First published in July of 2013, US author John Prescott’s Lovecraftian anthology ‘Dreaming In Darkness’ brought together four substantial short stories by four authors who had already established a good connection with their contributions to the world of dark speculative fiction. Here the four talented up-and-coming names in the field of horror offer up four new stories, embracing H.P. Lovecraft’s weird and unnerving mythos of Old Gods from aeons past.
The Order – Aaron J. French – 68 pages
When the naked body of Adam Francis - the main security officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan – was found hanging upside-down from his feet by a length of rope, his throat cut almost to the bone, and suspended above a mirror containing a crudely drawn dodecahedron – it wasn’t much of a surprise to see that Carl Sanford had been brought into the investigation. After all, the sixty-one-year-old had spent much of his life compiling intellectual evidence on occult orders. Knowledge that was no doubt useful with this potential murder investigation.
Sanford had been retired for a good four years now. During that time he’d been writing his book – ‘American History and the Occult’. However, upon viewing the scene of the crime, the ex-detective knew that he would need to see this one threw. Too many aspects were pointing to occultist involvement. The large serpentine dagger left near to the suspended body. The stolen Hortus Palatinus painting depicting the once beautiful gardens of Heidelberg Castle in Germany, which had been purposefully placed beside the body. And the inclusion of the dodecahedron – a shape constantly reproduced in occult circles, representing space and time.
But it’s when a letter warning him off the case was slipped under his apartment door, a letter that had been signed off by ‘The Golden Rose Croix Order Of Oriphiel’, that Sanford knew something much more than just one deluded killer was at work here. And a vivid dream in which the Archangel Oriphiel speaks to him about the arrival of the Old One further seals the deal for Sanford. Something of monumental proportions is beginning to unfold. And Sanford is on the cusp of unveiling it all. A New Age is dawning…
What starts out like an equally cheesy rendition of Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ (2003), gradually begins to pick up its creepy Lovecraftian feet, with the introduction of some delightfully mythos-esque passages and a dream sequence seeing a colossal Old One that has come crashing towards New York from underneath the sea. From here it’s very much an unearthing of occultist involvement and the piecing together of facts to bring about a picture of something of near-apocalyptic proportions.
To tell the truth, it’s a strange inter-weaving of two strong yet somewhat clashing elements that merge to form a terrifying ‘End of the World’ scenario. And all through it you have the easily identifiable and purposefully likeable ex-detective Carl Sanford throwing in intellect where run-of-the-mill investigative routine fails. And to be honest, it’s the characters that really keep the tale running through. And it’s with this small handful of characters that French has truly excelled with the short.
Aside from the overriding whodunit element, along with the powerfully suggestive dream-sequences, the tale keeps spiralling towards a final moment of revelation – where French plays out a dramatic sequence that ends the short on a chilling but perhaps not quite as devastating finale as one might have expected. Nevertheless – what a way to begin the collection.
Shadrach Besieged – Adrian Chamberlin – 88 pages
1099 A.D. It’s the day after the fall of Jerusalem and sixteen-year-old Massoud has taken to the Desert of Judah alone. He pushes his weary and sun-scorched body onwards through the blistering heat; the idol a constant weight pulling on his back. But now that the city behind him has fallen to the Frankish knights, one thought alone pushes him on. The voice of his slaughtered mentor, Hassan ibn-Sadak reverberates inside his mind. “The idol must be returned to the desert, buried in the sands. When al-Quds is no longer in sight, when you see the Dreaming Pillars, then you know it is safe to dig the grave for the Hated One.”
But as the great pillars appear in the sand before him. As his body is close to collapse. The riders appear on horseback. And there is no time to bury the idol. There is no time to fulfil his dying duty. As he is cut down under the burning sun, his body bleeding into the seemingly endless sands, he knows that it is all lost. He knows that he has failed. But he will return.
1643 A.D. England is in the grips of a bloody Civil War. Captain James Palmer – Captain to Lieutenant Thomas Sanders’s Company of Launceston, loyal to the Parliamentarian cause – is faced with a lone stranger. Palmer’s men behind him lack the discipline to hold off their attack on this shadowed figure. And it is to their fate.
