Return of the Swallows, a Creepy Short Story by Norman Prentiss—Part of His “Apocolypse a Day” Blog Series…

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Return of the Swallows

Every year, at the end of a week of festivities, a flock of migratory swallows used to arrive at the Great Stone Church in San Juan Capistrano, greeted with cheers from sightseers. The sky was black with the shapes of birds returning from winter in Goya, Argentina. The swallows built nests beneath the arches and eaves of the ruined church.

In recent years, few swallows came to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Restoration of parts of the ruined church destroyed many nests and nesting places. Man-made nests were placed beneath a prominent archway, hoping to tempt annual visitors, but the effort failed.

The celebrations continue, however. Tourists from all over gather to celebrate the week-long Fiesta de las Golondrinas, and on March 19 (the feast of St. Joseph), mariachi bands and Spanish and Native American dancers entertain the vast crowd. At noon, a bell-ringing ceremony commences, calling the birds. Perhaps a few will come, but never in the tremendous numbers of the past.

“We are always looking for them,” a resident says this year, her face brimming with unfounded hope.

Tourists turn to the bank of bell towers, raising their phones to record the clamor. They photograph the swinging ropes, the clappers striking metal bells, the scenic sun-dappled stone of the ruined church, but few of them bother to look to the sky.

A shadow falls over the Mission, darkening the images on camera and cell phone screens. A distant, overhead squawking begins to soar over the clamor of the bells.

“They’re back,” someone yells, and cameras and phones swivel, necks crane upward.

Like in years past, like in the famous song, the swallows come back to Capistrano.

The sky is almost entirely black, but it is a black that ripples like an ocean. Wings flap, and the cry of multiple birds is so loud that many tourists cover their ears. The bellringers stop pulling the ropes, so the birds make the only sound.

It is not a birdsong or mating call. The birds sound angry.

“This is more than I remember,” an old gentleman remarks. “Many, many more.”

It’s as if there is not enough room in the sky. The birds fight for space, and the dark ocean of feathers seethes with violent waves.

A group of tourists scream and jump away from where they’ve been standing. On the ground, a dying bird flaps its wings. Its eyes have been pecked out. The feather pattern, usually a mix of grays with white patches, is entirely dark with grime, as if the bird has been rolled in tar or oil. The bird has four legs that struggle in the air as it dies.

Other birds begin to fall from the sky, their grime-soaked bodies pecked and bleeding, some with two eyes pecked out, but another pair above, blinking; most with extra legs, a few with an extra head.

Tourists and locals alike seek shelter amid the ruined stones of the Mission, unaware what disaster struck in the southern hemisphere…only to migrate here in a dark, bilious cloud, then continue to spread as dead and dying birds rain onto the church courtyard.

– Norman Prentiss, March 19, 2017

Read More of Norman Prentiss’ Horror Fiction here…

Dark Gods, Four Horror Novellas by T. E. D. Klein (Viking/Penguin 1985)

Dark Gods - Jul 1986, T. E. D. Klein, publ. Bantam, 0-553-25801-X, $3.95, 261pp, pb, collDark Gods by T. E. D. Klein, 4 Horror Novellas…

Table of Contents

1. Children of the Kingdom
2. Petey
3. Black Man with a Horn
4. Nadelman’s God

The sadly non-prolific T.E.D. Klein published his only novel, The Ceremonies, in 1984 (an expansion of his story “The Events at Poroth Farm”, another very frightening story that first appeared in Shadows 2, edited by Charles L. Grant). 1984! Klein’s second book, followed a year later: the collection Dark Gods, which is comprised of four novellas written during the previous decade. Klein was editor of Twilight Zone magazine at the time (the magazine published well-respected short horror stories until its demise in 1989).

Although all of his fiction is set in the modern era, its care and subtlety hearken back to late 19th/early 20th century masters like M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Sheridan Le Fanu, Lovecraft—there is even a hint of Carver, Oates, and Updike in Klein’s portrayal of mid-twentieth-century American suburbia (see “Petey”). Modern purveyors of this style work in what has been dubbed “quiet horror.” I just call it “smart horror” or “horror with an intellect”. Many of these writers are writing what is now being rferred to as “weird fiction” (Strantzas, Kiernan, Unsworth, Cluley, Mills, Wehunt, DeMeester, Ballingrud, John Langan, Ramsey Campbell, Kim Newman, Gaiman, et al.) These writers pride themselves on creating moods and atmospheres, a sense of awe, mystery, providing chilling intimations of fear and dread rather than, as Stephen King once put it (and as is King’s own niche more often than not), “going for the gross-out.”

