Autopsy of an Eldritch City: Ten Tales of Strange & Unproductive Thinking is my second collection of short stories, a follow-up to my first collection Grimoire (2012). Like Grimoire, this new one is published by Rebel Satori Press. Initially, I had intended Grimoire to be my last word in the realm of Lovecraftian weird fiction, but events conspired against that stratagem. I finished writing Grimoire in December of 2009. Yet in 2010 I wrote a new horror story, and by the autumn months of 2011 I had a total of 4 new stories, which prompted me to conceive the idea of doing a second collection. The project stalled in 2012 (mainly because it was around then that I began to type out Metatron’s Arch, my long fantasy novel). But then in 2013 I befriended a young man whose interest in Grimoire (and weird fiction in general) got me inspired to getting back to work on the project. Even though my friendship with the person in question eventually faded away to nothing, I can’t deny that my conversations with him influenced the book in a number of ways (for example, he got me interested in the work of Nick Land). In this fit of inspiration, I wrote 5 more stories in 2013, then one final one for the collection in 2014.
That same year (2013), I realized that what the project lacked was some kind of framing device, a central gimmick. Thinking back to a book I had read and enjoyed in 2011 (Backwoods, by Natty Soltesz), I thought that maybe the collection could achieve some sort of unity if all of the stories were situated in the same setting: in this case, the New England city of Thundermist, Rhode Island, which is a somewhat fictionalized version of my own hometown of Woonsocket, Rhode Island… the word “Woonsocket” being a Native American word that, when translated into English, means “Thundermist” (a brief fun fact: Lovecraft mentions Woonsocket in his story “The Horror at Red Hook”). Another influence in this regard was Bret Easton Ellis’ The Informers, which has long been one of my favorite short story collections. I liked how almost all of the stories in The Informers were set in the Los Angeles area, and how characters that played a minor part in one story would become the main character/narrator in another. So I began to rewrite some of the stories I had previously written (as it were, a few had been set in Thundermist already, so those didn’t need much rewriting) to bring them in line with this new scheme. In the end, all of the collection’s ten stories take place in Thundermist, with one exception. I liked the idea of deliberately shattering the symmetry I had created by putting in a false note on purpose, a perverse act of self-sabotage, and what the hell, The Informers has a few stories not set in Los Angeles anyway.
This collection differs from Grimoire in two ways: for starters, while like Grimoire the stories here are all interconnected (and all told chronologically out-of-order), whereas the stories in Grimoire all combined to tell one giant narrative that led to a big climax, there is no such narrative thread that links the stories in Autopsy. As a result, the collection has, I feel, a more jagged, fragmented tone: one visual inspiration I had was that of a shattered Le Corbusier lamp (in much the same manner that Kanye West’s album Yeezus was inspired by a Le Corbusier lamp). These stories don’t really add up to anything: however, I feel that, individually, if you separated them from the whole, they’d hold up better as stories, whereas if any of the Grimoire stories were separated from their whole, they maybe wouldn’t hold up as well. The other big difference between the two is that this new collection is fully illustrated, whereas Grimoire had no illustrations at all aside from its cover (more on that later).
Working titles for my second collection included The Revolting Science of God, Strange and Unproductive Thinking, Sabaziorum, and Opus Contra Naturam. On July 26th, 2013, I selected Strange and Unproductive Thinking as the title. Later on that year, on October 31st, I came up with the title Autopsy of an Eldritch City. The title is partly inspired by a chapter name from Thomas Ligotti’s philosophy book The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (the chapter in question being entitled “Autopsy on a Puppet”), and also inspired by the title of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel Topology of a Phantom City: I didn’t like that book but thought it was a great title. The use of the word “Eldritch” is, of course, a nod to H.P. Lovecraft, who often employed it in his own tales. Finally, because I like subtitles and still liked the phrase “Strange and Unproductive Thinking” (which is actually the name of a David Lynch song), I decided my new book would have a subtitle as well, and that is how it became Autopsy of an Eldritch City: Ten Tales of Strange & Unproductive Thinking.
The first public announcement of this book (outside of this blog and my own Onyx Glossary blog) was in the author description of myself that appears in the back of the Mighty in Sorrow anthology I appeared in back in May 2014. I mentioned how Autopsy of an Eldritch City was “forthcoming,” which I suppose was kind of a cocky move on my part, seeing I didn’t even have a publisher lined up for it yet… but in my bones I just knew that it would get published at some point, and I wanted to drum up some early publicity. As it was, Rebel Satori got back to me about it not long after that.
The Back Cover Description
“Every city casts a shadow, some longer than others. And the city of Thundermist, Rhode Island casts one of the longest shadows of all. With a population of 40,000 people, it might not seem like the most populated place on earth, but every citizen there has a story to tell, some more sinister than others. Look past the city’s pious Catholic façade and you shall see dead children floating face down in its sewers, witches corrupting susceptible minds with blasphemous books, and demons capering on the frescos of its haunted churches. It is a city where even the most innocent of objects- a quilt, a video game, a snow globe, a notebook- can act as a key that unlocks the doors to Doom, Delirium, and Death. The city has long since faded away: all that lingers is its nightmares, in the form of these ten testimonials from the damned, tales of strange and unproductive thinking. Will you open these pages and conduct an autopsy of your own on this dead city? But be warned: the scalpel that dissects the shadows is also the scalpel that cuts both ways.”
Where to get it
The Stories (in the order they appear in the book)
The Cursed Quilts
The Snow Globes of Patient O.T.
