My New Favorite Writer: “A Case Study in Natural Selection and How It Applies to Love” a Story by Eric J. Guignard (+ Links)

This is first-rate prose. I am enamoured of the style. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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A Case Study in Natural Selection and How It Applies to Love

Eric Guignard, 2018


Yesterday I saw Jamie Goodwin burst into flame.

He was just sitting on one of those cheap aluminum-back chairs we all have, eyes closed in the shade of Hester’s old RV, trying to get some relief from the heat, same as everyone else. I was checking the stock of coolers, seeing if any held even a bit of water left to siphon out, when Jamie let out a tiny gasp like he woke from a bad dream. If it was a bad dream he had, he woke to something worse, ’cause little glints of light popped and fizzed off him like the sparklers we used to wave around on Fourth of July. Smoke or steam or something else rose up, then Jamie’s eyes went cartoon-big and he turned into a fireball.

Jamie’s the fourth person to spontaneously combust this month. Two women burned last Wednesday, and old Tom Puddingpaw blazed the week prior. Before that, we averaged only one or two fireballs a month, but now it’s getting worse. And after Jamie burned, Ms. Crankshaw didn’t even cancel lessons like she normally did, as if coming to terms that folks fireballing was the new natural order of things.

“That’s another lesson in evolution. One day we’re apes, then we’re humans, now we’re fireballs.”

She didn’t really say that, but she might as well have.

At least Loud John and Rudy were there when Jamie burned, and they contained his cinders so it didn’t spread like when Quiet John caught flame. But I still saw the whole thing, and it still scared me, even if others pretend to somehow be getting used to it.

“I watched him die,” I tell my friends. “Jamie didn’t scream. I think he tried, since his mouth opened wide, but nothing came out except flames.”

“Why is this happening for no reason?” Ogre asks, though that question is rhetorical because he doesn’t expect an answer. His voice hitches and he overcompensates for it by yelling, “When’s it going to stop?”

That’s rhetorical too.

We’re not supposed to be outdoors because of the heat, but we’re wearing protection, and sometimes out in the desert is the only place we can talk without everyone else listening in.

“I told you we weren’t safe,” Liz says. “Ms. C.’s wrong or she’s lying to us. Anybody can fireball.”

“No one ever tells us the truth,” Tommy adds. “It’s stupid going to lessons if everyone shields us from what’s really happening. I mean, what’re we learning? Facts or make-believe?”

Me and Tommy and Liz and Ogre are shooting at sand lizards with a pair of slingshots. I oughta clarify we’d shoot at anything daring our range of rocks and marbles, but it was too hot for anything but lizards to come out under the sun.

“The adults don’t want us to know…” A red bandana covers half of Liz’s face, so her voice is muffled. “I think we’re all gonna die.”

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Ghost Stories: A Great Introduction to the Art—by Michael Newton, (Penguin Classics, 2010)

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It’s always a delight to discover scholarship on the ghost story, such as the following essay by Michael Newton. It is my favorite subject—ghosts in literature that is—hands down. I read them—new ones, old ones. I dread them (and dream them). I love both short stories and novella-length ones; novels, too, but real good ones are rare. I also like true stories of specters and spirits, haints and hauntings—they scare the bejeezus outta me, but they also fill me with a ferocious glee! I suppose it’s the idea that we may never know for sure—right?—whether they’re real or a figment of the global imagination. Either way, I love my ghost stories. I trust you do, too. So, here’s Newton’s Introduction from the Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, published in 2010. (I highly recommend every story in this collection. I recently finished Elizabeth Gaskell’s creeper “The Old Nurse’s Story.” It was superb.)

Leave a light on!

💡SW

Note: Any photographs or images that follow—along with accompanying captions—are additions of mine, and are not part of the Introduction as it originally appeared in The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories.  —Sanguine Woods

Introduction to The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories

Michael Newton, 2010

“The ghost is the most enduring figure in supernatural fiction. He is absolutely indestructible … He changes with the styles in fiction but he never goes out of fashion. He is the really permanent citizen of the earth, for mortals, at best, are but transients.”

Dr. Dorothy Scarborough*, The Supernatural in Modern English Fiction

GHOST, n. The outward and visible sign of an inward fear.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

“It is the haunted who haunt.”

Elizabeth Bowen, ‘The Happy Autumn Fields’

*****

“GHOST WORDS”

Above (click to enlarge): The famous “writing on the wall”** at England’s Borley Rectory is one of the most interesting manifestations of ghost writing ever encountered. The events and investigations at the rectory were among the very first cases of “ghost hunting” in the history of the modern world. Investigators, including Ed and Lorraine Warren, demonologists for the Church, believed the writings had come from the spirit of a young Catholic woman who wanted her body to be discovered and to be given a proper Christian burial. “Marianne” and her husband, Reverend Lionel Foyster, lived in the rectory during October 1930–her writing is in printed script and attempts to get clarification from the spirit as to the meaning of her scribbles, which include: “Marianne… please help get” and “Marianne light mass prayers”. Click here (and see other “Links” following this post) to learn more about The Borley Rectory Hauntings.

