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. For Boxing Day we bring you Livia Llewellyn’s nightmarish “Allochthon,” a family outing the likes of which you’ll never forget…
Henry walks into the room and grabs his coat, motioning for her to do the same. Ruth clenches her jaw and closes the scrapbook. Once again, she’s made a promise she doesn’t want to keep. But she doesn’t care enough to speak her mind, and, anyway, it’s time to go.
Their next-door neighbor steers his rusting car down the dirt road, past the edges of the town and onto the makeshift highway. His car is one of many, a caravan of beat-up trucks and buggies and jalopies. Ruth sits in the back seat with a basket of rolls on her lap, next to the other wife. It started earlier in the week as an informal suggestion over a session of grocery shopping and gossip by some of the women, and now almost forty people are going. A weekend escape from the routine of their dreary lives to a small park further down the Columbia River. The park is far from the massive lock and dam construction site, the largest in the world, which within the decade will throttle the river’s power into useful submission. The wives will set up the picnic, a potluck of whatever they can afford to offer, while they gossip and look after the children. The men will eat and drink, complain about their women and their jobs and the general rotten state of affairs across the land, and then they’ll climb a trail over eight-hundred-feet high, to the top of an ancient volcanic core known as Beacon Rock.
The company wife speaks in an endless paragraph, animate and excited. Billie or Betty or Becky, some childish, interchangeable name. She’s four months pregnant and endlessly, vocally grateful that her husband found work on a WPA project when so many in the country are doing without. Something about the Depression. Something about the town. Something about schools. Ruth can’t be bothered. She bares her teeth, nods her head, makes those ridiculous clucking sounds like the other wives would, all those bitches with airs. Two hours of this passes, the unnatural rattle and groan of the engines, the monotonous roll of pine-covered hills. The image of the palm tree has fled her mind. It’s only her on the lawn, alone, under the unhinged jaw of the sky. Something about dresses. Something about the picnic. Something about a cave —
Ruth snaps to attention. There is a map in her hands, a crude drawing of what looks like a jagged-topped egg covered in zigzagging lines. This is the trail the men are going to take, the wife is explaining. Over fifty switchbacks. A labyrinth, a maze. The caravan has stopped. Ruth rubs her eyes. She’s used to this, these hitches of lost time. Monotonous life, gloriously washed away in the backwater tides of her waking dreams. She stumbles out of the car, swaying as she clutches the door. The world has been reduced to an iron grey bowl of silence and vertigo, contained yet infinite. Mountains and space and sky, all around, with the river diminished to a soft mosquito’s whine. Nausea swells at the back of her throat, and a faint, pain-tinged ringing floods her ears. She feels drunk, unmoored. Somewhere, Henry is telling her to turn, to look. There it is, he’s saying, as he tugs her sleeve like a child. Ruth spirals around, her tearing eyes searching, searching the horizon, until finally she —
Something about —
For the rest, get Letters to Lovecraft from Stone Skin Press.
Livia Llewellyn is a writer of dark fantasy, horror and erotica. A 2006 graduate of Clarion, her fiction has appeared in ChiZine, Subterranean, Sybil’s Garage, Pseudopod, Apex Magazine, Postscripts, Nightmare Magazine and numerous anthologies. Her first collection, Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, was published in 2011 by Lethe Press. Engines received a nomination for the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Collection, and “Omphalos” received a Best Novelette nomination. You can find her online at liviallewellyn.com.