Over the past two weeks in celebration of the forthcoming Lovecraft’s Monsters, Tachyon and editor Ellen Datlow have presented excerpts from a selection of the volume’s horrifying tales.
The final selection comes from “The Bleeding Shadow” by Joe R. Lansdale.
It was Tootie’s voice. I recognized that right away. I had heard him plenty. Like I said, he wasn’t much as a person, willing to do anything so he could lay back and play that guitar, slide a pocket knife along the strings to squeal out just the right sound, but he was good at the blues, of that, there ain’t no denying.
His voice was high and lonesome, and the way he played that guitar, it was hard to imagine how he could get the sounds out of it he got.
“You brought me over here to listen to records?” I said.
She shook her head. She lifted up the needle, stopped the record, and took it off. She had another in a little paper cover, and she took it out and put it on, dropped the needle down.
“Now listen to this.”
First lick or two, I could tell right off it was Tootie, but then there came a kind of turn in the music, where it got so strange the hair on the back of my neck stood up. And then Tootie started to sing, and the hair on the back of my hands and arms stood up. The air in the room got thick and the lights got dim, and shadows come out of the corners and sat on the couch with me. I ain’t kidding about that part. The room was suddenly full of them, and I could hear what sounded like a bird, trapped at the ceiling, fluttering fast and hard, looking for a way out.
Then the music changed again, and it was like I had been dropped down a well, and it was a long drop, and then it was like those shadows were folding around me in a wash of dirty water. The room stunk of something foul. The guitar no longer sounded like a guitar, and Tootie’s voice was no longer like a voice. It was like someone dragging a razor over concrete while trying to yodel with a throat full of glass. There was something inside the music; something that squished and scuttled and honked and raved, something unsettling, like a snake in a satin glove.
“Cut it off,” I said.
But Alma May had already done it.
She said, “That’s as far as I’ve ever let it go. It’s all I can do to move to cut it off. It feels like it’s getting more powerful the more it plays. I don’t want to hear the rest of it. I don’t know I can take it. How can that be, Richard? How can that be with just sounds?”
I was actually feeling weak, like I’d just come back from a bout with the flu and someone had beat my ass. I said, “More powerful? How do you mean?”
“Ain’t that what you think? Ain’t that how it sounds? Like it’s getting stronger?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“And the room—”
“The shadows?” I said. “I didn’t just imagine it?”
“No,” she said, “Only every time I’ve heard it, it’s been a little different. The notes get darker, the guitar licks, they cut something inside me, and each time it’s something different and something deeper. I don’t know if it makes me feel good or it makes me feel bad, but it sure makes me feel.”
“Yeah,” I said, because I couldn’t find anything else to say.
“Tootie sent me that record. He sent a note that said: Play it when you have to. That’s what it said. That’s all it said. What’s that mean?”
“I don’t know, but I got to wonder why Tootie would send it to you in the first place. Why would he want you to hear something makes you almost sick… And how in hell could he do that, make that kind of sound, I mean?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. Someday, I’m gonna play it all the way through.”
“I wouldn’t,” I said.
“You heard it. I figure it only gets worse. I don’t understand it, but I know I don’t like it.”
“Yeah,” she said, putting the record back in the paper sleeve. “I know. But it’s so strange. I’ve never heard anything like it.”
“And I don’t want to hear anything like it again.”
“Still, you have to wonder.”
“What I wonder is what I was wondering before. Why would he send this shit to you?”
“I think he’s proud of it. There’s nothing like it. It’s…original.”
“I’ll give it that,” I said. “So, what do you want with me?”
“I want you to find Tootie.”
“Because I don’t think he’s right. I think he needs help. I mean, this… It makes me think he’s somewhere he shouldn’t be.”
“But yet, you want to play it all the way through,” I said.
“What I know is I don’t like that. I don’t like Tootie being associated with it, and I don’t know why. Richard, I want you to find him.”
For more information on Lovecraft’s Monsters, visit the Tachyon site.
Cover and illustration by John Coulthart.