From the Heart of Darkness

 

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Acknowledgments:
The stories contained herein were first published and are copyrighted as follows:

INTRODUCTION, by Karl Edward Wagner, MD

MEN LIKE US

from OMNI; May, 1980

SOMETHING HAD TO BE DONE

from F&SF; February, 1975

THE AUTOMATIC RIFLEMAN

from DESTINIES; Fall, 1980

THAN CURSE THE DARKNESS

from NEW TALES OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS; ed Ramsey Campbell; Arkham House, 1980

FIREFIGHT

from FRIGHTS; ed Kirby McCauley; St Martins; 1976

THE RED LEER

from WHISPERS II; ed Stuart Schiff; Doubleday; 1979

THE SHORTEST WAY

from WHISPERS; March, 1974

BEST OF LUCK

from THE YEAR'S BEST HORROR STORIES, SERIES VI; ed Gerald Page; DAW, 1978

DRAGONS' TEETH

This version differs from both earlier-published versions.

OUT OF AFRICA

Original to this collection

THE DANCER IN THE FLAMES

from WHISPERS; August, 1982

SMOKIE JOE

from MORE DEVIL'S KISSES; ed Linda Lovecraft; Corgi; 1977

CHILDREN OF THE FOREST

from F&SF; November, 1976

BLOOD DEBT

from THE FOURTH MAYFLOWER BOOK OF BLACK MAGIC STORIES; ed Michel Parry; Mayflower, 1976

THE BARROW TROLL

from WHISPERS; December, 1975

THE HUNTING GROUND

from SUPERHORROR; ed Ramsey Campbell; W H Allen, 1976

DEDICATION

To the friends to whom I read the manuscripts:

Karl and Barbara

Bobette and Richard

Glenn and Helen

Sharon and Bob

Bernadette

and especially Jo

INTRODUCTION
BY KARL EDWARD WAGNER

Anyone who has read more than two books is well aware of the exaggerations indulged in by those who write cover blurbs and, yes, even introductions. “A shuddery feast of thrills to chill you to the marrow!” “Be warned! You are about to embark upon a nerve-shredding excursion into the ghoul-haunted nightmares of the psychotic mind!” “These tales will terrify you through a thousand heart-stopping nights of horror!” Exclamation points always go nicely here. So do comparisons. “Not since Edgar Allan Poe!” “In the tradition of H. P. Lovecraft!” “Out-horrifies even Stephen King!”

Forget the typical barrage of strident hype and crescendos of superlatives. Forget the stock characters and tried-and-true plots that have proliferated like junk food franchises throughout the horror genre. Here there be no enchanted castles, endearing dragons, nor darling little elves. Here you are not about to encounter suave vampiric counts, brooding gothic heroines, nor moaning phantoms abroad midst a dark and stormy night. Here you will not find perpetually haunted New England towns, nor menacing children possessed by supernatural forces, nor trendy California couples in soap opera throes of Some Dark Secret.

You are holding a collection of thoroughly vicious, uncompromising horror stories.

For any author, the publication of a volume of his collected short stories is a welcome event—all the more to be cherished owing to the unlikelihood of its occurrence. Flatly stated, publishers do not like short story collections; short story collections, even very good ones, simply do not sell as well as novels, even very bad novels. It is an exceptional short story collection that entices an editor to publish it against very sound misgivings, and it happens that this is a collection of exceptional short stories.

The short story, as is too often lamented, is a vanishing literary form. Again the harsh realities of economics are a major factor. The markets for short fiction have all but disappeared. Where fifty years ago there were literally hundreds of fiction magazines published each month, today the magazine whose contents are primarily fiction is all but extinct. Those few that remain are paying substantially the same rates for fiction as did their forebears. A glance at the most recent market reports for the surviving science fiction and fantasy magazines (two of which were doing business fifty years ago) shows payment rates of three to seven cents a word. Fifty years ago similar magazines paid one to three cents a word. Taking into account inflation, a 7500-word story sold during the Depression paid for a lot more groceries than a same-length story could buy if sold to today's magazine and anthology markets. On the other hand, a paperback novel, say a science fiction or horror novel, that might have earned a $500 advance thirty years ago, can pull down today an advance from a comfortable five figures to past the million dollar mark.