Someone is afraid. In a dark house or on an empty railway platform, at the foot of the staircase or there on a lonely beach. When critics discuss the ghost story, they often pay no more than lip-service to the intended impact of the tale itself. The critics’ words remove us from the place where the story’s words first took us. In the ghost story, through the representation of another’s fear, we become afraid. We take on the sensation of terror, the alert uneasiness that translates random sounds into intentions, a room’s chill into watchfulness, and leaves us with the anxious apprehension of an other’s presence. The stories fix images of profound uneasiness in our minds. These images remain and act afterwards, when the story is over, as paths to renewed anxiety. From the stories in this collection, memories rise up of Thrawn Janet’s crooked walk, like a rag doll that has been hanged; the bereaved mother desperately reaching for the bolt to the door in ‘The Monkey’s Paw’, with the visitor outside; or in M. R. James’s tale, on a sunless day, in a dream, a man running along the sands, breathless, worn out, pursued inexorably by a blind, muffled figure.

The ghost story aims at the retention of such pictures; it intends the production of such fears. It wants sympathetic shudders.

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“The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft”—A Creepy Story by Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt, 2008

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Art by Azot2018@deviantart.com.

The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft

Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt, 2008

Originally appeared at Chizinepub.com (Chizine Press), 2008.

I drove a brand-new rental car I couldn’t afford—next year’s model, so in a way it was a car from the future—from the Amherst Amtrak stop and into the Vermont countryside, which was just as picturesque as all the calendar photos had led me to expect. The green mountains flared with red and gold from the changing leaves of fall. I had to stop a couple of times in somnambulant little towns, first for gas and later to use the toilet, and while everyone was polite, talkative even, I felt a few stares. They don’t get a lot of black people around here. Some of these towns: South Shaftsbury and Shaftsbury, East Arlington, and then Arlington—as if having two stoplights or a three-block-long main drag were enough to fission a town into two—were positively nineteenth century. My cell phone didn’t work. They sold maple syrup by the gallon even in the dumpiest of gas stations.

I thought about the brittle old letters in my briefcase, which included (among genial advice on writing and cranky complaints about publishers) a few passages of deep loathing about “the niggers and immigrants who fester and shamble in the slums of our fallen cities.” Ah, Lovecraft. I always wondered how my great-grandfather’s letters back to him might have read. I doubted if old Cavanaugh Payne ever told his idol that he was a “miscegenator” himself. Three generations later, I was fresh out of white skin privilege myself, but I had enough of Cavanaugh’s legacy to clear all my debts, assuming I could ever find the isolated country house where this collector lived.

The hand-drawn map Fremgen had mailed me was crude, and obviously not to scale, so it was a little like following a treasure map made by a pirate with a spatial perception disorder. I’d tried to find better directions online, but none of the map sites even recognized the name of the street he lived on: Goodenough Road. I understood why when, as late afternoon shaded into evening, I found his signless dirt road surrounded by maple and pine trees. The only marker by the rutted track was a squat statue carved out of some black marble; the figure looked like the offspring of a toad and a jellfyish, wearing a weathered, white stone crown. The collector had drawn a little picture of the stone road marker on my map. I’d assumed it was a childish scrawl, but in truth it wasn’t a bad likeness. It wasn’t a bad likeness of a bad likeness anyway.

After bumping down the road—dotted with other even more indescribable statues—for about five minutes I found the house, a three-story wooden monstrosity with a vast front porch wrapped around at least three sides, and carriage house sagging down into itself off to one side. Whatever color these buildings had once been, the boards had faded to a sort of stoney gray, and they both looked on the verge of disintegration. Trees pressing in close, eager to take back the land. I parked the car and got out, and in the silence of dusk the slamming car door was the loudest thing I’d ever heard. I approached the house, with its windows all blinded by curtains, and went up the paint-flecked steps to the porch, where a swing hung broken from one chain. This wasn’t promising. I’d been assured that this collector was wealthy, but he didn’t look rich from here. Maybe I’d turned down the wrong road, and was about to be attacked by some backroads cannibal who wore the skin of his victims as an apron. Well, probably not.

I knocked on the solid wooden door.

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“Her Voice in a Bottle”—A Cool Fantasy Story by Tim Pratt, 2008

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Her Voice in a Bottle

Tim Pratt, 2008

Originally appeared in Subterranean Magazine, Winter 2008.

