July 23, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Firedancing,” by Michael Griffin

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from Michael Griffin‘s “Firedancing,” a tale of haunted people, haunted places, and haunting actions. So pour yourself a dram of the good stuff, sit back, and enjoy…

Photo by Michael Griffin

“Thoughtful of you.” Bay tips back the Jim Beam fifth. The bottle knocks the ceiling inside Petersson’s posh gentleman’s pickup. “I was gone just a few hours. She managed to empty the place. Must’ve hired—”

“I said, don’t talk about that. Don’t think about that.” Petersson’s driving, I5 South. Three hours to Roseburg. “Lesson I learned after Minerva skipped. Obsessively sifting back, through everything, that ain’t what you need.”

“What do I need?”

“Mental reboot.” He grins. “Puke your troubles away at a two-day party.”

“So this Mallard Hill place, it’s where Erik and Minerva grew up?”

“Mmm. Fifteen miles outside Roseburg.”

“Speaking of Minerva.”

Petersson’s grip flexes on the wheel.

Bay tries again. “The worst thing about Annie leaving, I finally did what she wanted. Took a commission, murals for Cinema 21, that’s an art theater in Northwest.”

“I know, dummy. Film major, remember? You took us there.” He exhales. “Seven Samurai. Me and Minerva.”

“Lumber baron with a film degree, that’s funny. Most of us liberal arts guys…” Bay stops. Another swig. “Annie set it up, knew the owner. They kept showing up, checking on me. Arrive together, leave together.”

“We weren’t going to talk about that.”

Bay thinks, What else? “So Erik grew up on this hill, but won’t attend the big drunk-fest?”

“Nah, he stopped that recovery shit. After he withdrew from us, his sponsor tried to make him cut off Minerva.” Petersson shrugs. “Erik only drinks beer now. Lives on the edge of the Mallard tract, a cabin overlooking the South Umpqua. Started some river guide thing. Fishing, rafting.” His face clouds. “Minerva’s in the main house. Stopover from the endless touring.”

“So much land, Erik gets his own corner.” Bay resists redirecting toward Minerva. Petersson’s breakup makes him feel less awful.

“Might be the most impressive parcel in Douglas County. Everyone thinks Old Mallard got rich in lumber, but Minerva let slip he returned from the Merchant Marines, World War II, a millionaire at nineteen.”

“Merchant Marines, is that still a thing? Maybe they’d let me—”

“He climbs aboard the post-war lumber boom, builds Mallard Hill. Meets a woman up in Washington, on business near Olympic Forest. This first wife starts him jetting around, blowing millions in Mexico. Spends the sixties and seventies financing films, legendary stuff by Buñuel and Jodorowsky.”

“Lest I forget that film degree.”

Petersson makes an undignified snort. “Always trekking the wilds of Mexico, South America, Antarctica, returning rejuvenated, trailing new wives to replace ones who die of typhus or malaria. Finally disappears, the Chilean Andes. Erik and Minerva, living under Old Mallard’s tutors and housekeepers, assume they’re orphaned a second time. Everyone gives up hope.”

“But…”

“He reappears, head shaved, silent as a mystic. No explanation where he’s been ten months, what happened to wife number six, seven, whatever. Thereafter, no more film production or travel. Grabs another wife to replace the one rumored frozen to death. Further expands the house. His only indulgences are these parties, and the visiting artists, visionaries and occult weirdos. Some remain months, years at a time. Old Mallard, he’s like fucking Tom Bombadil. Erik grew up thinking the man’s his grandfather, later learns, no, it’s great-grandfather.”

Bay stifles envy at such a life. “One part Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, one part Kwai Chang Caine.”

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

July 21, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Notes for ‘The Barn in the Wild,’” by Paul Tremblay

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from Paul Tremblay‘s “Notes for ‘The Barn in the Wild.’” Paul initially submitted his story as both typewritten text and as a hand-written manuscript. The typeset text appears in the final book; the facsimile pages became the basis of our sold-out chapbook, Notes for “The Barn in the Wild.” This is the first time anyone who doesn’t have the chapbook has seen these pages. But no matter how you read it, Paul’s story is sure to elicit a chill.

