There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

My Mark Samuels Itinerary


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My Mark Samuels Itinerary

Lo, the wages of orgiastic overindulgence in a particular writer: four books by Mark Samuels in one week equals alas no further Samuels hunger. For a few years, anyway.

The fiction of Mark Samuels, over two decades of novellas and short stories, gives us a cohesive and consistent view of the world and humankind's frightful position within it.

The confident need not apply.

It is a world of physical collapse, urban erosion, biological and genetic zombification. Buildings slowly empty of emplyees whose minds are overthrown and whose bodies are replaced by mannequins. Fellow pub-goers look on through self-drilled third eyes, mouths fallen-in.

The universe, as well as TV channels, are filled with walls of static. Straight lines of text curve like Spiral Jetties. Men go on all fours and women put out cigarettes on their own thighs.

One's neighbors are murderers, and before long it doesn't matter because it turns out we [the protagonists] were the murderous neighbor all along.

Samuels is a fine stylist and organizer of material. And of course the thumbnail of tropes above is too bald to suggest the humor and plain good fun he brings to the festivities.

Jay
8 April 2018

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___

The Face of Twilight
PS Publishing: 2006
….Gilman was reminded of the theories hinted at in the website of the anonymous devotee of some new occult science: of corpses animated by the vast amounts of leaking energy generated within London. Radio and television signals, satellite transmissions, mobile phones, fibre-optic cables, telephone wires and computer networks; all were to blame for the radiation. Gilman remembered Fritz Leiber's terrifying warning; couched in the form of his masterpiece Our Lady of Darkness. He also thought of the grey trains hurtling along the electrified tracks, their carriages spraypainted with mystical symbols designed to facilitate the return of the dead and which most dismissed as unsightly graffiti. And he had a vision of gigantic burrows beneath cemeteries and graveyards that connected with the tunnels of the Underground tube system and into sewers and subterranean conduits all across the city: a reverse urban palimpsest of darkness, a parody of the maze of streets above ground.
…." THE LATEST REPORT WE HAVE IS THAT… CONSCIOUSNESS IS RETURNING AND THE TRANSFER IS PROVING SUCCESSFUL…WE HAVE THE NUMBERS TO SUCCEED … BELOW GROUND AND AT NIGHT THE CITY IS OURS … AFTER SUNSET WE HAVE CONTROL OVER ALL FORMS OF TRANSPORT ABOVE AND BELOW GROUND … OUR DREAM-SCIENTISTS WILL SOON SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF IMMOBILITY IN DAYLIGHT … EXPERIMENTS UPON FRESHLY LIBERATED HUMAN SUBJECTS HAVE ALREADY BEGUN … SIGILS UPON THE FLESH EXPEDITE POST-MORTEM REALISATION … NECROMORPHIC CENTRAL CONTROL CONFIRM THAT THE INFESTATION OF ALIENS IN THIS BORDERLAND OF REALITY SHOULD BE CLEARED BY 104/ALPHA TIME … REMEMBER THAT THE ALIENS ARE NOT A PHYSICAL DANGER TO US. THEY CAN NO MORE HARM US THAN CAN A THOUGHT … MANY OF THEM ARE SIMPLY DREAM-PROJECTIONS OF FELLOW NECROMORPHS STILL IN A STATE OF TRANSITION … MANY ARE ONLY EXTRAS … DESTRUCTION OF THE ALIENS IS LIBERATION NOT OBLIVION…
_____