The Yellow Notebook
The Fire Sermon
The Aphotic Zone
The Demons in the Fresco
The following list is taken from the acknowledgments page of the book:
Maya Deren’s Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, the art of Stefan Danielsson, the work of C.G. Jung, M.R. James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (especially his short story “The Mezzotint”), Bret Easton Ellis’ The Informers, St. Ann’s Church and also Precious Blood Cemetery in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, the music of Current 93 and Cut Hands and Coil, the comics of Grant Morrison, Robert Aickman’s short story collections (especially Powers of Darkness and Cold Hand in Mine), the Johnny Dixon Mysteries of John Bellairs (especially The Revenge of the Wizard’s Ghost), The Tibetan Book of the Dead, The Adittapariyaya Sutta, The Holy Bible, the Roman Catholic Church (Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus), Kanye West’s Yeezus album, Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch album, Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, Edogawa Rampo’s Mojo: The Blind Beast, the Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, Half-Life, Kenneth Grant’s short novels The Stellar Lode and Against the Light, Thomas Ligotti’s short story “The Chymist,” the “Black Paintings” of Goya, J.K. Huysmans’ Durtal tetralogy, Creepypasta, Nick Land’s Fanged Noumena, Arthur Rackham’s illustration of “The Gnat and the Flea” for Aesop’s Fables, the oeuvre of Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, the Post-Postmodern Passion of David Foster Wallace, Ritual Quest, and, of course, the Old Man of Providence, H.P. Lovecraft (in particular, his short stories “Pickman’s Model” and “The Dreams in the Witch House”).
Liner Notes to the stories (in the order in which they were written)
*= story was handwritten before I typed it to computer
“The Aphotic Zone”
The first draft of this story was begun on June 8th, 2010 and finished on June 28th of that same month. At that point in time, I was in contact with the greatly missed David Kelso (RIP), who was kicking around the idea of doing a blog/zine devoted to original genre writing (in other words, fiction that fell into the sci-fi/horror/crime/espionage categories: his working name for this project was “I Love a Genre”). I was one of the writers he wanted for this project (others included George Wines, Jesse Hudson, and Saint Flit). So I wrote this story for him. The project never amounted to much of anything, so I ended up using it for my second collection instead. The writing style of this story is heavily inspired by the style used by Thomas Ligotti in his short story “The Chymist” (from his Songs of a Dead Dreamer collection). That is, I liked the idea of doing a story where the narrator is talking directly to the reader, who takes on the role of the narrator’s victim. This story is actually the most typically Ligottian in the whole collection in that it revolves around the idea of philosophical horror (though there is a fair amount of Clive Barker-style body horror as well). As for the title, I wanted to do a story with the word “zone” in it, partly because I’ve always had a fondness for that word, and partly because I love the song “Regal Zone” by Siouxsie & the Banshees. Another big inspiration for it was Arthur Rackham’s illustration of “The Gnat and the Flea” for Aesop’s Fables.
“The Yellow Notebook” *
I began the first draft of this story on November 5th, 2010 and finished it on January 8th, 2011. This story was inspired by a real life event. One night at work I was manning the info desk during a quiet shift (I work part-time as a bookseller for Barnes & Noble). Towards the end of my shift, I was approached by a customer who was seeking out some New Age books. He had the names of the books he was looking for written down in a generic-looking and ratty yellow notebook, and as he flipped through its pages I noticed how bizarre some of his entries that he had written down inside of it were. So from that one customer interaction came this story. I suppose it’s the one that’s most heavily indebted to Lovecraft in this collection (while the title is most likely a nod to Robert W. Chambers’ story “The Yellow Sign”), though it also owes a lot to Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea’s Illuminatus! trilogy (mainly in regards to the Atlantis-orientated material). Other inspirations include the Lovecraftian novels of Colin Wilson and the Nihilanth final boss from that old computer game Half-Life. Having said that, part of the fun of this story was writing it from the perspective of a disgruntled bookseller, so some aspects of it are autobiographical.
“The Demons in the Fresco” *
In 2010 I became very interested in studying the history of many of the old cemeteries and Catholic churches located in Woonsocket, this research later being used in the stories of this present collection. In particular, I became fascinated in a local church called St. Ann’s Church. This church closed down in the year 2000, but a local non-profit group took the place over and restored it. I took a tour of the church in August 2010 and it ended up inspiring this story, the longest in the collection. You can read about it from this old article I posted on my blog years ago: http://onyxglossary.blogspot.com/2011/03/demons-in-fresco.html
I began the first draft of this story on January 10th, 2011 (just two days after finishing the first draft of “The Yellow Notebook”). I finished the first draft on February 28, 2011. Like many of the other stories in this collection, a number of influences worked their way into this tale: the Johnny Dixon Mysteries written by John Bellairs (I read a number of those when I was a kid and they were the first horror books I ever encountered), the novels of J.K. Huysmans (in particular the Catholic novels of his Durtal teratology: I even named the church in the story after his Durtal character), H.P. Lovecraft’s story “Pickman’s Model,” the so-called “Black Paintings” of Goya, and so on. Though there’s also a strong autobiographical element to the story as well, in that the main character is a gay man who, while no longer identifying as a Catholic, still finds himself drawn to the Church and Catholic art, music and architecture in general. In much the same manner that Grimoire concerned itself with the dark side of occultism, with this second collection I wanted to explore the dark side of Christianity (and Catholicism) a bit, and this shows up most in this story. I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a religion to have a dark side… indeed, if it didn’t, it probably wouldn’t even be worthy of much interest in the first place.
St. Ann’s Church, the inspiration for St. Durtal’s Church
the original demons in the fresco that inspired the story
“The Snow Globes of Patient O.T.”
I began the first draft of this story in the summer of 2011 and finished it sometime in the fall. The title is a spoof of Einstürzende Neubauten’s 1983 album Drawings of Patient O.T. The big inspiration for this story came from a Day off this very blog, back in June of that year, revolving around the petri-snow globes of Walter Martin & Paloma Muñoz: http://denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com/2011/06/galerie-dennis-cooper-presents-petri.html?zx=ac8451889d15cd57
With this story I was going for kind of a Ramsey Campbell tone, though I’m not sure if I succeeded. I suppose it may have a Stephen King vibe in that it’s kind of a conventional small-town horror story.
