The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Snake Wine,” by Jeffrey Thomas

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech leaves the familiar–and frightening–confines of the Pacific Northwest for a locale on the other side of the world: Vietnam. Let’s crack open a bottle of “Snake Wine” with author Jeffrey Thomas.

Snake Wine - Photo by Sam Cowan

In his flat on the third floor of the narrow building he had bought with all his savings, ill-gotten and otherwise, Hong pulled a bottle out of the plastic shopping bag she had fetched from her Honda’s seat compartment. “My father likes to drink this sometimes,” she told Gorch. Smiling with charming if unconvincing coyness, she further explained, “It’s good for a man’s baby.”

“Baby?”

“You know,” she said. She pointed toward his crotch and giggled.

“Ah, I see. Makes baby grow up big and strong, yeah?”

“Yesss.”

“Let’s have a look.” He held out his hand. “I’ve seen these things a million times here but I’ve never really wanted to try it before.”

“Oh, but you will drink this one, won’t you? Because it is from me?” She passed him the bottle.

“For you, and for my baby, I’ll do it.”

It was a bottle of ruou, or rice wine, and he had drunk that on its own. But this type of ruou, which he’d seen sold at gift shops such as those at the Cu Chi Tunnels and the Saigon National Museum, had conspicuous extras stuffed into the bottle. Usually it was a cobra, preserved in the yellowish wine as if pickled in formaldehyde, maybe with a huge black scorpion or a fistful of smaller snakes and some herbs added for good measure. Hong’s gift did have some blanched-looking herbs at the bottom, but no scorpion, and the snake coiled inside wasn’t a cobra, unless its hood was closed.

Gorch turned the bottle around slowly to see it from all angles, and held it up in front of the fluorescent ceiling light. His brows tightened. Definitely not a cobra. And maybe it was a result of the animal’s saturated tissues being distorted, but he almost questioned whether it was even a snake. He was reminded of the animal called a worm lizard, an amphisbaenian, which possessed a long pinkish body that looked segmented like an earthworm, with only a rudimentary pair of forelegs. It almost seemed this creature had such forelimbs, if withered, unless those were just bits of sloughing skin. Its eyes were bleached dull gray. It was looped in on itself within the glass, coiled around and around in a spiral as if chasing itself unto infinity.

“A dragon fetus, perhaps? Ace.” He handed her back the bottle to open. He took down a shot glass. “Are you going to drink it with me?”

“It’s a drink for men,” she told him. “I don’t have a baby.” Her smile was a mixture of carnality and passable innocence that made his stomach squirm with hunger, as if he had his own dragon fetus coiled inside him.

She filled his shot glass, and he took a tentative sip. He tried not to show his disgust lest he insult her. After all, her father had unknowingly sacrificed this elixir for his benefit. It tasted just as he had expected: crude rice wine mixed with the essence of a reptile terrarium.

“Do you like it?”

Gorch didn’t think he’d be stocking this beverage in his pub anytime soon, but he said, “A fine vintage. Cheers.” He took another sip.

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: “Good Lord, Show Me the Way,” by Molly Tanzer

We close this week of excerpts from The Children of Old Leech with Molly Tanzer‘s epistolary tale of academic horrors, “Good Lord, Show Me the Way.”

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Gasoline Fire Burns Olalla Man; Destroys Home
By Jim Warren

April 27th, 1992—Early Tuesday morning, Burton Wulla Fines was admitted to Tacoma General Hospital with severe burns covering the left side of his face and body, and a mangled left hand, also burned.

Sally Wallings, a neighbor, called 911 at 1:18 AM when she spotted flames reaching above the trees between their properties, alerting local authorities to “a powerful inferno” on the premises. When firefighters arrived they found Mr. Fines’ home ablaze, along with several adjacent trees. Fines himself was discovered wandering around one particularly large spruce, throwing gasoline on it from a can from time to time, and “ranting” according to volunteer firefighter Glenn Woodworth.

“We tried to get him away from the tree,” said Woodworth, “but he wouldn’t come along. He kept shaking his fist at it and accusing it of being ‘infested’ and that he ‘wouldn’t submit’ to the will of its ‘agents.’ He claimed it had ‘whispered to him for the last time,’ that he would burn out the Great Satan within, and be done with the business.”