Any author who can sell novels is wasting his time by writing short fiction. No one wants to publish short fiction; if they do, they pay only peanuts, and when they do, no one wants to read it. A successful author who writes short fiction can only do so for the personal enjoyment it brings him—a sense of satisfaction at having mastered a difficult craft. David Drake is a successful novelist, and these stories are those written by a painstaking craftsman with a lifetime love for the horror story.

David A. Drake was born in Dubuque, Iowa on September 24, 1945. Growing up in that midwestern state, he graduated from the University of Iowa in 1967 with a double major in history and in Latin. Marrying his childhood sweetheart, Joanne Kammiller, the couple honeymooned in Providence, Rhode Island—indulging Drake's avid interest in horror fiction with a visit to the H. P. Lovecraft collection at Brown University. In autumn of 1967, Drake moved to Durham, North Carolina, where he entered Duke University School of Law. Drafted out of law school, Drake wound up in the Eleventh Armored Cavalry Regiment, working in military intelligence. After a year stateside at Fort Bliss, Texas, Drake was shipped to Viet Nam, just in time to be sent in with the spearhead of the Cambodian invasion. While Drake insists that the closest he ever came to being under fire was when a spent cal .50 core plopped down beside his tent during a mad minute, he does admit to having been a good listener to the conversations of combat veterans. Returning to North Carolina in January, 1971, Drake graduated from Duke Law School in 1972 and moved to nearby Chapel Hill, where he found employment as deputy town attorney.

As a teenager Drake read and was tremendously impressed by a paperback collection of H. P. Lovecraft's best horror stories, entitled
Cry Horror!
Published during a period when Lovecraft's work was not generally available, this book was a major influence upon the impressionable young minds of more than a few of today's horror writers. Inspired by this discovery, Drake began writing stories of his own in the Lovecraftian mode. This might have passed as a harmless juvenile phase, except that in 1964 Arkham House published a collection of stories entitled
The Inhabitant of the Lake,
written by Liverpool's J. Ramsey Campbell, another 16-year-old kid infatuated with the works of Lovecraft. Reading this book of Lovecraftian pastiches convinced Drake that he could do the same, and he began to make a serious attempt to break into print. Following Campbell's lead, Drake started submitting stories to August Derleth, editor-publisher of Arkham House, persisting despite Derleth's caustic rejections. Eventually this persistence paid off. On its third submission, Derleth bought Drake's short story, “Denkirch”—paying $35 and commenting that the story still wasn't right and that Drake should compare the published version, as revised by Derleth, with Drake's own final draft to see how the story should have been written. In 1967 “Denkirch” appeared in the Arkham House anthology,
Travellers by Night,
and Drake was at last a published author.

The Derleth connection is another point Drake has in common with several of today's horror writers, most notably Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley. Himself a noteworthy author—and not just in the fantasy genre—Derleth founded Arkham House to showcase and preserve the works of many of this field's greatest writers. Not content merely to canonize certain authors of the past, Derleth worked to develop new writers—patiently reading their first stumbling efforts, offering criticism and encouragement, and, perhaps, publishing their awkward initial attempts at fiction, and thereby giving the greatest encouragement of all to the neophyte writer.

Drake's first few sales were all to Derleth, whose rejections always came tempered with sound advice. Gradually Drake broke away from the stultifying influence of Lovecraft, having managed (again in common with many writers at this stage) only in emulating all that was bad in Lovecraft's prose. Drake's interests in history and classical languages directed his writing to horrors that lurked in the historical past, whether ancient Egypt or the past century. His consuming interest in ancient Rome resulted in an excellent series of stories about a pair of fourth century adventurers, Vettius and Dama. Drake saw no reason to invent a mythical unhistoried past for such exploits, believing that the dimly known history of past ages holds an abundance of horrors and wonders.

In July of 1971 Derleth bought “Black Iron,” a Vettius and Dama story, from Drake. It was to be the last story Derleth would ever buy, as death cut short his career the following day. Had Derleth lived, it seems very probable that Arkham House in time would have published a collection of Drake's stories—not Lovecraftian pastiches, for Drake had moved beyond this now, but stories set in the historical past, crafted with loving attention to accuracy of detail. Such obsessive attention to detail was in part Drake's major failing during this period; he expended all of his energy on historical accuracy, and characterization and plot became inconsequential. For Drake, accuracy and realism were everything, and the addition of a monster or two was all that was needed to transform a didactic exercise into a story. Other editors were not as patient as Derleth, and for a few years it appeared that Drake's writing career was stillborn.

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