Black Tallow In The Dark Rites Of Cthulhu

darkritesI’m very proud to have my story BLACK TALLOW appearing in the inaugural book from Neil Baker’s April Moon Books, THE DARK RITES OF CTHULHU.

Neil is a fellow Star Wars What’s The Story alumn and Mythos enthusiast, and he’s wrangled some great talent for his house’s first book, including editor/author Brian M. Sammons, Glynn Owen Barrass, John Goodrich, Scott T. Goudsward, T. E. Grau, C.J. Henderson, Tom Lynch, the ever lovin’ William Meikle, Christine Morgan, Robert M. Price, Pete Rawlik, Josh Reynolds, Sam Stone, Jeffrey Thomas and Don Webb.

Lovecraft Ezine just did a midnight chat on the book which you can view here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRjmMBp7kw0

Unfortunately I had some technical issues and wound up missing it, but here’s what I WOULD have talked about –

Brian pitched Dark Rites to me as a Hammer Studios style take on the ritualistic aspect of the Lovecraftian Mythos, akin to Dennis Wheatley’s fiction (like The Devil Rides Out) and Curse Of The Demon. I latched onto the idea immediately (and had a hand in naming the book).

My story BLACK TALLOW is about a rare book translator and lapsed occultist who is called to the house of an old friend who claims to owe all his substantial worldly success to the pursuit of ritual magic. And yet, the wealthy practitioner is as yet spiritually unfulfilled, until he comes across a rare tome whose ultimate purpose is said to be to grant the occultist the greatest desire of his heart.

blacktallowThe story incorporates The Infernalius, a book which readers of my Merkabah Rider series will recognize.

Perhaps I share my character’s love of physical books, but I have to take a minute and talk about how impressed I am with the look of this anthology. As you can see, Neil distressed the cover image to give the book a very 1960’s paperback feel which I love. He’s also crafted a series of minimalist representational images for each of the stories.

Here’s an excerpt from BLACK TALLOW.

He moved to the book and removed the covering.

I leaned in close.

bookIt was an ugly little thing, less than a hundred pages. It was bound in mottled, flaking, pale leather, and rather inexpertly, I thought. Some of the pages did not quite fit, as if they were mismatched, or taken from disparate sources.  I squinted hard at the cover, which bore no markings. It was old, whatever it was.

“Anthropodermic bibliopegy,” he mumbled, very close to my ear. He was standing near, hovering almost.

“Binding in human skin?” I wrinkled my nose. Claims of book jackets made from human skin usually turned out to be unfounded. Pig skin was often mistaken for human. I had once seen a copy of deSade’s Justine et Juliette with a human nipple on the front board below the title, and another time, Carnegie’s biography of Lincoln bound in a black man’s hide.  “Not very well done, is it?”

“It was stitched together by hand. By the same hand that did the fleshing and tanning.”

“Whose hand is that?” I asked, reaching out to thumb the pages.

“No, don’t open it!” he snapped. Then, more gently, “Let me.”

There was no title, only page after page of densely inscribed text, all in various hands, languages, even hieroglyphs on what looked like brittle papyrus. There were strange diagrams inside. I knew it was some kind of grimoire, but it was impossible for me to guess where it originated from.

“What is this, Paul? Some kind of scrapbook?”

“Sort of. Have you ever heard of the Infernalius?”

“It sounds….familiar.”

“Think back to the books we heard talked about in our college days, Raymond. The books your own grandfather had from his great uncle.”

That was Great Great Uncle Warren, the man family history had always told me I’d inherited my love of languages and old books from. He’d been a Classical Languages professor in Arkham, Massachussetts in the old days, and a chum of the somewhat notorious occult scholar Henry Armitage. Upon Warren’s death in 1931, most of his books and papers had been donated to his university, though a few had been passed on to his brother.

It was the revelation that I was Warren Rice’s great great grand nephew that had started off Paul’s fascination with me in school. He seemed to buy into the old story about how Warren and Armitage had had some strange mystical dealings in Dunwich in 1928 or so.

The books my grandfather had let us peruse in his study one summer that had belonged to Warren were mainly scholarly treatises, such as Copeland’s Zanthu Tablets: A Conjectural Translation, Casterwell’s Kranorian Annals, and von Junzt’s Nameless Cults.

Then I remembered.

“The Book of Books?”

Paul smiled.

“The Book of Books. Not some idle boast, but a literal description. A book hidden among the pages of seven other books.” He held up his hands and ticked them off, finger by finger. “The Book of Eibon, the Book of Karnak, the Testament of Carnamagos, the Ponape Scripture, de Vermiss Mysteriis, and the Scroll of Thoth-Amon. Each one a rare treasure in their own right.”