“Brent had always hated that tree,” confirmed Wallings.

Woodworth and the rest of the firefighters entrusted Fines to the paramedics who had arrived on the scene in order to fight the fire consuming his house. Soon after, all present reported hearing an “explosion” and returned to find Fines scorched along the face, body, and hand. With the help of the paramedics, Fines’ clothes were extinguished and he was taken to Tacoma General. Sadly, this blast resulted in the burning to the ground of Fines’ home.

When asked why the paramedics had not removed Fines from the site of the burning tree, they replied he became “belligerent and abusive” when they tried. At the time he tossed the can of gasoline onto the tree, causing the explosion that burned him, the paramedics had been discussing methods of restraining or sedating him.

“He accused us of conspiring with ‘vassals of The Great Satan,’ whatever that is; that we were there to ‘bind him’ or something like that. He was pretty incoherent by then,” reported Jim Baker, an EMT.

Fines remains in critical condition at Tacoma General.

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: “Learn to Kill,” by Michael Cisco

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from Michael Cisco‘s patricidal tale, “Learn to Kill.”

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Nodded off! How long was that? Everything looks the same. My boots, bony knees, knuckly hands. My chair. The window. Bare boards.

Lessons from Dad. When I was about eight or nine, I decided, I forget why, to provoke my father. I was very contrary and then, I remember standing stock still shouting

“FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!”

at him. He smiled at me, queerly. Then he went and shut himself up in his room. That was his sanctum. He padlocked it when he wasn’t in it. I wracked my brains for a way to get in, and I never did. With all my ingenuity, my genius for trouble, my intuitive sense of escape routes and infiltrations, when there was no hillside full of dense foliage I couldn’t wriggle inside somehow, to think, I never managed it. I never saw the inside of it, even after I killed him.

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.

Press Release: The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird BarronPETALUMA, CALIFORNIA–Word Horde is proud to announce the release of The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron. Editors Ross E. Lockhart (The Book of Cthulhu, Tales of Jack the Ripper) and Justin Steele (The Arkham Digest) have gathered together many of the brightest lights in dark fiction to pay homage to one of horror’s masters.

Over the past decade, Laird Barron has become one of the most lauded and influential names in horror fiction. His short stories, two novels, and three collections have garnered numerous nominations and awards, including three Shirley Jackson Awards and a Bram Stoker Award. Recognizing Barron’s meteoric rise, Lockhart and Steele sought to assemble an original tribute anthology unlike any other, focusing on atmosphere and affect, rather than simple pastiche.

“Barron’s fiction has long been an inspiration to his peers,” says co-editor Justin Steele. “The interwoven stories and novels create a rich tapestry of noir-infused cosmic horror. This mythology makes for an excellent backdrop for the weird tales within.” Offered this unique opportunity to play in what Publishers Weekly calls Barron’s “worm-riddled literary playground,” these children of Old Leech—Barron’s fans, peers, friends—conjured an anthology “with a coherent feeling of dread, without feeling derivative of the source.”

On Tuesday, July 15, 2014, Word Horde will commemorate the book’s official release with a virtual toast to Old Leech himself. Throughout social media, authors and readers alike are encouraged to share their thoughts about the anthology and its inspiration, Laird Barron, using the hashtag #TCoOL.

The Children of Old Leech is distributed by Ingram, and will be available in Hardcover and eBook formats through most online retailers and better independent bookstores everywhere in July 2014. For more information about Word Horde or to request an electronic review copy, please email publicity[at]wordhorde[dot]com.

The Children of Old Leech: Excerpt: “Walpurgisnacht,” by Orrin Grey

Our third excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from “Walpurgisnacht,” by Orrin Grey. Traditionally, April 30th marks the feast of Saint Walpurga, an 8th Century German Abbess. But it’s also held to be the night that witches meet and revel on the Brocken, the highest peak in Germany’s Harz Mountains…

On the train, Nicky told me about the Brocken Spectre. “It’s a sort of optical illusion,” he said, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. Nicky was younger than me, and prettier, and his dark hair fell in front of his face whenever he slouched, which was often. “The sun casts a giant shadow of you on the clouds below, right, and your head gets this prismatic halo. Like an angel.”