Begin with the enigma: I sat at the beach on a driftwood log, beside a ring of stones surrounding coals and charred wood, watching Meredith walk away, through the archway of a natural bridge, to the little stretch of beach beyond. Her form dissolved from my sight, swallowed by the light of the setting sun, and I sat drinking a bottle of dark beer, waiting for her to return. Her bottle, half empty, stuck up from the sand beside her sandals and bag. After a while it began to get dark and cold, and I walked toward the archway, calling her name. I passed through to the beach beyond—my friends and I called the spot “Hole in the Wall” because of the archway in the rock—and saw only sand, and cliffs, and waves. There was nowhere she could have gone, unless she decided to freeclimb the cliffs, or swim out into the ocean, neither of which seemed likely. The cliffs were sheer, and the water in Santa Cruz in February was too cold to brave without a wetsuit. After going to the far end of the beach—maybe she’d clambered out onto the big rocks in the water to look at tidepools, and been cut off from land when the tide came in?—I made my way back to the little burned-out campfire. My things were still there, but her shoes and bag were gone, her bottle of beer tipped over and spilled. Had someone stolen her things? If so, why had they left mine? Had she hidden from me and crept back while I was looking for her, and run away? Why do such a thing? There were easier ways to ditch me, if she’d wanted to. Eventually I went home. I had no idea where she was staying. I didn’t have a number for her. I waited for her to call.

She never did. I still wonder, sometimes, if I’ll see her again, what I’ll say to her if I do, if maybe I have a way to call her after all. I run the scenarios to their logical or illogical conclusions, depending. I can think of several possible outcomes. None good.

***

This all happened some time ago, when I was living on Maple Street in Santa Cruz California, right around the corner from my second home, Caffe Pergolesi (a coffee shop I renamed, transmogrified, and made the central setting of my first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl). I remember my time in Santa Cruz as a kind of twilight year, a strange combination of living in my favorite place on Earth and feeling very alone. I had a girlfriend who lived 3,000 miles away and visited occasionally. We had an open relationship, and there was another more local woman I dated, but she was in a committed primary relationship, so there was no sleeping over, and a core of essential loneliness remained whenever I went home from her apartment or said goodbye to her on my sidewalk. It wasn’t just romantic loneliness, either. I lived with my best friend Scott, who was wonderful company, but he was a grad student who kept hours that ran opposite my own, so he was home when I worked, and vice-versa. Every week or two my friend D. came up from Capitola and we sat out on the deck at Pergolesi, where smoking was allowed—he’s a champion smoker—and drank pints of Guinness and shot the breeze. But the hour of companionship here, or sex there, only served to illuminate my empty hours more starkly. I spent a lot of time writing alone in cafés, and walking downtown to watch street performers on Pacific Avenue, and prowling around the big bookstores, and eating cheese fries at 3 a.m. at the Saturn Café, and visiting Hole in the Wall. All nice activities, and all fond memories now, but at the time I wanted someone to share them with, a partner for my heart (and someone to “hear my various witty remarks,” as a famous cartoon character once said). I tried to think of myself as a noble Byronic figure, poetically standing alone in the surf at sunset, or looking down at the ocean from the sidewalk on West Cliff Drive with my scarf blowing dramatically in the sea wind, but such poses aren’t much good if there’s no one around to appreciate them. I wrote stories about chance encounters in cafés leading to tumultuous love affairs, and threw them away as feeble wish fulfillment. I felt sorry for myself and disgusted with myself over the self-pity.

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What Are You Reading?

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I’m not sure how sympathetic they’ll leave me…But I came across this pretty cool collection of horror stories—all focused on, you guessed it—the Devil himself—that debonair Father of Lies, Master of Wickedness and Diabolical Disguise…Brewer of Age-Old Maleficence.

Join me? 🔥😈🔥

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(Goodreads)

Table of Contents

1 • Introduction • essay by Tim Pratt
3 • The Price • (1997) • short story by Neil Gaiman
8 • Beluthahatchie • (1997) • short story by Andy Duncan
19 • Ash City Stomp • (2003) • short story by Richard Butner
28 • Ten for the Devil • [Newford] • (1998) • novelette by Charles de Lint
51 • A Reversal of Fortune • (2007) • short story by Holly Black
62 • Young Goodman Brown • (1835) • short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne
72 • The Man in the Black Suit • (1994) • short story by Stephen King

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“The Man Upstairs”—A Horror Story by Ray Bradbury, from Dark Carnival & The October Country…

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“The Halloween Tree”—art by Ray Bradbury.


