with magnifying glasses and suckle at churchwarden pipes, who conduct inquiries among their toys. Demand for detectives is high—the City is a harsh cauldron. Sometimes we see them die. Sometimes we see them running away from a crumpled form. We could interfere, but we understand it’s not our place. Once she’s dead—and yes, Mala is right, I can’t remember the last time a man died here—she belongs to the detective, like a father passing the bride to her groom.

Everyone exists to serve the detectives. Every diner, every office, every laundromat, every priest.

The detectives, or the devils.

For a long time I didn’t know which way I would go. I loved lipstick as a child; I stole my mother’s beautiful crimson shades and applied then with a delicacy beyond my age. She wept when she saw me, for she thought she knew then how I’d end up. The question is always how long can you last in the queue. The devils are hungry but not insatiable. It can take time for them to get around to you. Like taking a number at the butcher. He’ll get around, eventually.

But then, she’d named me Mala. Not Anna, not Sarah, not Claire.

My mother died when I was thirteen. That’s what mothers do, of course. And I found her, her seamed hose spattered with rain and blood, her heels gleaming, her blue eyes staring. I was wearing my father’s long coat, and I was always tall. The detectives who came to the scene left immediately-they assumed I was one of them, that I was already on the case. Detectives are territorial. Monogamous. You just don’t barge in on another man’s girl.

They all want to know how I solved it. Still-over cigars and brandy in the executive offices one of them will always lean in, boozily, and slur:

“C’mon, Orrin, tell us how you solved yer ma.”

I keep my mystery. It’s safer that way. The three parts of the City’s soul are in a delicate balance, and even a detective can turn on you.

The truth is: I went out into the rain and drew a circle in the earth with her blood. I put her dress in one quadrant, a bottle of her perfume in another, her dress in a third, and her lipstick in the last. I waited.

I wasn’t really surprised when my father came around the corner, sniffing like a bloodhound.

I remember the last case we worked together, before she disappeared. I carried a silver thermos full of coffee, like a bullet, and drove her to the scene. I glanced into the rear view mirror; her hat shadowed her face, all I saw was the slightest curve of a full lip, as red as meat. I turned the radio dial—a horn played, low and sad, and she lit her cigarette with a golden lighter.

The dead woman was so beautiful she stopped my heart. I almost thought she was still alive, her face was flushed, her breasts full and high under her spangled dress. A singer, I’d seen her in one of the detectives’ clubs. Fridays are secretaries’ night. The woman sang old jazz tunes. Her hair was black; her eyes were blue. The wound was at the back of her head-I’d missed it entirely. But her blood seeped from her skull in medusa-curls, and Mala Orrin looked at her without saying a word. Turned to stone.

I wanted to stand where she stood. I wanted to stand over that woman, that radiant dead seraph. I wanted to be so full of power I didn’t even have to speak for everyone to know I owned her. I felt that desire in me, red as meat. I wanted a hat to shadow my face, to flex my invisibility as she did.

I poured her coffee. It steamed in the dark. She didn’t even look at me.

In an hour, I drove her back to the office. She passed a note up the pneumatic tubes, up to the executive floors.

John Brown, bartender. Number 5, A Street. Icepick.

And that was the end of it. They brought him in, screaming, his shoulders huge, covered in the singer’s blood like a victor’s cape.

A sorcerer’s methods are easier to guess.

Sometimes I think about leaving the City. Surely, there is somewhere else to go, though I’ll be damned if I can think of any place. When I try to imagine other cities, my mind fills up with the faces of dead girls. Most of the time I figure other Cities are just like this one. But on the occasional night when there are no deaths, or at least none assigned to me, I drive out to the City limits and look at the black whip of road, disappearing off into nothing, into the dark, and I shiver because I am not safe. I thought the coat and the hat and the secretary and the dinner drinks[a1] would make me safe, make me not like them, make me part of a tribe that is immune to the devil and his tricks. But I’m never safe.

We live to die. When I see them in the street they have never been realer than in that moment, never brighter, never more beautiful. Persephone with Hades’ hand at her throat, dancing, dancing in the evening light.

The essence of detection is causation: because of this, that. Because he loved her and she didn’t love him back. Because he leaves iron filings in his footprints, we’ll find him in the factory where he works to make silver thermoses. Because he’s a devil, she’s dead. Because that’s all she ever saw, sometimes she dreams about being dead, being that beautiful, being fawned over, adored, her face on posters, her potential mourned. She dreams a detective with a lantern jaw falls in love with her as she lies bleeding out, and devotes himself, a knight, to avenging her death. To remembering her. In her dreams she is dead and she feels so alive. Because of her dreams, she wakes up sick, half-faint, her hands shaking until she can get the cork out of the bottle and smell the dirt-scent of scotch wafting out, like a grave.