“I hear the sun only shines here like sixty days a year,” I said. “Besides, it’s night.” I was only half-listening anyway, my head lolling against the cool glass of the window. I’d had more than a few drinks at the airport bar, and I could feel a headache trying to force its way out past my eyes. Outside, I could see our destination looming up out of the darkness, the two towers of the Sender Brocken, old and new. Like Tolkien’s Minas Morgul and Orthanc. The sun was still going down, and the towers stood out like shadows against the gloaming, their lights already on. Gleaming yellow ones in the windows of the old tower, now the Brocken Hotel, and blinking red ones to warn planes away from the new tower, a candy-cane-striped lance that jutted skyward from the peak.

“It doesn’t look terribly inviting,” Nicky said, noticing my inattentiveness and nodding at the towers.

Now to the Brocken the witches ride.” I intoned, and then, without bothering to glance and see his puzzled expression, explained, “It’s Goethe. From Faust.”

That was why we were going, of course. It was Walpurgisnacht, the night when the witches and devils gathered on the crown of the bald mountain to welcome the spring. Nicky and I, and whoever else was on the train with us, were the witches in this equation, and we were all gathering on the Brocken to kiss the ass of a black goat.

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: “Pale Apostle,” by J. T. Glover and Jesse Bullington

Today’s excerpt from The Children of Old Leech comes from J. T. Glover and Jesse Bullington‘s collaborative tale, “Pale Apostle,” which I’m sure you’ll agree sets up the fireworks with a dangerously short fuse…

The bell at the front of the shop tinkled, and Wah clicked her teeth—she hadn’t heard his key in the lock, which meant he’d left the door open again. It was bad enough he insisted on making deliveries to all the family associations himself, but his forgetting to lock up was simply unsafe. Ducking through the curtain, her slippers whisking against the boards, she saw his familiar silhouette across the dark shop. He’d turned and was locking the door.

“It doesn’t do much good, now,” she said, trying to keep the chiding tone from her voice. “When I’m in the back, though, try to remember to—oh!”

The white man smiling at her across the shadowed bins and shelves was not her father.

“I sorry, honorable sir, but we closed right now,” she said, speaking with deliberate fresh-off-the-boat awkwardness even as her mind raced.

Her father was probably talking over old times at some association by now, and might not return for hours. It wasn’t late enough yet for the police to be rattling doorknobs, and they rarely took much notice of crime in the Chinatown anyway. Who would hear if she screamed? Mr. Dong next door, perhaps, but perhaps not…

Top shelf, middle aisle. As she stepped around the counter, she studiously kept her eyes on the intruder, instead of the modest display of cutlery. If she could just—

“How excellent,” the stranger said, speaking in perfectly unaccented Szechuanese as he glided toward her, past the knives. “That means we shall not be disturbed.”

The smile he gave her stretched his strangely ageless face into a rictus—like most white men, his exotic features somehow coalesced into a bland, nondescript whole. His black coat and broad-brimmed hat were wet with the night’s rain, leaving puddles on the floor, but his skin looked parched as scrolls from a temple. He reached inside his coat, and Wah flinched, wondering if it would be a weapon, or worse, handcuffs—given the choice between a stickup man or a plainclothes Seattle policeman, she would take the lesser villain. Instead, he held out an envelope to her, as dry as the withered hand that held it.

“My name is Clarence Kernochan, and I have a business proposition to discuss with you.”

“My father—” Wah began, but he cut her off in the rude fashion of Americans, waggling the envelope.

“I trust you will surely find this to the advantage of both yourself and your father, Miss Sung.”

Wah looked back at his face, and in the instant before she saw him straight-on, she could have sworn that his black pupils seemed to undulate, as if something wriggled behind them.

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 Harrow,” by Gemma Files

As you might have heard, we’ve got a new anthology landing July 15, The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron. Over the next few weeks, we thought we’d share a brief excerpt to preview each story. These will be dropping on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and start today with “The Harrow,” by Gemma Files

The earth is old and full of holes, Lydie Massenet’s mother used to say, at least once a day, back when she was still Lydie Pell. Its crust is thin, and underneath there’s nothing but darkness. A rind, that’s all we live on; just thin ice, waiting for it to thaw and crack. No need to dig, really—if they want to find you, they will. Never trust anything that comes out of a hole.

And: Okay, Mom, Lydie would say, the way her father had taught her to. That’s good. That’s fine. Then just smile and nod, all the time staring off at nothing much, something invisible—contemplating Mars, he called it—until her mother finally stopped talking.