The Bantam mass-market paberback cover of Dark Gods (pictured here) depicts, out of a vast stormy sky, an inchoate face, raging, fanged, demonic—a living darkness threatening a solitary rural house (it’s from “Petey”).

The first novella, “Children of the Kingdom” (originally published in 1980 in the game-changing anthology Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley), takes place in the midst of the infamous New York City blackout of summer 1977 at an old folks’ home where the narrator’s grandfather lives. Slowly and surely Klein builds the atmosphere, dropping hints and clues throughout, mixing vague supernatural dread with real-life threats caused by the blackout. The sewers of New York, it turns out, harbor more than just baby alligators; and roving gangs something a bit less-than-human, perhaps, might be lurking closer than you think.

black-man-with-a-horn“Black Man with a Horn” (1980), one of Klein’s most lauded stories, has as its narrator an old horror fiction writer who once knew H. P. Lovecraft. After a chance meeting with a nervous missionary returning from Malaysia on an international flight, the narrator learns the true meaning of a horrific bogeyman from ancient myth—myth he thought was made up entirely by Lovecraft and his fellow circle of Weird Tales writers. The story is both a sly, ironic meditation on the art of horror; as well as a creepy, satisfying story. Considered part of the Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos cycle, it was originally published in New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by Ramsey Campbell (Arkham House).  The story is based on a cult mentioned by both August Derleth and Lovecraft, called the “Tcho-Tcho”, and the protagonist’s investigation into its connection with the disappearance of the missionary.

“Petey” involves a man in a mental asylum who’s so spooked by something he’s seen that he keeps trying to commit suicide. George and Phyllis and thirty of their friends are celebrating the couple’s new Connecticut home, an old place they’ve recently fixed up (more specifically, cleaned up). The previous owner of the house was a bit…imbalanced (he had “eyes like a sorcerer” some of the locals claim). Someone finds an ancient book about grotesqueries and arabesqueries. And, about 20 pages into the story, someone pulls out a creepy deck of tarot cards. Petey is one of the best horror stories I’ve ever read. What makes it so incredible is the slow unfolding of the horror. It’s the kind of tale that will quickly exhaust the patience of the short-attention-spanned reader. This, agaon, is smart horror, quiet horror, horror for the intellect. Trust it. Petey is the kind of tale that will reward the patient reader. It will make you glance over your shoulder at every ittle bump in the night, and wish to hell you hadn’t sat down to read it next to a window.

“Nadelman’s God”—which won the 1986 World Fantasy Award for Best Novella, reads more like a comedy of errors than a supernatural arising. But in a random and chaotic universe as this, where mankind is still guessing at metaphysical connections, it is with a mannered sigh of cultivated resignation that an ancient, exiled god can be conjured out of a sophomoric, pretentious poem ego-published in a small, collegiate newspaper. Nadelman has dismissed any long-ago, youthful dream of using his celestial musings to impress society’s intelligencia. Soon, the brutal murders start, and all hope of a benign belief system fail. As more unspeakable events occur, Nadelman plunders into his own daunting ennui. He feels as if the earth were yearning to crush him, smother him, blot out the very memory of him; as if the planet, all nature, all creation, the very fabric of reality, were inimical to breeds such as his.

The Temple of Death: The Ghost Stories of A. C. Benson & R. H. Benson, TOC

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Table of Contents

3 • The Temple of Death • (1903) • short story by A. C. Benson
19 • The Closed Window • (1903) • short story by A. C. Benson
29 • The Slype House • (1904) • short story by A. C. Benson
43 • The Red Camp • (1903) • short story by A. C. Benson
63 • Out of the Sea • (1904) • short story by A. C. Benson
75 • The Grey Cat • (1903) • short story by A. C. Benson
89 • The Hill of Trouble • (1903) • short story by A. C. Benson
105 • Basil Netherby • (1926) • novelette by A. C. Benson
129 • The Uttermost Farthing • (1926) • novelette by A. C. Benson
177 • The Watcher • (1903) • short story by R. H. Benson
183 • The Blood-Eagle • (1903) • short story by R. H. Benson
191 • Consolatrix Afflictorum • (1903) • short story by R. H. Benson
197 • Over the Gateway • (1903) • short story by R. H. Benson
203 • Father Meuron’s Tale • (1907) • short story by R. H. Benson
211 • Father Macclesfield’s Tale • (1907) • short story by R. H. Benson
219 • The Traveller • (1903) • short story by R. H. Benson