Because she was good at her job, she escaped the devil for years.

But nothing lasts forever.

I admit it—I loved her. It’s all love. I didn’t need her diary to understand that. Love on both sides of death. I wanted to see her face, that’s all. So badly. Cherries on her breath. Ice cream. The black silk of her blouse. If this were a better place, if the City weren’t a devil in its own right, that would have been so simple. But you live in the world you’re given. You may feel contempt for it, even as you do your living, but you can’t escape your nature. She’s gone, and she’ll be missed. There will be a memorial, I’m sure. Her face in stone, perfect, completed. The natural life cycle of the detective.

Her handwriting is long and lanky, like a man’s. She speaks to me, out of the pages, and teaches me the devil’s due. I’ll be promoted soon. Secretaries get the news first, after all. I’ll be passing brandy from glass to glass on the executive floor by mid-month. I bought a hat last week-grey felt, with a black band and a wisp of ptarmigan feather tucked in. I’d hoped the diary would help me, but the dead can’t speak to the devil. So I come to the office early. I pour my own coffee, and watch the sun come up, the first steno pool girls coming in like morning birds.

They are so beautiful.

The essence of detection is cyclical. Around and around, chasing each other, footfalls sounding on black pavement, and the rain pouring down forever.

Cthulhu Mythos, As Imagined By Kids

November 22nd, 2010

David Milano ran an art project for a children’s choir in the weeks before Halloween where he put on some Lovecraft-inspired music (by AKLO) and told them abbreviated versions of Lovecraft’s Shadow Out of Time, At the Mountains of Madness, and The Call of Cthulhu. The kids—ages 8-14—drew the monsters.

The results? AWESOME! Check out the galleries at Milano’s website.

Tintin Faces Down Lovecraftian Horror

November 22nd, 2010

Artist Murray Groat places Hergé’s adventurous chracter in H.P. Lovecraft tales—the ultimate mash-up?

Tintin and friends are wonderfully and weirdly combined with Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator, At the Mountain of Madness, The Shadow Over Innsmouth and The Call of Cthulhu, in these hilarious paradies. Since there are four of them, one must assume Tintin, Snowy, and Captain Haddock survive.

See all the covers at Comics Alliance thanks to Caleb Goellner.

One Minute Weird Tales: Vol. 2, No. 3

November 22nd, 2010

“Little Old Ladies”, written by Lavie Tidhar. The video was created by Gregory Bossert.

Embed our one-minute weird wonders to your heart’s content — and be sure to follow us via RSS, LiveJournal, or Facebook to catch them all!

H.P. Lovecraft & the Horror of Comics

October 24th, 2010

Josie Campbell reports for Comic Book Resources on the West Hollywood Book Fair appearance (earlier in October) of Steve Niles, Mike Mignola and Hans Rodionoff talking about the influence of H.P. Lovecraft on horror comic books. Rodinoff disscovered his first Lovecraft short story on a camping trip, reading it with a flashlight in his sleeping bag. Mignola, a young comic book reader, was introduced to the old pulp writers through Robert E. Howard. While looking for more Howard stories, he stumbled onto “Weird Tales” and H.P. Lovecraft. Similarly, Niles was “digging around in books looking for stuff and I ran across Lovecraft.”

The trio also discuss HPL’s influences on their work and horror in general.

Guillermo Del Toro Developing Lovecraftian Video Game

October 20th, 2010

Guillermo Del Toro working on a Lovecraftian video game according to Platform Nation. Del Toro is a fan of Lovecraft, and has directed films containing allusions to Lovecraft’s mythos (Hellboy, for example). He’s also tried to get a film version of At the Mountains of Madness greenlighted for some time. As for the HPLish game, Del Toro is working with THQ developing a game he described during an interview with MTV as: “It’s horror…but it’s a very different type of horror game. It’s not survival horror. It’s truly a strange, geeky mix. It’s a Lovecraftian thing. Let’s leave it at that.”

All we want to know: Will Wii have a tentacle attachment?

Weird Tales #356 Is Here!