The White Hands and Other Weird Tales
Tartarus Press: 2004

Apartment 205 • (2003)
….And then they came across a tiny, windowless room. Its walls had been draped with black velvet curtains. There was a large mirror on the wall, either side of which the curtains were parted, and a single chair with an electric lamp positioned just behind it. The bulb was of a very low wattage and the legs of the chair had been sawn off so that it tilted backwards. If you sat on the chair, you found yourself gazing directly into the mirror, only, judging from its height, it would not be possible to see one's own reflection, only the mirror image of the darkness of the room.
*
Black as Darkness • (2003)
….The film seemed to have been cursed from the outset, and Verna was particularly appalled. She had regarded it as her opportunity to at last achieve the fame she desired so desperately. It had been designed originally as a portmanteau of ghost stories; she played the central character in the second tale, based on the story 'The Reunion' by the obscure Victorian authoress Lilith Blake. The story of Black as Darkness has of course become a thing of movie folklore. 'The Reunion' concerned a ghostly murderess stalking the streets.
Even before it went into production the screenwriter had problems with the adaptation of the Blake story, which he attempted to update, setting it in a rainy, pre-war Berlin ghetto. An Oxford Don, Muswell, had written to him begging him not to transpose the story onto film. The man had made the bizarre claim that Blake's work was not fiction at all but a series of cryptic incantations, whose dissemination could lead to disturbing consequences. He advised that using Blake's tale would result in the triumph of dark forces. Everyone at the studio had dismissed this as malicious nonsense, and it had been regarded as an unhappy coincidence that the screenwriter was found to have hanged himself only a few days after the adaptation had been delivered.
*
Colony • (2003)  
….One aspect of the decayed houses of the quarter puzzled me greatly and continued to do so after I awoke the following morning, exhausted, with a pounding headache and fully clothed on my bed. I had noticed before that many of the houses were boarded-up, but now I had discovered that some of them were still occupied. As I had passed one such building I heard footsteps within, so I had listened at other windows and heard more footsteps and low, hollow, whispering voices speaking in a language I did not recognise. I could see into one house through a partly dislodged board, and there I caught a glimpse of a ravaged face.
*
Mannequins in Aspects of Terror • (2003)
….I wanted so badly to wander around inside the building and I told myself that it was for the purposes of my pet architectural project. Yet perhaps it was really a fascination for solitude that drew me to it. Certainly I had been conscious of its appeal becoming stronger as fewer and fewer windows had been left lit in the evenings. So completely abandoned, it seemed to me a consummation of a terrible beauty. For what was it now but a vacuum, an oasis of nothing, where all else around it was but the maddening whirl of asinine human activity? I viewed it as a vertical desert, closed off from the outside, a region without the distractions of the commonplace. I did wonder for a while whether it would be feasible to employ the designs for my own tower in a radical refurbishment of the existing building, but in the end I resisted this idea. It was not just that my ego preferred the potential of an entirely new project; I also did not want to see the building changed. I was fascinated by the tower because of its very abandonment
*
The Grandmaster's Final Game • (2000)
….Black was playing an outrageous variation on the Caro-Kann. I spotted its significance after two more of my own moves. It was a strategy of titanic deviousness. Unless I could recover I was bound to lose a knight. Suddenly I knew that I must not lose this game. I did not know what losing would mean, but the mere thought of it filled me with unfathomable dread.
*
The Impasse • (2003)  
….He looked up at the monitor and discovered to his bewilderment that a mass of crumpled papers had been stuffed inside it. They were backlit by an internal bulb.
He bent forward and pulled out a screwed-up sheet of yellowed paper. It was covered in writing of a kind. He examined others and they were the same. The handwritten notes had no punctuation or paragraphs and were simply a series of non-sequiturs, ramblings or repetitive phrases. But there did seem to be a theme, of sorts. The name 'Ulymas' appeared over and over again and invariably in association with such words as 'terror', 'horrible', 'infinite' and 'omniscient'. Could this be a practical joke perpetrated by his new work colleagues? It was hard to equate his dour new superior, Franklin, with this kind of prank. Perhaps the computer, even his 'office' was a joke, but a quick check outside the door confirmed that there was no stifled giggling from the corridor. Indeed, the corridor was deserted.
*
The Search for Kruptos • (1995)
….One item in particular drew my attention; an old Scandinavian travelogue which I had found in Paris and had not previously had the opportunity to examine. It included an account by the English author George Burgess of a chance meeting with Thomas Ariel in a tavern as the latter was making his way northwards towards Karnswilloch:
Shortly after my narrow escape from the clutches of a black menace in Råbäck I found myself drowning the memory of the incident at a certain tavern in Jokkmokk. There was an awful blizzard raging outside and it contrasted sharply with the fire before which I sat, drinking hot grog and thanking Providence. I must have downed my third or fourth tankard when the door flew open, admitting a great breath of freezing wind and snow and a well-wrapped figure in a dark cloak and hat carrying a thick volume. For a moment my heart thumped in my chest and the colour must have drained from my face—I thought perhaps that I had not left the horror of Råbäck behind. But then the stranger removed his hat, scarf and cloak and surveyed the room about him.
I saw the face of an extremely elderly man. It was deeply lined and weather-beaten with an aspect like that of crumpled leather. His sunken eyes were half-covered by drooping lids, the eyes of a man who had peered long and hard into infinities. The pupils were bottomless.
*
The White Hands • (2003)  
'I believe,' Muswell once said, 'that mental isolation is the essence of weird fiction. Isolation when confronted with disease, with madness, with horror and with death. These are the reverberations of the infinity that torments us. It is [Lillith] Blake who delineates these echoes of doom for us. She alone exposes our inescapable, blind stumbling towards eternal annihilation. She alone shows our souls screaming in the darkness with none to heed our cries. Ironic, isn't it, that such a beautiful young woman should possess an imagination so dark and riddled with nightmare?'
*
Vrolyck • (2003)  
'The Dybbuk Pyramid' is an attempt to delineate an utterly alien consciousness that comes into contact with this world and interacts with it. It is not the case that the creature is evil—such an interpretation is solely of the human paradigm—but that its very existence is inimical to mankind.
_____

