Welcome again to Studying the Bizarre, wherein we get lady cooties throughout bizarre fiction, cosmic horror, and Lovecraftiana—from its historic roots by means of its most up-to-date branches.
This week, we cowl Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “A Redress for Andromeda,” first revealed Richard Chizmar and Robert Morrish’s 2000 October Desires: A Celebration of Halloween anthology. You could find it extra simply in The Bizarre. Spoilers forward.
“Ahmed and the girl with the conch-shell tattoo lean in shut and whisper the names of deep-sea issues in her ears, a rushed and bathypelagic litany of fish and jellies, squid and the translucent larvae of shrimp and crabs.”
Marine biologist Tara finds Darren’s face extra trustworthy than good-looking. Perhaps that’s why she’s interested in him—and why she’s accepted his invitation to a Halloween occasion at an remoted home north of Monterey. It’s no masquerade, Darren’s assured her: simply come as your self.
The Dandridge Home perches on a headland above the Pacific, amid tall grass wind-whipped, like the ocean, into waves and fleeting troughs. With its turrets, excessive gables, and lightning rods, it could scream Halloween even with out scores of candle-lit jack-o’-lanterns outdoors. A black-haired girl is ready on the porch. The jack-o’lanterns, she says, had been carved by the company: 100 eleven for annually the home has stood. But it surely’s getting late, come inside.
Darren introduces Tara because the marine biologist he’s been telling everybody about. The opposite company put on impeccable black; in her white gown Tara seems like “a pigeon dropped right into a flock of crows.” A Frenchwoman with kelp-brown nails tells Tara it’s at all times good to see a brand new face, particularly one as “splendid” as hers. A fats man in a storm-gray ascot is glad to be taught she’s a scientist. They’ve had so few of these.
As Darren attracts her apart, Tara notices how shabby the rooms are. There’s little furnishings. Home windows are drapeless, and velvet wallpaper peels from the partitions like reptile pores and skin. Candles and fuel fixtures, not electrical energy, present flickering mild. Darren reassures her that the partygoers are a tight-knit group, most likely as anxious about her coming as she is about assembly them. They don’t imply to be pushy with their questions, and she or he doesn’t must reply. They’re simply impatient. Impatient about what, Tara wish to know, however Darren leads her again to the crows.
A string quartet performs. The fats man introduces himself as Ahmed Peterson. Studying Tara’s explicit subject is ichthyology, he talks about his good friend pondering a stranded oarfish was a sea serpent. She tops him along with her personal story about seeing a reside oarfish twenty toes lengthy. A lady rings a brass gong, and the company file from the parlor to the again of the home. Darren provides Tara a coin, which she’ll want later. She assumes they’re going to play a celebration sport.
A door opens onto winding, slippery stairs minimize into the rock. Damp partitions gleam within the mild of the company’ candles and oil-lamps. Cool air gusts from beneath, carrying the salt-smell of the ocean and a much less nice fishy odor. When Tara asks the place the hell they’re going, a lady with a conch shell tattooed on her brow seems disapproving, and Darren solely responds, “You’ll see. Nobody ever understands at first.” He grips her wrist too tightly, however earlier than Tara can protest, she sees the sea-cave on the backside of the steps.
A warped boardwalk hugs the cave partitions, above a deep pool welling chartreuse mild. The crows take their locations as in the event that they’ve been there tons of of instances. Darren, ignoring her pleas to go away, seems like he’s witnessing a miracle. The crows half so she will be able to see the stones jutting from the center of the pool, and the factor chained there.
Tara’s consciousness splits between herself within the sea-cave and herself apparently later, mendacity within the tall grass with Darren. The chained factor was as soon as a lady. Now she has spines and scales and podia sprouting from her distended stomach. Crimson tentacles dangle between her thighs; barnacles encrust her legs; her lips transfer soundlessly as she strains towards her corroded shackles. All of the others have dropped their cash into the pool. Tara clutches hers like a tether to the recognized world.
“She retains the stability,” Darren says. “She stands between the worlds. She watches all of the gates.” However does she have a selection, Tara asks. Do saints ever have selections, Darren counters. Tara can’t bear in mind. Ahmed and the tattooed girl whisper the names of sea creatures in her ears, too quick. Someway they change into the Mock-Turtle and Gryphon from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and sing snatches from “The Lobster Quadrille,” whereas Darren explains that the jack-o’-lanterns are a kind of lighthouse beacon: those that are rising, who rise yearly, must know that the partygoers are watching. The variety of watchers is mounted. Certainly one of them has been misplaced. Tara should take their place by dropping her coin into the pool by midnight.
She sees those that rise within the glowing pool, all coils and lashing fins. She drops her coin and watches it sink, “taking a residing a part of her down with it, drowning some speck of her soul.” Just like the chained girl, just like the crows, she too now holds again the ocean.
I informed them you had been sturdy, Darren whispers to Tara, above, within the grass. Under on the boardwalk, the crows dance. The chained girl slips into “a stinging anemone-choked crevice on her island.”