The October Countrythat country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…

—Ray Bradury

In celebration of fall, I am always drawn back to the fiction of the late Ray Bradbury—it’s a gross understatement (quantitatively and qualitatively) to say Bradbury taught a generation to write…he’s still teaching us to write. His style lightly macabre, flickered like a candle; it was also wondrously garish, carnivalesque. Ray Bradbury, like Truman Capote, Flannery O’Connor, and Shirley Jackson, was a stylist. And we don’t see many of those in any generation. I relish them. I envy them. I yearn for them, innocent—like that shiny red apple bobbing in the basin—its poison silent, and resting.


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The Man Upstairs

Ray Bradbury, 1947

Originally appeared in Bradbury’s 1947 collection Dark Carnival. It was collected eight years later in The October Country (1955). (See book cover images above.)

‘The red glass did things to Mr. Koberman. His face, his suit, his hands. The clothes seemed to melt away. Douglas almost believed, for one terrible moment, that he could see inside Mr. Koberman. And what he saw made him lean wildly against the small red pane, blinking.’

He remembered how carefully and expertly Grandmother would fondle the cold cut guts of the chicken and withdraw the marvels therein; the wet shining loops of meat-smelling intestine, the muscled lump of heart, the gizzard with the collection of seeds in it. How neatly and nicely Grandma would slit the chicken and push her fat little hand in to deprive it of its medals. These would be segregated, some in pans of water, others in paper to be thrown to the dog later, perhaps. And then the ritual of taxidermy, stuffing the bird with watered, seasoned bread, and performing surgery with a swift, bright needle, stitch after pulled-tight stitch.

This was one of the prime thrills of Douglas’s eleven-year-old life span.

Altogether, he counted twenty knives in the various squeaking drawers of the magic kitchen table from which Grandma, a kindly, gentle-faced, white-haired old witch, drew paraphernalia for her miracles.

Douglas was to be quiet. He could stand across the table from Grandmama, his freckled nose tucked over the edge, watching, but any loose boy-talk might interfere with the spell. It was a wonder when Grandma brandished silver shakers over the bird, supposedly sprinkling showers of mummy-dust and pulverized Indian bones, muttering mystical verses under her toothless breath.

“Grammy,” said Douglas at last, breaking the silence, “Am I like that inside?” He pointed at the chicken.

“Yes,” said Grandma. “A little more orderly and presentable, but just about the same. . . .”

“And more of it!” added Douglas, proud of his guts.

“Yes,” said Grandma. “More of it.”

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WICKED TALES: THE JOURNAL OF THE NEW ENGLAND HORROR WRITERS, VOL. 3 ed. by Goudsward, Keohane, & Price

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WICKED TALES: THE JOURNAL OF THE NEW ENGLAND HORROR WRITERS, VOLUME 3 edited by Scott T. Goudsward, Daniel G. Keohane, and David Price (2015 NEHW Press / 248 pp. / trade paperback & eBook)

With a fun cover like something off a classic issue of EC Comics, featuring a bunch of icky-squishy eldritch horrors pickaxing their way into a cartoon Lovecraft’s grave … yeah, okay, we’re off to a good start … and the introduction by Chet Williamson, “The Old Scribe and the Mysterious Codex,” does a nice job setting up a display case for the assortment of artistic oddities to follow.

‘Somebody’s Darling,’ by Kristin Dearborn, is first up and also one of my favorites, a historical behind-the-battlefield war story where death isn’t the worst fate in store for the wounded, and a young nurse is faced with a troubling dilemma.

Among my other top picks would have to be Sam Gafford’s ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ – no spoilers, but, it’s a clever and refreshing take on a familiar tale, from the point of view of a usually neglected character.

‘The Hiss of Escaping Air’ by Christopher Golden, is a satisfyingly twisted revenge yarn in which a movie mogul’s trophy wife goes after the most prized item in his collection, only to realize too late that she may have gone too far.

And speaking of satisfyingly twisted revenge yarns, Holly Newstein’s ‘Live With It’ is another winner, in which a chance meeting between former childhood friends leads to a grim reunion with an abusive parent.

Many people don’t read or appreciate poetry enough … I’m trying to get better about it myself, and therefore it’s always nice when I happen across a treat like Tricia J. Woolridge’s ‘The Crocodile Below.’ A poem about mean little kids and crocodiles in the sewer? Yes please!

Of course, I’m also a sucker for some good Viking stuff, so ‘Odd Grimsson, Called Half-Troll’ by John Goodrich was quick to catch my interest. But then, a good gripping saga of visions, curses, and man-vs.-monster will do that!

There are several more stories filling out the table of contents, and I enjoyed most of them. Definitely worth a look!

Source: http://thehorrorfictionreview.blogspot.com/2015/09/reviews-for-week-of-september-14-2015.html?m=1