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The Children of Old Leech: Afterword

Today brings the final installment in our series of excerpts from The Children of Old Leech. We hope you’ve enjoyed these excerpts as much as we’ve enjoyed bringing them to you, and we sincerely hope that we’ve persuaded you to pick up a copy of The Children of Old Leech for yourself. And while this round is over, we will be back with more samples of Word Horde books, photos, reviews, and previews, so we would encourage you to stay tuned. So with the melancholic sense of a journey’s impending conclusion, but no regrets, we bring you a look behind the curtain with co-editor/publisher Ross E. Lockhart’s “Afterword.”

Ross

One of my first gigs in this crazy business we call publishing was writing the flap copy for the hardcover edition of Laird Barron’s first collection, The Imago Sequence. As I recall, I got paid in books for this, which is fine because I’d likely have spent any monetary compensation on books anyhow.

The Imago Sequence blew me away. I was already fairly well versed in the weird tale, and in the typical tropes associated with Lovecraftian pastiche, but Barron’s approach did something unexpected with the form, fusing the strangeness of supernatural horror with the stark naturalism of Jack London (whose “To Build a Fire” Barron himself classifies as Cosmic Horror), daring to deliver something different, a high-stakes carnivorous cosmos populated with tough, rugged protagonists more accustomed to inhabiting hard-boiled tales of crime or espionage than Lovecraft’s prone-to-fainting academics. Through this (at the time) unlikely combination, Barron managed to, in the words Ezra Pound once pinched from a Chinese emperor’s bathtub, “make it new.”

One does not read a Laird Barron story so much as one experiences it in a visceral manner. A tale like “Shiva, Open Your Eye” strips away a reader’s reason, flaying him, leaving him floating in the primordial jelly, innocent of coherent thought. “Hallucigenia” is, quite literally, a kick in the head. The painstaking noirish layering to be found in “The Imago Sequence” culminates in a ghastly, shuddering reveal of staggering proportions. And it is that sense of culmination one finds echoing throughout Laird Barron’s work, binding the whole together into a Pacific Northwest Mythos reminiscent of, but cut from another cloth entirely from, Lovecraft’s witch-haunted New England.

A handful of one-off copywriting gigs led to greater opportunities, and soon, I found myself working full-time for the publisher of The Imago Sequence, which led to my meeting Laird in the flesh at the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga, NY. I found we shared a kindred spirit… and a taste for rare spirits and supernatural tales. Upon my return, I worked on the trade paperback edition of The Imago Sequence, and on Laird’s next collection, Occultation, where I not only wrote the jacket copy, but laid out the book, coordinated the production team working on it, supervised copyedits, approved those edits with Laird, and corrected the book (as a nod to Robert Bloch, I suppose you could refer to me as “The Man Who Corrected Laird Barron.”).

Shortly after Occultation landed, my wife and I embarked on a road trip up the West Coast, a drive where the scenery—stark mountains, tall trees, steep costal drop-offs—constantly reminded me of one Laird Barron story or another. Our journey brought us to Olympia, where we met Laird for lunch, talked martial arts and American literature, and I snapped a few photographs of Laird playing with our little dog, Maddie.

Somewhere along the line, both The Imago Sequence and Occultation managed to win Laird his first and second Shirley Jackson Awards, and I began working with Laird as editor of his first novel, The Croning, which he sent to me in bits and pieces over the course of a tough year, building it like a wall, brick by brick and layer by layer. With The Croning, Laird metaphorically opened a vein and bled words onto the page, and while a casual reader might not spot the author’s open wounds, the emotional wallop delivered by the book more than assures you that those wounds are not only there, but that they are raw.

I published Laird’s novella “The Men from Porlock” in my first anthology, The Book of Cthulhu, and his “Hand of Glory” in my second, The Book of Cthulhu II. And over the course of 2012, I worked on Laird’s third collection, The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us All, reading stories as Laird finished them and sent them along. One of my favorites in the collection, the wickedly sardonic “More Dark,” managed to get me in trouble when I read it on my phone during a baseball game, prompting my wife to elbow me as I laughed—then shivered—at a situation that rode the train from bad to weird to worse to a downright Barronic level of darkness. The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us All was the final project I worked on for its publisher, which might bring us full circle, were it not for the fact that this circle, like the sigil marking Moderor de Caliginis, is an open—and hungry—curve.

In 2013, I started my own publishing company, Word Horde, launching the press with Tales of Jack the Ripper, an anthology that included Laird Barron’s tour-de-force “Termination Dust,” a fractured narrative not only providing the thrills and chills expected from Barron’s oeuvre, but marking a new venue for his brand of cosmicism, a strange, savage, and sanguine land that Laird knows quite well… Alaska.

