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.

The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Notes for ‘The Barn in the Wild,’” by Paul Tremblay

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from Paul Tremblay‘s “Notes for ‘The Barn in the Wild.’” Paul initially submitted his story as both typewritten text and as a hand-written manuscript. The typeset text appears in the final book; the facsimile pages became the basis of our sold-out chapbook, Notes for “The Barn in the Wild.” This is the first time anyone who doesn’t have the chapbook has seen these pages. But no matter how you read it, Paul’s story is sure to elicit a chill.

Exam Book

Tommy’s body was found by Antoine and Brandon LaForge (father and son snowmobilers) on March 24th. Stephens presented me a photo of the body. Tommy’s all curled up in a tight ball, lost inside his puffy anorak. Adjacent to him are the dead coals and black ash of a spent fire pit. Tommy likely died of starvation sometime during the previous fall. Five fingers on his right hand were missing. The coroner was unable to determine if fingers were removed by critters post-mortem because of the advanced state of decay of the body.

Were any other body parts missing?

“No.”

Isn’t it odd that animals didn’t take anything else?

“Who knows why animals do anything they do?”

Tommy’s hands look to be hidden tight into that ball of rigor mortis. Stephens agreed. There was evidence of frostbite in Tommy’s toes and Stephens suggested (admitted it wasn’t likely), that perhaps Tommy cut his fingers off himself after suffering from severe frostbite(7). Next an itemized list of the meager supplies found in Tommy’s possession, including a camera. They were only able to produce a handful of pictures from the film in his pack and in his camera, the rest were washouts: one photo of a woman in a small apartment kitchen, hiding her face behind a dish towel(8); three photos of woods, the hiking trails nearly indecipherable in the brush; an open field with the barn as a dot in the far background; the last picture is a self-portrait of Tommy sitting up against the barn, his hair wild, baby face tufted with facial hair, gaunt and emaciated, facial fat and muscles melting away, replaced by the hard angles of what lies beneath(9), but he doesn’t look like he’s suffering or in pain, but with the content, wild, ecstatic look of a zealot. He sits with his back up against the side of the barn but toward the front. Above his head, and in the upper right hand corner protruding out from the front of the barn, is an ornamental structure, like a deer’s head in profile, and I do think it’s some sort of animalistic avatar or totem, only the neck is elongated, but the head has no antlers, or ears, or much of a snout, it’s oval, tapers to a rounded point at the bottom, human?

7) I’ve had frostbite, and I’ve had it at 20,000 feet, but didn’t cut off my fingers. I’m partial to them. Do people do that? Apparently yes: see, Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
8) Nadia?
9) Unfortunately, I’ve seen that face before. You will see it again.

Notes for The Barn in the Wild - Page 5

Notes from The Barn in the Wild - Page 6

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.

The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “The Old Pageant,” by Richard Gavin

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes to us courtesy of Richard Gavin, an author who knows a thing or two about the carnivorous nature of the cosmos. So let’s head out to the woods with this sample of “The Old Pageant.”

A toast to Old Leech

He didn’t want her to know how physically taxing he’d found the long drive to the woods, how tedious the prospect of unpacking seemed, or how repugnantly primitive he found their accommodations to be upon their arrival. The holiday had the potential to be far too special an occasion for him to sour it by sulking.

The cabin had been in her family for decades, though the moment he spied it—an oblong box slumped between leprous-looking birch trees—he wondered why she didn’t regard the cabin as a skeleton from her family’s closet instead of a prideful heirloom.

After an anxious struggle to fit the copper key inside the ancient lock, the door gave, allowing the pair of them to be assaulted by the stench of long-trapped air. The dark had evidently grown so accustomed to the cabin’s interior that it stubbornly refused to part for the sunbeams that the man and woman ushered in.

Shutters were peeled back, windows were pried ajar. She stripped the ancient white sheets from the beds and took them outside and hung them from the birch limbs so that the breezes might push out their mustiness.

They cleaned and unpacked and traded off-colour wisecracks. The supper they cooked together was hearty and its aroma managed to mask a bit of the cabin’s cloying staleness.

After eating he delighted her by finding the detached footboard that had once braced the lower bunk bed she’d slept on as a girl. It had been wound in a shower drape of translucent plastic and stored behind her grandmother’s dormant sewing desk.

Her grandfather had carved (with visible skill and obvious love) an inscription into the footboard:

Here lies Donna Hammill
Each and every summer
Dreaming…

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.