GHOULJAW AND OTHER STORIES
Hippocampus Press Fiction
W. H. Pugmire,
The Fungal Stain
Uncommon Places: A Collection of Exquisites
Lair of the Dreamer: A Cthulhu Mythos
Dead Houses and Other Works
The Village Green and Other Pieces
Midnight Call and Other Stories
Tempting Providence and Other Stories
Blood Will Have Its Season
Sin and Ashes
Portraits of Ruin
Seven Deadly Pleasures
Donald R. Burleson,
Wait for the Thunder
Forever Azathoth: Parodies and Pastiches
Intimations of Unreality
Richard A. Lupoff,
At Fear’s Altar
Jason V Brock,
Simulacrum and Other Possible Realities
S. T. Joshi,
The Assaults of Chaos
Kenneth W. Faig,
Lovecraft’s Pillow, and Other Strange Stories
The Wide, Carnivorous Sky
Burnt Black Suns: A Collection of Weird Tales
And Other Stories
Copyright © 2014 by Hippocampus Press
Works by Clint Smith © 2014 by Clint Smith
Introduction © 2014 by S. T. Joshi
These stories first appeared in the following publications:
genesis, the Art and Literary Magazine of IUPUI
Weird Fiction Review
No. 1 (Fall 2010).
Indiana Science Fiction
Something Wicked, Volume 2
“Don’t Let the Bedbugs Bite,”
British Fantasy Society Journal
“Like Father, Like . . .”
Denizens of Darkness
“What Happens in Hell Stays in Hell,”
“The Tell-Tale Offal,”
Weird Fiction Review
No. 4 (2013).
“Dirt on Vicky,” “What About the Little One?”, “The Day of the Earwig,” “The Hatchet,” “Retrograde,” and “Corbin’s Gore” are original to this collection.
Published by Hippocampus Press
P.O. Box 641, New York, NY 10156.
All rights reserved.
No part of this work may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the written permission of the publisher.
Cover art © 2014 by Jared Boggess.
Cover design by Jared Boggess.
Hippocampus Press logo designed by Anastasia Damianakos.
First Ebook Edition
ISBN: 978-1-61498-098-8 (Kindle)
ISBN: 978-1-61498-099-5 (EPUB)
For Jess. More than words.
“‘There are stories,’ he said, ‘tales. There’s all that nonsense.’”
The Woman in Black
“The presence before him was a presence, the horror within him a horror, but the waste of his nights had been only grotesque and the success of his adventure an irony. Such an identity fitted his at
point, made its alternative monstrous. A thousand times yes, as it came upon him nearer now—the face was the face of a stranger. It came upon him nearer now, quite as one of those expanding fantastic images projected by the magic lantern of childhood . . .”
—Henry James, “The Jolly Corner”Contents
It was, I believe, in 2009 that Clint Smith sent me his story “Benthos.” Finding it a remarkably powerful weird tale, I expressed approbation but at that time could not think of any publication in which it could appear. Soon thereafter, Jerad Walters of Centipede Press asked to edit an annual magazine, the
Weird Fiction Review,
devoted both to original fiction and to articles about weird fiction. I could not think of a better vehicle for the publication of “Benthos” than this, and it duly appeared in the first issue of 2010.
Then, curiously, I heard no more from Clint. Could he be, I thought occasionally, just a one-shot wonder? I will confess that my own canvassing of contemporary weird fiction—in magazines, websites, and other venues—is not exactly wide-ranging, so I was unaware that Clint was in fact placing his stories in any number of other journals, print and online. Then, about a year ago, Clint submitted to me this collection. I was thrilled. While in no sense do I credit myself with being Clint’s “discoverer” (the title story of this collection had already appeared in 2009), I was delighted to be able to offer an entire volume of his work to the reading public.
Clint Smith’s virtues as a writer are easy to detect: a fluid, mellifluous prose style that conceals its artistry by its seeming effortlessness; a power and originality in weird conceptions that grasp readers by the throat; a sensitivity to emotional pain, domestic trauma, and interpersonal conflict that mainstream writers would envy. Every story bears the mark of his distinctive literary style: you could not possibly mistake one of his stories for someone else’s work.
I know little of Clint’s literary influences: the pungent twist on Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” that he effects in “The Tell-Tale Offal” says no more than that he has taken to heart Poe’s dictum on the “unity of effect” in the crafting of a short story. Clint’s work is bracingly modern, but with a sense of the heavy hand of the past weighing upon the present (most evident, perhaps, in “Like Father, Like . . .”). Also like Poe (but like many others too, ranging from Ambrose Bierce to Laird Barron), Clint knows how to dance elegantly on the borderline of supernatural and psychological horror; indeed, his best stories fuse these ordinarily disparate veins of weird fiction. “Benthos” seems on the surface to be a cheerless story of drug taking, easy sex, and gang violence, but a supernatural undercurrent raises its head at the most unexpected moment. “What Happens in Hell Stays in Hell” uses the war in Afghanistan as a grim backdrop to unthinkable horrors unleashed in the parched sands of the Middle East.