But when the bloodshed has passed and words can be exchanged, the stranger will prove to be a vital ally to their fight. For they are the Cursed Company. And with this man’s ruthless skills for bloodshed now fighting by his side, Palmer is to face the darkness that awaits them in the cirsed monastery at Fairlight. The man who fights with him calls himself Shadrach. The destination they are bound for – The Black Church. And there they will face the true horrors of darkness. The stars are right…
Chamberlin’s short is an ambitious smothering of Lovecraftian horror that spans several centuries. Indeed, the sheer scale of the colossal horror that is embodied within this lengthy short story is impressive in itself. But it’s with the believable wordsmanship, the immersive atmosphere and clinging sense of ungodly awe that sets this masterclass in Lovecraftian period horror off on such an impactful and truly enthralling footing.
Once we are tossed from the end of the eleventh century into the time of the English civil war, the real bloodthirsty savagery of the tale starts to kick in. Within a matter of pages the reader is confronted with a wall of violence; and from here on in the gloomy and oppressive fog of warfare is a constant cloud over the tale. And it’s under the shadow of this violence that Chamberlin brings forth his reawakening of Shub-Niggurath - The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, together with the influence of the powerful Deity of a Thousand Forms – Nyarlathotep.
As our small band of Parliamentarian fighters make their way to The Black Church in Fairlight (a location that Chamberlin has already become well acquainted with in his Lovecraftian tale ‘Fairlight’) the short suddenly starts to spiral into a seemingly unending abyss of nightmarish horror. And nightmarish is certainly the word of choice here. Think G.R. Yeates’ mind-crushingly-chaotic nightmare sequences from his Vetala Cycle novels and add in an element of early Clive Barker-esque corruption, along with that ever-essential Lovecraftian influence, and you’re edging towards the horrifying mist of ungodly hell that is unfolding.
And the horror and chaos and Great Old One grimness…and more horror and chaos and savage cruelty just keep on coming. The sheer weight of near-palpable darkness and vividly depicted visions of Lovecraftian manifestations is incredible. It’s a read that will take your breath away. And at the very end it will leave you wishing that unnerving chill out from under your skin.
The Serpent’s Egg – Jonathan Green – 48 pages
Nathan Creed had been struggling with writer’s block for some time now. He had been working on that dreaded second novel, and he was finding it tough going. In fact, life as a whole had been pretty darn tough on him of late. Having left his job as a teacher, and now when he had finally broken into the world of professional writing, his wife had decided she’d had enough and left him. His life as a horror author certainly hadn’t been an easy ride thus far.
At least he now had an idea of what he would write about for his next novel. It was an idea that had been lingering at the back of his mind for years. An old folk story that was a part of his family history. One that was deeply integrated into his heritage in County Durham. The legend of the Lambton Worm.
And so, with not much else tying him down, he books himself a room in the Lambton Castle where he can research his new novel. And upon arriving, the young writer finds himself having a warm rural welcome from the estate’s owner – Lord Tristam Lambton, who opens up much of his estate for Creed’s perusal.
Over the following days the writer begins to gather together a vast array of information on the legend of the Lambton Worm. But it’s when Creed begins to get to know the young girl, Catrin, who runs the local newsagents, that his visit to County Durham starts to get more interesting.
And then, on the walk home from a somewhat downcast first date with Catrin, Nathan hears the sound of strange chanting coming from within a manmade grotto inside the grounds of the Lambton estate. Chanting that draws him in to investigate. And it’s there, illuminated by flickering candlelight and within a cloying fog of incense, that Nathan Creed witnesses a scene that makes him want to flee Lambton for good.
In the depths of the cave, a writhing mass of naked bodies are involved in an orgy that appears to involve the whole village community. And Lord Lambton is at the centre of the squirming flesh. It certainly appears that the Lambton has many secrets. And Creed is about to fall unwittingly into the madness of it all. As he’s soon to learn, there’s a lot more to the legend than mere stories...
Green’s contribution is a particularly well-written and entertaining read that utilises a time-tested occult premise for the backbone of his Lovecraftian short. From the outset, Green establishes a strong and likeable character in Nathan Creed (no doubt a respectful nod towards James Herbert’s work) who tells his story about what occurred during his stay at the Lambton estate in County Durham.