Exam Book

Tommy’s body was found by Antoine and Brandon LaForge (father and son snowmobilers) on March 24th. Stephens presented me a photo of the body. Tommy’s all curled up in a tight ball, lost inside his puffy anorak. Adjacent to him are the dead coals and black ash of a spent fire pit. Tommy likely died of starvation sometime during the previous fall. Five fingers on his right hand were missing. The coroner was unable to determine if fingers were removed by critters post-mortem because of the advanced state of decay of the body.

Were any other body parts missing?

“No.”

Isn’t it odd that animals didn’t take anything else?

“Who knows why animals do anything they do?”

Tommy’s hands look to be hidden tight into that ball of rigor mortis. Stephens agreed. There was evidence of frostbite in Tommy’s toes and Stephens suggested (admitted it wasn’t likely), that perhaps Tommy cut his fingers off himself after suffering from severe frostbite(7). Next an itemized list of the meager supplies found in Tommy’s possession, including a camera. They were only able to produce a handful of pictures from the film in his pack and in his camera, the rest were washouts: one photo of a woman in a small apartment kitchen, hiding her face behind a dish towel(8); three photos of woods, the hiking trails nearly indecipherable in the brush; an open field with the barn as a dot in the far background; the last picture is a self-portrait of Tommy sitting up against the barn, his hair wild, baby face tufted with facial hair, gaunt and emaciated, facial fat and muscles melting away, replaced by the hard angles of what lies beneath(9), but he doesn’t look like he’s suffering or in pain, but with the content, wild, ecstatic look of a zealot. He sits with his back up against the side of the barn but toward the front. Above his head, and in the upper right hand corner protruding out from the front of the barn, is an ornamental structure, like a deer’s head in profile, and I do think it’s some sort of animalistic avatar or totem, only the neck is elongated, but the head has no antlers, or ears, or much of a snout, it’s oval, tapers to a rounded point at the bottom, human?

7) I’ve had frostbite, and I’ve had it at 20,000 feet, but didn’t cut off my fingers. I’m partial to them. Do people do that? Apparently yes: see, Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
8) Nadia?
9) Unfortunately, I’ve seen that face before. You will see it again.

Notes for The Barn in the Wild - Page 5

Notes from The Barn in the Wild - Page 6

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

July 18, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “The Old Pageant,” by Richard Gavin

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes to us courtesy of Richard Gavin, an author who knows a thing or two about the carnivorous nature of the cosmos. So let’s head out to the woods with this sample of “The Old Pageant.”

A toast to Old Leech

He didn’t want her to know how physically taxing he’d found the long drive to the woods, how tedious the prospect of unpacking seemed, or how repugnantly primitive he found their accommodations to be upon their arrival. The holiday had the potential to be far too special an occasion for him to sour it by sulking.

The cabin had been in her family for decades, though the moment he spied it—an oblong box slumped between leprous-looking birch trees—he wondered why she didn’t regard the cabin as a skeleton from her family’s closet instead of a prideful heirloom.

After an anxious struggle to fit the copper key inside the ancient lock, the door gave, allowing the pair of them to be assaulted by the stench of long-trapped air. The dark had evidently grown so accustomed to the cabin’s interior that it stubbornly refused to part for the sunbeams that the man and woman ushered in.

Shutters were peeled back, windows were pried ajar. She stripped the ancient white sheets from the beds and took them outside and hung them from the birch limbs so that the breezes might push out their mustiness.

They cleaned and unpacked and traded off-colour wisecracks. The supper they cooked together was hearty and its aroma managed to mask a bit of the cabin’s cloying staleness.

After eating he delighted her by finding the detached footboard that had once braced the lower bunk bed she’d slept on as a girl. It had been wound in a shower drape of translucent plastic and stored behind her grandmother’s dormant sewing desk.

