Read Fearful Symmetries Online

Authors: Ellen Datlow

Fearful Symmetries

FEARFUL SYMMETRIES
AN ANTHOLOGY OF HORROR
Edited by
Ellen Datlow

An Imprint of ChiZine Publications

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

A WISH FROM A BONE

GEMMA FILES

THE ATLAS OF HELL

NATHAN BALLINGRUD

THE WITCH MOTH

BRUCE MCALLISTER

KAIJU

GARY MCMAHON

WILL THE REAL PSYCHO IN
THIS STORY PLEASE STAND UP?

PAT CADIGAN

IN THE YEAR OF OMENS

HELEN MARSHALL

THE FOUR DARKS

TERRY DOWLING

THE SPINDLY MAN

STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES

THE WINDOW

BRIAN EVENSON

MOUNT CHARY GALORE

JEFFREY FORD

BALLAD OF AN ECHO WHISPERER

CAITLÍN R. KIERNAN

SUFFER LITTLE CHILDREN

ROBERT SHEARMAN

POWER

MICHAEL MARSHALL SMITH

BRIDGE OF SIGHS

KAARON WARREN

THE WORMS CRAWL IN,

LAIRD BARRON

THE ATTIC

CATHERINE MACLEOD

WENDIGO NIGHTS

SIOBHAN CARROLL

EPISODE THREE: ON THE GREAT
PLAINS, IN THE SNOW

JOHN LANGAN

CATCHING FLIES

CAROLE JOHNSTONE

SHAY CORSHAM WORSTED

GARTH NIX

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

ALSO EDITED BY ELLEN DATLOW

COPYRIGHT ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

COPYRIGHT

KICKSTARTER BACKERS

ALSO AVAILABLE FROM CHIZINE PUBLICATIONS

INTRODUCTION

Fearful Symmetries
was funded by Kickstarter, a crowd funding mechanism that has in the last few years increased in popularity. Why did I do this rather than use a traditional approach to publishing an anthology? I’ve rarely had problems selling theme anthologies to book publishers. Before a publisher commits to buying a book (novel, single-author collection, or anthology) the publisher must sell the book to its marketing and sales people, who in turn have to sell it to bookstores. But non-theme anthologies have always been a hard sell, and it’s even more difficult in today’s publishing climate.

Using Kickstarter was an experiment. I’ve donated to several Kickstarter projects, but had never been involved with one before. I approached Brett Alexander Savory and Sandra Kasturi, owners of the Canadian ChiZine Publications, to partner with me on the project. I thought they’d be a good match for what I had in mind because I enjoy what they publish and I love their production values and commitment to good-looking books. They also have excellent distribution, which means their books are available in most bookstores. This is important, so that the book is available to the general reading public, not only our several hundred backers. I was delighted (and relieved) when we reached our goal, and shocked when we went above it. The one thing we’d forgotten to factor into our financial estimates was the percentage paid out to Amazon, who handled our payments, and to Kickstarter itself. So the money that went over our initial requirements went for that.

I solicited some of the writers I’ve worked with in the past and also a few whose work I’ve admired but never published before. And in a break from my usual working method, Brett, Sandra, and I decided to hold a month-long open reading period. We promised to keep at least a couple of slots open for unsolicited stories submitted during that period. We received 1,080 submissions. There were several readers, including Sandra and a prominent Australian publisher/editor. Of those 1080 submissions, 119 were passed on to me. I ended up buying four.

Every anthology is a balancing act, be it reprint or original, theme or unthemed. While I love editing themed anthologies, there’s something especially challenging and fun molding an anthology with fewer boundaries. The editor has to be even more aware of varying tones, themes, voice, and locale in the stories she acquires.

So what can you look forward to in
Fearful Symmetries
? There are monsters—human and non-human. There are children—those who victimize, and those who are victims. There are supernatural horrors, psychological terrors, noirish dark fantasies, and downright weird fictions.

Come on in, and make yourself a cozy little nook in the dark, and enjoy.

—Ellen Datlow, New York, 2014

A WISH FROM A BONE
GEMMA FILES

War zone archaeology is the best kind
, Hynde liked to say, when drunk—and Goss couldn’t disagree, at least in terms of ratings. The danger, the constant threat, was a clarifying influence, lending everything they did an extra meaty heft. Better yet, it was the world’s best excuse for having to wrap real quick and pull out ahead of the tanks, regardless of whether or not they’d actually found anything.