October 14th, 2010

Weird Tales celebrates the eerily sensuous in its summer the UNCANNY BEAUTY issue. Subscribers and stores should be getting magazines soon. (Report of sighting.)
Fiction:

  • “Secretario” by Catherynne M. Valente
  • “A Concise & Ready Guide” by Ian R. MacLeod
  • “Beauty & Disapperance” by Kat Howard
  • “One Minute Weird Tale” by Lauren Beukes
  • “Sisters Under the Skin” by L.L. Hannett
  • “How Bria Died” by Mike Arnovitz
  • “The Wakened Image” by Natania Barron

Nonfiction:

  • Strange Faces - nonfiction by Theodora Goss
  • Le Tarot de Gaga - feature by Amal El-Mohtar
  • Sirens & Gargoyles - art by Callie Badorrek
  • Our Queen, Our Mother Our Margaret - nonfiction by Paula Guran
  • Galactic Tomboy to Sci-Fi Pinup Girl (and Back Again) - nonfiction by Rae Bryant
  • Lost in Lovecraft: To Pnatkotus & Beyond - column - Kenneth H. Hite

    …AND MORE!
    Weird Tales #356/Summer2010

“Mr. Nine and the Gentleman Ghost”

October 12th, 2010

Original Fiction: Mr. Nine and the Gentleman Ghost
by Aidan Doyle

copyright © 2010 / May not be reproduced without permission

Elisabeth gave her invitation to the valet and received a gilt-edged program in return. It welcomed her to the Bearbrass Gentle Ladies Society Monthly Ball. The valet glanced at Elisabeth’s satchel and then escorted her into the ballroom.

Bearbrass had been a sleepy colonial outpost until gold was discovered in the nearby hills. Within three years, it had been transformed into the largest city in all of the colonies. Elisabeth did not think of this as necessarily an improvement.

A dozen chandeliers clung to the ceiling and paintings imported from the empire competed for space on the walls. An orchestra of more than twenty musicians waited on the stage at the far end of the room.

Mrs. Rittiker, the president of the Bearbrass Gentle Ladies Society, greeted Elisabeth at the entrance. She was a short, stout woman in her early fifties and wore a purple chiffon gown with a plunging neckline. “You’ve come without a chaperone again,” she said. “If I were half the gentle lady I pretend to be, I would be thoroughly scandalized.”

Elisabeth laughed. Although ostensibly the Gentle Ladies Society served as an organizer of social functions, the society’s inner council was devoted to recovering the lost knowledge of the ancient gentle ladies. She had known Mrs. Rittiker all of her life. She handed over the satchel. “Fresh from the book mines.”

Mrs. Rittiker opened the bag and took out a book. She brushed a speck of dirt from the cover and smiled when she read the title: The Gentle Ladies’ Guide to Midnight Apparitions. “No one has your talent for finding books, Elisabeth.”

She replaced the book in the satchel and handed it to a servant. “Take this to my carriage.” She took Elisabeth by the hand. “There are some handsome young men waiting to see you.” Mrs. Rittiker led her over to the other guests and a dozen young men formed a line in front of her.

Elisabeth suppressed a sigh. The only reason she came to the balls was to meet Bertie, and he was always irritatingly late.

“This is Horatio Lightfellow,” Mrs. Rittiker said. “He arrived on this morning’s zeppelin from the empire.”

“Charmed to meet you,” Lightfellow said. “At some point in the evening I would be most happy to inform you of the latest fashions in the capital.” His gaze strayed to Elisabeth’s hair. She had been born with hair made from gold.

“I had been told of the remarkable properties of Bearbrass gold,” he said. “But I wasn’t aware it extended to the city’s inhabitants.”

Elisabeth could think of nothing less interesting than talking about what clothes people she had never met were wearing. “I was conceived in a gold mine,” she said.

Lightfellow looked shocked. “I hardly think that’s something a young lady should mention.” He looked to Mrs. Rittiker for assistance. “I had heard tales of the wild women in the colonies, but I had presumed them exaggerated.”

“Bearbrass Gentle Ladies are not as gentle as the ladies of the empire,” Mrs. Rittiker said. “We take great pride in that.”

“My father was a gold prospector,” Elisabeth said. “My mother was a librarian. I am a book prospector.”

“She’s the best in all the colonies,” Mrs. Rittiker added. “Her heart is made from gold too.”

Lightfellow appeared lost for words. “May I have the pleasure of the last dance?” he eventually asked.

“I’m terribly sorry, Mr. Lightfellow,” Elisabeth replied. “I always leave the last dance free.”
He checked his program. “The seventeenth dance?”

“I would be most pleased to dance with you.” She wrote Lightfellow in the space next to 17 on her program.