Her grandfather had carved (with visible skill and obvious love) an inscription into the footboard:

Here lies Donna Hammill
Each and every summer
Dreaming…

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

July 16, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox,” by T.E. Grau

Yesterday was the official release date for The Children of Old Leech, and many of you were able to join us online for our virtual release party and toast to Old Leech. Many a libation was poured in the name of cosmic horror. But a day-long celebration can make the next morning one for sober reflection and deep spiritual contemplation. So let’s go to church, and get a little bit of that old-time religion with T.E. Grau and this excerpt from his “Love Songs from the Hydrogen Jukebox.”

leechflag

Thousands of people stood patiently in a queue that spiraled around the structure, looking inside the doorway, hoping to get a glimpse of what lay beyond. As they waited to reach the door, men and women, nearly indistinguishable from each other due to the lack of facial and cranial hair, walked up and down the line holding bins labeled “DONATIONS TO THE FATHER” in pink, bouncy letters. As each pilgrim walked past, they dropped in wallets, watches, jewelry. Some even tossed in their clothes, returning to the line in various stages of undress as the shadows of trees and peaks cut slowly across the clearing.

I walked past the line with Doyle, heading toward the entrance. Just like with every joint on the Hill, Doyle never stood in line. VIP all the way, regardless of the geography. “Why are they doing that?” I asked, motioning to the rapidly filling bins, trying to avoid the sporadic nakedness, as my blush would surely out me as a prude.

“You can’t enter the temple burdened by the outside world,” Doyle said. “Cuts down on the transmission, like lead between an X-ray. But aside from all that,” he added, shooting me a mischievous grin, “everything’s better when you’re naked.”

I looked around at the variety of mostly unclothed flesh, noting the variety in shape and size and skin tone and hair density. “I don’t know about that.”

Doyle laughed and threw his arm around my shoulders, kissing me on the side of the head. “You’re a real peach, you know that, Barnacles? If I didn’t like pussy so much I’d marry you tomorrow.”

We walked to the front of the line and passed through the wide doorway. The side of my head where Doyle’s lips touched it throbbed with a liquid warmth. Neither of us had removed any clothing, but I felt more naked than I’d ever felt in my life.

Inside, people were seated on a dirt floor in evenly spaced lines, just inches apart from each other, like a mosaic of humanity. The air was heavy with burning incense that billowed from giant copper braziers hanging from thick chains bolted to the vaulted ceiling of the dome, that wasn’t as naturally sloping as one would expect from the outside, but possessed a hyperboloid geometry that made me dizzy. Or maybe it was the smoke, which smelled just like Doyle’s strange little cigarettes.

The hushed congregation was facing a low stage built at the front of the cavernous space, backed by heavy curtains of a thick and lustrous fabric. Doyle led me to the far end of the room, just in front of the rise, and squeezed my shoulder. “Wait here,” he said into my ear, “and don’t get on stage, no matter what I say.”

The bell chimed again, startling me, mostly because it seemed to be coming from directly underneath the room, somewhere deep under the mountain, and not from a hidden steeple. This is the church, this is the steeple, open the door, and see all the people… I realized after a few fuzzy moments that I was staring down at my waggling, intertwined fingers. Perhaps I was becoming a child again, as well. I looked up to show Doyle, but he was gone. The recessed lights hidden in a gutter circling the high walls dimmed at that moment, and the tolling of the bell abruptly stopped. I could hear the beating of my heart in my ears. It was a slow, syrupy rhythm. The sound of an organ in mid-dream.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

July 14, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Snake Wine,” by Jeffrey Thomas

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech leaves the familiar–and frightening–confines of the Pacific Northwest for a locale on the other side of the world: Vietnam. Let’s crack open a bottle of “Snake Wine” with author Jeffrey Thomas.