Tara wakes within the grass on the headland. Chilly rain falls. Under the home, breakers roar. She will be able to’t bear in mind climbing from the sea-cave. Darren and the crows have pushed off. The home is darkish, all of the pumpkin beacons gone.
Subsequent yr, Tara is aware of, she’ll come per week early and assist carve the jack-o’-lanterns. She’ll put on black. She’ll know to drop her coin within the pool shortly, and shortly flip away.
A gull seizes one thing darkish and wriggling from the seething sea. Tara wipes rain or tears from her eyes and begins down the sandy street to her automobile.
What’s Cyclopean: The home abuts the “unsleeping, omnivorous Pacific,” a phrase that solely will get extra disturbing and pleasant the longer you consider it.
The Degenerate Dutch: Tara prefers the small group on the remoted home to New York’s Halloween events, gaudy with noisy drunks and drag queens.
Weirdbuilding: This week’s story is paying homage to “The Festival,” and one more entry within the lengthy litany of oceanic weirdness.
Libronomicon: The strains about getting thrown with the lobsters out to sea, which could simply look like the key nightmare verse from “Octopus’s Backyard,” are literally from the Mock Turtle’s Music in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland—little shock, then, that they’re shortly adopted by an inflow of images from the Mad Hatter’s tea occasion.
Insanity Takes Its Toll: Do quotes from the Mad Hatter depend?
Phrase of warning: when your new boyfriend invitations you to an remoted occasion with a close-knit, strangely-mannered group of pals who settle for just one new member at a time, and not one of the earlier new members are in proof… the truth that dude seems trustworthy could not hold you protected. Issues truly end up significantly better for Tara than I used to be anticipating. And that’s form of superior, as a result of what occurs—to the diploma I can inform what occurs in any respect—is far weirder and extra fascinating than something I used to be bracing for.
Kiernan’s superb at riffing on Lovecraft tales. Beforehand we’ve encountered a close sequel to “Pickman’s Model” and a distant play on “Call of Cthulhu.” This week’s story looks like a thematic echo of “The Festival,” wherein our narrator will get invited to an odd bioluminescent ceremony within the bowels of a home, and wakes up alone and uncertain of the extent of actuality of something they’ve encountered. “A Redress for Andromeda” goes past the Lovecraft, although: the ceremony in query is extra resonant, and the narrator finally acquiesces to participation reasonably than operating away. There’s marvel and glory right here, and a willingness to pay one thing that—the story suggests—we owe.
Precisely what’s owed, and what the ceremony accomplishes, are left obfuscated. The closest we come is an outline of what the saint/sea monster/girl is doing down there: preserving the stability, standing between worlds, watching the gates. We additionally be taught that one thing rises, and expects to see the jack-o-lanterns as proof that we’re paying consideration—and that the dropped cash are a sacrifice of greater than metallic, that they maintain again the ocean with items of soul.
The title supplies a framework on which to hold a few of these hints. Andromeda, after all, was provided as sacrifice to Poseidon’s sea serpent to guard the land from his wrath, and rescued by Perseus. So is the “redress” owed to Andromeda, for her near-sacrifice? Or is it owed to the ocean, for her survival? Or each? The ceremony honors the ocean monster saint, but additionally sacrifices to the ocean—or one thing in it. Unsleeping, omnivorous… it’s not the Dreaming God of R’lyeh, anyway, who each sleeps and has distinctive appetites.
Tara, an ichthyologist, may convey to the ceremony a extra scientific consciousness of the ocean’s risks—which isn’t essentially a extra comforting perspective. “The offended sea, the cheated sea that desires to drown all of the land once more” can get what it desires by way of the intervention of gods, or simply by ready on human self-sabotage. “Bright Crown of Glory,” Livia Llewelyn’s story from just a few weeks again, means that these two routes to sea degree rise is probably not so distinct.
So what’s the world’s disgrace, down in that subterranean tide pool, that convinces Tara to drop her coin and be part of the crows for the lengthy haul? What would have occurred if she’d refused? We by no means do get a solution to the query of whether or not saints have selections, and it’s simply as unclear whether or not Tara does. There’s one thing within the hallucinatory Lewisian mid-point of the ceremony—hazard and worry and silliness all blended collectively, an eldritch ceremony carried out by pumpkin-light—to attract us in, and draw us to return, even with none promise of solutions.
It’s cheap that the Andromeda of Classical mythology would enchantment to Caitlin Kiernan. They (the writer’s most popular pronoun) are a paleontologist with a particular curiosity within the mosasaurs, large marine reptiles of the Late Cretaceous. Artists’ renderings present one thing like a shark-lizard hybrid. Not a cute little gecko of a lizard—assume Komodo dragon crossed with saltwater crocodile. Make it ten meters lengthy and also you’ve received a good sea monster—that’s, Andromeda’s would-be devourer.
