The noise behind us though cut off any time we might have had for soul searching. It was a laugh, throaty and gurgling like water running down a drain, and could have come from no mortal throat. We both turned toward the source of the sound, and the sight that was before us will live with me forever. The old man, now unquestionably the girl’s dead father, had risen from his seat and was now walking toward us, his face disfigured with a leering strychnine grin that made him look as if his cheeks had been slashed to his ears. The laughter bubbled out of him like blood from a punctured lung as his purple distended tongue hung down onto his chin and his eyes rolled back in their sockets. The girl screamed, and kept on screaming, as her mind appeared to be in danger of divorcing itself from reality. Brave as she was, on this occasion it was my turn to act.
I wrote this story several years ago and seem to have taken my time getting it published — at just over 10,000 words there aren’t as many potential markets as there would be for a shorter piece, so it was never going to sell quickly. But given the setting and the nature of the story it would have been tough to trim it down. The setting is China in 1855, during the opium wars, and follows the captain of one of the opium clippers as he tries to deal with his chronic pain by first dipping into his own supply of drugs, then meddling with something even more sinister and dangerous when the drugs stop working. It’s another Lovecraftian story, something I’ve done a fair number of over the years, where horrific events in the real world show us glimpses of what lives just beyond the fringes of our own reality.
The story was accepted by Joe Vaz of Something Wicked and was published in issue 14, October 2011.