Snake Wine - Photo by Sam Cowan

In his flat on the third floor of the narrow building he had bought with all his savings, ill-gotten and otherwise, Hong pulled a bottle out of the plastic shopping bag she had fetched from her Honda’s seat compartment. “My father likes to drink this sometimes,” she told Gorch. Smiling with charming if unconvincing coyness, she further explained, “It’s good for a man’s baby.”

“Baby?”

“You know,” she said. She pointed toward his crotch and giggled.

“Ah, I see. Makes baby grow up big and strong, yeah?”

“Yesss.”

“Let’s have a look.” He held out his hand. “I’ve seen these things a million times here but I’ve never really wanted to try it before.”

“Oh, but you will drink this one, won’t you? Because it is from me?” She passed him the bottle.

“For you, and for my baby, I’ll do it.”

It was a bottle of ruou, or rice wine, and he had drunk that on its own. But this type of ruou, which he’d seen sold at gift shops such as those at the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Saigon National Museum, had conspicuous extras stuffed into the bottle. Usually it was a cobra, preserved in the yellowish wine as if pickled in formaldehyde, maybe with a huge black scorpion or a fistful of smaller snakes and some herbs added for good measure. Hong’s gift did have some blanched-looking herbs at the bottom, but no scorpion, and the snake coiled inside wasn’t a cobra, unless its hood was closed.

Gorch turned the bottle around slowly to see it from all angles, and held it up in front of the fluorescent ceiling light. His brows tightened. Definitely not a cobra. And maybe it was a result of the animal’s saturated tissues being distorted, but he almost questioned whether it was even a snake. He was reminded of the animal called a worm lizard, an amphisbaenian, which possessed a long pinkish body that looked segmented like an earthworm, with only a rudimentary pair of forelegs. It almost seemed this creature had such forelimbs, if withered, unless those were just bits of sloughing skin. Its eyes were bleached dull gray. It was looped in on itself within the glass, coiled around and around in a spiral as if chasing itself unto infinity.

“A dragon fetus, perhaps? Ace.” He handed her back the bottle to open. He took down a shot glass. “Are you going to drink it with me?”

“It’s a drink for men,” she told him. “I don’t have a baby.” Her smile was a mixture of carnality and passable innocence that made his stomach squirm with hunger, as if he had his own dragon fetus coiled inside him.

She filled his shot glass, and he took a tentative sip. He tried not to show his disgust lest he insult her. After all, her father had unknowingly sacrificed this elixir for his benefit. It tasted just as he had expected: crude rice wine mixed with the essence of a reptile terrarium.

“Do you like it?”

Gorch didn’t think he’d be stocking this beverage in his pub anytime soon, but he said, “A fine vintage. Cheers.” He took another sip.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

July 11, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Good Lord, Show Me the Way,” by Molly Tanzer

We close this week of excerpts from The Children of Old Leech with Molly Tanzer‘s epistolary tale of academic horrors, “Good Lord, Show Me the Way.”

...we love you...

Gasoline Fire Burns Olalla Man; Destroys Home
By Jim Warren

April 27th, 1992—Early Tuesday morning, Burton Wulla Fines was admitted to Tacoma General Hospital with severe burns covering the left side of his face and body, and a mangled left hand, also burned.

Sally Wallings, a neighbor, called 911 at 1:18 AM when she spotted flames reaching above the trees between their properties, alerting local authorities to “a powerful inferno” on the premises. When firefighters arrived they found Mr. Fines’ home ablaze, along with several adjacent trees. Fines himself was discovered wandering around one particularly large spruce, throwing gasoline on it from a can from time to time, and “ranting” according to volunteer firefighter Glenn Woodworth.

“We tried to get him away from the tree,” said Woodworth, “but he wouldn’t come along. He kept shaking his fist at it and accusing it of being ‘infested’ and that he ‘wouldn’t submit’ to the will of its ‘agents.’ He claimed it had ‘whispered to him for the last time,’ that he would burn out the Great Satan within, and be done with the business.”

“Brent had always hated that tree,” confirmed Wallings.