Not long after the publication of Tales of Jack the Ripper, Justin Steele, who had reviewed The Book(s) of Cthulhu and Tales of Jack the Ripper at his weird fiction website, The Arkham Digest, approached me suggesting this anthology. I receive—and say no to—a lot of anthology pitches, many of which are suggested as possible co-editorial projects, but I found the idea of honoring Laird, an author whose work has influenced and intersected with much of my professional career, irresistible. I approached Laird, asking for permission to let other authors play in his sandbox, and to my delight, Laird said yes. For that, Justin and I owe Laird a lifetime of gratitude. We immediately set to building a roster of our favorite authors, authors who we felt shared Laird’s vision of a ravenous universe, and an understanding of that terrible, beautiful thing that awaits us all.

There are no accidents ’round here. The editors of, and the authors included in, this volume have been inspired and affected by Laird Barron’s carnivorous cosmos. We’ve all gazed at mysterious holes, wondering where they lead. We’ve all found ourselves in conversation with a stranger, staring at a scar and wondering if it is, instead, a seam. We’ve all heard the voices whispering in the night, praising Belphegor, and saying, “We, the Children of Old Leech, have always been here. And we love you.”

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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The Children of Old Leech: Introduction: Of Whisky and Doppelgängers

We told you there would be more this week. What follows is Justin Steele‘s introduction to The Children of Old Leech, “Of Whisky and Doppelgängers.” And stay tuned for more!

Justin Steele

If you value your health, sanity, and general sense of well-being, then you should stop reading this book right now. Close the cover, put it back on the shelf, and head on over to the non-fiction section. Pick up a book on fishing, or pottery, something safe. Anything but this book.

If you’re still reading you must be damaged goods, nothing to lose. Maybe you saw that I started with a warning and felt the need to prove me wrong, to prove that you like to live life on the edge, laugh in the face of danger, shit like that. Maybe the warning tugged at your curiosity, intrigued you enough to carry on. Just remember what happened to the cat.

I’m supposed to be writing an introduction. That’s what Ross wanted me to do anyway, but I owe some responsibility to my fellow man, and what we did with this here book, what we unleashed, well, it’s just wrong. I’m sitting here at my desk, a near empty glass of Lagavulin on the desk edge, the bottle in easy reach. Three feet from me, propped in the corner of the room, is a 12-gauge pump-loaded with double-aught buckshot. If that’s not enough I have two .45s and a recently sharpened hunting knife within reach, so no matter how it goes down, it won’t go down easy. But who am I kidding. THEY want me to write this. It’s part of the project. Until my part’s done I’m safe. At least I think so.

I should probably start from the beginning. Tell you how I first discovered this Lovecraft guy, and how reading his fiction kicked me off onto this whole “weird fiction” thing, but I’m sure you’ve heard that one time and time again so I’ll skip ahead a little bit. A few Cthulhu Mythos anthologies into my tentacle binge, I picked up Ellen Datlow’s Lovecraft Unbound, and was pleased to see an anthology striving to avoid falling into pastiche territory. It was during my late night readings that I discovered my first Laird Barron tale. “Catch Hell” did something to me that only a few special stories managed to do: upon finishing I reflected on the story for a minute or two, and then turned back to the first page and immediately reread it. After the second read I walked over to my computer and ordered The Imago Sequence and pre-ordered Occultation. There was no question that I had stumbled upon something special, something dangerous. Who was this Laird Barron guy? He looked like a pirate, or a grizzled Viking warrior. His writing was a blend of genres that I loved. One part pulp, one part noir, two parts pure cosmic terror, blended smooth and seasoned with a literary skill that few possessed. I had found weird fiction for the connoisseur. If I had only known what I was getting into.

Flash forward a few years later, and I’m sitting here in my dimly lit office space, gulping scotch and wondering how I ever let myself get drawn into this mess. The light from my lamp is reflecting off my tin poster of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. I let Clint Eastwood’s stoic squint and Lee Van Cleef’s predatory glare serve as reminders that I have to be tough, finish this up. The wind is whipping at the window and I find myself eyeing the 12-gauge once every few seconds.

In September or so I had a conversation with Ross Lockhart, the other man responsible for what we’ve done here. We were both huge fans of Laird’s fiction, recognized its power. By the end of our talk, the wheels were in motion. We were so excited, completely oblivious as to what the actual significance of the anthology would be.

