Over the next two weeks in celebration of the forthcoming Lovecraft’s Monsters, Tachyon and editor Ellen Datlow present excerpts from a selection of the volume’s horrifying tales.
Today’s selection comes from “Children of the Fang” by John Langan.
2. The Tape (1): Iram
Around her and Josh, the attic, hushed as a church. Off to one side, their grandfather’s trunk, whose lack of a lock Josh, bold and nosy at sixteen as he’d ever been, had taken as an invitation to look inside it. Buried beneath old clothes, he’d found the tape recorder and cassettes. Rachel slid her index finger left over three worn, plastic buttons, pressed down on the fourth, and the tape recorder started talking. A snap and a clatter, a hiss like soda fizzing, and a voice, a man—a young man’s, someone in his teens, rendered tinny and high by time and the age of the cassette: “Okay,” he said, “you were saying, Dad?”
Now a second speaker, Grandpa, the nasal complaint of the accent that had followed him north to New York state from Kentucky accentuated by the recording. “It was Jerry had found the map and figured it showed some place in the Quarter, but it was me worked out where, exactly, we needed to head.”
“That’s Grandpa,” Josh said, “And…Dad?”
“It isn’t Dad,” Rachel said.
“Then who is it?”
“I’m not sure,” she said. “I think it might be Uncle Jim.”
“James,” she said, “Dad’s younger brother.”
“But he ran away.”
“Obviously, this was made before,” she said, and shushed him.
“—the company would have been happy to have the two of you just take off,” Uncle Jim was saying.
“Well,” Grandpa was saying, “there was time between the end of work on one site and the beginning of work on the next. It’s true, though: we couldn’t wander off for a week. If we said there was a spot we wanted to investigate, the head man was willing to give us a day or two, but that was because he thought we meant something to do with oil.”
“Not the Atlantis of the Sands,” Jim said.
“Iram,” Grandpa said. “Iram of the Pillars, Iram ḏāt al-`imād.”
“Right,” Jim said, “Iram. So I guess the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question is, Did you find it?”
Their grandfather did not answer.
“Dad?” Jim said.
“Oh, we found it, all right,” Grandpa said, his voice thick.
3. The Freezer (1): Early Investigations
Enamel-smooth, the surface of the freezer was no colder than anything else in the basement. Once he understood this, at the age of nine, Josh declared it evidence that the appliance was malfunctioning. Rachel corrected him. “If it was cold,” she said, “it would mean it wasn’t properly insulated.” She softened her tone. “I know it sounds weird, but it’s supposed to feel like this.” She had tested the freezer with her cane, drawing the tip along the side of it and knocking every six inches. “There’s something in it,” she announced. She set the cane on the floor and pressed her ear to the appliance. She could hear ice sighing and shifting. When the motor clicked to life and she placed her hands on the lid, the metal trembled under her fingertips.
Six feet long by three high by three wide, the freezer served her and Josh as a prop when they were young, and a topic of conversation as they aged. She would lie, first on top of, then beside the metal box with one ear against it, trying to decipher the sounds within, while Josh ran his fingers along the rubber seam that marked the meeting of lid and container. Both of them studied the trio of padlocked latches that guaranteed Grandpa’s insistence that the freezer’s contents were off-limits. Josh inspected the bolts which fastened the locks to the freezer, the makes of the padlocks, their keyholes; she felt for gaps between the heads of bolts and the latches, between the latches and the freezer, tugged on the padlocks to test the strength of their hold. After speculating about diamonds, or some kind of rare artifact, or a meteor, she and Josh had decided the freezer most likely housed something connected to their grandfather’s old job. Grandpa had made his money helping to establish the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, in what was known as the Empty Quarter. As he never tired of reminding them, it was among the most inhospitable places on the planet. It was, however, a desert, whose daily temperature regularly crossed the three-digit mark. What he could have brought back from such a land that would require an industrial freezer remained a mystery.
For more information on Lovecraft’s Monsters, visit the Tachyon site.
Cover and illustration by John Coulthart