The site for their latest TV special was miles out from anywhere else, far enough from the border between Eritrea and the Sudan that the first surveys missed it—first, second, third, fifteenth, until updated satellite surveillance finally revealed minute differences between what local experts could only assume was some sort of temple and all the similarly coloured detritus surrounding it. It didn’t help that it was only a few clicks (comparatively) away from the Meroitic pyramid find in Gebel Barkal, which had naturally kept most “real” archaeologists too busy to check out what the fuck that low-lying, hill-like building lurking in the middle distance might or might not be.

Yet on closer examination, of course, it turned out somebody already
had
stumbled over it, a couple of different times; the soldiers who’d set up initial camp inside in order to avoid a dust storm had found two separate batches of bodies, fresh-ish enough that their shreds of clothing and artefacts could be dated back to the 1930s on the one hand, the 1890s on the other. Gentlemen explorers, native guides, mercenaries. Same as today, pretty much, without the “gentlemen” part.

Partially ruined, and rudimentary, to say the least. It was laid out somewhat like El-Marraqua, or the temples of Lake Nasser: a roughly half-circular building with the rectangular section facing outwards like a big, blank wall centred by a single, permanently open doorway, twelve feet high by five feet wide. No windows, though the roof remained surprisingly intact.

“This whole area was underwater, a million years ago,” Hynde told Goss. “See these rocks? All sedimentary. Chalk, fossils, bone-bed silica and radiolarite—amazing any of it’s still here, given the wind. Must’ve formed in a channel or a basin . . . but no, that doesn’t make sense either, because the
inside
of the place is stable, no matter how much the outside erodes.”

“So they quarried stone from somewhere else, brought it here, shored it up.”

“Do you know how long that would’ve taken? Nearest hard-rock deposits are like—five hundred miles thataway. Besides, that’s not even vaguely how it looks. It’s more . . . unformed, like somebody set up channels while a lava-flow was going on and shepherded it into a hexagonal pattern, then waited for it to cool enough that the up-thrust slabs fit together like walls, blending at the seams.”

“What’s the roof made of?”

“Interlocking bricks of mud, weed, and gravel fix-baked in the sun, then fitted together and fired afterwards, from the outside in; must’ve piled flammable stuff on top of it, set it alight, let it cook. The glue for the gravel was bone-dust and chunks, marinated in vinegar.”


Seriously
,” Goss said, perking up. “Human? This a necropolis, or what?”

“We don’t know, to either.”

Outside, that new chick—Camberwell? The one who’d replaced that massive Eurasian guy they’d all just called “Gojira,” rumoured to have finally screwed himself to death between projects—was wrangling their trucks into camp formation, angled to provide a combination of look-out, cover and wind-brake. Moving inside, meanwhile, Goss began taking light-meter readings and setting up his initial shots, while Hynde showed him around this particular iteration of the Oh God Can Such Things Be travelling road-show.

“Watch your step,” Hynde told him, all but leading him by the sleeve. “The floor slopes down, a series of shallow shelves . . . it’s an old trick, designed to force perspective, move you farther in. To develop a sense of awe.”

Goss nodded, allowing Hynde to draw him towards what at first looked like one back wall, but quickly proved to be a clever illusion—two slightly overlapping partial walls, slim as theatrical flats, set up to hide a sharply zigzagging passage beyond. This, in turn, gave access to a tunnel curling downwards into a sort of cavern underneath the temple floor, through which Hynde was all too happy to conduct Goss, filming as they went.

“Take a gander at all the mosaics,” Hynde told him. “Get in close. See those hieroglyphics?”

“Is that what those are? They look sort of . . . organic, almost.”

“They should; they were, once. Fossils.”

Goss focused his lens closer, and grinned so wide his cheeks hurt. Because yes yes fucking YES, they were: rows on rows of skeletal little pressed-flat, stonified shrimp, fish, sea-ferns, and other assorted what-the-fuck-evers, painstakingly selected, sorted, and slotted into patterns that started at calf-level and rose almost to the equally creepy baked-bone brick roof, blending into darkness.