Finding the authors to take part actually proved to be the easy part. Laird’s work is highly respected, and offers authors much to work with. Ross and I wanted to find some of the best writers of weird fiction and offer them a chance to play in Laird’s playground. They could use the more literal elements of Laird’s growing “Pacific Northwest Mythos” or utilize his themes. Pastiche was not welcome. We wanted the authors to use their own unique talents and voices in order to do Laird justice, yet not by simple mimicry.

The thing is, Laird’s fiction is powerful, and not just in the literary sense. Some theorize that there exists some fiction that has the ability to bleed into reality. The words serve a higher function, act as a sort of formula. When these words are read they open a gate to somewhere else, allow them to come over. What Ross and I have done is complete the formula, see? Laird’s works were the base, the true source of the power. With these stories we amplified it, radio towers strengthening the signal.

Ross experienced it first. He’d be out walking his dog in sunny California, or out at his local bookstore when he would see him. Only it wasn’t actually him? Ross would catch a glimpse, just enough for him to realize he’d seen Laird. When he looked back he would see Laird standing there, at the mouth of an alley, or the end of a row of bookshelves. And it was definitely Laird, his mug isn’t the kind you mistake for someone else. Ross was perplexed, he told me later, because he was sure he was seeing Laird. He looked long enough for the imposter’s face to split into a black grin, and then with a wink the not-Laird would duck into the alley or step away from the aisle of books. Ross thought Laird must have been playing some kind of elaborate prank on him, until I pointed him to one of Laird’s blog posts. Apparently some of Laird’s friends have seen this doppelgänger before, but never more than once. I know this spooked Ross, and he hasn’t been the same since. I often ask him if it’s happened again, but whenever I bring it up he goes pale, changes the subject. If I push, he firmly denies anymore sightings, but I have my doubts.

I figured it out. Ross thinks we are just putting together a good group of stories, tries to justify his weird sightings with lack of sleep and too much reading for the project. But I know better, the dots are all there, easy to connect. Several of our authors have confided in me that during the writing process they were fraught with night terrors, and even a few cases of sleepwalking. One author turned in his story in a daze, and swore to me that he doesn’t have a single memory of writing it. One could chalk all this up to writer’s stress, working in overdrive to meet the deadline, but that doesn’t explain what happened with our foreword. A certain big-shot author sent us a foreword, before disappearing. Nobody has heard from him since. Ross and I debated on using the foreword regardless, only to find that it had somehow been erased from both of our computers. Strange coincidence considering we both reside on opposite sides of the country.

And then there’s me. Being woken up in the middle of the night by whispers from friends long departed. Easy enough to pass off as echoes from dreams, but that doesn’t explain why I would find the dog cowering under the bed whimpering. Or the black, sticky footprints left across my kitchen floor, cellar door ajar although I always check the latch before heading to bed.

If you’re still reading this you must now know that it’s too late for you, too. You’ve started to twist the handle, and the opening of the door is soon to follow. You’re going to meet the dwellers on the other side. The Children of Old Leech will soon be whispering in your ear, and they will whisper the same thing they whispered to me: “There are frightful things. We who crawl in the dark love you.”

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Tenebrionidae,” by Scott Nicolay and Jesse James Douthit-Nicolay

Today brings our final excerpt from The Children of Old Leech, and features a collaboration between father and son, a tale of riding the rails, and secret societies, and gangs, and girls and dogs and far, far stranger things: “Tenebrionidae,” by Scott Nicolay and Jesse James Douthit-Nicolay. Next week, we’ll be back with a little bit more, sharing the book’s introduction and afterword, as well as a gallery of photos. Until then, lie back, listen to the clacking wheels, and enjoy the ride. It is, after all, going to be a dark ride.

Jesse James & Missy

The whole room pulsed next and… altered, made no architectural sense. Missy barked and twitched her tail against the bucket and Dumont placed a hand on her back. He felt dizzy and fought the urge to puke. The doorway spun around him several times—round and round and round she goes, and where she stops—Ratch and Worm and Marlo stood. The two sidekicks drifted into place behind Marlo right away, assuming generic bully positions so fast Dumont was tempted to laugh. But Marlo had his K-Bar out beside his thigh and the other two each wore their general bulk as a weapon so no way was it time for wisecracks or laughter. The room no longer spun, only rocked a bit side to side in a seasick way as if whatever whirlwind torqued it had settled in overhead for now.

—Lookit the schwag bitch, Marlo sneered at him, spoke the words as a slow smoldering threat. His voice oscillated in tempo as if the distance between them were stretching and receding. Dumont felt another twinge of nausea and struggled to suppress it. Ratch and Worm sneered in their special fleshy ways but said nothing. Missy pressed closer against his thigh, hindquarters stiff with tension as she barked in bursts. He stroked her head to calm her.