“The Fire Sermon”
In March of 2013, my friend Scott Bradley invited me to contribute a story to a charity anthology he was putting together entitled Explosions. The main theme was that all of the stories had to revolve around the subject of land mines. I did the first draft of this one very quickly, typing it out on an old-fashioned antique type-writer on March 18-19, 2013. While Scott liked the story, he felt it didn’t fit in with the other stories in his collection (he likened it to the out-of-place Einstürzende Neubauten track off the Heat soundtrack, which I thought was kind of a neat analogy), so I decided to use it here instead.
I don’t consider myself an experimental writer by any means, but every now and then with short stories I like to try something left of center (those of you who read Grimoire might recall how one story in that one, “The Onyx Glossary,” was a tale told through the glossary entries of a non-existent book). I would say that “The Fire Sermon” is probably the most experimental story in this new collection, in that it’s essentially a long 10 page paragraph done in a somewhat stream-of-conscious prose style. I had read David Foster Wallace’s novel Infinte Jest in January of that year, and at the time I wrote the first draft of “The Fire Sermon” I was reading his first novel The Broom of the System, so “The Fire Sermon” is kind of like a David Foster Wallace tribute (in that he often wrote very long/rambling/stream-of-conscious paragraphs).
Another big inspiration for this story was the “Fire Sermon Discourse” of the Buddha (look it up on Google if you’ve never read it). On a totally unrelated note, J.G. Ballard had a chapter named “The Fire Sermon” in his novel The Drought, which may have been where I first heard about it.
Here are the two pages that make up the first draft of “The Fire Sermon” (obviously, the story was greatly extended when I typed it up on the computer).
This is probably the oddest story in the collection, in that it’s not really a horror (or even a weird fiction) story. I’m not sure if it’s worth reading or if it’s something of a failure, and the fact that it took so long to finish (I began writing it November 11, 2010, a few days after I began “The Yellow Notebook,” didn’t work on it at all 2011/2012, then finally finished it on April 24th, 2013, the same day I started “Dyad”) is, I think, telling. Part of the problem was that I just couldn’t figure out how to end it, and like with “Dyad,” I’m not totally 100% satisfied with the ending (though when I described it to my therapist, he burst out laughing, which I’m going to hope is a good thing). Like “London After the Rain” (the story that opens Grimoire), this story revolves around a therapy session, partly because I find therapy to be an interesting subject, and also because the place where I go to for therapy is a somewhat unusual-looking building, and I felt the need to feature it in a story. I suppose that once again David Foster Wallace was an inspiration here, along with Carl Jung’s book Psychology and Alchemy, which I was reading at the time. Some of the material in this story was used for a day I wrote for this blog a few years back that dealt with childhood fears of mine (at the time, I despaired of ever finishing this story, which is why I wrote that blog day, to at least get that material out there in some format). More than any other story in this collection, this one is very autobiographical (though my mother was never a religious fanatic like the one in this story). The title means “fear of rainbows,” and as a kid I was afraid of rainbows. When I mentioned this to Math Tinder on Facebook in 2011, Math said I should write a story about that (if memory serves me right), which is how this story came about. It’s very slow-moving, and filled with mundane details, but all the same there’s something about it I like, though I can’t quite put my finger on it… maybe because I’m something of a know-it-all in real life and the voice of this story’s narrator is kind of a parody of that, I think.
Here’s a picture of the building where I go for therapy, which inspired the Plaza Center building in this story:
This story is the aforementioned “false note” of the collection, in that it takes place in Japan as opposed to Thundermist (though in a way it is still connected to Thundermist). I began the first draft on April 24th, 2013 and finished it June 3rd, 2013. The title is taken from a Whitehouse song of the same name. It just so happened that in April of that year I had read a bunch of Japanese novels (including Edogawa Rampo’s The Blind Beast, Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Kappa, Osamu Dazai’s No Longer Human, Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes, and Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of the Waves), so Japan was heavily on my mind at the time I wrote this story. Around the same time I first heard about the infamous “Suicide Forest” in Japan, and that struck me as a cool location to have a ghost story (though I’m sure it’s been done by others). Though it must be said the primary inspiration for the style of this one was Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, which I had first read a few years previously. My only issue with this story is I don’t think all that much about how it ends, but ah well.
“The Cursed Quilts”
They say “write what you know.” I often ignore that advice, but decided to follow it with this story. My mother is a quilter, is actually a member of several quilt groups, and her work is often shown at quilt shows (and has even appeared in magazines and newspapers). As a result, my brothers and I have been to many quilt shows in our life. One day I wondered if it were possible to write a horror story that my mother could enjoy, and I decided it would be a fun challenge trying to write something creepy about a quilt show (if you’ve never been to one, they’re possibly the least creepiest thing you can imagine). So this story was the result. At the time I wrote the first draft (between July 22nd and August 6th of 2013), I was listening to the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light album a lot, and the way they incorporated African rhythms and music into their own music inspired me to incorporate voudou elements into this story (as it is, Haitian voudou is a syncretic religion anyway, incorporating aspects of other faiths into its belief system, though of course, many religions do that). I see it as a sort of “quiet” British ghost story (even though it takes place in New England), in much the same manner as a Robert Aickman or an M.R. James (in fact, this story is actually my attempt to write my own version of James’ classic short story “The Mezzotint,” a story I’ve always found to be extremely creepy and sinister). The African-inspired artwork of Stefan Danielsson (whose work has graced the covers of Whitehouse albums) was also a big inspiration for this story. I don’t usually put hidden layers in my stories, but this tale is actually a metaphor of how some of the African tribespeople were betrayed by their own clan leaders, who collaborated with the French to sell them into slavery, and how they in turn dealt with this betrayal.
