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. We started this series with a Brian Evenson story about how you really, really can’t go home, but Nadia Bulkin’s “Only Unity Saves the Damned” poses the opposite problem: what happens when you can’t leave in the first place? Sleepy hometowns can be like snares, tightening around you even as you try to escape, and sometimes growing up in these places can blind you to the all-too-real horror that surrounds you, pressing closer and closer…
“Dude, are you getting this?”
Rosslyn Taro, 25, and Clark Dunkin, 25, are standing in the woods. It’s evening — the bald cypresses behind them are shadowed, and the light between the needles is the somber blue that follows sunsets — and they are wearing sweatshirts and holding stones.
“It’s on,” says the voice behind the camera. “To the winner go the spoils!”
They whip their arms back and start throwing stones. The camera pans to the right as the stones skip into the heart of Goose Lake. After a dozen rounds, the camera pans back to Rosslyn Taro and Clark Dunkin arguing over whose stone made the most skips, and then slowly returns to the right. Its focus settles on a large bur oak looming around the bend of the lake, forty yards away.
“Hey, isn’t that the Witching Tree?”
Off camera, Clark Dunkin says, “What?” and Rosslyn Taro says, “Come on, seriously?”
“You know, Raggedy Annie’s Witching Tree.”
The girl sounds too shaky to be truly skeptical. “How do you know?”
“Remember the song? ‘We hung her over water, from the mighty oak tree.’ Well, there aren’t any other lakes around here. And First Plymouth is on the other side of the lake.” The camera zooms, searches for a white steeple across the still water, but the light is bad. “‘We hung her looking over at the cemetery.’”
The camera swings to Rosslyn Taro, because she is suddenly upset. She is walking to the camera, and, when she reaches it, shoves the cameraman. “Bay, shut up! I hate that stupid song. Let’s just go, I’m getting cold. Come on, please.” But Clark Dunkin is still staring at the tree. His hands are shaking. Rosslyn Taro calls his name: “Lark!”
The camera follows Clark Dunkin’s gaze to the tree. There is a figure standing in front of it, dressed in a soiled white shift and a black execution hood. The figure reaches two pale, thin hands to the edge of the hood as if to reveal its face. And then the camera enters a topspin, all dirt and branches and violet sky, as the cameraman begins to run. Rosslyn Taro is heard screaming. Someone — the cameraman, or possibly Clark Dunkin — is whimpering, as if from very far away, “oh, shit, oh, shit.”
And then the video abruptly cuts to black.
For the rest, get Letters to Lovecraft from Stone Skin Press.
Nadia Bulkin writes scary stories about the scary world we live in. Two of her stories have been nominated for Shirley Jackson Awards, and one won the 2010 ChiZine Short Story Contest. It took her two tries to leave Nebraska, but she has been in Washington, D.C., for three years now. She works in research and tends her garden of student debt sowed by two political science degrees. For more, see nadiabulkin.wordpress.com.