—Are you sad because your girl ain’t here? Well you can go ahead an’ cry now ’cause she ain’t comin’. Little Miss Tigger. Turns out she don’t bounce too well.

Dumont didn’t much care to hear what he was hearing but he knew Marlo was s’posed to be big on head games. Didn’t mean any of it counted for a damn thing. If it did then he failed her just like he failed Hector, the kid younger than him at the foster home, what they’d done to him.

He could stand—he was taller than all but Worm—only that would likely take things physical quick, and they were three on one. Maybe they only came to threaten him, scare him into leaving town. They could threaten away. He’d been ready to leave anyway, only with Tigger. But what had they done to Tigger?

She told him about the Shadow Riders almost at the start, how she hooked up with Marlo till someone tipped her off he only wanted her for some kind of sacrifice. How she found it out Dumont didn’t know but the whole story confused him anyway. Tigger was holding some big pieces back, he could tell that easy. Made it all hard to follow but main thing was he could see she was scared. Way shit scared. Now she was missing maybe worse and the Shadow Riders were all up in his face.

He never dealt with Marlo or his crew himself before, only saw them from a distance and Tigger would whisper that’s them or sometimes their names. There were others, Crunch and Skurd, Arkansas Jason and Jimmy Whip, more whose names he could not recall. But Marlo was supposed to be their king or ruler or some shit like that, Ratch and Worm his left hand and right.

—Du-mont. That girl took something from me, Du-mont. Something she shouldn’a took. Did she give it to you, Du-mont? I think she did. Hey, we understand how these things can happen. It’s na-chur-al. Why don’t you just let us take a look in your pack Du-mont? We’ll take what’s ours and leave you with your mutt. No harm no foul, whadda you say?

Ratch stepped hands out toward Dumont’s pack. Although he seemed to move in slow motion Dumont didn’t try to block him, but he teetered sideways away from the Rider, his bucket seat tilting almost toppling.

Marlo started to say something like That’s it—and nod before he saw how Dumont slid himself several inches along the wall, bent to grab the bucket handle, then pushed up the wall all the way and with his sea legs at least half back beneath him swung the bottom of the bucket at Worm. Ratch was closest but Worm was the tallest so Dumont went for him first. The bucket with its half dozen rough crusted inches of lumpy concrete at the bottom took Worm full on the side of the head and he. Went. Down.

Missy lunged for Ratch and her teeth sank into his left calf above his boot so he cursed and stumbled back a step. Marlo jerked to his right, brought the K-Bar full up just as Dumont yanked back hard on the bucket only to feel the wire handle tear free from plastic. The battered orange cylinder tumbled away into the shadows and slammed loud against a wall somewhere off in the dark. Everyone looked surprised. Everyone except Worm, who lay staring at the dirt floor. Staring at it real close, like point blank close. Staring at his blood pouring on the dirt.

Dumont yelled to Missy and grabbed the guitar case, booked it for the exit. He felt a tug on his arm as if someone grabbed him and he yanked hard to get free. He heard Ratch pound after him several steps till Marlo shouted —Leave him, asshole! Get the pack! The pack!

Missy hit the doorless doorway ahead of him and staggered as she went. As he trucked through he felt himself swing up sideways on an incline a second, the whole room pitched over the major part of 90 degrees. His applicable senses all told him brace for the fall but he did not fall. Missy yelped ahead so he knew she felt the same still they both pressed on and came level again in three more steps. His stomach prepared to purge but he fought it down one last time, staggered forward anyway. Not now. Not here.

Marlo called from behind —Run sad punk. We’ll see you again. Run run run and we’ll all have some fun. Later on down the line.

Dumont ran. At least half a dozen blocks, Missy skittering always several feet ahead before Dumont felt the warm wetness on the fingers of his left hand and held it up to see first the blood dripping off them, then the red-streaked facing crescents of pink white muscle revealed in the deep slash across his forearm. He was leaving a trail but he didn’t stop to bandage himself till he reached the yard.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Of a Thousand Cuts,” by Cody Goodfellow

Our penultimate excerpt from The Children of Old Leech has arrived, and it’s a doozie. Cody Goodfellow takes us inside The Pageant, the secret, and bloody, gladiatorial matches held in occult locations throughout the world for the entertainment of a select few first glimpsed in Laird Barron’s The Light Is the Darkness, with the Samurai, and “Of a Thousand Cuts.” So prepare your mind by way of strange potions and stranger rituals, sit back, and hang on for a wild ride…

Felix Garcia

Only in the final, volatile moments of the ludus, when vows made by will are broken by flesh, does the Samurai forget himself and mar his hitherto flawless performance by trying to die.