Woodworth and the rest of the firefighters entrusted Fines to the paramedics who had arrived on the scene in order to fight the fire consuming his house. Soon after, all present reported hearing an “explosion” and returned to find Fines scorched along the face, body, and hand. With the help of the paramedics, Fines’ clothes were extinguished and he was taken to Tacoma General. Sadly, this blast resulted in the burning to the ground of Fines’ home.

When asked why the paramedics had not removed Fines from the site of the burning tree, they replied he became “belligerent and abusive” when they tried. At the time he tossed the can of gasoline onto the tree, causing the explosion that burned him, the paramedics had been discussing methods of restraining or sedating him.

“He accused us of conspiring with ‘vassals of The Great Satan,’ whatever that is; that we were there to ‘bind him’ or something like that. He was pretty incoherent by then,” reported Jim Baker, an EMT.

Fines remains in critical condition at Tacoma General.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

July 9, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Learn to Kill,” by Michael Cisco

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from Michael Cisco‘s patricidal tale, “Learn to Kill.”

...we love you...

Nodded off! How long was that? Everything looks the same. My boots, bony knees, knuckly hands. My chair. The window. Bare boards.

Lessons from Dad. When I was about eight or nine, I decided, I forget why, to provoke my father. I was very contrary and then, I remember standing stock still shouting

“FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!”

at him. He smiled at me, queerly. Then he went and shut himself up in his room. That was his sanctum. He padlocked it when he wasn’t in it. I wracked my brains for a way to get in, and I never did. With all my ingenuity, my genius for trouble, my intuitive sense of escape routes and infiltrations, when there was no hillside full of dense foliage I couldn’t wriggle inside somehow, to think, I never managed it. I never saw the inside of it, even after I killed him.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

July 7, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Walpurgisnacht,” by Orrin Grey

Our third excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from “Walpurgisnacht,” by Orrin Grey. Traditionally, April 30th marks the feast of Saint Walpurga, an 8th Century German Abbess. But it’s also held to be the night that witches meet and revel on the Brocken, the highest peak in Germany’s Harz Mountains…

On the train, Nicky told me about the Brocken Spectre. “It’s a sort of optical illusion,” he said, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. Nicky was younger than me, and prettier, and his dark hair fell in front of his face whenever he slouched, which was often. “The sun casts a giant shadow of you on the clouds below, right, and your head gets this prismatic halo. Like an angel.”

“I hear the sun only shines here like sixty days a year,” I said. “Besides, it’s night.” I was only half-listening anyway, my head lolling against the cool glass of the window. I’d had more than a few drinks at the airport bar, and I could feel a headache trying to force its way out past my eyes. Outside, I could see our destination looming up out of the darkness, the two towers of the Sender Brocken, old and new. Like Tolkien’s Minas Morgul and Orthanc. The sun was still going down, and the towers stood out like shadows against the gloaming, their lights already on. Gleaming yellow ones in the windows of the old tower, now the Brocken Hotel, and blinking red ones to warn planes away from the new tower, a candy-cane-striped lance that jutted skyward from the peak.

“It doesn’t look terribly inviting,” Nicky said, noticing my inattentiveness and nodding at the towers.

Now to the Brocken the witches ride.” I intoned, and then, without bothering to glance and see his puzzled expression, explained, “It’s Goethe. From Faust.”

That was why we were going, of course. It was Walpurgisnacht, the night when the witches and devils gathered on the crown of the bald mountain to welcome the spring. Nicky and I, and whoever else was on the train with us, were the witches in this equation, and we were all gathering on the Brocken to kiss the ass of a black goat.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

July 4, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Pale Apostle,” by J. T. Glover and Jesse Bullington

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from J. T. Glover and Jesse Bullington‘s collaborative tale, “Pale Apostle,” which I’m sure you’ll agree sets up the fireworks with a dangerously short fuse…

The bell at the front of the shop tinkled, and Wah clicked her teeth—she hadn’t heard his key in the lock, which meant he’d left the door open again. It was bad enough he insisted on making deliveries to all the family associations himself, but his forgetting to lock up was simply unsafe. Ducking through the curtain, her slippers whisking against the boards, she saw his familiar silhouette across the dark shop. He’d turned and was locking the door.