“Jesus,” he said, out loud. “This is
gold
, man, even if it turns out you can’t read ’em. This is an Emmy, right here.”

Hynde nodded, grinning too now, though maybe not as wide. And told him: “Wait till you see the well.”

The cistern in question, hand-dug down through rock and paved inside with slimy sandstone, had a roughly twenty-foot diameter and a depth that proved unsound-able even with the party’s longest reel of rope, which put it at something over sixty-one metres. Whatever had once been inside it appeared to have dried up long since, though a certain liquid quality to the echoes it produced gave indications that there might still be the remains of a water table—poisoned or pure, no way to tell—lingering at its bottom. There was a weird saline quality to the crust inside its lip, a sort of whitish, gypsumesque candle-wax-dripping formation that looked as though it was just on the verge of blooming into stalactites.

Far more interesting, however, was the design scheme its excavators had chosen to decorate the well’s exterior with—a mosaic, also assembled from fossils, though in this case the rocks themselves had been pulverized before use, reduced to fragments so that they could be recombined into surreally alien patterns: fish-eyed, weed-legged, shell-winged monstrosities, cut here and there with what might be fins or wings or insect torsos halved, quartered, chimerically repurposed and slapped together to form even larger, more complex figures of which these initial grotesques were only the pointillist building blocks. Step back far enough, and they coalesced into seven figures looking off into almost every possible direction save for where the southeast compass point should go. That spot was completely blank.

“I’m thinking the well-chamber was constructed first,” Hynde explained, “here, under the ground—possibly around an already-existing cave, hollowed out by water that no longer exists, through limestone that
shouldn’t
exist. After which the entire temple would’ve been built overtop, to hide and protect it . . . protect
them
.”

“The statues.” Hynde nodded. “Are those angels?” Goss asked, knowing they couldn’t be.

“Do they
look
like angels?”

“Hey, there are some pretty fucked-up looking angels, is what I hear. Like—rings of eyes covered in wings, or those four-headed ones from
The X-Files
.”

“Or the ones that look like Christopher Walken.”

“Gabriel, in
The Prophecy
. Viggo Mortensen played Satan.” Goss squinted. “But these sort of look like . . . Pazuzu.”

Hynde nodded, pleased. “Good call: four wings, like a moth—definitely Sumerian. This one has clawed feet; this one’s head is turned backwards, or maybe upside-down.
This
one looks like it’s got no lower jaw. This one has a tail and no legs at all, like a snake. . . .”

“Dude, do you actually know what they are, or are you just fucking with me?”

“How much do you know about the Terrible Seven?”

“Nothing.”

“Excellent. That means our viewers won’t, either.”

They set up in front of the door, before they lost the sun. A tight shot on Hynde, hands thrown out in what Goss had come to call his classic Profsplaining pose; Goss shot from below, framing him in the temple’s gaping maw, while ’Lij the sound guy checked his levels and everybody else shut the fuck up. From the corner of one eye, Goss could just glimpse Camberwell leaning back against the point truck’s wheel with her distractingly curvy legs crossed, arms braced like she was about to start doing reverse triceps push-ups. Though it was hard to tell from behind those massive sun-goggles, she didn’t seem too impressed.

“The Terrible Seven were mankind’s first boogeymen,” Hynde told whoever would eventually be up at three in the morning, or whenever the History Channel chose to run this. “To call them demons would be too . . . Christian. To the people who feared them most, the Sumerians, they were simply a group of incredibly powerful creatures responsible for every sort of human misery, invisible and unutterably malign—literally unnameable, since to name them was, inevitably, to invite their attention. According to experts, the only way to fend them off was with the so-called ‘Maskim Chant,’ a prayer for protection collected by E. Campbell Thompson in his book
The Devils and Evil Spirits Of Babylonia, Vol.s 1-2
 . . . and even that was no sure guarantee of safety, depending just how annoyed one—or all—of the Seven might be feeling, any given day of the week. . . .”

Straightening slightly, he raised one hand in mock supplication, reciting:

“They are Seven! They are Seven!

“Seven in the depths of the ocean, Seven in the Heavens above,

“Those who are neither male nor female, those who stretch themselves out like chains . . .

