Through Dark Angles
Works Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft
Copyright © 2014 by Hippocampus Press.
Works by Don Webb © 2014 by Don Webb
Acknowledgments: See page 250.
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 design by Fergal Fitzpatrick.
Cover artwork © 2014 by Fergal Fitzpatrick.
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ISBN: 978-1-61498-100-8 (Kindle)
ISBN: 978-1-61498-101-5 (EPUB)
To Guiniviere, who is lovely and wise,
to Michael, who opened a Door,
and to Howard who Dreamed it all up for us . . .Contents
The Mythos and I
Act One. It’s 1967 and my brothers, identical twin geniuses, are finishing up their third year at Rice University. One of them is reading a paperback with a skull surrounded by flames.
The Colour out of Space and Others.
I ask if I can read it. They discuss whether I have the vocabulary. Max says, “Read these two pages. What does the term ‘blasted heath’ mean?” It was obvious to me that it meant a devastated area. But wait—there must be a trick. So I say, “A kind of people.” They look at each other and shake their heads, putting the book in their desk. In a week they are back in school and I do a forbidden act. I go in their room, steal the book, and read it. I am enthralled.
Act Two. It’s 1969. I am visiting the wonderfully haunted old Bivins library in downtown Amarillo. It was a pioneer showcase home donated by the Bivins family to the city. The showplace homes from pioneer times looked much alike, and though none was precisely modeled on the Southern plantation mansion, all partook of its image—massive concrete columns, wide steps on all sides, covered verandas, simple red brick walls, all shadowed by huge trees. In the Panhandle, trees grow only if nurtured and grow tall only if pampered. The library borrowed its grand entrance from the South, and with its double staircase, mahogany banisters, marble mosaic floor, and hanging chandeliers it impressively introduced a child to libraries. One floor, “the adult section,” was underground, dark and cool—unlike the noisy “children’s section,” which was on the second floor. In theory unattended children could not go into the depths, so of course I did. I spotted a hardback in bright yellow. It bore Lovecraft’s name. I opened it at random and found this:
And yet, as the members severally shook their heads and confessed defeat at the Inspector's problem, there was one man in that gathering who suspected a touch of bizarre familiarity in the monstrous shape and writing, and who presently told with some diffidence of the odd trifle he knew. This person was the late William Channing Webb, Professor of Anthropology in Princeton University, and an explorer of no slight note. Professor Webb had been engaged, forty-eight years before, in a tour of Greenland and Iceland in search of some Runic inscriptions which he failed to unearth; and whilst high up on the West Greenland coast had encountered a singular tribe or cult of degenerate Esquimaux whose religion, a curious form of devil-worship, chilled him with its deliberate bloodthirstiness and repulsiveness. It was a faith of which other Esquimaux knew little, and which they mentioned only with shudders, saying that it had come down from horribly ancient aeons before ever the world was made. Besides nameless rites and human sacrifices there were certain queer hereditary rituals addressed to a supreme elder devil or tornasuk; and of this Professor Webb had taken a careful phonetic copy from an aged angekok or wizard-priest, expressing the sounds in Roman letters as best he knew how. But just now of prime significance was the fetish which this cult had cherished, and around which they danced when the aurora leaped high over the ice cliffs. It was, the professor stated, a very crude bas-relief of stone, comprising a hideous picture and some cryptic writing. And so far as he could tell, it was a rough parallel in all essential features of the bestial thing now lying before the meeting.
It was my weird. It had my name, devil worship, runes, and “deliberate bloodthirstiness and repulsiveness.” I was hooked. I hid the book under my arm, snuck up to the children’s section, and then made my way down to check it out (as though it had come from the permissible location). I went to read in the shade of the giant Chinese elm outside waiting for Mom to pick me up.
Act Three. Later that year I discovered a small room on the ground floor full of science fiction paperbacks that children could visit. There I discovered
Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos,
a collection edited by August Derleth, wherein he reveals that almost everything that can be said in the Mythos has been said. I was amazed by James Wade’s tale of the Deep Ones, Ramsey Campbell’s “Cold Print,” which introduced me to metafiction—and of course the Bloch-Lovecraft sequence that forever caught my mind with the Shining Trapezohedron. A gateway to “other spaces”—possibly one of the most effective symbols of cosmicism for itself. This image haunts both my fiction and my esoteric pursuits. Years later I was to become a Knight of the Order of the Trapezoid, invited into that dark group by Dr. Stephen E. Flowers, who also managed to teach me a thing or two about runes.