Dragging his left leg, javelin jutting from butchered knee, hastily resected bowel waving like a gory pennant, yet the Samurai circles his remaining opponent with calculated poise, herding him downwind into the black, creamy smoke wafting from the pyre of his identical twin.

Frenzy and fatigue vie to take the Roman even before the Samurai can close with him. Plunging his broken katana into the smoldering corpse to goad his enemy, the Samurai presents his wakizashi like a gift and settles into a waiting pose.

The Roman has abandoned all technique. Draws a whickering, whooping breath into the broken basket of his ribs, roars hollow blood-flecked hate and charges through charnel smoke, gladius swinging in a blind woodsman’s coup de grace.

And then the moment that puts the lie to perfection, proclaims it the act not of a masterful athlete, but of a slumming, drunken god, or a troubled automaton. Samurai bows his head, arms out in supplication. Throws up an arm, not in defense, but to tear off his helmet. Impossible, of course…

The Roman’s chopping stroke shears an antler from the Samurai’s helmet and glances off his leather cuirass. Overextended, he tramples his opponent and lands among his brother’s blazing remains. Before any outside his inner cadre have noticed his deathwish, the Samurai recovers and hamstrings the Roman. Wakizashi eagerly swims up hyperextended calf muscle, flensing meat catbox-bitter with lactic acid from spiral-fractured bones.

The Roman turns, seemingly revived by blood loss. Brings the gladius down on the Samurai’s shoulder, splitting the torso down to the solar plexus. What little blood comes out at all is almost black.

The wakizashi quivers, sheathed to the hilt in the Roman’s kidney. Samurai’s hand touches but can’t grasp it. The Roman’s spade-shaped sword twisting in the burst balloon of his lung. With his other hand, Samurai draws the javelin from his knee. Nearly faints, but somehow he drives the long spike up through the corded muscles of the Roman’s neck, penetrates the ribbed vault of the hard palate and into the cavernous echo chamber of the gladiator’s brain.

It takes nearly another minute for the Roman’s body to get the message.

It takes the surgical team another seven minutes to separate the bodies and check vital signs to certify the winner. The Roman called Pollux, though stabbed in nine places and burned to the third or fourth degree over ninety percent of his body, almost survives the night.

Shot up with painkillers and adrenochrome, the Samurai lurches out of the arena using the Roman’s enormous gladius as a crutch, to the muted cheers of the small, select audience.

***

In the time after a battle is when it gets worst. He can almost remember who he is.

He knows he had a name.

Before this.

His name.

It was… something.

But in the Pageant…

Now… again and forever… he is the Samurai.

Rumors swirl about the champion few choose to fight, relegated to sideshow matches in pariah state circuses. All but destroyed in six of fifteen matches in nine years, but undefeated, and none have ever seen his face. Even in the pitch-black demimonde of the Pageant, the Samurai is a cipher, his identity insignificant next to the paradox of his survival. Students of the art point to the many awful injuries sustained; not even the Pageant’s surgeons could rebuild such terrible carnage. Indeed, from one match to the next, the Samurai gains or sheds weight and height. Lord Sun makes no promises regarding the identity of the Samurai. Only the masked helmet and the mated swords and the implacable, elegant butchery remain the same.

And yet, the obligatory devil’s advocates must insist, compare the perfect discipline, the rigor of technique maintained even unto dismemberment, the reflexive disdain for mere mortal injury, the true absence of fear of death or pain. No matter how many bodies he’s gone through, it could only be the same man.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Ymir,” by John Langan

In Norse mythology, Ymir was a being born from primordial frost and poison, who became ancestor to all jötnar, or giants. In the realm of weird fiction, John Langan is also a titan with a penchant for birthing ettins from his armpits and monsters from his feet. What follows is an excerpt from Langan’s story “Ymir,” from The Children of Old Leech.

Never trust anything that comes out of a hole.

III

The Eckhard Diamond Mine was a collection of Quonset huts set back from the rim of a titanic hole in the endless white. Barry leaned forward for a better view of it, whistling appreciatively. “Isn’t that something? How far across would you say that is?”

“A quarter-mile,” Marissa said.

“I expect you’re right.”

She stopped the Hummer at the front door of the metal shed closest to the pit. The light green paint that had coated the structure was visible only in scattered flakes and scabs. She left the motor running: the digital thermometer on the dash measured the outside temperature at forty below, and she didn’t want to risk the engine not starting. For the same reason, she was carrying the heavily oiled .38 revolver in a shoulder holster under her coat. She zipped and buttoned the coat, pulled on the ski mask and shooting mittens lying on the passenger’s seat, and tugged her hood up. She half-turned to the back seat. “You ready, Barry?”