“Come on, Paul. It’s a fantasy,” I laughed. “The timeline’s all wrong. How could something be hidden in an ancient Egyptian scroll and a book written in 1542?”

“You know of the Akashic Record. The ethereal library of all knowledge written and unwritten which men may tap into. And the history says that The Dark Man entity dictated The Infernalius to the Hyborean wizard Gargalesh Svidren, who dispersed the knowledge through time. Abdul Al-Hazred hid the assembly instructions in the original, unexpurgated Arabic Kitab al-Azif. They’re only visible to those who already know it’s there. A book which rewards the practitioner with ultimate knowledge of the universe.”

“I thought it was supposed to end the world,” I said, pursing my lips. “How much did you get fleeced for buying this, Paul?”

“It’s the genuine article,” said Paul. “Dr. Francis Morgan recovered it from Old Noah Whateley’s personal library in Dunwich after the affair with your uncle and Professor Armitage.  It’s been in a private collection since 1966, along with Whateley’s diary.”

“Noah Whateley kept a diary?” I said, incredulous.

Whateley’s reputation as a sorcerer was renowned, but like my own as a translator, only among certain circles. As students, we’d spent our junior year spring break in Arkham and Dunwich trying to learn all we could about him and run into a wall. I’d chalked it all up to being folklore. Paul had insisted the locals had protected us from the true knowledge.

“He did, and related his assembly of the book in 1882.”

“Finding the right copies of those books, unaltered by translation….it would’ve been impossible for one man,” I said.

“He was hired by a cult, the Order of The Black Dragon. You remember them.”

I nodded. Von Junzt had mentioned them, some sort of apocalyptic cult with origins in ancient Israel and adherents all over the globe.

“Their members gathered the required books and brought them to Whateley. He assembled them, and once the Order had performed the ritual and taken what they wanted from the book, he was sent back to Dunwich with it. Apparently it was their intention to call something forth, something that should have ended the world.”

“Well, so the book’s a fraud,” I said. “Obviously the world didn’t end.”

“The book’s purpose isn’t to end the world, but to grant the ritualist his heart’s desire. The Order wanted the end of the world. The book gave them the means. The book changes to fit the magician’s desire.”

“A book that changes? That’s crazy….”

—–

Black_candles_Speyer_1THE DARK RITES OF CTHULHU is available now in Kindle, and for preorder in paperback. Neil’s made some cool perks for the special edition of the book too, so check them out here.

http://www.aprilmoonbooks.com/#!the-dark-rites-of-cthulhu/c1q0a

 

 

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Full Battle Rattle: World War Cthulhu At Indiegogo

I’m involved in a new book coming from Dark Regions Press called World War Cthulhu, exploring what happens when the armed forces of various cultures and in different times comes face to face with the cosmic monstrosities of the Lovecraftian Mythos. The book is currently live at Indiegogo looking for funds, and offering some cool perks.

This fantastic promotional art from M. Wayne Miller (who also did the cover to my own Van Helsing in Texas novel Terovolas) should give you a good idea of what the book entails….

Dark Regions 6x9 SCALE TEMPLATE

The book features stories from John Shirley, T.E. Grau, Stephen Mark Rainey, Willum Hopfrog Pugmire, Robert M. Price, Neil Baker, David Conyers, David Kernot, William Meikle, Christine Morgan, Konstantine Paradias, Cody Goodfellow, C. J. Henderson, Edward Morris, Brian Sammons, Glynn Owen Barrass, Peter Rawlik, Darryl Schweitzer, Tim Curran, and Jeffrey Thomas, with three authors waiting to be unlocked.

At $13,000, ten interior illustrations will be completed for the book by Miller, something I’d really really like to see happen. Take a look at another piece he’s done already….

Dark Regions 6x9 SCALE TEMPLATE

Pretty cool, right?

My own contribution to the book is a Vietnam-era story, The Boonieman, about a squad of green berets from a remote forward firebase near the Cambodian border in the waning days of the conflict who arrive too late to save a Montagnard village from a battalion of NVA regulars, and instead bear witness to an adopted Tcho Tcho’s terrible vengeance.

apocalypse-now-08-gI think this story’s probably been brewing in my head since my first look at native Vietnamese guerilla fighters in Kurtz’s temple compound in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, and was reinforced by brief glimpses of the Montagnards in the TV show Tour of Duty. The grand finale was definitely inspired by the attack on the Marine firebase Khe Sanh, and that nigh apocalyptic battle at the end of Oliver Stone’s Platoon.

Here’s an excerpt….

“Beo!” he called.