Act Four. Somehow I have reached the ripe old age of twenty-three. I hadn’t proved myself a great student at Rice University—unlike my brothers who finished first and second in their class in 1968. I had taken some time off from school and then enrolled at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, a town that has frequent dust storms. In fact, in winter a dust storm can rage through Lubbock that has sleet falling through it, and so freezing mud can hit your face. Living in the student ghetto I discovered a new vice—Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I spent hours playing the game—and even ran a campaign on a new game that came out that year, The Call of Cthulhu. My grade point needed some nourishment, and I overheard two students talking outside my Anthropology 101 class. They were talking about an honors course, “Writing the Science Fiction Short Story.” An essay class, they said, you only need to write a story to pass. I signed up for the spring. Sure enough, one story would make you pass. I had two great mentors: one was the classics professor who taught the class, Dr. Peder G. Christiansen; the other was Sid, the owner of Star Books and Comics, who helped me find many wonderful titles from Dick, Ballard, Clark Ashton Smith, Harlan Ellison, and Cordwainer Smith. Christiansen wrote an article, “The Classical Humanism of Philip K. Dick,” which clued me in to the facts that science fiction was part of civilization and that smart people actually
Most of the students were afraid to try their hand at a story. One could write a 12-page research paper instead. I decided to knock the story out. It was my first piece of fiction, “Diary Found in an Abandoned Jeep” (found in this volume). I typed it out over a weekend on my girlfriend’s Texas Instruments 99/4A computer. It used single-sided, single-density floppies for memory—so even though it is a very short story, it took up two disks. I got my A for the story, although my classmates were harsh about the references to both marijuana and Cocoa Puffs. “Your character seems like a loser.” “He is a loser. Fiction can happen to losers as well.”
The story went on to have a much stranger effect on my life than I could have imagined. Doing laundry at my apartment (the old La Paloma), I found a magazine called
a huge review magazine of “zines”—hundreds of indie publications of all topics. It had an ad tucked inside for a new science fiction magazine. I thought I could make some money here. My story had already been typed in manuscript form, one of the prerequisites for the assignment—so I sent it off to the new market. I figured that it was new, and there would be less competition for slots. My acceptance letter came almost by return mail. Yes, I would be in issue one, the messy typewritten letter told me. I would be sharing pages with Dr. Isaac Asimov and Ursula K LeGuin. Obviously I had it made. I pretty much stopped going to classes and began filling up more and more floppies. What a day when the double-sided, double-density floppies came out!
My father took ill in Amarillo. A parasite that he had picked up in World War II while stationed in Brazil had caused his esophagus to develop a long sac that wound around his heart. He had surgery, and I went to be at his side. He passed away on July 5, 1983. I went back to Lubbock. I had no money, no job, and certainly no diploma. My story still hadn’t appeared, so the fame I was expecting was taking longer than I had planned. My girlfriend was moving to Austin and took me along. Months went by. I called the number on the letter. “Can I speak to Mr. Bonfire, please?” “Mr. Bonfire does not have phone privileges today.” In fact, he (like many a Lovecraftian hero) was quite mad. His delusion was that he edited a huge science fiction magazine. I had gotten in the habit of writing. I wrote for three more years, till in 1986 I made two professional sales in the same month—one to
a magazine noted for its cutting-edge fiction, the other to
known in those days for its conservative approach to science fiction. I did, gentle reader, return to school and gained my B.A. from the University of Texas. Major in English, minor in historical linguistics. I have published twenty-one books at this juncture and teach creative writing for UCLA Extension.
The remaining acts are playing out. But the serious question is why would a man devote thirty years of his life to the “Mythos.” I’ll begin with the obvious. I know the Derlethian appellation of “Cthulhu Mythos” is spurious. M????, nice second declension male noun, should be “Mythoi” when we are talking about more than one story. Generally “Mythos” would mean a chat, something said—and more eruditely Aristotle said that it was the first element of a tragedy, what we call “plot” in English. But as is so often the case, the true meaning is there. Lovecraft wrote tragedies. It condemned him to the miserabilist shelf; an area (as Thomas Ligotti has wisely remarked) for Outsiders. A tragedy is a tale (mythos) that shows a change from good fortune to bad to elicit fear and pity in its audience. The hero of the tale makes a mistake, and this leads to his (or her) remembering a hidden and devastating past bond of love or hate. Aristotle tells us that the best such tragedies are complex in their mythos, not simple.
Now what sort of loser should seek out a tale designed to sadden and terrify? Aristotle tells us that witnessing such things purges us: watching the suffering of the figures on stage heals us. What do we need to be healed of? Of the more than two thousand Greek tragedies, only about thirty are left. They are pretty clear prescriptions: “Don’t marry your mom. Don’t piss off your uncle the king. If you kill your mom for killing your dad, some people will be upset anyway.” The Cthulhu Mythos actually has a subtler message. Humans fall short by virtue of their humanity. The conventions of family and politics, religion and culture—even being trapped in a world of four dimensions and five senses—these are our mistakes. These are tragedies for us and meaningless to the great forces of the cosmos. I suppose the ants I accidentally stepped on this morning when I swept my patio could be writing their own tragedies: the Bigfoot Mythos.