He had encased his bulk in a coat made of a glossy black material that made her think of seal skin. The gloves on his large hands were of the same substance. He drew a ski mask in the gray and electric green of the Seattle Seahawks down over his broad, bland face. “Ready,” he said. “Let’s go look at my new investment.”

Marissa had expected their arrival to draw some kind of reception from whoever was inside the hut. The moment she stepped outside, however, into cold that shocked the air from her lungs, that she felt crystallizing the surfaces of her eyes, she understood why those inside and warm might prefer to reserve their greetings for her and Barry joining them. The cold seemed to take her out of herself; it was all she could do to keep track of Barry as he lumbered the fifteen feet to the hut’s entrance. Without bothering to knock, he wrenched the door open and squeezed through the frame. Marissa followed, giving the area surrounding this end of the building a quick once-over. She wasn’t expecting to see anything besides the Hummer with its schoolbus yellow paint, a steady cloud of exhaust tumbling from its tailpipe, the great hole in the earth in the background. Nor did she.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Brushdogs,” by Stephen Graham Jones

In today’s The Children of Old Leech excerpt, we’re going hunting (for bear?), with a taste of Stephen Graham Jones‘ “Brushdogs.”

Junior wasn’t even forty-five minutes into the trees when his son Denny called him on the walkie, to meet back at the truck. Denny was twelve, and Junior could tell he’d got spooked again.

He wasn’t going to get any less spooked if Junior called him on it, though.

So, instead of staking out a north-facing meadow like he’d been intending, waiting for the sun to glint off some elk horn, Junior tracked himself back, stepping in his own boot prints when he could. And it’s not that he didn’t understand: coming out an hour before dawn, walking blind into the blue-black cold, some of the drifts swallowing you up to the hip, it wasn’t the same as watching football on the couch.

The bear tracks they’d seen yesterday hadn’t helped either, he supposed.

Since then, Junior was pretty sure Denny wasn’t so much watching the trees for elk anymore, but for teeth.

He was right to be scared, too. Junior was pretty sure he had been, at that age. But at some point you have to just decide that if a bear’s going to eat you, a bear’s going to eat you, and then you go about your day.

One thing Junior knew for sure was that if he’d been in walkie contact with his dad, then there wouldn’t have been any meets at the truck.

Junior was doing better, though. It was one of his promises.

So he eased up to the truck, waiting for Denny to spot him in the mirror. When Denny didn’t, Junior knocked on the side window, and Denny led him fifteen minutes up a forgotten logging road to a thick patch of trees he’d probably stepped into for the windbreak, to pee.

“Whoah,” Junior said.

It was a massacre. The bear’s dining room. At least two winters of horse bones, some of them bleached white, some of them still stringy with black meat.

Junior had to admit it: this probably would have spooked him, twenty years ago.

Hell, it kind of did now.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “The Woman in the Wood,” by Daniel Mills

Today’s The Children of Old Leech excerpt comes from Daniel Mills’s epistolary story about a young man who has traveled north, after troubles at home, “The Woman in the Wood.”

leechwoods

From the diary of James Addison Thorndike II (1828-1843?)

15th July. Friday.

I found it in the fields near the pine-wood.

The beast was lying on its side & I thought perhaps it was sick. But I smelled the rot as I drew near & saw its blood splashed through the grass—

This morning it rained, though the skies were clear by noon. The day was hot so I wore my linen shirt & trousers. I ate sparingly of the dinner my Aunt had prepared (mutton roasted & charred) and afterward announced my intention to walk outside on my own as Father would never have permitted in Boston.

I walked the fields for the best part of an hour without seeing man or beast. Then I came over a rise & saw the great herd of them before me. They were grazing at the end of the stony pasture: dumb & grunting & caked in their own filth.

I went eastwards & climbed over a wall to the adjoining field where the land slopes down to the neighbors’ property & the pine-wood, which lies in a depression between so that none know for certain who owns it (or so my Uncle says).

The grass is higher there & that is where I found the ewe.

Uncle Timothy was at work in the pastures to the south. I ran toward him, waving & shouting & he came to meet me at a sprint. I told him what I had found & he sent me back to the house. Then he called to Auguste, one of the hired men.

Come, he said. And bring your gun.

I went back to the house & told Aunt Sarah that I had found a dead sheep. She said it was probably dogs or a wolf, but Uncle Timothy returned to the house at dusk & said it was likely a wildcat, though he hadn’t heard of them coming so far south, especially in the summer.

Supper was strained & silent. Aunt Sarah was quiet where she sat opposite me & I could not meet her eye without thinking of the pasture & what I had found there.

I had no appetite. I asked my Uncle if I might be excused & he nodded.