In October of 2013, I decided that the collection needed a story revolving around Thundermist during the season of Halloween, but I couldn’t come up with a cool idea. Then one day I woke up at like 5 AM in the morning and, in a daze, I had a mental image pop up in my head of a witch handing out horror books to trick-or-treaters, in an attempt to rot their minds/souls instead of their teeth. Then I promptly fell back asleep. When I woke back up for real, I realized I could work that idea into a story, and “Tir-Na-Nog” is the result. I began the first draft on October 5th and completed it November 15th of 2013. The original title was ‘The Sect of the Fecundating Cauldron,” but I eventually changed it to “Tir-Na-Nog” (a title that was inspired by the story title “Ynys-y-Plag” from Quentin S. Crisp’s All God’s Angels, Beware! collection).
Originally the 10th and final story in the collection was to have been “Planet Earth is Going to be Recycled,” which I banged out in late September 2013 (in-between “The Cursed Quilts” and “Tir-Na-Nog”) as a sort of tribute to another departed friend, Antonio Urdiales. I ended up dropping the story for various reasons on March 5th, 2014, and suddenly found myself needing to write a new story to fill in the gap. So between March 19th to March 31st 2014 I wrote the first draft of “Ritual Quest.”
This story was inspired by a video game called “Ritual Quest,” by my friend Kyte Lockett (who has often posted on this blog in the past). I played the game in late February of 2014 and was so obsessed with it that I wrote an entire story around it. Around the same time I was reading a lot of Creepypasta articles on supposed “cursed” video games (like the “Red” Godzilla NES cartridge), and playing scary survival horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, so that all factored in as well. This story also owes a huge depth to Nick Land’s Fanged Noumena book, parts of which I had been reading at that time. Land’s mash-ups of Lovecraftian horror and cyberpunk sci-fi jargon was something I found intensely interesting at that time (and to some extent still do).
What follows is a list of songs which are specifically name checked in the text itself and which play an important part in Autopsy of an Eldritch City. A few of the songs actually come from the soundtracks to video/computer games, primarily “Crucible of Flame” (from the old Super Nintendo game Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts), “Lavender Town’s Theme” (from one of the Pokémon games), and “Sims Will Build” (from the The Sims 2: Apartment Time expansion pack).
“Strange and Unproductive Thinking” (David Lynch) title song
“Black Mamba” (Cut Hands)
“Sonata II in A” (Thomas Vincent)
“All Things Are Quite Silent” (Shirley Collins)
“Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)” (Talking Heads)
“Voodoo” (Adam Lambert)
“Overture (from Macbeth)” (Third Ear Band)
“Crucible of Flame” (Mari Yamaguchi)
“Purple People Eater” (Judy Garland)
“Lavender Town’s Theme” (Junichi Masuda)
“The Decline of English Murder” (Alan Moore)
“Sims Will Build”
“Caribou” (The Pixies)
“Red Birds Will Fly Out of the East and Destroy Paris in a Night” (Coil)
“Early Winter” (Gwen Stefani)
“Nyarlathotep” (Burning Star Core)
“The Snow” (Coil)
“Wasted Time” (The Eagles)
“Atlantis” (Sun Ra)
“Fracking Fluid Injection” (The Knife)
“Time” (Pink Floyd)
“What in the World” (David Bowie)
“Heart of Glass” (Blondie)
“Look at Your Game Girl” (Charles Manson)
“Miss the Girl” (The Creatures)
“When You Were Young” (The Killers)
“Go Your Own Way” (Fleetwood Mac)
“Circle” (Siouxsie & the Banshees)
“Underneath ” (Adam Lambert)
“Rabbit Snare” (Throbbing Gristle)
“Turn You Inside-Out” (R.E.M.)
“Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental)” (Vince Guaraldi Trio)
“Big Church (Megszentsegtelenithetetlensegeskedeseitekert)” (Sunn O))))
“The Great, Bloody and Bruised Veil of the World” (Current 93)
“The Holy Hour” (The Cure)
“The Blood” (The Cure)
“Demons” (Imagine Dragons)
“Came Back Haunted” (Nine Inch Nails)
“Asleep” (The Smiths) end credits
“We stood at the edge of Lovecraft’s tomb in Providence, I and the author James Champagne, on a misty November morning, sun battling with frost. Almost without thinking we sank to our haunches, squatting at the foot of the grave; from nowhere a strange heat came to flicker at our underparts, to toast them, to inflame them. “Do you feel that, James?” “Yes, like a hand caressing me.” Hold on a minute here, I thought, my mind racing in excitement. It was almost as if the hands of Lovecraft himself were trying to wrestle us into the grave with him, down into hell, by the balls if need be. In panic I dropped his hand as the images of Lovecraft’s and Champagne’s haunted fictions began to cloud my mind in madness. Autopsy for an Eldritch City shows once again why James Champagne is one of the most inventive, soulful writers of horror and the fantastic working today. And he can be wicked funny too. Watch at twilight as his wit takes you down the leafy path to damnation.”
“James Champagne's AUTOPSY OF AN ELDRITCH CITY is vitally strange fiction. Glimpse TRUE DETECTIVE writ large (you paying attention Mr. Ligotti?) - then you get a little notion. Champagne's work is perverse, elegant, and creepy; I wish I could write this well!”
- Scott Bradley, author of THE DARK.
Extracts (the first paragraph from each story)
From “The Cursed Quilts”
“I’ve always found attending quilt shows to be a somewhat unsettling experience. It’s not because of the Raison d’etre of such shows: after all, how scary can a quilt be? And it’s also not related to the people such shows tend to attract; generally speaking, harmless-looking middle-aged to older women, the kind of people who read ‘cozy’ mystery novels about cats who solve crimes or who surround themselves with cats in general (or sometimes both). No, what I find unsettling is the looks I get when I myself attend quilt shows. In my experience, I’ve found that you often won’t find a lot of men at such events, aside from the husbands of those women whose work is on display, or, more pertinently, the sons of those women. Therefore, when I go to such shows I feel as if I stick out like the proverbial sore pollex, and I always get embarrassed when the other women would refer to my brothers and me as “Susan’s boys” (Susan being the name of our mother). There are even times where I’ve wondered if it would be less embarrassing were I to go to such shows in drag, to try to blend in with the other women, as it were, and thus escape notice. But seeing as my body is fairly hairy, I don’t believe that such a deception would be all that effective.”