I have no doubt that Clint Smith will be heard from in the future as a leading practitioner of the modern weird tale. The stories in this collection testify not only to his literary potential but to his already significant accomplishments. His subsequent tales (and, let us hope, novels) can only enhance his standing.
—S. T. JOSHI
September 15, 1997, Metro section, city edition:
IMPD continues to search for twenty-two-year-old graduate student Amy M. Campbell (Indianapolis). Campbell was last seen Saturday evening, and was first reported missing Sunday morning. Campbell’s landlord notified police after several neighbors complained about an odor coming from her apartment. Authorities searched Campbell’s living quarters, and were later seen collecting evidence from the residence and nearby stairwell. Police have yet to comment on their findings. While not yet considered a suspect, investigators say they are now searching for Campbell’s twenty-four-year-old boyfriend, Max W. Kidwell (Indianapolis), also missing since Sunday morning.
It’s after midnight and the rain is steady as Max Kidwell stumbles off an empty downtown sidewalk and into an alley. It’s late summer, but the brisk, night wind holds colder currents of autumn. Max has traced this course dozens of nights before, almost always after leaving a bar—too drunk to drive, too broke for a taxi. With octopodal panic—like a small, soft creature seeking safety in the shadowy corridors of coral—Max weaves through the darkness of the alley: a shortcut to his girlfriend’s apartment, to Amy’s apartment.
In Amy, where there was commitment and loyalty Max saw only suffocation. In Amy, where there was patience Max saw innocent gullibility. Over the past few years, Max has learned that if he sincerely reminds Amy that he
love her—and that he
finish school, that he
grow up, that they
get married someday—that there is nearly no limit to the things Amy would allow. And in her commitment and patience, Amy allows Max many things.
Tonight, Max’s inebriation is unique.
Max—his flannel shirt soaked and his hair clinging to his forehead in dark tendrils—winces through nausea and blinks through the rain needling his face. Despite his attempts to focus, things have taken on an aquatic quality—he watches himself moving sluggishly, slowly, languidly. His head throbs. His eyes hurt, as if slowly and fluidly pulling away from each other.
Tonight, Max has subdued these symptoms with the sedatives of alcohol and smoke; but they’re wearing off, and he’s beginning to focus on the feverish realness of irrevocability.
With his shoulder against a brick wall, Max shuffles to the end of the alley, eventually catching sight of Amy’s apartment building.
he assures himself, but the thought—the
—gurgles up from the echoey depths of his mind. And while the internal territory is familiar, the voice is not.
Jerry McWilliams picked Max up around six o’clock, and when Max heard the phlegmy tick of Jerry’s car outside in the driveway, he’d hustled out the door of his mom’s house without saying goodbye. Max dropped into the passenger seat, the interior of the car smelling of stale cigarette smoke. Max, rolling up the sleeves of his flannel shirt, smiled and said, “Let’s get this show on the road.”
Jerry waited until they were safely out of Max’s affluent neighborhood before producing and lighting a freshly rolled joint.
Jerry had made plans to attend a party in a neighborhood on the outskirts of downtown. And while Max was always glad to tag along, he suspected Jerry’s motive was to go somewhere to sell the rest of his dope. Jerry McWilliams had recently come into a large supply of marijuana. Pounds of it, Max estimated, by the amount Jerry had been selling and by the amount the two young men had been smoking. They’d gotten high nearly every day since Jerry had luckily acquired the drugs several weeks before; and Max only asked once about where it had came from. “None of your goddamn business, man.” Jerry had replied, squinting and grinning through a blue cloud of smoke. “Just enjoy it and be glad I’m not making you pay for it.”
Although having gone to the same high school, Max and Jerry had never spoken to each other as classmates. And while both young men were essentially the products of comfortable, middle-class families, Max privately viewed Jerry McWilliams as his suburban antithesis. What the two had in common, as far as Max could admit, was their status as college dropouts and their affinity for mild hell-raising. What Max could not admit (out loud, at least) was that they were both spoiled kids, unwilling to grow up and grow out. Max considered Jerry his drinking buddy, but was, by and large, ashamed to accept him as a friend. Max never dared ask about his hopes and dreams, and rarely posed such questions to himself. They simply occupied each other’s mutually wasted time.