So I came upstairs, thinking I might read Wieland, which had been Father’s gift to me before leaving. But I could not touch my books & I passed the evening by the window, watching the clouds as they covered the moon & the stars.

***

without thinking of the beast where it lay in the grass with its mouth forced open, the jaws broken & the organs wrenched from out the shattered mouth: its heart & lungs & the ropes of its intestines, spread out on a slick of blood & the stench of shit coming from the mass of them where the sun’s shone down through the day

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of Yesterdays,” by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

This week’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from a story about monsters–human and otherwise–and books of magic, and blood and ashes: Joseph S. Pulver’s “The Last Crossroads on a Calendar of Yesterdays.”

To and fro. Rocking. Slow.

Slow.

Measured, not sluggish. Predator readying true for ignorant prey.

To…

and back again. His grip not far from the shotgun.

The old man sipped his sweetened coffee from an old porcelain mug. From his hillside porch he stared into the night-darkened forest toward what was no longer the Hambly property. Old discomforts and slowmotion anger was a butchering quicksand that was bringing on tears. Kellerman put the filtered-tip cigarette to his lips and inhaled. Took the smoke deep. Held it. Exhaled. “Ruined, Zina… Bastards have ruined it.”

“—against the horde of insidious parasites.”

“You are the White… American… Dream. You are the defenders of White European culture and heritage. Your commitment and actions preserve what Our American Fathers—Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and John Adams—shed blood to establish and protect… our Great White Nation. You are America’s true patriots.”

Pride-roasted cheers and a vigorous round of applause billow through the compound carved-out of the darksome forest of rugged pine.

“WAR DAY.” The voice of the Allfather or a blood-and-fire Jehovah at 110 decibels thunders from the loudspeakers and echoes in the hills. “Is a HOLY DAY!”

Another explosive burst of applause followed by a chain reaction of Nazi salutes expressing their pathological eagerness. Amens dash like snarls. Three semiautomatic handguns bark and send their payloads skyward. Two sisters, paleskinned twins married to paleskinned brothers, rise from their seats and begin singing a bastardization of “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Their enflamed voices are joined by ten and ten and ten and ten. Fifty-strong becomes nearly one hundred.

Once Metzger disciple, before the riff became a chasm, Walter Warren smiles on the crowd. “In a week this compound, the new home of the White Liberation Alliance, will be completed. God is pleased with your work, brothers and sisters. God is pleased.”

Not enough miles away, or countries for that matter, Kellerman caught the amplified words. He’d heard the raised voices sing and the gunfire. Heard them last Saturday night, and too many times in the last months.

“Nazis.”

Zina sat up. Growled.

The old man shivered.

Zina stood, faced the black woods, offered the thunder her teeth and an unsheathed promise steeled with Till-Death-Do-Us-Part loyal.

Twenty years since he’d briefly lived in Olympia, in the distance below. Twenty years since he’d come west to these hills and hollows, hoping to find balm. There were small moments when he could pretend (if the sky was soft summer blue and the sun warm and the blooms gave off sweet scents) the beauty it held helped. Kellerman was an old man now, felt it when the cold ruled muscle and mind mercilessly, saw it sear the tired face the mirror slapped him with. The nightmares and wounds (still a bullet to heart and mind no prayer could moderate) of the small boy he’d been, the boy the Americans liberated from Buchenwald, now fully reawakened by the hate that had invaded his property, were, these last few months, as loud and haunting as the last breath of his cancer-ridden wife.

Kellerman’s right hand stroked Zina between her ears. “Yes, girl, I know.”

He stood and stubbed out his cigarette on the porch boards, picked up his mug, his shotgun, and turned to go inside. “Little good it will do, but we will try the Authorities again tomorrow, girl.”

Zina, ninety pounds of unwavering attentiveness, settled at the foot of his bed. His Mossberg rested against the nightstand. Kellerman’s hands were trembling fists as he fell asleep.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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The Children of Old Leech – Excerpt – “The Golden Stars at Night,” by Allyson Bird

For today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech, we travel to New Zealand in order to bring you a taste of Allyson Bird‘s “The Golden Stars at Night,” a story that explores the fragility–and uncertainty–of life within a carnivorous cosmos, where horrors unknown wait beyond the safety of firelight.

