Almost Insentient, Almost Divine {Review}

October 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

Almost Insentient, Almost Divine
DP Watt
Undertow Publications (2016)

It’s commonly accepted practice, when reviewing story anthologies, to make brief mention of the work as a whole and then pick out a handful of key tales to work through in detail. This is not one of those reviews.

almost-finalAlthough the stories in DP Watt’s collection are almost universally excellent, it’s the sense of world building that develops through them which is the most impressive part of this book; a weirdly out-of-time Mitteleuropa, cut through with theatricals and theatricalities, where masks fall from mannequins only to reveal yet more masks underneath, puppet-mummers snigger in darkened rooms and the human players shimmer between realities, sometimes never to return. Even the handful of stories that don’t fit directly into this milieu are haunted by fragments of a greater whole; mysteriously indistinct figures that lurk outside the circle of firelight or even atavistic thoughts that echo beguilingly from the darkness. The sense of theatre, of the blood-smeared grand-guignol being acted to its terrible conclusion whether wittingly or not, pervades the book and gives the observant reader a more subtle interpretation of that most contentious of themes; the weird. « Read the rest of this entry »

Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One {Review}

September 27, 2016 § Leave a comment

Year’s Best Weird Fiction: Volume One
Edited by Laird Barron & Michael Kelly
Undertow Publications (2014)

I’ve arrived slightly late to Undertow’s ‘Year’s Best Weird Fiction’ series, this first volume being released in 2014 and presenting the best short tales from the previous year, but the door to the weird is always ajar, so let’s push it open, ignore the protesting creaks and distant mutters, to take look inside.

The conceit of the volume is more clearly explained in its title than in any preamble I could give, and is clarified still further by guest-editor Laird Barron’s short and succinct introduction 9780981317762_outside_front_cover(his description of ‘the weird’ as “a sense of dislocation from mundane reality; the suspension of the laws of physics, an inversion or subversion of order, a hint of the alien” is as good a one as I’ve come across), that I may as well cut straight to the meat and pull out some of the choicest cuts from this weird platter.

Before that, however, it’s worth noting that this volume is remarkable in that, even if some of the stories are not to my precise tastes, none of them are poor; the content has been so well-distilled down from what must have been a screed of submissions, taken from journals like Shadows & Tall Trees and Fungi amongst others, into so select a congregation that all aspects of the weird are covered – from the slight to the outre and from the subtle to the blatant, all are gathered here – so even those that might not quite hit the mark of personal taste are at least technically interesting for the voice they bring to the storytelling circle. Even so, a good handful of stories stand out for me as worth specific comment… « Read the rest of this entry »

A Leering Little Voice

August 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Within my ear
I hear a leering
Little voice
Who speaks not truth but lie

And now and then
I turn to fearing
Little voice
Speaks not as imp but I?


When wakens the serpent?

August 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

“When wakens the serpent?”
The old man asks
No word returns
From he who basks.

“When wakens the serpent?”
A whisper, low
“I woke within you
Long ago”.


The Thing in the Tree

January 26, 2016 § Leave a comment

An enlightening epistle for younger folk
by Pietr Handle-Tune

In a place far away and a time long ago
There once lay a wood, a dark place of woe.
And deep in this wood, in a large boulder’s lee
Lay a twisted, dejected and broken old tree.
The creatures that lived in the forest were strong
But even they wouldn’t stay here very long
For oft, when the moon shone but dim in the night,
From the tree came a howl that caused everyone fright.

A small, choking whisper would rustle the leaves,
Then sobbing would break out in dry, gasping heaves.
Those of the forest all knew what would come
And any nearby would break out in a run.
For the sobbing would rise to awful great keening
And soon escalate to an unearthly screaming.
In their dens the small creatures would wrinkle their brow
And ponder what horror could make such a row.

But one stormy night, filled with wind and with rain
A little bright light into this darkness came
A pixie, the smallest of all magical folk,
Grew ever so worried as the tempest awoke.
“My wings are too frail,” she muttered in fright.
“I must find somewhere close to hide for the night”.
And just as these worrisome words were spoken
A gust made the sprite fear its wings would be broken.

