Strange Attractor Press, 2020
This book is described at Strange Attractor's website as offering an "unnerving, serpentine tributary to the canon of supernatural literature," and I can attest that "unnerving" in some cases is a mild descriptor. Of those stories I hadn't read until now, L.A Lewis' "Last Keep," Thomas Ligotti's "The Small People," and Nugent Barker's "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" so creeped me out that a) I woke up in a sweat one night after dreaming about Ligotti's story, b) I had to put the book down for some time after sitting and thinking about "Last Keep" which is absolutely evil, and c) at midday I had scared myself absolutely silly after finishing the Barker story. All three of these tales were not only unnerving but downright chilling once I pondered the ramifications, but they also satiated my hunger for the off-kilter, uneasy feeling that I crave as I read. They all go way beyond the boundary of simply a good scare to becoming so unforgettable to the point of swirling around in the brain long after finishing them.
from Tim Hill, Pixabay
Also falling into the strange zone are "Paymon's Trio" by Colette de Curzon and "Liszt's Concerto Pathétique" by Edna W. Underwood, both of which share a musical theme, but couldn't be more different. The first is somewhat subdued initially before it becomes a dark tale involving the call of the forbidden, while the second explores the question of
"what vague but mentally potent beings dwell on the border line separating the real from the unreal, floating up perhaps from unthinkable depths of time and space, there to await the propitious moment for tapping some nerve of consciousness in us and establishing telegraphic communication with the soul?"
Underwood's tale is short, frightening and so beautifully written. In "Padolo," set on a small, uninhabited island near Venice, author LP Hartley may economize on words, but even though left somewhat unspoken, not on terror. "Brickett Bottom" by Amyas Northcote and "A Black Solitude" by H.R. Wakefield move into more ghostly territory, while Wakefield's "Present at the End" finds a man ridding himself of the demons that plague him. There's also a dark poem by John Gower, "Slep Hath His Haus," which I had great fun reading out loud (it's in Old English), and a story by Richard Middleton, "The Bird in the Garden," in which a veil hangs about a child "which served to make all things dim and unreal," with the true horror coming when that veil is lifted. Oh. Gutwrenching.
In my reading, there were two different times I found quotations that I thought so nicely expressed what I saw in all of these stories. First from A.C. Benson's "The Slype House" comes the idea that
"Oh, it is as appears; he hath been where he ought not, and he hath seen somewhat he doth not like"
followed later by the words of Arthur Machen in "The Inmost Light" in which says
"...when men say that there are strange things in the world, they little know the awe and the terror that dwell always with them and about them."
I was so sorry to see this book end -- the choices of stories that David Tibet made to fill this volume are outstanding. Do not miss his opening piece "A Rainbow Rag to an Astral Bull," where he explains his idea of "the Graveyard," and be sure to read author Mark Valentine's "Biographical Notes" that close this volume.
So very, very highly recommended, for lovers of the supernatural, the weird, and the forgotten.