“Like many odd children, Halloween was always my favorite holiday. It was to my great fortune, then, that I grew up in the city of Thundermist, Rhode Island: while this city was of a particularly Christian bent, that didn’t stop its citizens from going all-out and getting in touch with their inner pagan as far as Halloween was concerned (and as G.K. Chesterton once observed in his book Orthodoxy, “We are all revenants; all living Christians are dead pagans walking about”). My obsession with Halloween was something that perplexed my parents, but I can’t see why this should have been the case; after all, I was hardly a stereotypical little girl, and while my peers were all playing with Barbie dolls I instead took it upon myself to fashion a miniature eidolon from concrete and rebar, said eidolon resembling, in retrospect, a condensed version of SCP-173. I suppose I was a somewhat precocious child: I was probably the only girl on my block who named her pet cat Dharma. And yes, it was a black cat. My youth was a time of loneliness and isolation, and I didn’t have all that much in the way of friends, aside from a local boy named Frederick (it probably didn’t help matters that I wasn’t the most attractive girl, bearing a strong resemblance to poor Clara, the little tot who’s wasting away in Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, though I have freckles and she doesn’t). I’ve always wondered if this had to do with my family’s cultural heritage: in a city made up mostly of French-Canadian immigrants, a girl with a name like Alice O’Nan kind of drew notice to herself, as Thundermist has never boasted a large population of Irish-Americans. At times it felt as if the only thing I had in common with all the people around me was my Catholic faith and my love for Halloween.”
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a fear of the sky.” I paused, took a sip from the glass of water that Dr. Roxy had been thoughtful enough to leave on the small wooden end table to the side of my chair, and then continued on with my story. “I have this very distinct memory from childhood where I was hanging out at Vernon Park one day and staring up at this domed hill, and on top of this domed hill there was this one lone tree, and because it was late fall all of the leaves had fallen off this tree, leaving its branches bare. From where I stood, at the bottom of the hill, the tree looked completely black, and juxtaposed as it was with the cloudless blue sky behind it, it seemed almost as if the tree were a crack in the sky itself, and for a brief few seconds the tree/crack seemed to begin to grow before my eyes, and I panicked, visualizing in my mind’s eye the sky itself cracking open and shattering to pieces all around me like big shards of blue glass. The sky as a giant blue Easter egg being smashed against the rim of a frying pan, the rim in this case being the Earth’s horizon. What can I say? As a child, I had quite an imagination. But it wasn’t just the sky itself that scared me. It was also things that came from the sky. One raindrop could have been the precursor to a Biblical flood that would never end. Then there were tornadoes, which scared me witless, even though I’ve yet to ever see one in my life. I often had nightmares of tornadoes, as a child. In these dreams I would often see storm clouds gathering in the sky like the black ships of the Antichrist’s armies and watch in horror as the bottom tips of maturing tornadoes descended from these storm clouds like enormous cobras unsheathing their fangs. Lightning was an electric crack that seemed to shatter the mirror of the sky, and thunder unsettled me. There was this one bad storm I suffered through when I was a child, I may have been maybe 9 or perhaps even 10 at the time, where I was home alone with my father and we were both in the living room of our house, he on his favorite rocker and me on the family sofa, and I guess to try to take my mind off the storm my father was telling jokes, or just making comments that were supposed to be amusing in general. One of these comments (or perhaps observations would be a better word) was that thunder was nothing more than God farting in Heaven. But that comment had the opposite of its intended effect on me: instead of making me laugh, it shocked and even horrified me. It seemed blasphemous to me that he would say such a thing, even though I knew he wasn’t being serious. I looked at my father with a glum face and asked him, in a nervous voice, ‘Dad, will you go to Hell for saying something like that?’ Many years later, during a period of my life in which I found myself studying the Qabalah, I came across a book by William G. Gray entitled Qabalistic Concepts: Living The Tree, that had first been published in 1984. There was this one chapter in the book, chapter 20 I think it was, that was titled ‘Esoteric Excretion,’ in which the author pondered the idea of Man serving as the Microcosm that was made in the likeness of God (and the Macrocosm), and wondered how, if Man has a digestive and excretory system, then does God as well? Or, as the author puts it, ‘does deity produce dung?’ He examined the Qabalistic Tree of Life and came to the conclusion that the Sephira Daath, otherwise known as ‘The Abyss,’ served as a sort of mouth, then conceptualized a second Abyss, in between Yesod and Malkuth at the bottom of the Tree, that served as the anus of God. It’s quite an interesting chapter, really, and reading it one can see how it was a clear influence on Grant Morrison’s The Filth comic book. At the start of the chapter, he wrote how, in the old days, there was a reason why hanging was the preferred method of dealing with criminals. It was believed that when the soul left the body at death, it did so via either the mouth or the nostrils. But when one was strangled, the soul would be unable to escape the corpse using those routes, and would instead be forced to escape via the anus, or the ‘dung gate’ as it was called. It’s common knowledge that when one is hanged one often ejaculates, but explosive defecation is also quite common in such situations. By forcing the soul to flee from the body side-by-side with shit, they believed they were condemning it to an ill-starred afterlife. Anyway, reading all this reminded me of my father’s observation about the farts of God years ago, and got me looking into the topic of intestinal exorcism. One day while I was paying a visit to the Thundermist Rescue Mission I happened to bump into a friend of mine, Padre Pendragon. We got to talking, one thing led to another, and he eventually got around to lending me a book called Glory of the Confessors by Gregory of Tours. In this book he writes about this bishop from the 5th century named Martin of Tours who was known for his ability to exorcise demons from people who had been possessed. At one part of the book Gregory mentions how one of the afflicted men that Martin exorcised ended up expelling the demon from his body in a ‘blast of air from his bowels.’ So I got to researching the topic a bit more and I found out how in the Middle Ages it was believed that flatulence was seen as a way of casting demons out from one’s body. The idea of demons being expelled by flatulence isn’t unique to Western Christianity, however. For example, Ethiopians also believe that when one farts demons escape from the body. And there’s also a certain mysterious voodoo cult in Haiti that worships Ti-Moufette, the lwa of bad smells. The priesthood of this cult conducts rituals in which they try to emit as many bad smells as they possibly can: I’m sure you can imagine what that entails.”