She struggled, although she knew she was lost,
And wondered what price this journey would cost.
The darkness grew deeper, she struggled to see
And in her great haste she flew into a tree!
Dazed by the impact the sprite’s vision blurred
And she remained unaware that something had stirred
For this was not any old, everyday tree
But was twisted, dejected and broken…and mean!

For the sprite, in its haste through the gathering dark
Had crashed straight into this fearful tree’s bark
Frightened she sat at the root of a bough
And hid from the rain as the branch would allow.
With her head in her hands the world slowly stopped spinning
And the gloom in her eyes was already thinning
But strangely, and to her increasing distress,
The noise in her ears was becoming no less

There’d once been a ringing, there now was a howling
Which rapidly turned to a horrible yowling
The sprite was unsure what the sound’s source could be
For surely, she thought, it could not be the tree!
But she started in fright and flapped her bruised wings
As she heard what she thought was a horrible thing
For though the tree looked so creepy and sly
Her heart felt a pang as it started to cry!

“Oh woe,” cried a voice as sad as can be
“Oh why will no-one visit me in my tree?”
To the pixie, the voice was a deep, grumbly roar
And she held tight to the tree lest she fall to the floor.
The gruff voice continued to wail and to weep
Until silent the pixie could no longer keep.
“Oh tree,” she quavered as loud as she could
“What is this sadness so deep in your wood?”

But the storm was too loud and the pixie too small
Her little voice could be heard not at all.
The voice from the tree continued to screech
And the pixie wept too as she heard this poor speech
“I’m damp and I’m cramped, I’m tired and I’m cold
Will I have no friends before I grow old?
Why is it that this wretched fate falls on me
To be a poor thing stuck here in this tree?”

The pixie stopped short and wiped off her tears
To consider the words that had entered her ears.
“Stuck here in this tree”, she thought with a frown
“Maybe the tree is not making this sound?
Could it be that the old tree is hollow
And something inside is trapped in its sorrow?”
She struggled to stand, as her bruises allowed
And crept ‘long the branch with her head lowly bowed.

The wind still was raging around her frail form
And her gossamer wings weren’t much use ‘gainst the storm
But she followed the sound of the voice as it wept
And soon to the trunk she had finally crept.
She pressed her small ear to the tree’s woody skin
And could quite clearly hear the laments within.
“If the tree’s hollow core above me was capped
Then my strength by the rain would not have been sapped!”

She knocked on the tree though without result
But a sight through the gloom caused her to exult.
A little way distant through the wind and the murk
A hole in the bark could be seen to lurk.
“If I could fit, if it’s suitably wide,
I could get in the tree and see what’s inside.”
With that decision, in her throat sat a lump
As she knew that she had no choice but to jump.

Though she’d practiced her flying and was quite adept
A shadow of fear wrapped her as she leapt.
Her wings were still painful, would not properly beat
And she doubted the choice to perform this crazed feat.
The storm threw her here and there with distain
And quickly her strength had started to wane
But pixies are magic, and blessed with good luck
So soon through the hole she had narrowly ducked.

Inside the trunk she was free from the storm
But her wings screamed of pain and her clothing was torn.
She gritted her teeth, floated in the gloom
The voice from below she could hear as a boom
“How could I be forced to call this my home?
It’s a terrible thing to be so alone!”
The pixie was scared and trembled in fear
But just had to let the voice know she was here.

She coughed and began as loud as she could
“Be lonely no more, poor creature of wood.
I’ve found you in here, to whatever end,
And should you desire it then I’ll be your friend.”
“What torment is this?” the creature replied,
“Your offer of friendship is nought but a lie!”
The voice then fell silent and, proving her fears,
The pixie could hear the soft splashing of tears.

“No, I am real and so is my pledge
I swear by the Root and the Branch of my Hedge”
So, tired as she was by the toils of the hour,
She squeezed shut her eyes and summoned her power
She puffed out her cheeks and thought of things bright
Until she was surrounded by sweet, glowing light.
And wrapped as she was in the vibrant, white glow
She saw two damp eyes look up from below.

