“Her Voice in a Bottle”—A Cool Fantasy Story by Tim Pratt, 2008

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Her Voice in a Bottle

Tim Pratt, 2008

Originally appeared in Subterranean Magazine, Winter 2008.

Begin with the enigma: I sat at the beach on a driftwood log, beside a ring of stones surrounding coals and charred wood, watching Meredith walk away, through the archway of a natural bridge, to the little stretch of beach beyond. Her form dissolved from my sight, swallowed by the light of the setting sun, and I sat drinking a bottle of dark beer, waiting for her to return. Her bottle, half empty, stuck up from the sand beside her sandals and bag. After a while it began to get dark and cold, and I walked toward the archway, calling her name. I passed through to the beach beyond—my friends and I called the spot “Hole in the Wall” because of the archway in the rock—and saw only sand, and cliffs, and waves. There was nowhere she could have gone, unless she decided to freeclimb the cliffs, or swim out into the ocean, neither of which seemed likely. The cliffs were sheer, and the water in Santa Cruz in February was too cold to brave without a wetsuit. After going to the far end of the beach—maybe she’d clambered out onto the big rocks in the water to look at tidepools, and been cut off from land when the tide came in?—I made my way back to the little burned-out campfire. My things were still there, but her shoes and bag were gone, her bottle of beer tipped over and spilled. Had someone stolen her things? If so, why had they left mine? Had she hidden from me and crept back while I was looking for her, and run away? Why do such a thing? There were easier ways to ditch me, if she’d wanted to. Eventually I went home. I had no idea where she was staying. I didn’t have a number for her. I waited for her to call.

She never did. I still wonder, sometimes, if I’ll see her again, what I’ll say to her if I do, if maybe I have a way to call her after all. I run the scenarios to their logical or illogical conclusions, depending. I can think of several possible outcomes. None good.

***

This all happened some time ago, when I was living on Maple Street in Santa Cruz California, right around the corner from my second home, Caffe Pergolesi (a coffee shop I renamed, transmogrified, and made the central setting of my first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl). I remember my time in Santa Cruz as a kind of twilight year, a strange combination of living in my favorite place on Earth and feeling very alone. I had a girlfriend who lived 3,000 miles away and visited occasionally. We had an open relationship, and there was another more local woman I dated, but she was in a committed primary relationship, so there was no sleeping over, and a core of essential loneliness remained whenever I went home from her apartment or said goodbye to her on my sidewalk. It wasn’t just romantic loneliness, either. I lived with my best friend Scott, who was wonderful company, but he was a grad student who kept hours that ran opposite my own, so he was home when I worked, and vice-versa. Every week or two my friend D. came up from Capitola and we sat out on the deck at Pergolesi, where smoking was allowed—he’s a champion smoker—and drank pints of Guinness and shot the breeze. But the hour of companionship here, or sex there, only served to illuminate my empty hours more starkly. I spent a lot of time writing alone in cafés, and walking downtown to watch street performers on Pacific Avenue, and prowling around the big bookstores, and eating cheese fries at 3 a.m. at the Saturn Café, and visiting Hole in the Wall. All nice activities, and all fond memories now, but at the time I wanted someone to share them with, a partner for my heart (and someone to “hear my various witty remarks,” as a famous cartoon character once said). I tried to think of myself as a noble Byronic figure, poetically standing alone in the surf at sunset, or looking down at the ocean from the sidewalk on West Cliff Drive with my scarf blowing dramatically in the sea wind, but such poses aren’t much good if there’s no one around to appreciate them. I wrote stories about chance encounters in cafés leading to tumultuous love affairs, and threw them away as feeble wish fulfillment. I felt sorry for myself and disgusted with myself over the self-pity.

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“The Call of Cthulhu”—The Story That Started It All—by H. P. Lovecraft, 1928

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Art by Robin Claridjs.

 

The Call of Cthulhu

H. P. Lovecraft, 1928

 

(Found Among the Papers of the Late
Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston)

***

“Of such great powers or beings there may be conceivably a survival . . . a survival of a hugely remote period when . . . consciousness was manifested, perhaps, in shapes and forms long since withdrawn before the tide of advancing humanity . . . forms of which poetry and legend alone have caught a flying memory and called them gods, monsters, mythical beings of all sorts and kinds. . . .” – Algernon Blackwood

***

I

The Horror in Clay

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism. But it is not from them that there came the single glimpse of forbidden aeons which chills me when I think of it and maddens me when I dream of it. That glimpse, like all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things—in this case an old newspaper item and the notes of a dead professor. I hope that no one else will accomplish this piecing out; certainly, if I live, I shall never knowingly supply a link in so hideous a chain. I think that the professor, too, intended to keep silent regarding the part he knew, and that he would have destroyed his notes had not sudden death seized him.

My knowledge of the thing began in the winter of 1926–27 with the death of my grand-uncle George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages in Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island. Professor Angell was widely known as an authority on ancient inscriptions, and had frequently been resorted to by the heads of prominent museums; so that his passing at the age of ninety-two may be recalled by many. Locally, interest was intensified by the obscurity of the cause of death. The professor had been stricken whilst returning from the Newport boat; falling suddenly, as witnesses said, after having been jostled by a nautical-looking negro who had come from one of the queer dark courts on the precipitous hillside which formed a short cut from the waterfront to the deceased’s home in Williams Street. Physicians were unable to find any visible disorder, but concluded after perplexed debate that some obscure lesion of the heart, induced by the brisk ascent of so steep a hill by so elderly a man, was responsible for the end. At the time I saw no reason to dissent from this dictum, but latterly I am inclined to wonder—and more than wonder.

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