From “The Snow Globes of Patient O.T.”
“Searchers after horror haunt strange, far places.” So begins “The Picture in the House,” a short story written by H.P. Lovecraft on December 12, 1920. It was a statement that had resonated with Daphne Broadmoor ever since she first came across it many years ago, while flipping through the 1985 corrected sixth printing of Arkham House’s publication of Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horrors and Others, a book that she had stumbled across on her father’s bookcase when she was a child, a book with a green dust jacket featuring a Raymond Bayless illustration of Cthulhu emerging from his sunken tomb at R’lyeh. Throughout her twenty-five years of existence, Daphne had known a fair number of people who were fixated on buildings possessing an eidolic glamour: one friend of hers had been obsessed with an old chemical factory situated in the city of Los Diablos (an obsession which had led him to insanity), while another of her friends, Timothy Childermass, adored a local church known for its beautiful (and supposedly haunted) frescoes. As it was, there was one such place she herself was utterly fascinated with, which, though it was not far from her, was certainly strange: Saddleworth Clinic, a hospital for the mentally insane.”
From “The Yellow Notebook”
“Hell is other people!” So wrote Jean-Paul Sartre in his 1944 play No Exit. Little could he have known at the time that this anguished ejaculation of existentialism would become the unofficial credo of the modern day retail employee. Like the chorus of some pretentious yet nonetheless catchy Parisian pop song, the phrase “Hell is other people!” had a habit of repeating itself in my head over and over again during my shifts at Covers, which was the name of the bookstore where I worked full time as a bookseller. It was certainly echoing in my head on the date of October 11, 2012, the evening on which I first laid eyes on the Yellow Notebook. Oh! That infernal Yellow Notebook! If only I had called in sick that day, I could have spared myself from the present misery I now find myself enmeshed in. But, alas, I get ahead of myself.”
From “The Fire Sermon” (note: because this story is one long paragraph, I’ve only excerpted its first page)
“The deliquescent prenatal memories of swimming onetailed through your father’s groinal cathedral, Pre-Ovum, back when Mother used to spend an hour in the bedroom of her parent’s house, listening to “What in the World” off David Bowie’s Low over and over again while putting on her Clockwork Orange-inspired make-up before hitting the local disco, where one September night in 1979 she met your Father (you were conceived when your parents first had sex in the restroom of said disco, while Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” played over the sound system in the background). Father, a physicist who was utterly discredited years later when he wrote that article defending Hanns Horbiger’s World Ice Theory (Welteislehre), stating his fanatical belief, in no uncertain terms, in the doctrine of Eternal Ice and Glacial Cosmogony. Your mother was an archaeoastronomer and a member of ISAAC (The International Society for Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture). The year that you realized that most other little boys didn’t have tails and scaly skin and forked tongues and extremely flexible spines. The times when your peers would chase you around the schoolyard, throwing stones at your frail body and calling you “Son of Godzilla” (and oh, how you cried when you got home, in the privacy of your own bedroom, yet at the same time you also took a secret masochistic pride in being called Godzilla’s son because Godzilla’s son, Minilla, was the Godzilla character with whom you most identified). The same jeering peers who only grudgingly accepted you as one of them the year you developed those warts on your right hand (on the webbing in between your thumb and index finger, an area known as the thenar space), and you would chase the screaming girls around the schoolyard, trying to touch them with your warty hands, while the boys whom you both hated and at the same time wanted to impress laughed and cheered: misogyny creates strange bedfellows (years later you would partially redeem yourself by selecting Chun-Li as your preferred Super Street Fighter II character of choice, a partial feminist statement, though a subconscious one). Playing on the beach one overcast August afternoon, digging a large hole in the sand and pretending that it was the hoof print of an enormous horse, the kind of thing one would expect to see featured in a Surrealist painting from the 1930’s, or perhaps the final work of Alan Kirschner.”
“In the Yamanashi Prefecture of Japan, there is situated, at the northwest base of Mt. Fuji, a forest known as Aokigahara, which is Japanese for “Sea of Trees.” Spread out over 14 square miles and being home to over 200 icy caverns, over the years this notorious forest has acquired a large measure of infamy on account of the fact that not only is it a popular site for suicides (the second most popular site in the world, with the first being the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco), but also due to legends which state that the forest is haunted by angry spirits known as the Yūrei. During the famine years of the 19th century, poor Japanese families would sometimes take their elderly relatives or even their very young and infirm children out into the depths of Aokigahara and abandon them there, an act known as Ubasute, and perhaps it is the spirits of those who were left behind to die in such a cruel way that now haunt the forest.”