Andromeda’s mother and father had been Cepheus and Cassiopeia, rulers of historical Ethiopia. Cassiopeia bragged that Andromeda was extra lovely than Poseidon’s sea nymphs, maternal hubris that pissed him off massive time. Displaying the same old godly restraint, Poseidon flooded the Ethiopian coast and tasked his pet mosasaur Cetus with devouring any Ethiopian who dared return within the water. An oracle informed Cepheus that to revive the worth of oceanfront property he’d must sacrifice Andromeda to Cetus. So Cepheus did the politically expedient factor and chained Andromeda to a seaside rock, an irresistible snack for any monster.
Fortunately for Andromeda, Perseus slew Cetus earlier than the beast may even nibble on her comely toes. Perseus then made her his queen, they usually had plenty of children and finally grew to become constellations, as folks in Classical mythology are likely to do.
Kiernan’s rock-bound girl will get no glad ending. As an alternative she will get to be a saint. Many Catholic saints are martyrs, struggling ugly tortures earlier than their redress of heavenly bliss. Short-term agony for everlasting ecstasy appears like a superb deal. However everlasting agony for momentary reduction? If there ever is reduction for Kiernan’s girl. Tara doubts it, however as Darren says, nobody ever understands at first.
I don’t perceive finally. Which is ok?
“A Redress for Andromeda” opens like a standard horror story. You may have your decaying, remoted manse and an ominous calendar date: Halloween, full with jack-o’-lanterns. The home has been a resort of animal-sacrificing occultists. The protagonist is an occult-innocent, lured to the home beneath the pretext of a low-key Halloween occasion. All the opposite “party-goers” gown in black and are a tight-knit bunch, like all respectable coven. Whereas Tara is wearing prim white, like all respectable virgin sacrifice. Everybody however Tara anticipates an unexplained Occasion. The Occasion will contain odd silver tokens, which makes Tara assume occasion sport. Any respectable reader is aware of the Occasion shall be no sport.
As midnight approaches, issues take a Lovecraftian flip. The occasion information down a stairway “minimize immediately into the native rock.” Any such stairway can result in nothing good. Particularly when the partitions are damp, the steps slippery. Particularly when the air smells like “bladderwrack and dying starfish trapped in stagnant tidal swimming pools.” And most particularly when an eerie yellow-green mild begins to light up the descent. The stairway ends in a sea-cave pool that includes a rocky island with—a factor chained to it. The factor is unnameable, indescribable—no less than, Kiernan doesn’t identify or describe it instantly.
Part break. Now the weirdness escalates not a lot in what occurs as in how Kiernan buildings their narrative. As if her drinks had been spiked with unusual brew, Tara’s consciousness splits between the ocean cave and the grassy meadow, between latest story previous and story current. Of their on-line journal, Kiernan remarks: “I’ve no actual curiosity in plot. Ambiance, temper, language, character, theme, and so on., that’s the stuff that fascinates me. Ulysses ought to have freed writers from plot.” And there is one thing Joycean on this part’s spatial and temporal disjunctures; its apropos-of-what conversations; its giddy plunge into Alice’s Wonderland as Peterson turns into Carroll’s Mock-Turtle and the tattooed girl his Gryphon. The 2 murmur an incantatory record of deep-sea fish and invertebrate genus names in Tara’s ears; they comply with up with the Mock-Turtle’s track, “The Lobster Quadrille.”
Interwoven with this phantasmagoric language-play is “the plot”: The marine-life/human hybrid chained to the rock is revealed as a struggling saint who stands between worlds and watches the gates; Deepish Ones rise, all coils and lashing fins; Darren urges Tara to drop her coin into the pool and change into a redress-bringing watcher; Tara surrenders bits of life and soul to seal her acceptance of the duty.
We nonetheless don’t understand how “Andromeda” ended up in a sea-cave north of Monterey, or how she balances Every part, or what the Risers are, or how the coin-tokens function redress. Once more, do we’ve got to?
Within the closing part, Kiernan returns to traditional narrative. Pelted with chilly rain, Tara wakes to the “actual” world the place sensible issues matter, like her purse and the place she parked her rental automobile. She makes what sense she will be able to of her expertise, projecting the bitterness of its secrets and techniques on the again-deserted home and planning to come back early subsequent Halloween week to assist carve jack-o’-lanterns.
Then she watches a gull snatch squirming thriller from the ocean, and ambiance and emotion shut the story.
Subsequent week we proceed on the monitor of a nasty tome in Chapter 2 of John Connolly’s Fractured Atlas.
Ruthanna Emrys is the writer of the Innsmouth Legacy sequence, together with Winter Tide and Deep Roots. Her quick story assortment, Imperfect Commentaries, is obtainable from Lethe Press. You could find a few of her fiction, bizarre and in any other case, on Tor.com, most lately “The Word of Flesh and Soul.” Ruthanna is on-line on Twitter and Patreon, and offline in a mysterious manor home along with her massive, chaotic family—principally mammalian—outdoors Washington DC.
Anne M. Pillsworth’s quick story “The Madonna of the Abattoir” seems on Tor.com. Her younger grownup Mythos novel, Summoned, is obtainable from Tor Teen together with sequel Fathomless. She lives in Edgewood, a Victorian trolley automobile suburb of Windfall, Rhode Island, uncomfortably close to Joseph Curwen’s underground laboratory.