Letters to Lovecraft is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and to ring in the new year for our readers we’ll be posting excerpts from each of the stories. Our penultimate piece comes from Molly Tanzer, and takes us on a post-apocalyptic poaching expedition through a strangely-altered version of London…
A quick look around showed me I’d landed in a pretty typical park. Nothing spooky or abject — just a dark, quiet wood. So I looped a long length of rope around the base of the linden and threw it back over the wall for Burderop. Moments later, I saw her pulling herself overhand up and over the carpet, bag of ferrets on her back like I’d worn my rolled-up rug. Freeing the rug, she tossed it down before dropping beside where I stood at the base of the tree.“All right,” she whispered, eyes darting around every which way. “What’s the plan?”
“To our right are the former Apsley House gardens,” I whispered back. “According to my map, if we head left, there should be the remains of paths that will take us to the Serpentine. A long lake,” I clarified, when Burderop looked mystified by this. “I say we just…
take a tour. See what’s to be seen, right? If we come upon a run, we’ll set snares — or let your ferrets do their thing — but this place is supposed to be huge. We might want to just explore first.”
Burderop grumbled something about a waste of a night, but I ignored her. The danger, the uncertainty, it was making me feel alive again. Like Eve exploring the Garden of Eden once she knew there was a tree of knowledge hidden somewhere. I glanced up, and every leaf looked like a yawning black hole in space, the moonlight bending around them impossibly. It made me feel wild, free. I had to see more — felt an irresistible compulsion to see it all. Pushing heedlessly through the brush, I came upon the broken remains of a road, and on the other side of it lay yet denser woodland.
“Let’s go,” I whispered, mostly to myself, and made a break for it. The heels of my brogues fell like hammers on the shattered asphalt; I could hear Burderop panting behind me. I realized the strange sense of exhilaration I was experiencing was doing things to my senses, judgment not excepted. Still, I pressed on, winding between oaks and slipping in amongst low bushes, until I came to a circular clearing bordered by four overgrown stands of bare, thorny rosebushes, with a fountain, dry now, of a fish and a sea nymph posing together in the center. There remained some rotted-out benches for admiring the scenery. Inspired, I jumped up on the lip of the fountain and imitated the nymph’s pose, one hand behind my head, the opposite hip cocked out.
“Are you insane?” Burderop hissed at me, pulling at the hem of my trousers. “Get down, now. Someone might see us! Might have seen us already!”
She had a point. But the more I saw of it, Hyde Park looked so unkempt as to cast doubt on the rumor that it was an immaculately curated hunting ground. I almost said as much, but caught myself in time. I knew mentioning my observation would almost certainly have Burderop clamoring to leave immediately — she so hated to come home empty-handed. She was close to putting her foot down already, I could tell.
“The map said if we carry on this way…”
“Damn your map!”
“Steady on,” I said. “Let’s —”
“This is stupid! Haven’t you noticed?”
I hopped down off the pedestal. “Noticed what?”
“Are you daft?” She shuddered. “It feels dead in here!”
“I dunno!” She looked up and around where we stood, up at the leaves and then back to me. She was afraid of something, I realized. I’d never known Burderop to be afraid of anything. But something had spooked her good and proper. “It’s a… dead… place,” she said. “Not like, where the dead are buried. Animals live in graveyards, and the trees feel… alive.”
I put my hands on my hips and shook my head at her. “Trees feel alive, do they?”
“Shut up! Just listen!”
I stood very still and listened. Beyond the pounding of my heart and the squirming ferrets rubbing against the burlap of Burderop’s sack, I couldn’t hear anything strange. Then I realized it wasn’t that I couldn’t hear anything — there was nothing to be heard. That was admittedly queer. It had been quite a windy night when we approached Hyde Park, but now we were inside the walls it was deeply, perfectly still. Not even the leaves at the very tops of the trees were rustling…
For the rest, get Letters to Lovecraft from Stone Skin Press.
Molly Tanzer is the author of the Sydney J. Bounds Award and Wonderland Book Award–nominated A Pretty Mouth, as well as Rumbullion and Other Liminal Libations and the forthcoming novels Vermilion (Word Horde, April 2015) and The Pleasure Merchant (Lazy Fascist Press, November 2015). She lives in Boulder, CO, where she mostly writes about fops arguing with each other. She tweets @molly_the_tanz, and blogs — infrequently — at http://mollytanzer.com.