The ‘yard paused at the entrance to the village.

Jatczak caught up with him. He took out his .45, chambered a round, and gave it to Beo.

“Easy, dude,” he said.

Easy. What the hell did Beo have to be easy about? It looked like the NVA had marched through with flamethrowers, like the VC had done at Dak Son in ’67. Every hootch was burned.  Black bodies lay contorted everywhere in the dirt, the cooked flesh dripping off their charred bones.  The smell was of barbequed meat. He remembered the first time he’d come to this village. Beo had killed a pig and cooked up some chocon for them.

His belly rumbled.

Christ. He needed a smoke. He reached in his pocket and found the stone Dyer had given him. He ran his thumb over it. There was a design on there, invisible because of the dark color. A circle with a warped star in the center, and an intricate little burning eye or branching column or something in the middle. Weird shit. He put it back in his pocket and got out his Lucky Strikes.

The storehouse was still blazing. It looked like they hadn’t even taken the goddamned rice. Even the yang pri, the sacred stand of five precious sua trees in the center of the village, was burned.

He thought about Dyer’s orders to radio him about the condition of the village ASAP. The ship radio was fucked, but there was an RT secured in the back.

He lit his cigarette.

They trudged through the ruins, kicking up ash. They passed the tombs, the little totem-surrounded huts packed with offerings and the belongings of the deceased. These abodes of the spirits were untouched, and he could imagine the dinks rubbing that stinking tiger balm on the backs of their necks and refusing to desecrate them, while not hesitating to immolate anything with a pulse.  They had burned children alive with no concerns about angering any ghosts or demons.

Report anything out of the ordinary, Dyer had said. Nothing out of the ordinary here, Major. Just the ‘Nam. Bravo Sierra. 

Jatczak followed Beo to the ruins of his hut. The walls and ceiling had fallen in and were nothing more than a heap of firewood now.

“You too late,” came a guttural voice.

Three men stepped out from among the tombs like ashen ghosts. They were ‘yards, and Jatczak knew the one who had spoken, a squat man in a red headwrap and loincloth, with a black VC shirt and a necklace of weird silver spirals. His name was Rin, and he was the village be gio, or sorcerer.  A tough bastard, more than a little dinky dau.  He’d once seen Rin cut a VC’s heart out and slip it still beating into a bag for God only knew what purpose. The Gia Rai grew their hair long, because cutting the hair damaged a man’s soul.  Rin kept his head shaved. Beo had told Jatczak once Rin’s grandmother had been a Tcho Tcho, but he didn’t know what that meant, and Dyer had said only that the Tcho Tchos were Cambodians and ‘bad news.’

The two men on either side, he knew only by their nicknames, Lyle and Tector. They’d once screened the movie The Wild Bunch at the base and these two had eaten it up, hollering and hooting in the back row to beat the band, declaring they wanted to meet their deaths the same way as Warren Oates and Ben Johnson. Lyle smoked a long stemmed pipe, probably packed with koon sa from the skunky smell and the red haze in his eyes. Tector had a spread of suppurating sores creeping up the side of his face, maybe leprosy.  All three were armed. Tector had an AK-47, Lyle a homemade crossbow, and Rin a sharp, curved, Cambodian dha.

Beo sank to his knees and clawed the black dust. He sobbed.

“How’d you escape?” Jatczak asked the others, slinging his rifle.

They came closer.

“They catch me, march me through bush, but I get loose, tre bien,” said Rin. “These two, out fishing when gooks come.”

“We’ve got a chopper,” Jatczak said. “It’s damaged, but maybe we can get you back to William.”

Rin chuckled, showing his black and yellow Indian corn teeth.

“No…we stay, lieutenant.”

Yeah, William was probably the last place anybody would want to be in another half hour.

“What’ll you do?”

Mut bong pao,” said Rin.

A sacrifice. They’d adopt a water buffalo into the tribe and then kill it. Everybody present would eat some of it. The Gia Rai were big on sacrifice to the caan, the evil spirit of the mountain on which they lived. The caans slept in the rivers and the rocks and had to be appeased regularly, particularly in times of misfortune. Beo had told him once that every family killed its first born child for the caan, to ransom the spirit of the next. He’d taken it as koon sa talk as they’d been sharing a pipe of the local home growin’ at the time.

“I don’t see any animals,” said Jatczak….

*****

The book is, as of this writing, $3600 into the $10,000 goal, with 45 days left. Kick it a buck. It’s a worthy product, and again, I’d really like to see Wayne’s take on some of the stories within.

Here’s the link –

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/world-war-cthulhu-a-collection-of-lovecraftian-war-stories-with-illustrations

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