Glyphotech
PS Publishing: 2008

Glyphotech • (2005)  
….As he sat there sipping a pint of beer, a man whose head was wrapped in bandages entered.
Crisk tried not to stare but couldn't help pity the fellow. He must have been involved in quite a nasty accident. Instead of going up to the counter, however, the stranger made straight for Crisk and slumped in the seat directly opposite him.
"How are you, Crisk?" he said in a voice that, though croaky, Crisk recognised as belonging to the former Mare employee David Hogg.
"I have troubles," Crisk replied. "But none to compare to your own, I think. You have met with an accident, I suppose. It is very unfortunate, especially coming after your dismissal."
Hogg's eyes, staring out through holes in the bandages, were watery. Beneath the wrappings there seemed to be neither a nose nor cheeks, only deep hollows. He spoke again: "I thought that those at Mare who didn't succumb to the Glyphotech brainwashing might come in here now and again for a drink. The converts hate the stuff of course. But I admit that I didn't think you personally would reject the seminar, seeing as you were such a loyal company man."
Crisk wasn't certain whether Hogg was complimenting or denigrating him, perhaps a mixture of both.
*

Sentinels • (2006)
….That evening, once Gray had got back to his cramped flat in Tufnell Park, he sat down in his easy chair with his copy of The Secret Underground. He flicked back and forth through its yellowed brittle pages, glancing at them over and over again. The book was divided into several chapters, each specialising in a subterranean urban legend: (1) Cases of Posthumous Mutation in London Cemeteries (2) Derelict reverse Skyscrapers 1936-1957 (3) Mass disappearance of Persons sheltering in the Underground during the Blitz (4) Graffiti or Occult Symbolism? (5) Suppressed Eyewitness accounts during the Construction of the Underground Railways 1860-1976 (6) The Fleet Line extension to Fenchurch Street must be Halted (7) Secret Bunkers or Extermination Centres? (8) The deep level Platforms of the proposed Express Tube: Why they caused Insanity (9) The Hidden Shafts that connect Subterranean London.

There was one paragraph in the final chapter that seemed to be the inspiration for the uneasy dreams Gray had experienced. It ran as follows:

"Most of the city is now underground and not above the surface, and I scarcely need list its innumerable tunnels, subterranean car parks, cellars, crypts, bunkers, basements, vaults, passageways, and sewers. Every building in London has an underside buried deep in the earth. Beneath our feet are the ruins of Anglo-Saxon Lundenwic and of Roman Londinium. The contemporary city will, in time, be swallowed up. This neon and concrete labyrinth will become an Atlantis of catacombs. The higher we build up, the deeper it is necessary to build down in order to support the structures above. All the nightmare sewage that we pump into the depths, all the foulness and corruption, the abortions, the faeces and scum, the blood and diseased mucus, but mostly the hair: what a feast for those underground beings that exist in darkness, and shun the sunlight! Those things below hate us and have every reason to do so."
*
Patient 704 • (2003)
"Why was she discharged so early? Did she make rapid progress?" I asked him as I leafed through her case file on the desk between us.
"No. The fact is that she was suffering from a delusion."
"What exactly?"
"She had the idea that we had one inmate whom we had kept in solitary for our own sinister purposes.
*
Shallaballah • (2005)
….There is an old television set dating from the 1930s or 40s. It is housed in a four-foot tall wooden cabinet with a ten-inch high flickering blue screen on the front. In a darkened, derelict room a shadowy figure with a patchwork face silently watches the display. The signal that the device is receiving is an image of a long out-of-date test card. In the centre of the image is a circle with vertical lines that thicken from right to left. Above the circle is a logo and a slogan: SHALLABALLAH and "Television is the New Afterlife." Outside the circle is a black space that fills the rest of the screen. Written in white lettering on the space are the following words:
Right: "Delayed images (ghosts) may appear on the black or white strips." Left: "Reception reports may be sent to Mr. Punch. College of Professors. Eng. Div., London N.19." Underneath: "Test Transmission".
*
Ghorla • (2007)
"The modern world ..." Miss Ghorla responded "… I find its sentimentality for Nature pathetic. Mother Nature! As if it concerns itself with the welfare of human-beings! Or, for that matter, with any other creatures. Nature is an idiot, a mindless force that fumbles across this black planet. And yet the stupid people worship it!"

"When Nature acts in a way that is inimical to mankind, then we hear cries that hurricanes, floods and droughts are somehow unnatural! During one decade society claims we are on the brink of a new ice-age, during the next that global-warming will finish us all off! All this is the consequence of our worshipping Nature! We think of it as a mother, and cannot bear the idea that it has no regard whatsoever for us. We fret and wail looking for signs of her displeasure, convincing ourselves that we have wronged her, as if she ever cared – or even noticed – our existence in the first place."

"I wonder if your brother shared your …" Staines said, before he was interrupted yet again.

*
Cesare Thodol: Some Lines Written on a Wall  
….What happened to Cesare Thodol during the thirty-three years of his incarceration in Colney Hatch has remained untold. For most Thodolian scholars the story of his life is over by 1905 and they have contented themselves with just a paragraph or two of speculation relating to his existence amongst the deranged in that huge citadel on the outskirts of the city. One or two have mentioned that Thodol believed that all the inmates and staff of the asylum were wax dummies come to life, and that he screamed at the sight of any person, but of the bizarre writings he produced whilst incarcerated there is no account. But during that time he wrote. Not on paper, but on the walls of his cell, until he had covered much of them with his tiny, crabbed handwriting.
*
"Destination Nihil" by Edmund Bertrand  
"Perhaps it's not your dream, perhaps it's mine. Perhaps you're just a made-up character and I haven't filled you with memories and a past," Toombs said.
"I need to find someone talking sense, excuse me," Graves said, getting to his feet and loping off along the aisle again, swaying slightly with the rocking motion of the carriage.
*
The Vanishing Point • (2004)
….Was it a two-way transmission? Were Keyes's own thoughts, not to say all of those who had witnessed the broadcast, being monitored?
What he thought he'd seen must be a hallucination. It had to be. Or was it the last attempt of sham-existence to re-establish control over his thoughts? Was sham-existence finally deploying the most powerful weapon in its armoury against him? Surely it was one or the other. In any case it could not be allowed to affect his course of action.
*
Regina vs. Zoskia • (2007)  
"How did our firm become involved with them?"
"When the inmates decided they no longer wished to be classified as insane. They've been challenging the legal basis on which the definition rests for the last forty-odd years. Dr. Zoskia contends that the hospital is for the sane and that it is the outside world that is occupied by the mentally disturbed. Proving this contention in law became the 'Regina vs. Zoskia' case."
"Surely it's obvious whether or not these people are crazy? If they can't function in society—"
"It's not just that. The thing is that they've trained themselves not to sleep…."
*
A Gentleman from Mexico • (2007)
….By the time he'd finished reading the first story, Armstrong was in a state of dazed wonder. Of course he realised, on a professional level, that the thing had no commercial potential. It smacked far too much of an in-joke, or a hoax, but it was nevertheless profoundly impressive in its own right. He began to wonder what this López person might be able to achieve were he to wean himself from the Lovecraft influence and produce fiction utilising a distinct authorial voice. It might result in another modern-day writer of the order of Thomas Ligotti. Armstrong was dimly aware of the telephone ringing in the background. He ignored the sound, allowing the answer-machine to deal with whoever it was. He supposed that he could be San Isidro again and that it might have been better to pick up, but he was too eager to discover whether the story he'd just read was a fluke or not. Since the mosquitoes were now busy in the night air, he took the manuscripts inside and carried on reading.
____