From “The Aphotic Zone”
“Good evening, my friend. Please, step a little closer to me; I can’t hear you over the noise of the crowd and this music. I quite like this song, actually: “Underneath,” by Adam Lambert. I find the lyrics, especially those that may be found in the chorus, to be quite touching. Yes, you presume correctly: I am indeed the artist known as Professor Noe. I take it this isn’t your first time visiting the Melanoid Art Gallery? Ah, I was correct in my assumptions, then. Quite a turnout tonight, wouldn’t you say? I’m not quite sure if I understand all the hullabaloo, though: this art is all a bit too minimalist and abstract for my liking. Nothing depresses me more than seeing our lovely organic forms reduced to mere geometrical shapes, and to be honest I’m somewhat appalled by the Cubistic hereticism on display this evening. Did you see that print campaign that the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra released a few months ago, in which they took macro photographs of the interiors of violins, flutes, cellos, and pipe organs, so that the insides of these instruments, which we normally never see, took on the appearance of vast, extremely spacious rooms? I thought that the violin photographs, in particular, were stunning: their interiors resembled large wooden chambers, with the f-holes in the ceiling acting almost like skylights. Such art is more to my liking. But there are too many people here for me to talk to you comfortably. Come, let us speak in this less occupied side gallery, where it is quieter and darker, and our only audience will be the shadows, who, even more so than priests, can be trusted to conceal a secret.”
From “The Demons in the Fresco”
“Of the many gifts that Timothy Childermass had received on his sixth birthday, his favorite one had been a kaleidoscope that had been a present from his father. This kaleidoscope, which his father had purchased at a local church bazaar for the grand total of $7.59, was encased in a cardboard tube whose outer surface was decorated with artwork of a Christian nature, mainly depicting scenes of martyrdom. These scenes included reproductions of Guido Reni’s 1616 painting of Saint Sebastian being shot with arrows (this being a work of art that had not only inspired Oscar Wilde but had also led Kochan, the narrator of Yukio Mishima’s 1948 novel Confessions of a Mask, to experience his first sexual ejaculation), Caravaggio’s 1616 painting Crucifixion of St. Peter (which portrayed St. Peter being crucified upside-down on an inverted, or Petrine cross), Jean-Leon Gerome’s 19th century work The Christian Martyr’s Last Prayer (which displayed an Imperial Rome scene in which a small band of imprisoned Christians huddle together in prayer in the center of the Circus Maximus, with lions and tigers slowly approaching them for the kill), and, finally, Rembrandt’s 1625 painting The Stoning of St. Stephen, which depicted the Protomartyr being stoned to death by a mob of infuriated Jews following his trial before the Sanhedrin (this scene being taken from the New Testament’s “Acts of the Apostles”). It seemed a very odd and somewhat morbid way in which to decorate a child’s toy, but years later Timothy had done some research on the kaleidoscope and found out that it had been manufactured by a Waco, Texas-based company (named Mt. Carmel Curiosities) that specialized in the creation of Christian themed children’s toys. Apparently, the illustrations on the front were to remind the child about the sacrifices that Christians are often demanded to make, while the beautiful colors within the tube symbolized the beauty of the human soul, something that can’t be seen on our outer forms.”
From “Ritual Quest”
“Sometimes one can form a surface impression of someone else through the briefest of glances. And most people who saw Alex Vauung for the first time usually came to the kneejerk conclusion, based on his appearance, that he just had to have strange hobbies, like collecting air sickness bags or watching propaganda videos put out by the Heaven’s Gate UFO doomsday cult: he was the sort of man that made one think, “Now there’s an unusual looking chap. He must be a campanologist, or perhaps a man who knows how to best apply Yuggothian Matrices to the To-Gai Null Spaces.” Alex Vauung was indeed an unusual looking individual, a 19-year-old man whose brown hair was done up in an exaggerated bouffant similar to the style sported by Jack Nance in the film Eraserhead, and his clothes were all vintage, threadbare-looking, ill-fitting suits from Victorian times, though the Matrix-style sunglasses he always had on when out and about did give him a sort of cyberpunk vibe. And he did indeed have a strange hobby, in that he was a collector of peculiar and obscure video and computer games. Not necessarily rare games, however: after all, he was a borderline destitute student, and often couldn’t afford such luxuries. His favorite type of peculiar or obscure games were generally the ones that fell within the survival horror genre, especially games that mined a Lovecraftian vein and that tended to include some type of sanity meter in their gameplay mechanics: to name just a few, there was Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, and Amnesia: The Dark Descent. But even those games, cult as they were, had achieved some mainstream success, however small; still, Alex had managed to add games to his collection that were far less well known, and he usually found such games at equally obscure and unexpected places (such as Kirkbride’s Curios in downtown Thundermist, where he had once managed to not only nab a copy of an old, fairly obscure Commodore 64 game entitled The Silence of the LAMs, but also the legendary Red version of Godzilla: Monster of Monsters).”
The cover art of my books is always something that I care a great deal about, and I usually try to have them done by friends whose work I admire. With Autopsy of an Eldritch City, I decided to ask my friend Benedetta De Alessi (who some of you may know as O.B. De Alessi, or just plain Oscar) if she would like to do the cover art. That was in late November 2013. When she agreed to do it, I sent her the manuscript so that she could read it over and see if it gave her any ideas. She ended up getting so many ideas from the first two stories alone that she asked if I’d be open to the idea of her doing an illustration for each story. Needless to say, I was thrilled at that prospect for two reasons: the first being that I’m kind of artistic myself and thus have an appreciation for book illustrations (also, I liked the idea because it would help differentiate the book from Grimoire), and secondly, being a huge fan of Benedetta’s work, the idea of having her do such illustrations was very exciting. By March 2014, she had finished the first illustration, which was for “Tir-Na-Nog.” In April, she finished the illustrations for “Dyad,” “The Yellow Notebook” and “The Cursed Quilts.” In May, she finished the illustrations for “The Snow Globes of Patient O.T.,” “Ritual Quest,” and “The Demons in the Fresco.” Later on that month she also did illustrations for “The Aphotic Zone,” “Iridophobia,” and “The Fire Sermon.” I pretty much gave her free reign to draw what she wanted: I think my only suggestions were to not bother with depictions of the characters in the story, and that the illustration for “The Fire Sermon” could maybe be an ouroboros surrounded by flames (as we were having trouble coming up with ideas as to how that story could be illustrated). In May 2014, her husband Michael Salerno (who most of you know by the name kiddiepunk) offered to do the book’s inner design and also the cover design, which I was also very thankful for, as I’ve purchased many of kiddiepunk’s releases over the years and they’re always impeccably designed.