“Terrible beyond description.

“Those who are Nameless. Those who must not be named.

“The enemies! The enemies! Bitter poison sent by the Gods.

“Seven are they! Seven!”

Nice
, Goss thought, and went to cut Hynde off. But there was more, apparently—a lot of it, and Hynde seemed intent on getting it all out. Good for inserts, Goss guessed, ’specially when cut together with the spooky shit from inside. . . .

“In heaven they are unknown. On earth they are not understood.

“They neither stand nor sit, nor eat nor drink.

“Spirits that minish the earth, that minish the land, of giant strength and giant tread—”

(“
Minish
”?)

“Demons like raging bulls, great ghosts,

“Ghosts that break through all the houses, demons that have no shame, seven are they!

“Knowing no care, they grind the land like corn.

“Knowing no mercy, they rage against mankind.

“They are demons full of violence, ceaselessly devouring blood.

“Seven are they! Seven are they! Seven!

“They are Seven! They are Seven! They are twice Seven! They are Seven times seven!”

Camberwell was sitting up now, almost standing, while the rest of the crew made faces at each other. Goss had been sawing a finger across his throat since
knowing no care
, but Hynde just kept on going, hair crested, complexion purpling; he looked unhealthily sweat-shiny, spraying spit. Was that froth on his lower lip?

“The wicked
Arralu and Allatu
, who wander alone in the wilderness, covering man like a garment,

“The wicked
Namtaru
, who seizes by the throat.

“The wicked
Asakku
, who envelops the skull like a fever.

“The wicked
Utukku
, who slays man alive on the plain.

“The wicked
Lammyatu
, who causes disease in every portion.

“The wicked
Ekimmu
, who draws out the bowels.

“The wicked
Gallu
and
Alu
, who bind the hands and body . . .”

By this point even ’Lij was looking up, visibly worried. Hynde began to shake, eyes stutter-lidded, and fell sidelong even as Goss moved to catch him, only to find himself blocked—Camberwell was there already, folding Hynde into a brisk paramedic’s hold.

“A rag,
something
,” she ordered ’Lij, who whipped his shirt off so fast his ’phones went bouncing, rolling it flat enough it’d fit between Hynde’s teeth; Goss didn’t feel like being in the way, so he drew back, kept rolling. As they laid Hynde back, limbs flailing hard enough to make dust angels, Goss could just make out more words seeping out half through the cloth stopper and half through Hynde’s bleeding nose, quick and dry: rhythmic, nasal, ancient. Another chant he could only assume, this time left entirely untranslated, though words here and there popped as familiar from the preceding bunch of rabid mystic bullshit—

Arralu-Allatu Namtaru Maskim

Asakku Utukku Lammyatu Maskim

Ekimmu Gallu-Alu Maskim

Maskim Maskim Maskim

Voices to his right, his left, while his lens-sight steadily narrowed and dimmed:
Go get Doc Journee, man! The fuck’s head office pay her for, exactly?
’Lij and Camberwell kneeling in the dirt, holding Hynde down, trying their best to make sure he didn’t hurt himself till the only person on-site with an actual medical license got there. And all the while that same babble rising, louder and ever more throb-buzz deformed, like the guy had a swarm of bees stuck in his clogged and swelling throat . . . 

Arral­Allat­Namtar­Assak­Utukk­Lammyat­Ekimm­Gallu­Alu Maskim­Maskim­Maskim

(Maskim)

The dust storm kicked up while Journee was still attending to Hynde, getting him safely laid down in a corner of the temple’s outer chamber and doing her best to stabilize him even as he resolved down into some shallow-breathing species of coma.

“Any one of these fuckers flips, they’ll take out a fuckin’ wall!” Camberwell yelled, as the other two drivers scrambled to get the trucks as stable as possible, digging out ’round the wheels and anchoring them with rocks, applying locks to axles and steering wheels. Goss, for his own part, was already busy helping hustle the supplies inside, stacking ration-packs around Hynde like sandbags; a crash from the door made his head jerk up, just in time to see that chick Lao and her friend-who-was-a-boy Katz (both from craft services) staring at each other over a mess of broken plastic, floor between them suddenly half-turned to mud.

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