The First Orbit Book of Horror Stories edited by Richard Davis (ca. 1970s), TOC

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Big, Wide, Wonderful World • [Shock Short] • (1958) • short story by Charles E. Fritch
Burger Creature • (1973) • short story by Stepan Chapman [as by Steve Chapman]
Forget-Me-Not • (1975) • novelette by Bernard Taylor
Halloween Story • (1972) • short story by Gregory Fitz Gerald
Judas Story • (1975) • novelette by Brian Stableford [as by Brian M. Stableford]
S.F. • (1975) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
Satanesque • (1974) • short story by Allan Weiss
The House of Cthulhu • [Cthulhu Mythos] • (1973) • short story by Brian Lumley
The Man in the Underpass • (1975) • short story by Ramsey Campbell
The Taste of Your Love • [Liefde’s Kronkelwegen • 2] • (1975) • short story by Eddy C. Bertin (trans. of De Smaak van Jouw Liefde 1971)
The Whimper of Whipped Dogs • (1973) • short story by Harlan Ellison
Uncle Vlad • (1973) • short story by Clive Sinclair
Wake Up Dead • (1975) • short story by Tim Stout
Introduction (The First Orbit Book of Horror Stories) • essay by Richard Davis

Reassuring Tales by T. E. D. Klein, TOC

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7 • Introduction (Reassuring Tales) • (2006) • essay by T. E. D. Klein
17 • Camera Shy • (1988) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
27 • Growing Things • (1999) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
33 • Curtains for Nat Crumley • (1996) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
51 • Magic Carpet • (1976) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
57 • One Size Eats All • (1993) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
63 • Ladder • (1990) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
77 • Well-Connected • (1987) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
93 • S.F. • (1975) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
111 • They Don’t Write ’em Like This Anymore: A TV Treatment in Two Versions • (1989) • short story by T. E. D. Klein
121 • The Events at Poroth Farm • (1972) • novella by T. E. D. Klein

Dark Forces edited by Kirby McCauley, TOC…a Superb Horror Anthology, TOC

Table of Contents

ix • Introduction (Dark Forces) • (1980) • essay by Kirby McCauley
1 • The Late Shift • (1980) • short story by Dennis Etchison
18 • The Enemy • (1980) • short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer
27 • Dark Angel • (1980) • short story by Edward Bryant
44 • The Crest of Thirty-six • (1980) • short story by Davis Grubb
56 • Mark Ingestre: The Customer’s Tale • (1980) • short story by Robert Aickman
77 • Where the Summer Ends • (1980) • novelette by Karl Edward Wagner
106 • The Bingo Master • (1980) • short story by Joyce Carol Oates
129 • Children of the Kingdom • (1980) • novella by T. E. D. Klein
196 • The Detective of Dreams • (1980) • short story by Gene Wolfe
214 • Vengeance Is. • (1980) • short story by Theodore Sturgeon
222 • The Brood • (1980) • short story by Ramsey Campbell
235 • The Whistling Well • (1980) • novelette by Clifford D. Simak
263 • The Peculiar Demesne • (1980) • novelette by Russell Kirk
292 • Where the Stones Grow • (1980) • short story by Lisa Tuttle
306 • The Night Before Christmas • (1980) • novelette by Robert Bloch
327 • The Stupid Joke • (1980) • short fiction by Edward Gorey
342 • A Touch of Petulance • (1980) • short story by Ray Bradbury
353 • Lindsay and the Red City Blues • (1980) • short story by Joe Haldeman
369 • A Garden of Blackred Roses • (1980) • novelette by Charles L. Grant
391 • Owls Hoot in the Daytime • [John the Balladeer] • (1980) • short story by Manly Wade Wellman
404 • Where There’s a Will • (1980) • short story by Richard Matheson and Richard Christian Matheson
412 • Traps • (1980) • short story by Gahan Wilson
419 • The Mist • (1980) • novella by Stephen King

The Psychopath of Oz by Woody Dexter, A Reblog from “Haint-Blue Shudders”

Her skin was as dry as the Deadly Desert. She glared into the silvered glass of the ancient mirror and something like a growl tumbled in her throat. The fingernail of her right hand traced the deep lines in her face, she, turning her head from side to side to catch the light of the […]

via “Melting” … a Character Sketch about the Origins of Psychopathy in Oz, by Woody Dexter — Haint-Blue Shudders