Last update: 03 September 2017.
Hallucigenia was first published in the June 2006 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. The cover art for that issue referenced the story. If I may be forgiven for saying so, it isn't a great cover (pot, meet kettle, I know).
The press release that accompanied the release of The Imago Sequence and Other Stories describes it thusly:
Hallucigenia (25000 words): "Cosmic terrors descend upon a hapless tycoon after a tragic accident..." F&SF 2006; Reprinted in Polish magazine Fantastyka (10/2006); nominated for the HWA Bram Stoker Award; nominated for the IHG Award. [source]
On LiveJournal, Laird wrote in 2007:
"Hallucigenia" has done extremely well. I'm grateful to Gordon Van Gelder for picking it up in the first place, and editors Hartwell, Cramer, & Wallace for reprinting it, and, of course, Night Shade for accepting the story as part of my upcoming collection. [LJ_29052007]
It was nominated for a 2006 International Horror Guild Award in the Long Fiction category.
There was at some point a graphic novel adaptation in the works.
However, one of the neatest projects has to be my collaboration with JD Busch to create a graphic novel adapted from my Hallucigenia novella. JD's a terrific artist and he had some brilliant ideas about adapting my story into a proper script. I'm looking forward to seeing this one through. [LJ_07072010]
JD Busch has been adapting my novella Hallucigenia into a graphic novel. Issue 1. is nearly complete. I'm impressed with what JD has accomplished. His art captures and enhances the original story. I suspect it will be something special when all is said and done. [LJ_04032011]
A few pages of a comic book adaptation of the story are still floating around the internet, if you’re inclined to find them. The illustrations, and script, as far as I can gather, were by Seattle-based (?) artist J.D. Busch.
A collection of four stories in German translation was published by Golkonda Verlag in 2015 under the title Hallucigenia. Hallucigenia is naturally one of the four stories collected, along with “Strappado”, Mysterium Tremendum, and Procession of the Black Sloth. You can find it here if du sprichst Deutsch.
Laird derived some enjoyment from the act of writing the story:
In relation to The Men From Porlock: I have to say in the sense of enjoying the act of writing a story, which I often don't, this is probably the most fun I've had since Hallucigenia. The Broadsword was pretty close, but this has axes and Sharps buffalo guns and cranky, homicidal mountain men. [LJ_07072010]
John Langan wrote a sequel to the story, "Ymir". It was published in the tribute anthology, The Children of Old Leech (WordHorde, 2014), and republished in the Best Horror of the Year 7 anthology (Simon and Schuster, 2015).
As you (re-)read Hallucigenia, watch for these Barronisms:
- Fatal fascination
- Diesel generator
- Odour of rank decay
- Doomed protagonist
- Isolated setting
- Predator toying with prey
- Lights flicker/die
- Washington State
- Grotesquely enlarged body parts
- Shadows behaving strangely
- Time is a ring
- They Who (Wait/Dwell in the Cracks)
- Alien intelligence
- Physical corruption reflecting moral corruption
- Red light
- Wallace Stevens
- Alpha male unmanned
- Mystery physics
- Military father
- Wealth/power corrupts
NOTES ON THE TEXT
Page numbers used throughout refer to the paperback version.
Hallucigenia is a genus of extinct animals believed to be related to lobopodian worms – worm-like creatures with stubby feet. The equivocation is necessary because it was identified relatively recently (1977), it lived in the Cambrian period (485 to 541 million years before present), and it is delightfully strange looking. We have had a fairly accurate idea of what it looked like since it was found in the famed Burgess Shale deposits of Canada (lagerstätten) which preserved the fine details of soft-bodied animals. What it looked like was this:
Or more likely this:
The reconstructions are based on the very finely detailed fossils. Unfortunately, things get jumbled up at the bottom of the sea where these fossils were laid, and the thing has no clear features.
Which side is up on this animal, and which part is the head, were still unanswered questions when Laird wrote the story. It was not clear with which modern animals, if any, it could be related. Velvet worms and arthropods (insects, crustaceans, et al) are two suggestions which have recently been proposed. Steven Jay Gould`s popular 1989 book Wonderful Life posited that they may be representatives of an entirely different phylum of life – neither plant, animal, fungus, protest, bacteria, or archaea – but this view no longer enjoys much support from scientific orthodoxy. The idea that many Burgess Shale specimens were unclassifiable, however, is a concept that several weird fiction authors have played with, including Laird and Charles Stross.