“It doesn’t do much good, now,” she said, trying to keep the chiding tone from her voice. “When I’m in the back, though, try to remember to—oh!”

The white man smiling at her across the shadowed bins and shelves was not her father.

“I sorry, honorable sir, but we closed right now,” she said, speaking with deliberate fresh-off-the-boat awkwardness even as her mind raced.

Her father was probably talking over old times at some association by now, and might not return for hours. It wasn’t late enough yet for the police to be rattling doorknobs, and they rarely took much notice of crime in the Chinatown anyway. Who would hear if she screamed? Mr. Dong next door, perhaps, but perhaps not…

Top shelf, middle aisle. As she stepped around the counter, she studiously kept her eyes on the intruder, instead of the modest display of cutlery. If she could just—

“How excellent,” the stranger said, speaking in perfectly unaccented Szechuanese as he glided toward her, past the knives. “That means we shall not be disturbed.”

The smile he gave her stretched his strangely ageless face into a rictus—like most white men, his exotic features somehow coalesced into a bland, nondescript whole. His black coat and broad-brimmed hat were wet with the night’s rain, leaving puddles on the floor, but his skin looked parched as scrolls from a temple. He reached inside his coat, and Wah flinched, wondering if it would be a weapon, or worse, handcuffs—given the choice between a stickup man or a plainclothes Seattle policeman, she would take the lesser villain. Instead, he held out an envelope to her, as dry as the withered hand that held it.

“My name is Clarence Kernochan, and I have a business proposition to discuss with you.”

“My father—” Wah began, but he cut her off in the rude fashion of Americans, waggling the envelope.

“I trust you will surely find this to the advantage of both yourself and your father, Miss Sung.”

Wah looked back at his face, and in the instant before she saw him straight-on, she could have sworn that his black pupils seemed to undulate, as if something wriggled behind them.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

July 2, 2014
by Ross E. Lockhart
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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “The Harrow,” by Gemma Files

As you might have heard, we’ve got a new anthology landing July 15, The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron. Over the next few weeks, we thought we’d share a brief excerpt to preview each story. These will be dropping on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and start today with “The Harrow,” by Gemma Files

The earth is old and full of holes, Lydie Massenet’s mother used to say, at least once a day, back when she was still Lydie Pell. Its crust is thin, and underneath there’s nothing but darkness. A rind, that’s all we live on; just thin ice, waiting for it to thaw and crack. No need to dig, really—if they want to find you, they will. Never trust anything that comes out of a hole.

And: Okay, Mom, Lydie would say, the way her father had taught her to. That’s good. That’s fine. Then just smile and nod, all the time staring off at nothing much, something invisible—contemplating Mars, he called it—until her mother finally stopped talking.

You have to know this, Lydie, if nothing else, her mother told her. Darkness shifts, darkness conceals; it’s impossible to know what’s hiding inside it, no matter how hard you try. But if history teaches anything, it’s that what we don’t understand, we fear… and what we fear, eventually, we come to worship, if only to keep it in its rightful place. To make sure it doesn’t come after us.

Yes, Mom. Okay. Sure.

’Til, one day: Stop saying that, goddamnit! her mother yelled, and slapped Lydie across the face, so hard her glasses cracked in half. That was the day her father brought Doctor Russ home, the day before her mother went somewhere else—first for a rest, and then, after everything they did to her while she was there had utterly failed to make her well enough to come home again, to stay.

What’s wrong with her, Daddy? Lydie asked her father, at last, to which he only shook his head and sniffed, trying to pretend he hadn’t been crying.

Honey, I wish to God I knew, was all he said, in return. And hugged her a little too long, a little too tight.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.