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 “Love Is Forbidden, We Croak and Howl” by Caitlín R. Kiernan.
Once upon a time, there was a ghoul who fell in love with a daughter of the port of Innsmouth. To say the least, her parents would hardly have looked upon this as an acceptable state of affairs. She, destined one day to descend through abyssal depths to the splendor of many spired Y’ha-nthlei in the depths well beyond the shallows of Jeffreys Ledge. She might have the fortune to marry well, perhaps, even, taking for herself a husband from among the amphibious Deep Ones who inhabit the city, or, at the very least, a fine and only once-human devotee of the Esoteric Order. She would be adorned in nothing more than the fantastic, partly golden alloy diadems and bracelets and anklets, the lavalieres of uncut rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and diamonds. What caring parent would not be alarmed that their only daughter might foolishly forsake so precious an inheritance, and all for an infatuation with so lowborn and vile creature as a ghoul?
The girl’s name is (or was, if you dislike tense shifts) Elberith Gilman, and on the night in question she is a few months past her sixteenth birthday. Likely, she has long since been betrothed and is only awaiting the completion of her transition.
The ghoul has no name that could ever be spoken in any tongue of man. With a small tribe of his kind, he passes the days in the moldering tunnels beneath the Old Hill Burying Ground, those passages roofed with long-emptied, shattered caskets and the roots of elderly oaks and hemlocks. Unlike Elberith, the ghoul has not much more to look forward to but a few fresh corpses here and there, the gnawing of dry bones devoid of the least scrap of marrow, and the grumbling company of his own vicious kin. Possibly, if great luck should someday shine down upon him, the ghoul may one day descend into the underworld of the Dreamlands, and dwell on peaks of Thok, above the Vales of Pnath (carpeted with a billion skeletons), where the most celebrated ghouls never lack for the fleshiest of rotted corpses.
On a night almost a full year before this night, the ghoul first emerged from the tunnels—something his race rarely does—and crept almost seven miles across field and wood and fen down to Innsmouth town. For he is an uncommon sort of ghoul, given to curiosities, fascinations, and obsessions not entirely healthy for subterranean creatures who wisely shun the cruel light of the sun. And he’d heard rumors of the seaport, and of its peculiar citizens, and of the pact they’d made with those immortal beings who are neither frogs nor fish, but bear a striking (some would say discomfiting, even nauseating) resemblance to both at once. He much desired to look upon such things for himself. It seemed unlikely he would be missed, so occupied are most with their own grisly and individual affairs. Surely, he could escape the eyes of man and be back before dawn. So it was he climbed the forty-seven steps up and up and up to the mausoleum whose bronze door led out into the forbidden World Above.
On that night, when the moon was still several nights from full, Elberith went with her mother and father and three sisters (it was the greatest tragedy in her father’s life that he had no sons) to the nightly services in the Hall of Dagon at New Church Green, the same building that had once held the port’s Masonic temple. With her family and her fellow inhabitants of Obed Marsh’s fair community, she raised her coarse voice in the rattling, gurgling hymns to the Father and the Mother and to Great Cthulhu. She much enjoyed singing the hymns, and, as it happens, was said to possess one of the finest voices in all Innsmouth. Following the services, she walked along the wharves with her family and that of Mister Zebidiah Waite, savoring the muddy reek of an especially and unexpectedly low tide. It was almost midnight by the time the Gilmans at last returned to their listing and somewhat dilapidated home on Lafayette Street.
For more information on Lovecraft’s Monsters, visit the Tachyon site.
Cover and illustration by John Coulthart.