Letters to Lovecraft is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and as a holiday treat to our readers we’ll be posting excerpts from each of the stories. First up is Brian Evenson’s “Past Reno,” a piece that takes us on an increasingly disquieting drive through the wastelands of the desert, and the mind…
Bernt began to suspect the trip would turn strange when, on the outskirts of Reno, he entered a convenience store that had one of its six aisles completely dedicated to jerky. At the top were smoked-meat products he recognized, name brands he’d seen commercials for. In the middle was stuff that seemed local, with single-color printing, but still vacuum packed and carefully labeled. Along the bottom row, though, were chunks of dried and smoked meat in dirty plastic bags, held shut with twist ties, no labels on them at all. He wasn’t even certain what kind of meat they contained. He prodded one of the bags with the toe of his sneaker and then stared at it for a while. When he realized that the clerk was staring at him, he shook his head and went out.
I should have known then, he thought hours later. At that point he should have turned around and driven the half mile back into Reno and gone no further. But, he told himself, it was just one convenience store. And it wasn’t, he tried to convince himself, really even that strange. It just meant people in Reno liked jerky. So, instead, he shook his head and kept driving.
It was the first time he’d left California in a decade. His father had died, and he’d been informed of it too late to attend the funeral, but he was driving to Utah anyway, planning to be there for the settling of the estate, whatever was left of it. He was on his own. His girlfriend had intended to come along and then, at the last moment, came down sick. What it was neither of them were quite sure, but she couldn’t stand without getting dizzy. To get to the bathroom to vomit, she had to crawl. The illness had lasted three or four hours and then, just as suddenly as it had come, it was gone. But she had refused to get in the car after that. What if it came back? If it had been bad while she was motionless, she reasoned, how much worse would it be if she was driving? He had to admit she had a point.
“Do you even need to be there?” she had asked him. “Won’t they send you your share wherever you are?”
Technically, yes, that was true, but he didn’t trust his extended family. If he didn’t go, they’d find a way to keep him from what he deserved.
She shook her head tiredly. “And what exactly do you deserve?” she asked. Which was, he had to admit, a good question. “And didn’t your father tell you never to come back?”
He nodded. His father had. “But he doesn’t have any say,” he said. “He’s dead now.”
But in any case she had not come with him. And maybe, he thought now as he drove, his girlfriend’s illness — miles before Reno — was the first indication the trip would turn strange. But how could he have known? And now, well past Reno, already having gone so far, how could he bring himself to turn around?
For the rest, get Letters to Lovecraft from Stone Skin Press.
Brian Evenson is the author of more than a dozen books, including, most recently, the novel Immobility and the short story collection Windeye. Three times he has been a finalist for a Shirley Jackson Award, and he is the recipient of an International 276 Horror Guild Award for his collection The Wavering Knife. His novel Last Days won the American Library Association’s award for best horror novel of 2009. He lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island, with his wife Kristen Tracy and their son Max.