More fascinating details can be found in a few popular science articles by Ed Jong. http://phenomena.nationalgeographic.com/2013/08/05/when-hallucinations-walked-the-world/
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks. —Wallace Stevens (p.119)
The epigraph is a line from Wallace Stevens’ poem “Domination of Black”. That line appears twice in the poem, including as the final line.
Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) was an American poet. Laird’s mentioned in interviews and on his blog that he is “a fan of … Wallace Stevens…” [source] and that Stevens is one of the poets who “inspire (him) in abstract ways”. [source]
Regarding the specific poem, he has shared it on his blog and written “When I write, and especially when I write of the ineffable and the inevitable, I often glance over my shoulder at this. Then hurry on, racing as we all do, from darkness into darkness.” [source]
Without this evidence, his appreciation for the poet could be deduced by the inclusion of his verse here, and the use of Wallace as the name of the protagonist. Stevens also provides an epigraph for The Imago Sequence, and “Termination Dust”, as well as the title of Laird’s LiveJournal page for many years (Domination of Black), and possibly some of the characters named Stevens (two by my count). He is mentioned by name in “Black Dog”, and his poem “The Emperor of Ice Cream” is referenced in “Vastation”, and the novella X’s For Eyes. There are no doubt other references that I haven’t identified.
I will leave to heavier hitters the task of interpreting the poem, deciphering the significance of this particular line, and analyzing its function as the epigraph of this story. All I can say with certitude is that the story features a peacock strutting on Wallace’s lawn, and that this is probably not an accident.
The Bentley nosed into the weeds (p. 119)
Bentley Motors Limited is a British luxury car manufacturer. It was founded in 1919, purchased by Rolls-Royce Limited in 1931 and by Volkswagen Group in 1998. Another Bentley makes a brief appearance in “The Forest”.
Delaney was at the wheel, (p.119)
Delaney is a surname of either Gaelic (meaning “black + river Slaine”) or Norman (DeLaney) origin. It is perhaps a reference to American science-fiction author Samuel R. Delany, whom Laird once mentioned in a blog post on Lucius Shepard. [source] The name reappears in a long list of party attendees in “Slave Arm”, but the context does not allow us to determine whether the same character is being referred to.
the Boss' wife, Helen. (p. 119)
I could not determine who, if anyone, Helen Paxton might be a reference to. Helen of Troy? Bill Paxton? Who knows.
"She does this when it's hot. Vapor lock, probably." (p.119)
Vapor lock results when liquid fuel overheats and enters a gaseous state while in the fuel delivery system, causing a loss of pressure in the fuel pump, disrupting the flow of fuel. This can result in the engine stalling and being difficult to restart.
Helen twisted, smiled at Wallace. (p. 119)
Wallace Smith is probably a reference to poet Wallace Stevens, from a few notes ago. The surname Smith is a stereotypically common one, and could conceivably be a reference to American weird fiction author Clark Ashton Smith, mentioned in Xs For Eyes, “Fear Sun”, and “The Blood in My Mouth”, or to American mystery novelist Martin Cruz Smith, for whose novel Gorky Park Laird has frequently expressed admiration on his blog, and whose novel Stallion Gate is mentioned in “LD50”.
In The Croning, the local old money families (of Olympia, Washington) include “the Redfields, Rourkes, Wilsons, and Smiths, and in roughly descending order.” This is probably a reference to Wallace Smith’s family.
SMITH appears on the mailbox of a home in upstate New York in “Mobility”. Probably no relation to Wallace.
"Who are you, Helmut Newton?" (p. 119)
Helmut Newton (1920-2004) was a German-Australian photographer best known for black-and-white, “provocative, erotically-charged” photos for Vogue and other magazines.
Fresh from Arizona, (p.119)
Arizona is a state on the southwestern border of the United States. No stories (so far) have been set there by Laird, and it is seldom mentioned. One notable mention with possible ties to this story is that The Order of Imago has a commune in a remote part of the state, according to Imogene Navarro in The Light is the Darkness.