The Man Who Collected Machen and Other Weird Tales
Chômu Press: 2011


Losenef Express • (2010)  
….As he passed the compartment adjacent to his own he heard a groaning from within and stopped to look inside. A solitary passenger was sprawled across the floor, face down and motionless. The man was dressed in a badly crumpled light grey suit covered with dark brown stains. He had a foul odour about him, of eggs that had turned rotten. Knox considered, for a moment, ignoring him but then the groan came again and this time it was louder and more prolonged than before. The man in the grey suit had, like Knox, been drinking the green spirit. An empty bottle of it lay just outside his reach.
*
The Man Who Collected Machen • (2010)
….And the Old Land stretched forth its limbs in the trees on the heaths, and the forests, and the woods that were dotted across the city. They were reminders that the Old Land is not dead, but merely slumbers.
*
Thyxxolqu • (2008)  
….On the bus back home from the British Library, Barclay noticed a new development. Above the windows, on the curved angle of the wall before the ceiling, it was usual for the bus company to display advertisements. On this particular bus, they were all in what appeared to be Thyxxolqus. Moreover, someone sitting directly in front of Barclay was conducting, via his mobile phone, a staccato buzzing conversation in the same language. Once the conversation was over, Barclay could not refrain from lightly tapping the passenger on the shoulder, and enquiring whether he could translate the advertisements since he appeared to be a speaker of Thyxxolqus.
The man appeared a little confused by Barclay's interest and gaped at him momentarily as if he did not quite comprehend the request made to him in English. Finally he responded.
"Do you mean to say huxxkl nyzzzt for yourself? Are you krhjxjk?"
"Where did you learn this language? Are you English?" Barclay replied, conscious that the two of them had drawn the surreptitious attention of all the other silent passengers.
"English? Of course I'm ghxcllu English! Hxchxc joke nyzzzt hythxxu off," he barked back.
An elderly Indian lady, dressed in a patterned sari, sitting alongside the passenger in front then joined in the conversation. "Please," she said, "let's not jhjkzz, there's no juxxchu fzzzghal and I'm running chjuzzcu yho fghgrxx."
Behind him, Barclay heard more words spoken in Thyxxolqus and turned to see a teenage Spanish couple chattering to one another.
"Qué divertido mi amor. Nxhzzz uglaghk no habla jkgqixx."
Someone else said something in Thyxxolqus. Pure, undiluted Thyxxolqus.
It was a small Japanese man clad in a pin-striped business suit. His beetling eyebrows were raised and a look of loathing crossed his face.
*
The Black Mould • (2010)
….Astronomers on distant worlds looked on with dread at the development. Those that perceived it not, perished all the same. Multiform were the species of the universe, following different paths of evolution and modes of thought, though none were as the mould. But all those that looked outward at the universe felt wonder and terror, whether they were taloned crustaceans in a fungous jungle, cognisant machines of incredible technological complexity, or peace-loving sea mammals that gazed with dark eyes at the stars above the waters of an alien world. All knew the end was near and their kind would, ere centuries had passed, be consumed and then participate in the cosmic corruption of the mould.
*
Xapalpa • (2010)  
….It was an article written in 1950, by the Chairman of the department of anthropology at Mexico City College, one Robert H. Barlow, and was entitled "Strange Worship: the Head Cult of Xapalpa".
*
Glickman the Bibliophile • (2003)
...One theory that was given credence for a time advanced the idea that some form of evolution had taken place in that area of the human brain concerned with linguistic recognition. It was believed that instead of recognition, this area of the brain now generated an intolerable fear of written signifiers, leading to acts of violence and memory-loss when the sufferer came into contact with text. But this was discredited after the corpses of those persons who perished accidentally in acts of book destruction were examined. Their brains showed no signs of abnormal development or damage. None of the theories advanced could be held with certainty.
*