Lightfellow bowed and hastily retreated. The next man stepped forward and the process continued. She insisted on leaving the last dance free.

The orchestra started playing. Her first partner led her onto the polished hardwood floor. She danced a waltz, changed partners, danced a polka, then a one step and another waltz. Her partners were a mixture of gold prospectors, bankers and cattle kings. Halfway through the night they paused for supper and crowded around tables laden with cakes and pastries. Elisabeth helped herself to a slice of chocolate cake.

Mrs. Rittiker gathered a crowd around her and began a lengthy tale of her exploits on the cricket field.
Elisabeth overheard Lightfellow expressing his disapproval of Bearbrass women.
Then everyone fell silent. Elisabeth turned around.

A four foot high ventriloquist’s puppet stood at the entrance to the room. It wore a dark suit and orange bow tie and clenched a poster in its right hand. The puppet marched mechanically towards the stage, its wooden limbs jerking as though pulled by invisible strings.

Elisabeth leaned over to Mrs. Rittiker. “Who’s that?”

“Mr. Nine. The Governor hired it to crush the miners’ rebellion. Now it can go wherever it pleases. Even the Governor’s scared of it.”

The puppet slowly made its way up the stage stairs. It took a moment to survey the crowd. “Mr. Nine is most sorry to intrude.” It unfurled a wanted poster, revealing a sketch of a monkey. “Mr. Nine wants this monkey spirit. Have you seen it?”

No one spoke. The puppet sniffed the air. It stared at Elisabeth.

Her heart hammered against her chest. “How did it come to life?” she whispered.

“The gold did it. Now it has to eat gold to stay alive.” Mrs. Rittiker glanced at Elisabeth’s golden strands. “You should be careful, my dear.”

A servant placed a table and stool at the edge of the stage. The puppet sat down and rested its elbows on the table. The little finger on its left hand was missing.

“Why is it looking for a monkey spirit?” Elisabeth asked.

“A monkey spirit bit off one of its fingers.”

A servant brought a pile of pancakes sprinkled with gold dust to Mr. Nine’s table. The puppet began eating with great gusto, shoveling the pancakes into its little mouth. It washed them down with a glass of iced water mixed with gold flakes.

The orchestra resumed playing and Elisabeth’s next dance partner escorted her onto the floor. She couldn’t help glancing at Mr. Nine and twice accidentally stood on her partner’s foot. The puppet finished eating the pancakes and licked its lips with its bright green tongue.

The dances continued until it was almost time for the last dance. Captain Albert Widdershins floated through the far wall and strode through the orchestra. The musicians scattered. No one liked having a ghost walk through them.

Elisabeth felt the tension slip away. Bertie always liked to make a grand entrance. He was six feet tall with a ramrod-straight back, a trim moustache and short hair. He had once been a zeppelin captain and wore riding boots and a tight-fitting military uniform. She could sense the envy of the other young ladies. He was the most handsome gentleman ghost in all of Bearbrass. He had died in the mines and the gold had brought him back.

He nodded to Mrs. Rittiker and glided over to Elisabeth. “If you’ll permit me to say so, you look most enchanting tonight, Miss Elisabeth.”

“Permission granted, Captain Widdershins.”

“I must once again apologize for my tardiness.”

“The hour grows late, Captain. I fear the last dance is almost upon us.”

He stepped closer to her. “If the lady would be so kind as to allow me to touch her golden locks.”

She nodded. He slipped off his gloves and put them in his belt. When his spectral hand met Elisabeth’s hair, a jolt of energy coursed through her. His ghostly hand assumed a solid form and gradually his whole body transformed into solid flesh.

His hand lingered a moment on her hair. “May I have the last dance?”

She pretended to check her program. Then she took his arm in hers. His body was cold, but she felt it growing warmer.

In her excitement at Bertie’s arrival, she had almost forgotten about Mr. Nine. The puppet watched silently from its stool. She tried to put it out of her mind.

The last dance was a waltz. The captain encircled her waist with his right arm and took her right hand in his left. He twirled her and led her around in a circle. The rest of the world seemed to disappear. It was just the music and Bertie’s strong arms. It felt like they had only been dancing for a few seconds and then the music finished.

“Once again, Miss Elisabeth you have enchanted me with your grace and beauty,” Bertie said. “I warrant that even the Queen of the Fairies would acknowledge you as the superior dancer.”

Elisabeth laughed. “And I warrant that even the King of the Leprechauns would acknowledge you as the superior flatterer.”