Below those eyes was a sharp, pointed nose
Rubbed raw and sniffling from a lifetime of woes
The ears that stood out from a green, hairless head
Were ragged and torn and swollen and red
But a faint smile appeared on the wide, toothy maw
And the small pixie gasped at the creature she saw
The ears and the nose, the teeth and the grin
She quickly realised she’d found a goblin!

Now pixies and goblins have never been friends
And any attempts have met messy ends
But the pixie looked deep into those glowing eyes
And felt nought but pity, to her great surprise.
She smiled at the goblin and began to speak
“I hear your words of the friendship you seek.
My name is Blossom of the Hawthorne Hedge clan
And I’ll be your friend, as long as I can.”

The goblin’s grin widened but soon dropped away
“My name is Grub and I live here all day.
I live in this tree and sit in this muck,
All the day long just cursing my luck.
There’s nobody here to help me or care
My back’s always aching. I’m losing my hair.”
His eyes started watering, such were his woes
And soon a small tear had dripped from his nose.

“Don’t cry, Master Grub” began the pixie
“What aid I can offer we soon shall see.”
She pledged she would offer what help that she that could
But knew that, at magic, she wasn’t that good.
Back in the Hedge she’d once caused disaster
By setting fire to the hair of her master!
If that wasn’t a bad enough error to make
She’d really been trying to create a cake!

But when she looked down at the goblin’s distress
She had no doubt that she must try her best.
“You’re cold, I can see, and that won’t help your back.
It’s due to the carpet, or rather the lack.”
So, closing her eyes and spreading her hands
She called on the goodness of her verdant lands.
So she thought of plants, the reap and the sow
And the goblin looked shocked as grass grew from below!

Soon there was lawn where once there’d been muck
And the goblin was doubting his sight and his luck
The pixie breathed deeply and swayed in the air
She was so tired yet Grub had no hair.
Now the magic of fairies is a powerful force
But it can’t start a thing once it’s run its full course.
Blossom was stumped and quite close to tears
Until her bright eyes spied the goblin’s large ears.

It put in her head a quite cunning thought
And she delved in her mind for the thing that she sought
Soon high in the tree, in the gloomiest dark
There now came the glow of a tiny, bright spark
It slowly descended towards the two friends
An object for poor Grub’s hair problems to mend
On the shocked goblin’s head a wonder was sat.
A small, but quite cosy, red bobblehat!

“Oh wonder! Oh joy!” said Grub as he jigged
“You’re small in your body but your heart is big.
These things you have given, the grass and the hat,
Have cheered me up so I don’t know where I’m at!
But Blossom, my friend…oh, I’m ashamed to ask
Could I ask you to do me just one more small task?”
Poor Blossom was shattered, her wings had grown pale,
But how could she now this poor fellow fail?

She nodded and gathered what strength that she had
She’d try her hardest, stop Grub being sad.
Grub saw her reply and jumped up with glee
“The one thing I want is the sunlight to see
The wind in my ears and the rain on my face.
I would sore like some way to escape this place.”
Blossom then knew that she must do this thing
But she couldn’t lift Grub with her tiny wings.

How could Grub leave this wooden trap?
With consternation she made her wings flap
She couldn’t lift him to the hole she had used
And her brow wrinkled deep as the problem was mused
Then in her mind the answer she saw
What’s needed here was quite simply a door.
But no door was there, nor portal or gate.
So some kind of exit she must create.

She floated down close to the base of the tree
And strained her tired eyes so that she could see
She needed a hole, some knot or small crack
Something that would yield to her magic attack
She couldn’t just put a hole in the bark
The wrongness of that was clearly quite stark
But if she could find the right place to knock
She could ask it to open, to yield and unlock.

She found the place where she needed to stand
And on the rough bark she rested her hand.
She talked to the spirit that lived in the tree
A sort of faint cousin to our young pixie
The old tree was tired and almost no more
But the dryad convinced it to open a door
As Blossom stood still, closed eyes and bent back
Grub watched in awe as the bark cleanly cracked.