A Question of Obeying Orders • (2010)
….It was heading in the direction of the steeple and, as Kugel approached the structure himself, in the creature's wake, he now discerned the churchyard sheltering below. It was enclosed by railings and contained a jumble of gravestones and slabs. Kugel stopped, for he could make out the corpse scaling the railings, its shadowy outline high in the air. He took aim, fired, and saw it shudder again at the impact of the bullet in its neck. But he did not bring it down with his shot. In the next instant it had vanished amongst the gravestones and Kugel continued his pursuit.
Once over the railings, Kugel saw a figure waiting for him. At first he feared it was the creature lying in ambush, but it was a middle-aged sexton clad in clerical black, and he carried a spade.
His hatchet face was soaked with sweat. "I heard the shot," the man said, "but a bullet can't stop the dead. I've dealt with two-dozen of these things. I've buried them and I've seen them come back. But if they do, I've made sure they stay in their graves thereafter. Now let's finish this thing off. It crept down into that shallow grave over there."
"Not before I have a few questions answered," said Kugel, "or, I swear, I'll shoot you where you stand."
"Don't be a fool. Shoot me if you will, but I'll delay not a moment longer."
*

Nor Unto Death Utterly • (2010)
….Much time he spent in his extensive library, consulting the rare and curious volumes he had accumulated. They were riddled with strips of paper serving as bookmarks, and their battered condition told of research conducted with scant regard for the objects' value in and of themselves, attention being paid only to what information they might yield up to a scholar of transcendent mysteries. The contents of the library, he told me, had been gathered together through the design of his first wife and accurately reflected the gigantic acquisition of knowledge she had attained. The modern dialects were well represented—roughly equal in proportion to those of classical antiquity—but it was the recondite subject matter of the collection that most aroused within me a sense of bewildered wonder. Almost all of the tomes represented some facet of an outwardly chaotic scheme of metaphysical investigation, and so I cannot hope to give more than an inkling of the wide survey of esoteric learning encompassed.
*

A Contaminated Text • (2010)
….In 1914, Martz joined the staff of the Mexico City insane asylum. He took up his position having theorised that certain patients suffering from "delusions" had access to other forms of consciousness. Martz believed that his contact with the Voolan entities placed him beyond good and evil. Morality, for Martz, was a question of expediency and advancing human development, that is, preparing the way for the reign of the Voolans on the surface world. He began experimenting on those inmates who were without families or associates who might take an interest in their condition, enabling him to act free from outside scrutiny. Orderlies and other doctors were bribed as necessary to maintain a conspiracy of silence. Rather than seeking to ameliorate psychoses or manias, it was Martz's mission to intensify them. This he would attempt to do by means of physical and mental torture, including the use of psychotropic drugs, electric shocks, sleep deprivation and even sexual abuse. He took notes of his patients' reactions, subjecting them to violent interrogation from that time onwards.
*

The Age of Decayed Futurity • (2009)
….You probably all know those stories about Hollywood films that are cursed: The Omen, Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. Certain events portrayed in those movies subsequently took place in real life and happened to cast and crew members. People struck by lightning or decapitated. The ritual murder of Sharon Tate. Insanity indistinguishable from demonic possession. Our film wasn't supernatural, but it still dealt with a conspiracy of silence, one that would kill in order to keep its secrets.
Well, you won't be surprised to learn that people started dying. At first they'd just disappear. We lost our Key Grip a week into shooting. He vanished. Just didn't show up on day seven. No-one ever heard from him again. The Chief Hair Stylist fell off a tenth floor balcony in a condo on Playa Vista….
*


The Tower • (2011)  
….Eventually, the Tower appeared omnipresent. I saw it, whenever I looked for it, at all hours of the day and night. Believing its appearance as a constant to be an indication of the mysterious structure that was now gaining a firmer foothold in reality—or what I took to be reality, or even some new reality imposed by my imagination—I naturally attempted to gain entrance to its immediate grounds, and perhaps even to its interior confines.
But when I tramped the maze of streets that I thought would draw me closer to the Tower, I found that, despite the ease with which I conjured it into being, still I got no nearer to my destination, and it remained as distant as when I first glimpsed it.