With particularly strong resemblances to the likes of ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) or indeed ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ (1936), Green’s story gradually builds upon a worrying layer of mistrust with the community in which his narrator is staying. And it’s from this small nugget of an idea that the tale snowballs into a tension rich occult story; unveiling a veritable avalanche of horror and Lovecraftian weirdness in the last few chapters to end the tale on a tremendous action-packed finale.
The writing and overall pace is tight and consistent – with plenty of energy pushing the plot onwards. Although the actual plot is far from original, the delivery more than makes up for this. Indeed, the end result is a thoroughly entertaining tale, packed with suspense and a bubbling undertone of unease. A couple of surprisingly risqué helpings of sex add a pulpy element to the tale that only builds upon the atmosphere further. Another strong contribution to the anthology.
New Heavens – John Prescott – 42 pages
The first signs that something very strange was occurring was when vast numbers of people from all walks of life started to walk into the sea en masse. As the water swallowed up these starry-eyed men and women, huge green monoliths rose up out of the sea. Around the entire world these vast triangular structures could be seen; each one bearing ancient carvings and unreadable texts. Six months later and the ground started shaking.
For computer programmer, Trent Long, when his house started to shake around him in the early hours of the morning, he was instantly conscious to the deeply unnerving sensation. Waking his wife, Sandi, the two climbed out of bed and ventured out of their house into a world that threatened to destroy their very sanity.
At precisely three-thirty in the morning an electric storm had hit the world, and at that moment, something monumental and unbelievable had occurred. Those vast monoliths that had risen up from the sea around the world finally showed their true purpose. When the time was right, they spread an electrical pulse around the entire globe, fulfilling an ancient prophecy. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the world had been snatched from its position in the universe and placed somewhere else entirely different.
Suddenly the world as we knew it was no longer. Following its dramatic relocation, the planet ceased to spin. Our moon was also gone. Life on the planet was about to take on board one hell of a change. And then the first of the beasts appeared.
Suddenly mankind was no longer top of the food chain. All over the entire world, hideous creatures, terrible manifestations, and colossal beasts are roaming the land; killing off whoever they find. And when Trent Lang walks out of his house into this horrifying new world, the magnitude of it all hits him like a tonne of bricks.
The fight for survival is on. And together with a handful of survivors, Trent Lang has no choice but to try to reverse the events that are bringing forth the utter annihilation of mankind. Hell is now on Earth...
John Prescott is no stranger to apocalyptic settings. Indeed, his ‘Pray’ (2010) trilogy delivered a reinvigorated approach to the whole end-of-the-world premise. And so it comes as no real surprise, that for his contribution to this Lovecraftian anthology, he’s adopted another uniquely inspired apocalyptic storyline.
So what have we got? Well, like with the early chapters of ‘Pray’ (2010), where the biblical apocalypse begins to unfold, Prescott sets down a powerful and awe-inspiring series of events that create a compelling atmosphere for the catastrophic things to come. With the tension already through the roof, the reader is suddenly thrust into a whole new terrifying dimension, where all the rules that we know are thrown out of the window and an ancient hell is unleashed.
Suddenly Lovecraftian beasts are roaming around everywhere, and our narrator and protagonist, Trent Lang, is faced with the death of his wife within seconds of leaving his property. From here it’s a wild ride through a mind-boggling jungle of horror and otherworldly madness.
Trust me; this is one hell of a wacky ride. Think Ian Woodhead’s ‘Shades Of Green’ (2010), crossed with Prescott’s ‘Pray’ (2010) trilogy, along with that all important Lovecraft influence. The end result is one hell of a nightmarish premise for Prescott to play out his utterly compelling storyline. If you thought the previous three contributions in the anthology were packed with inspired imagination and nail-biting horror thrills – then you’re about to be hit by a veritable sledgehammer. Although the short does seem to include a slightly inconsistent timeline, the tale is nevertheless a magnificent piece of wildly elaborate apocalyptic fiction; redefining the whole concept as much as delivering a breathtakingly gripping and downright entertaining read.
The anthology runs for a total of 249 pages and includes five full-colour illustrations by artist James Powell.
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