You have to know this, Lydie, if nothing else, her mother told her. Darkness shifts, darkness conceals; it’s impossible to know what’s hiding inside it, no matter how hard you try. But if history teaches anything, it’s that what we don’t understand, we fear… and what we fear, eventually, we come to worship, if only to keep it in its rightful place. To make sure it doesn’t come after us.

Yes, Mom. Okay. Sure.

’Til, one day: Stop saying that, goddamnit! her mother yelled, and slapped Lydie across the face, so hard her glasses cracked in half. That was the day her father brought Doctor Russ home, the day before her mother went somewhere else—first for a rest, and then, after everything they did to her while she was there had utterly failed to make her well enough to come home again, to stay.

What’s wrong with her, Daddy? Lydie asked her father, at last, to which he only shook his head and sniffed, trying to pretend he hadn’t been crying.

Honey, I wish to God I knew, was all he said, in return. And hugged her a little too long, a little too tight.

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.

What to Read in July

Have you been asking yourself “What am I going to read this July?” Barnes & Noble has you covered with this handy list of new releases, including Word Horde’s own The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron. Here’s what B&N blogger Paul Goat Allen has to say about the anthology in his recommendation:

A nightmare-inducing tribute to Laird Barron and his Carnivorous Cosmos, this stellar anthology features 17 original stories from some of weird fiction’s brightest stars—John Langan, Gemma Files, Jeffrey Thomas, Michael Cisco, and Paul Tremblay, to name just a few. You will look under the bed after finishing this creepy collection.

Check out the full list of awesome reads at this link. To order The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron from B&N, click here.

Recent Reviews: The Children of Old Leech

We’ve been busy shipping preorder copies of the latest Word Horde anthology, The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron, and the book is starting to be spotted at retailers, e-tailers, and in the wild. It’s also been picking up some great reviews. You may have seen our previous round-up of the Publishers Weekly and Cthonic Matter reviews, but here are two more to add to the balefire.

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Scott R. Jones of Martian Migraine Press touches onto core fears in his review of The Children of Old Leech, sharing a chilling tale of a hollow tree in his detailed examination of stories by Gemma Files, Molly Tanzer, T.E. Grau, Richard Gavin, Paul Tremblay, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., John Langan, and Cody Goodfellow, concluding: “Each is a class in storytelling, every one is entertaining, and every other one is thought provoking. Lockhart and Steele have a winner on their hands, I think; this is one I’ll keep coming back to, much as I do with Laird’s work. Reading TCoOL was like standing in that Tree beside that lake in the hills, up to my ankles in smoky rot and grey grubs, unable to move, while the sun dipped down to dusk. Recommended.” Read the full Martian Migraine Press review at this link.

Over at Betwixt Book Reviews, Benito Corral also digs deep, singling out tales by Gemma Files, Orrin Grey, Jeffrey Thomas, T.E. Grau, Michael Griffin, Cody Goodfellow, and John Langan, saying, “Each story in The Children of Old Leech leads you deeper and deeper into the ‘carnivorous cosmos’ of Laird Barron; all the authors here have crafted glorious tributes to the master, faithfully plumbing his Mythos to create a truly stunning collection.” The review concludes, “The Children of Old Leech is a triumph for Lockhart and Steele, and a tremendous gift for purveyors of dark fiction. Look for this volume to be on multiple ‘best of’ lists this year. Mr Barron would be proud!” Read the full Betwixt Book Reviews review at this link.

The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron is now shipping from Word Horde. Ask for the anthology and other fine Word Horde titles at your favorite bookseller.

We Leave Together featured at Kirkus

Today at Kirkus, Ana from The Book Smugglers takes a comprehensive look at J. M. McDermott’s Dogsland Trilogy and the newly-published concluding volume, We Leave Together. Here’s what Ana had to say:

“Throughout Books 1 and 2, it was really hard to predict how all the pieces of this puzzle would fit together. But by the time I finished We Leave Together, everything did come together beautifully. Finding out the exact circumstances of Jona’s death and what happened to Rachel (YES! Rachel! You go, girl!) just about broke my heart in the best possible way.”

We Leave Together by J. M. McDermott

Read the full review at Kirkus.