Footsteps sounded behind her. She turned to see Mr. Nine.

The puppet bowed. “Mr. Nine would like to request the last dance.”

“But the last dance has just finished,” she said.

“That was the second last dance,” the puppet replied. “The orchestra will play again. What is the lady’s preference? A waltz?”

“I’m sorry, but the evening is late. I must be getting home.”

“Do not concern yourself. Mr. Nine’s carriage will take you home.”

Captain Widdershins stepped in front of Elisabeth. “The lady has said she is going home. It is the height of bad manners to persist in bothering her.”

Mr. Nine stared at Widdershins. “Mr. Nine is requesting the last dance. This does not concern you.”

Elisabeth put a hand on his shoulder. “It’s all right, Bertie.” She looked down at Mr. Nine. “Thank you for your offer, but Captain Widdershins has already agreed to escort me home.”

The puppet sniffed the air and its green tongue crept along its lips. “Mr. Nine is hungry. Mr. Nine likes your smell.” The puppet stared at Elisabeth’s chest.

Widdershins plucked a glove from his belt and slapped Mr. Nine across the face.

The puppet’s eyes rolled in surprise and it glared up at Widdershins. “Mr. Nine accepts your challenge.”

* * *

The Bearbrass cricket oval also served as the dueling grounds. Elisabeth and Bertie walked to the oval, followed by a crowd of onlookers. Mr. Nine traveled by carriage.

As the host of the ball, the duty of overseeing the duel fell to Mrs. Rittiker. She directed the servants as they laid out a number of lanterns in a circle.

Elisabeth and Bertie waited near the lanterns. Clouds obscured the moon, and shadows hid Bertie’s face.

“I don’t want you to do this,” she said.

“I don’t want to do this either,” he replied. “But I have no choice. If I don’t stop the puppet, it will come for you. It wants to eat your heart.”

“Let me worry about that. I can always hide in the mines.”

“It is my duty as a gentleman to protect you.”

“I can look after myself. Who is going to look after you?”

“I am a most accomplished duelist,” he replied.

“Why do you have to fight now? If you wait until morning, you’ll be spectral again.”

“If I’m spectral, I can’t hold a gun,” Bertie said.

“What happens if a ghost is killed?” she asked.

“If a ghost dies, you should collect some of its blood. Ghost blood has many powers.” He paused and then said, “I want you to promise me that you’ll take the first zeppelin in the morning if I don’t win.”

Elisabeth shook her head. “Not without you.”

“You know it won’t be safe here. Promise me.”

“Only if you promise that you won’t die.”

Bertie laughed. “I’m already dead.”

Mrs. Rittiker walked over to them. “You shouldn’t go through with this,” she said. “The puppet is near unkillable. The only thing that can stop it is if you bite off parts of its body. That’s why it can’t replace its finger. The monkey spirit bit it off.”

“Thank you for your concern, dear lady. I shall disable the puppet with a shot to the head and then I shall use my teeth to sever what body parts I deem necessary.”

Elisabeth took his hand. “Please, Bertie.”

“A zeppelin captain never backs away from a fight.”

Mrs. Rittiker sighed. “Then we are ready to start.” She walked to the center of the circle.
Bertie squeezed her fingers. “Goodbye Beth.” He let go of her hand and followed Mrs. Rittiker.

Mr. Nine’s driver opened the puppet’s carriage door. Mr. Nine stepped out of the carriage and set off towards the circle. The driver took a wicker laundry basket from inside the carriage and then followed after the puppet.

Mr. Nine marched into the illuminated circle. The driver stopped at the edge of the crowd. About fifty onlookers, including several women, had come from the ball to watch the spectacle. Their faces were hidden in the shadows cast by the lanterns, but Elisabeth heard their excited voices. Witnessing a duel between a puppet and a ghost would give them a tale to entertain their society friends.
Elisabeth swore at the top of her voice.

The crowd fell into a shocked silence.

“Be quiet,” she said softly.

Mrs. Rittiker waited until Bertie and the puppet stood next to each other.

“Do either of you wish to withdraw from this duel?”

“No,” Bertie said.

“Mr. Nine is ready to fight,” the puppet said.

Mrs. Rittiker handed a dueling pistol to each of the combatants. They inspected the guns and then exchanged them. They took up positions at opposite edges of the circle.

Elisabeth noticed that Mr. Nine’s driver had opened the wicker basket and was peering into it.
Mrs. Rittiker held a red handkerchief in her hand. She lifted her arm and then dropped the handkerchief.