_____




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Postscriptum


Mark Samuels reached a hand into the darkness to silence the shrilling of his mobile phone alarm and felt his reflexes pull him awake sharply, with no consideration for the vestiges of his disordered dreams. The room was still. A vague rose glow entered through the window. In a few moments Samuels had pulled back the sheets and was on the floor, engaged in his morning exercises: a hundred push-ups; a hundred sit-ups; fifty crunches, back bends, jack-knives and Russian twists; five minutes of shadowboxing.

The girl was up now, watching him. Samuels heard the click of her lighter and smelled acrid smoke rising to the ceiling; finishing his routine, he turned and gazed back at her, noting with approval the juvenile quality of her breasts, firm but not yet fully ripe. Her dark hair had been trimmed short and dyed a chestnut brown, and her eyes were wide and guileless. She had given her age as nineteen, but Samuels suspected this was an exaggeration. He smiled at her, and she said something that sounded like "gun" or "goon" with the intonation of a question.

"Gun? Couldn't have gotten one through immigration. Don't even carry one back home."

The girl shook her head, clearly frustrated. She took her own phone from the nightstand and fiddled with its electronic dictionary before handing it to him. Samuels glanced at the kanji characters before reading the translation.

"Oh, the military? No, love, I'm a horror writer. We're much scarier."

Samuels examined himself in the mirror. A light sheen of sweat had formed on his flesh, highlighting its clearly defined musculature. His natural stoutness had been conditioned through discipline into the bearlike build of a heavyweight boxer. A shaved head completed the impression of clean masculine strength. He was now older than Poe and Lovecraft had been when they died, but in contrast to the sickly Americans, Samuels's body was what the fanzine Ghorla had termed "a pinnacle of physical achievement." An Idealist in several senses, he liked to think that the real pinnacle lay ahead of him, some Olympian summit of training ever out of reach. He had never believed in the myth of the "sick men of literature." Only a man in the prime of his health had the strength to truly gaze into the dark places of the universe. Where the sick men had turned away, curtailing their visions to mere glimpses of cosmic terror, Samuels kept his gaze focused, producing not just sketches but comprehensive maps of the abyss.

The girl—Yuka or Yuko, he couldn't remember—rose from the bed and placed her arms around him. He ran his hand through her hair in a manner that would almost have been paternal were it not for the conflicting evidence of their clothes strewn across the floor. Samuels knew men his age who used Viagra and Cialis, but his faculties had never been in need of artificial aid. Routine kettlebell exercises had strengthened and lengthened his thrusting—he doubted whether many teenage boys had the same titanic endurance—while the regular consumption of broccoli, oysters and other zinc-rich foods kept his testosterone high. Perhaps too high, he reflected, remembering the eight used condoms in the trash bin.

Samuels retrieved his trousers and sky-blue Paul Smith shirt from the floor, located an iron in the closet and tended to his clothes. Once dressed, he took a bag of tobacco and some rolling papers from his briefcase. In a few moments he had produced a thin cigarette. As he smoked, he performed an inventory of the room and eventually located his tie behind the trash bin. He stood, ground out the cigarette and completed a quick Windsor knot. The girl had pulled a sheet around her and was repeating something that sounded like "matte," and then a word which could only be "shower."

"Sorry, love," Samuels said. "No time, lots on the agenda. Here, have a book."

He took from the briefcase a red softback volume with a Baphomet pentagram on the cover: a copy of Black Altars, his second collection.

"Bit of a rarity, this. Not my finest moment. But you can't read it anyway, can you?"....



-From: "The Black Mass" by Justin Isis

Marked to Die: A Tribute to Mark Samuels
Editors:Justin Isis
Snuggly Books: 2017







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