Dalton Smith and George Paxton (p.119)
I was unable to determine if these refer to particular persons. The name Dalton recurs in "Bulldozer". George Paxton is unlikely to be a reference to the American big band leader from the 1930s, or the 19th century Scottish minister and poet.
Well, maybe brother Payton (p. 119)
I was unable to determine if this refers to a particular person. I'm a little disappointed that this is Payton Smith, and not the nearly perfect Payton Paxton.
Wallace Smith, eldest scion of the former senior senator of Washington State (p. 120)
Senior senator of Washington State seems to imply a position in the United States Senate rather than the Washington State Senate, since seniority is used to distinguish the two senators (senior and junior) representing a state, based on length of continuous service. Senior senators are given preferential treatment when choosing committee assignments, office spaces, and seating in the senate.
There is of course no former senior senator with that name.
The trouble was, Wallace had been too successful too soon; he had lived the early life of any ten normal men. (p. 120)
The idea that wealthy (and by extension powerful) people are easily corrupted, co-opted, and/or consumed by the things that live in the dark places of the world is one of the central tenets of Barron’s fiction. Idleness and curiosity does for them what necessity/desperation does for his working class protagonists: it brings them into contact with the denizens of the outer dark, and things progress naturally from there. There seems to be safety in the shrinking middle class.
He had done the great white hunter bit in the heart of darkest Africa; had floated the Yellow River and hiked across the Gobi desert; climbed glaciers in Alaska and went skin diving in Polynesia. (p.120)
It was only a matter of time before Wallace encountered something unpleasant, judging from his passport. Compare with Michelle Mock’s search for “of a particular extant family of men, likely tribal, who dwelt on the hinterlands of civilization—the Antarctic, deep in the jungles of New Guinea, or the amid the wastes of the Gobi” (The Croning).
Alaskan glaciers show up with some regularity in Laird’s stories. You can find them, or references to them, in "The Lagerstätte", The Light is the Darkness, X’s for Eyes, "Termination Dust", and "Nemesis".
Surfing and sweat lodges. Avant-garde poetry and experimental art. Psychedelic drugs, and plenty of them. (p. 120)
Sweat lodges are simple structures constructed of rocks or saplings and covered by blankets or animal skins. It is used by some Indigenous people of the Americas to perform a sweat lodge ceremony which has a spiritual function. It has been appropriated by others, including the so-called New Age movement.
The sweat lodge, experimental art, and psychedelic drugs points to a pattern of spiritual searching, a search for enlightenment not dissimilar from those undertaken by a number of characters in the stories in this collection – Rueben Hicks, Langston Butler, Roy Fulcher, Anselm Thornton, Florence Chin, etc.
Reading this story in the context of the collection, one wonders how coincidental the chance meeting in the barn truly is.
just west of Olympia (p. 120)
Olympia, Washington is the capital of the state of Washington. It is located 60 miles (100 km) south of Seattle, at the southern end of Puget Sound. It has a population of approximately 50,000. The Olympic peninsula, named for the city, lies between it and the Pacific Ocean to the west.
Olympia features in four stories in this collection, in the novella The Light is the Darkness, in The Croning, and in half-a-dozen other short stories appearing across the next two collections.
Laird lived in Olympia from 2000 until 2011.
cocktails with the Langans (p. 121)
Barrett and Macy Langan, possibly named for American horror writer John Langan (1959-) and his wife Fiona. I believe his friendship with Laird was initiated shortly after Laird’s first publication in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction or in SCI FICTION, so before the period during which Hallucigenia was written. I’m unsure whether the names Barrett and Macy have any significance.
at The Mud Shack (p. 121)
I found a The Mud Shack (café) in Statesboro, Georgia, and one (a pottery studio) in North Wales, Pennsylvania but no business of that name in Olympia, which does have a Mud Bay Coffee Company. If this is a reference to a real establishment, it has thus far eluded me.
They could do a loop on the Alcan (p. 121)
The Alaska Highway, constructed during the second world war, connects the state to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and from there to the highway system of the rest of the continent.
He glanced at his Gucci loafers (p. 121)
An Italian luxury brand of fashion clothing, shoes, and accessories. Signifier of wealth in this and two other stories.