Anyway, I was totally blown away by the work they did on the book and for that I’ll be eternally grateful for them. I’m actually almost more excited about how people are going to respond to the artwork than I am about how they’ll feel about the stories! In any event, I think that Benedetta’s artwork nicely compliments the text (and it’s uncanny how some of them perfectly capture what I was struggling to describe with words).
To give the reader a better idea of what to expect, Benedetta and I have decided to provide 3 samples:
“The Snow Globes of Patient O.T.”
“The Demons in the Fresco”
A Final Note
I would just like to take a moment here to thank my friend George Wines (who most of you known by his name on here: Misanthrope). He was kind enough to proofread the manuscript pre-publication and caught a lot of the errors that I had missed.
The Rebel Satori website
Official website of O.B. De Alessi
You can download the game “Ritual Quest” from this link
Website about St. Ann’s Church (the church that was the model for the St. Durtal’s Church that appears in the “Demons in the Fresco” story)
p.s. Hey. So, this is great. The supreme and much beloved author -- and d.l. aka Sypha -- James Champagne's new and already order-able book of stories comes out any second, and he has honored this very place with a weekend-long sneak peak at what it is. And it looks, very expectedly, but with the eternal surprises that Mr. Champagne is known for, awesome. That awesomeness, in no small part, also involves the illustrations within by the superb artist and d.l. -- aka Oscar B -- O.B. De Alessi. Please spend your Saturday and Sunday poring over the ins and outs, and, if you're smart, take a few seconds therein to use the post's clickable spot and score a copy. Cool, no? Yes! Thank you, James, for giving here this great privilege! ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. How great and keen that a book would inspire your resolutions. I don't how it works in Scotland, but, in the States, I've known a few people with MS who have drivers licenses and use them constantly. I hope that gets sorted. ** Steevee, Hi. Unfortunately, the popular idea that writers' income from their book sales to publishers should naturally increase as they establish themselves and continue publishing really isn't true unless they have established themselves as well-selling and moneymaking. Even with his less transgressive books, he still sells like a cult figure. In my case, being sort of the same kind of type of figure as Stokoe, the amount of money that publishers pay me flattened out after my first couple of books whereupon publishers, looking at my sales figures, began to assume that I wouldn't make them rich. I understand if Stokoe thinks he deserves increasingly decent money up front now that he has established himself, because he does, but it's very rare that it works that way. And the days when literary writers got big advances/sales based on their critical reputations are pretty much over unless a writer has a very savvy agent who hypes them in some brilliant, seductive way. It depends on what Stokoe wants. If he wants 'good' money upfront or else to publish in the US, yeah, he'll likely stay unpublished there. If he were willing to take less and publish with one of the many exciting, growing indie presses out there, a number of whom I'm sure would jump at publishing him, and earn money from his book through sales over a longer period of time, he would have a much better chance. ** David Ehrenstein, Those guys are so fucking dumb. What were they thinking? About getting publicity at any price? ** Sypha, Thanks a multi-billion, man, for this exciting and generous weekend! Oh, yeah, Muse really sucks. Kevin Smith isn't my thing at all. Don't like Nolan's films much at all. (But 'Memento' seemed pretty good at the time.) But I don't despise them. I thought Cal was asking about total hatred objects. That's where I'm coming up short. ** John. Hi! It's true about LA giving one a hazy, blurred time. Strange power, that. All that driving around and all that sun, maybe. Oh, naturally I encourage your idea to move there. I love LA and living there big, big time. I know the name Ariana Grande, but I can't remember this morning if I know her actual work or not. I'll check and find out. Wow, that is a really cool interview she gave there. Huh. Yeah, she talks great, and the weird intersection within/without really makes it. Thank you a lot, man. That was a pleasure and a tweaker to read. Made me want to write. Awesome. You rule. Have a good weekend! ** Thomas Moronic, Howdy! Thanks! ** Kier, Kierunch, kierunch. Man, I just can't get a handle on the name mutation thing. One of these days. I have seen a goth drive. Many, many of them in fact. I'm from LA where there are many, many goths, and you basically have to drive in LA, so they have no choice, but maybe they don't like doing it? Yeah, totally, animal and co-worker appreciation. But if your boss is a selfish, emotionally myopic prick, I guess you need to disempower him in your imagination or something? I don't know. What a jerk. The producers' page about our film is a disaster. Zac and I are quickly putting together a package of images and texts for them to use, and we've told them never to do something like that without consulting us first. It's depressing. We're going to set up a Facebook page for the film, which we didn't want to do, just to create an alternative and accurate 'site' for the film. Bleah. Your description of the sheep and lamb herding was really beautiful. 'the thing is lambs aren't motivated by the promise of food, they're fed by their mothers so we don't really mean anything to them. plus they're so small they can run all over the place.' Wow, so good. Yesterday I made a serious dent in the cleaning/ discarding/ packing. It was exhausting, and there's still a ton left to do, so my weekend is basically going to be almost non-stop doing that because time is really running out. I have to move on Wednesday at the very, very latest. Ugh. Other than that, Zac and I chose the images to send the producers, and I started working on a description of the film for them, which I hate doing, grr. And we talked about my notes and script ideas for our next film, and we came up with great new ideas and revisions, so that project is on its way and very exciting. That was the highlight. Yeah, that took up the whole day/evening, so that was that. How was your weekend? I'll see if I can manage to do something interesting in addition to the boring pre-move stuff that my weekend will very largely be saddled with. ** James, Hi. I did get some packing done. Well, not packing yet, but organizing and making numerous trips to the garbage cans. ** Kyler, Hi, K! Yeah, that review was cool, right? I remember you saying you were involved in the play in that way. Nice, interesting. How are you? What's up, man? ** Right. Glorify yourselves by investigating James's book and getting your paws on it. Excellent! See you on Monday.