Posted on February 19, 2014 by Flames
Don’t embrace the darkness. Fear it.
The Gothic is the most enduring literary tradition in history, but in recent years friendly ghosts and vegetarian vampires threaten its foundations. The New Gothic is a collection of short stories which revisits the core archetypes of the Gothic – the rambling, secret-filled building, the stranger seeking answers, the black-hearted tyrant – and reminds us not to embrace, but to fear the darkness. A dozen tales of terror fill this anthology including an original, never-before-seen story from the godfather of modern horror, Ramsey Campbell.
Flames Rising is pleased to present a selection of excerpts from this collection.
“Reading the Signs” by Ramsey Campbell
When Vernon came to a roundabout with no diversion sign, he saw he’d gone wrong. He lowered his window in the hope of hearing where the motorway was, but the night was as silent as the February sky that looked close to sagging onto the roofs of all five streets. He drove back to the last sign, which stood on another roundabout, and then he noticed what he’d previously overlooked. The four metal legs supporting the sign had gouged erratic tracks through the dewy grass. Plainly someone had thought it would be fun to move the sign.
Five roads met at this intersection too. Vernon had been driving for at least ten minutes through the moorland town, and surely he ought to be close to the route back to the motorway. He might have phoned Emma to say he was delayed, except that she was generally asleep by midnight; he hoped she was now. Instead he turned along the road between the pair he’d already followed. If it didn’t bring him to a sign, he would come back.
The terraced streets were deserted. The low sky appeared to have squashed every colour besides grey out of the ranks of narrow houses. The wan glare of the streetlamps blackened the window frames and the curtains that blinded the panes, the front doors that opened onto the street. He glimpsed movement among the vehicles parked half on the pavement, but it was only a cloud of fumes seeping from under the hood of a car. Beyond the car the road bent sharply, and, when it straightened, he saw somebody trudging ahead.
Even from several hundred yards away, Vernon saw the walker was unusually tall. As he put on speed for fear that the man might turn aside before Vernon could ask for directions, he became aware that the fellow’s head was disconcertingly small. It turned to peer towards the car, and the upper portion of the body slipped askew. The light of the next streetlamp found it as it righted itself, and Vernon realised that a child was perched on the man’s shoulders. He was relieved to see it but unnerved by having imagined anything else. He could only hope that he was safe to drive — that he wasn’t too much in need of sleep.
The boy had regained his hold on the man’s shoulders by the time Vernon drew alongside. The small face looked scrubbed shiny, gleaming under the streetlamp, and the wide eyes were alert despite the hour. His long nose twitched, perhaps with nerves, as his lips pinched inwards. The father’s long face had been dragged thinner by the weight of his jowls, and his dull tired eyes were underscored by skin that looked bruised, while his loose lips drooped under a bulbous nose…
“The Death Bell” by Laura Ellen Joyce
Two connected stories, beautifully told, one tale of a woman visited by her nephew, one tale of a couple on a first date. The gradual build-up to the shocking denouement is deliciously torturous.
So, I hope you’re hungry, he said. The candles heaped on their table were so bright; Sarah was glad she couldn’t make out his grin too well in the glare.
Starving, she replied. He’d treated them to a taster menu, the least she could do was respond with enthusiasm. She sipped at her water and almost at once a waitress appeared asking if they were ready. Ryan said that they were.
This is good. Sarah said, genuinely impressed by the blood pudding; she loved the way that the black fat had cracked under the grill and oozed just a little. The delicate shards of bonemeal that gave it grit.
You’re such a carnivore Sarah, Ryan teased, flirted maybe. She let him, it wasn’t bad, this menu. He wasn’t such a sap after all.
Save some room for dessert, the waitress, who was constantly at their table, said. It’s a little bit special. She poured miniscule amounts of wine into their green tumblers, water into the blue ones.
Sarah giggled. It was all so childish and pleasurable, she just let herself relax.
It really is special, the dessert. They put gold in it.
Gold? Sarah asked. It seemed ridiculous to her, such a city boy idea. Gold.
Doesn’t it taste like shit though? She teased. His face changed. She continued. It’s a great idea though, symbolic…
Sarah refilled both their wine glasses and when she placed the bottle back in the ice bucket, she brushed Ryan’s hand with her fingertips.
Grainne had been four when her grandmother had got the sickness. Four when she first heard the death bell. Adam, her nephew, was three now. Her sister, Mary, had been surprised to hear from her, but glad to have a few days peace whilst Adam visited Grainne; she’d sounded exhausted. Grainne had never met the boy before. She had not approved of Mary’s defiant childbearing at forty-five. Her own phantom womb clenched, like a Venus flytrap, at the thought of it. The second time the death bell came, Grainne had been sixteen. There had been no baby in the end, just a slick of ruined tissue and a curdling violence inside her. She had had an operation to remove the cursed organs and she was glad; there was only herself and Mary now, and, of course, little Adam. Mary’s man had been a sperm bank. Sperm. Bank. She spoke the words. Such an ugly thing it sounded.
The rain was coming down now, a horrid June, not a time for guests…
“The Fall of the Old Faith” by Ed Martin
Ed Martin’s appreciation of the old masters, MR James, Edgar Allen Poe, is obvious in his prose and structure. The sound of a door creaking open on a forested hill thrusts our narrator, and us along with him, into a chilling sequence of events from which nobody will escape unscathed.
Two days later I returned to the wood. It was the weekend by this point, and the countryside was thick with ramblers and dog walkers, to whom I should not have liked to explain myself. I cast a glimpse at the fields around me as I stole into the deeper woodland where I had first heard the sound of the door and experienced the strange, compelling sensation that drew me into my investigations. Fortunately, despite the presence of a few walkers, I did not see anybody looking in my direction and was able to disappear into the thickets. To my considerable annoyance it appeared as if the sky was darkening again, despite the weather forecast suggesting nothing but glorious sunshine all day. It had certainly seemed glorious when I left home. At the time I was more irritated about leaving my umbrella at home; in retrospect the unnatural speed of the clouds, which drew over me like a stage curtain, should perhaps have caught my attention rather more than they did. It was almost as if the wood and I were being hidden from the rest of the world, the better for it to reveal the secret at its heart.
The walk gave me time to think my investigations through. There had to be, I reasoned, some piece of physical evidence remaining on the site, however small. The fact of my hearing the noise, and then discovering the text in the library, seemed too much of a coincidence to put down to my imagination. The building in question was supposedly a small one, which could perhaps account for the absence of any apparent ruins waiting to be discovered by one of the innumerable people who must have walked through the site over the centuries. Had the building been made of stone, it was more than plausible that its masonry may have been taken, a piece at a time, for other uses.
Therefore, if anything were to survive, it would probably be the foundation stones, hidden from disturbance by the thick carpet of ferns and bracken that covered the area. For this reason I had thought to stow some thick gardening gloves in my rucksack before setting out.
I arrived at the site at around three o’ clock in the afternoon. The wind had become unsettlingly cold and, while no rain was falling yet, the sky was heavy and dark…
* * *
These excerpts were provided by and are being published with express permission from the publisher, Stone Skin Press.
The New Gothic is available now at DriveThruFiction.com in a variety of eBook formats.