There was nothing outside but the wind and the rain
Yet Grub knew his luck was beginning to change.
He nervously stepped to the gap just now made
And his hat on his chest he gently laid.
He closed his eyes tight as he went through the door
And his rough, hairy feet touched the wood’s leafy floor
The rain washed his face, raised the hard weight of years
But couldn’t quite hide his cascading tears.

Yet Grub wasn’t sad but brimming with glee,
“I’m outside, and not stuck in my wretched damp tree!”
He danced and he capered, ran round and jumped
Until he saw Blossom and how she had slumped
She lay ‘gainst the bark of the goblin’s old house
And looked quite as frail as the tiniest mouse
Grub did dash over and took up her arm
“I hope my request’s not caused any harm?”

“No, Master Grub, I’m just a bit tired
and need to lie, quiet, for a while in my briar.
But I’m glad that you’re happy, so dance while you may.
I’ll come back and see how you are in a day.”
And with that she gave her tired wings a quick try
And lifted, unsteady, to the grey, stormy sky.
Little Grub watched her, put his hat on his head,
“I’ll look forward to that,” he quietly said.

The pixie returned early next morn
As the first rays of light were announcing the dawn
She flew in quite low as she came near the tree
And was suddenly shocked by what she could see
A little stone path led up to the door
And inside she could see fresh grass on the floor
Grub sat in a chair, stretched out and yawning
Above his head was a chestnut leaf awning.

He smiled as he saw wee Blossom arrive
“As you see, pixie friend, in this freedom I’ve thrived!
My tree is now cosy, I’ve worked hard all night
I hope you agree it’s no longer a fright.”
The smile on his face was enough for two
And Blossom soon found herself smiling too!
“I’ve brought fairy cakes and some apple wine
This treehouse is by far the best place to dine.”

Then they ate and they laughed and best friends became
So they did it the next day, and again and again
Grub’s house became known throughout the land,
Not as twisted or broken, but impressive and grand
Grub ignored the clamour, which he found a bore,
And sat ‘neath the leaf above his new door
He lived in the treehouse till the end of his time,
With Blossom, his pixie, and fine apple wine.

The moral hid here is quite plain to see
That many poor people are stuck in their trees.
And if you can help, if you possibly could,
It seems plain to me…if you can, then you should!

Pietr Handle-Tune, the celebrated children’s educator, is currently recorded as missing by his family and publisher.  Handle-Tune was last seen preparing to leave on a fact-finding expedition to The Fen more two years ago and his absence is out of character.

Any information as to his current whereabouts or condition should be directed to the offices of the Benedictine Herald.

Vortex Lodge

November 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

they cant see that the sky splits open where the light comes through and fire drips down like the putrid drool of a leper it burns and the GREAT HAND reaches down to shovel bodies into its maw when people squabble and squander and sit with their coins as devils dance in the streets leering in the windows grasping at the children with hands of coal and twigs theyre burning theyre burning and none of them notice that they burn as their hair dances in the flames that no wind nor rain can extinguish and the yellow is brighter than gold the red brighter than blood

Vortex Lodge

Oneiroscopic capture of a Vortex Lodge waysign in Pittlebone Alley, The Riddle.

and nobody sees and nobody sees the blue ghosts walking through walls walking through doors and their hands are all missing and the eyes are all missing and their keening sorrow hides behind the mist in the corners of the streets so only the sad ones hear it only the vacants and the babies in the wells floating in the water with their frogs and rattles of teeth and bones their only chattels their only homes

we see these things and only we the ones of the vortex lodge the walkers in spaces the lingerers between and the subtle touch of nothing.


April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment

In the dream there are dice. Three black dice with silver spots, sat in a silver bowl. They blur and then stop, landing as each requires.

One is one, the group in itself, and in the whole is strength.

One is four, each party alone, and in the pieces is change.

One is six, their fulfilment, and in this end is a beginning.

All are eleven, the duke of numbers, which holds only itself in itself and no brooks other. And so in the dream there’s a dream-tale of a leader, with his party, set out on a path to the House of Ruin. And so the dice are cast, the scene is set.

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