Bertie aimed his gun and fired. Mr. Nine’s wooden head exploded.

The puppet’s body raised its gun and shot Bertie between the eyes.

Captain Widdershins tumbled to the ground.

Elisabeth sprinted to his side. She shook him, but he didn’t respond. His body was cold. She wiped the blood from his face with her handkerchief. She closed his eyes and kissed his cold lips. His body faded away.

Mr. Nine’s driver carried a wooden head with an identical face on it towards Mr. Nine’s headless body.

* * *

Elisabeth put on her pair of cats-eye spectacles and stepped into the mine shaft. It was dark, but the glasses allowed her to see. After ten minutes she reached a large cavern with a dozen tunnels branching off in different directions. She knew this area well and had a good idea where to look for the book she wanted. She chose one of the tunnels leading south.

Eventually she noticed some small, brown, spotted, speckled mushrooms. The wall was moist, damp, clotted and earthen. Adjectives were one of the most common signs of buried books. Now all she had to do was find a subtext. She put her nose against the earth. There was the faint smell of lemon. She followed the scent until she found a vein of books hidden near the wall. She took a small spade from her tool bag and started clearing away the dirt from the top of the dozens of books. It took her three hours, but eventually she found the book she was looking for.

Separating a book from the earth required a precision tool. It was easy to make mistakes. Several times in the past, she had cut the pages and the words had bled everywhere.

She probed the dirt at the edge of the cover with her book scalpel. After a few delicate cuts, she removed the book from the ground and looked at the cover.

The Gentle Ladies’ Field Guide to Animal Spirits.

She leafed through it until she found an illustration that matched the sketch on the wanted poster.

The golden spectral monkey.

She carefully excised the page and smeared it with the ghost blood from her handkerchief. The page transformed into a spectral monkey.

“Do you know who I want you to kill?” she asked.

The monkey nodded. “I need gold to make me corporeal,” it said.

Elisabeth grabbed her pair of scissors. She was about to cut a lock of her hair, but the monkey shook its head.

“I require greater payment,” it said.

It pointed at her heart.

* * *

Every month Elisabeth attends the Bearbrass Gentle Ladies Society Monthly Ball. She is not nearly as graceful a dancer as she used to be. A wooden heart is not an ideal substitute for one made of gold. But she is still the most beautiful girl in all of Bearbrass and many men want to dance with her.

They ask if they can have the last dance, but Elisabeth apologizes.

She always leaves the last dance free.

[end]


About the Author:

Aidan Doyle is an Australian writer and computer programmer. He loves traveling and has visited more than 70 countries. He is a Clarion South graduate and his stories and articles have been published in places such as Fantasy Magazine, The Internet Review of Science Fiction, Salon.com, Science Fiction Weekly and Australian small press magazines.

AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS: A TRIBUTE TO THE WRITINGS OF LOVECRAFT

October 12th, 2010

AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS: A TRIBUTE TO THE WRITINGS OF LOVECRAFT

October 16, 2010 - November 8, 2010
Opening Reception / Oct 16, 7:00PM - 11:00PM
Gallery Nucleus
210 East Main St, Alhambra CA 91801
626.458.7477

Gallery Nucleus is a premier illustrative and entertainment arts gallery located just outside of downtown LA. We have been hard at work organizing a tribute art exhibit to none other than H.P. Lovecraft. The exhibit is set to open Saturday, October 16 and features some of the best in the biz. All of the works will be viewable online at the stroke of midnight here.

Lovecraft-related costumes, Edwardian/steampunk attire is quite welcome and even encouraged for the opening. Free admission & refreshments plus artists in attendance.

Exhibiting Artists Include:

Aeron Alfrey
Martin Astles
Wesley Burt
Cameron de Leon
Jeremy Enecio
Jon Foster
Justin Gerard
August Hall
Android Jones
Edward Kinsella
Casey Love
John Jude Palencar
Jeff Remmer
Jordu Schell
Andrew Scott
Brian Smith
William Stout
Justin Sweet
Michael Zulli

Most Terrifying Cartoon Ever Made!

October 11th, 2010

Spider-Man Meets H.P. Lovecraft in “Most Terrifying Cartoon Ever Made”!

Author and television blogger Kliph Nesteroff once called Spider-Man: Revolt in the Fifth Dimension “simply the most terrifying cartoon ever made.” For your viewing pleasure, the first part of the cartoon is embedded above, follow this link to watch the second part.

[Thanks to GalleyCat for the tip!]