The Golden Stars at Night

Her name was Rawlie. She chose the name, obviously not at her birth but later—not gender specific and that empowered her for a good reason. She’d need to be strong. Rawlie had seen the world change. Sitting on the stile near the stream bank amongst the manuka trees she tied her brown hair back and shielded her grey eyes from the winter sun. It was still strong. All year round they had to be wary of it in New Zealand. It wasn’t uncommon for many newcomers to fold with the heat and humidity. She was the first to rise too—just a quarter hour before the others but with enough time to grab a mug of coffee and wrap up warm against the cold. The mountains were visible today, still tipped with snow and rosy in the dawn light. Some days were better than others. The worst days started with her father sending a couple of ranch hands down to the main gate. They would wave a rifle in the air. Nobody set a foot on Campbell land without prior permission.

The day on the station would be a long one and she was always the first to go to bed each evening—exhausted from trying to be as good as or rather better than others. That was what she wanted. What she needed was to stay alive, eat, sleep and fuck. Her mind nowadays was closed off pretty much—kept apart from most others in some cosmic shadow of itself. She wondered what lay in—within the darkness whilst she tried to sleep. Not really of this world perhaps? Or a forgotten part of it? They seemed ever closer now.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Firedancing,” by Michael Griffin

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from Michael Griffin‘s “Firedancing,” a tale of haunted people, haunted places, and haunting actions. So pour yourself a dram of the good stuff, sit back, and enjoy…

Photo by Michael Griffin

“Thoughtful of you.” Bay tips back the Jim Beam fifth. The bottle knocks the ceiling inside Petersson’s posh gentleman’s pickup. “I was gone just a few hours. She managed to empty the place. Must’ve hired—”

“I said, don’t talk about that. Don’t think about that.” Petersson’s driving, I5 South. Three hours to Roseburg. “Lesson I learned after Minerva skipped. Obsessively sifting back, through everything, that ain’t what you need.”

“What do I need?”

“Mental reboot.” He grins. “Puke your troubles away at a two-day party.”

“So this Mallard Hill place, it’s where Erik and Minerva grew up?”

“Mmm. Fifteen miles outside Roseburg.”

“Speaking of Minerva.”

Petersson’s grip flexes on the wheel.

Bay tries again. “The worst thing about Annie leaving, I finally did what she wanted. Took a commission, murals for Cinema 21, that’s an art theater in Northwest.”

“I know, dummy. Film major, remember? You took us there.” He exhales. “Seven Samurai. Me and Minerva.”

“Lumber baron with a film degree, that’s funny. Most of us liberal arts guys…” Bay stops. Another swig. “Annie set it up, knew the owner. They kept showing up, checking on me. Arrive together, leave together.”

“We weren’t going to talk about that.”

Bay thinks, What else? “So Erik grew up on this hill, but won’t attend the big drunk-fest?”

“Nah, he stopped that recovery shit. After he withdrew from us, his sponsor tried to make him cut off Minerva.” Petersson shrugs. “Erik only drinks beer now. Lives on the edge of the Mallard tract, a cabin overlooking the South Umpqua. Started some river guide thing. Fishing, rafting.” His face clouds. “Minerva’s in the main house. Stopover from the endless touring.”

“So much land, Erik gets his own corner.” Bay resists redirecting toward Minerva. Petersson’s breakup makes him feel less awful.

“Might be the most impressive parcel in Douglas County. Everyone thinks Old Mallard got rich in lumber, but Minerva let slip he returned from the Merchant Marines, World War II, a millionaire at nineteen.”

“Merchant Marines, is that still a thing? Maybe they’d let me—”

“He climbs aboard the post-war lumber boom, builds Mallard Hill. Meets a woman up in Washington, on business near Olympic Forest. This first wife starts him jetting around, blowing millions in Mexico. Spends the sixties and seventies financing films, legendary stuff by Buñuel and Jodorowsky.”

“Lest I forget that film degree.”

Petersson makes an undignified snort. “Always trekking the wilds of Mexico, South America, Antarctica, returning rejuvenated, trailing new wives to replace ones who die of typhus or malaria. Finally disappears, the Chilean Andes. Erik and Minerva, living under Old Mallard’s tutors and housekeepers, assume they’re orphaned a second time. Everyone gives up hope.”

“But…”

“He reappears, head shaved, silent as a mystic. No explanation where he’s been ten months, what happened to wife number six, seven, whatever. Thereafter, no more film production or travel. Grabs another wife to replace the one rumored frozen to death. Further expands the house. His only indulgences are these parties, and the visiting artists, visionaries and occult weirdos. Some remain months, years at a time. Old Mallard, he’s like fucking Tom Bombadil. Erik grew up thinking the man’s his grandfather, later learns, no, it’s great-grandfather.”

Bay stifles envy at such a life. “One part Dos Equis’ Most Interesting Man in the World, one part Kwai Chang Caine.”

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron may be ordered directly from Word Horde or wherever better books are sold. Ask for The Children of Old Leech and other Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

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