Delaney muttered something about crabs. (p. 121)
Puzzling. In The Light is the Darkness, “You got crabs, Singh.” is an oblique reference to a car tailing another character, also an allusion to pubic lice. Is this a reference to mechanic lingo, an in-joke, a movie quote? One possibility includes the fact that power assembly hold-downs are “commonly referred to as crabs”, and are held down by crab bolts. Power assemblies are parts of certain types of engines which don’t seem to be used in automobiles.
Mr. Woo (p. 121)
Possibly a reference to Hong Kong film director John Woo, mentioned in Blood Standard. This story is the character’s only appearance, so far.
this side of Tacoma (p. 121)
Tacoma, Washington is a city 30 miles northeast of Olympia. It is mentioned in a few other stories that also feature Olympia.
we'll get Triple-A out here in a bit (p. 121)
Triple-A is the American Automobile Association, a non-profit association that provides roadside assistance for members.
Something gleamed near his feet, small and white. Squirrel bones caught in a bush. A mild surprise that the skeleton was intact. From his hunting experience, scavengers reliably scattered such remains. (p. 122)
One of the first intertextual links with “Bulldozer”, and a rather explicit one. From "Bulldozer":
Also, whole skeletons of small animals—birds and squirrels—hung from low branches. Dozens of them, scattered like broken teeth across the hillside.
a Chinese puzzle box (p. 122)
Wooden boxes which can only be opened by solving a puzzle, by making a series of manipulations. Some were used to hold live crickets, kept for their stridulations.
Hey, Old Man River (p. 122)
Title (as “Ol’ Man River”) of a 1927 song from the musical Show Boat, about an African-American stevedore’s troubles as contrasted with the carefree Mississippi River.
shoot a spread for National Geographic (p. 122)
National Geographic magazine is the official journal of the National Geographic Society. It has been in print since 1888, and is well known for its extensive use of photographs.
We came, we saw, we got rubbed by poison sumac. (p. 122)
A play on a quote attributed to Julius Caesar’s “veni, vidi, vici”: I came; I saw; I conquered.
Poison sumac is a small tree found mainly in the southern and eastern United States, typically in swamps and peat bogs. Laird may be referring to poison oak, since poison ivy and poison sumac are rarely found in the rainforests of Washington State. It may also be a colloquial name. [source]
Harper's; Poetry; The New Yorker and Granta (p. 122)
Harper’s Magazine is an American cultural magazine started in 1850.
Poetry is an American poetry journal started in 1912.
The New Yorker is an American cultural magazine published since 1925.
Granta is a literary magazine published in the United Kingdom, started in 1889 and relaunched in 1979.
"This thing is going hinky on me—I hope my batteries aren't dying." (p. 123)
A small detail, but the camera may be another casualty of Kaleb’s gizmo.
Mmm-mm, Black Label and Coors Light. (p. 123)
Probably a reference to Johnnie Walker Black Label whisky. The Coors Light was introduced in 1978 by the Coors Brewing Company.
"Really. There're bird bones all over the place, just hanging in the bushes."
"Whole birds?" (p. 123)
See previous note on squirrel skeletons.
Another odor lurked beneath this—ripe and sharp. (p. 123)
Compare with the “The stench of spoiled meat, of curdled offal, emanated from the fissure; a slaughterhouse gone to the maggots“ (“Bulldozer”) and the “pungent odors” in The Imago Sequence, both situated in Belphegor’s cave, and the smell of the Choates, Rueben Hicks, and to a lesser extent Roy Fulcher.
The interior was a blue-black aquarium (p. 123)
Inside the warehouse were glass walls and blue shadows… (The Imago Sequence)
He lay suspended beneath miles and miles of blue-black ice and dreamed. (The Light is the Darkness)
THEY WHO DWELL IN THE CRACKS (p. 124)
The only mention of this particular phrase in Barron’s stories, so far. They Who Wait are mentioned three times, in “Bulldozer”, The Light is the Darkness, and the Croning.
Which crack in particular do they dwell in? Clues abound, but there is no definitive answer, so far.
“We call this race the Children of Old Leech. They dwell in the depths and the shadows, they inhabit the crack that runs through everything.” (The Croning)
He describes a crack that runs through the dark of space and how it bends the light, how it wears faces, and how it wails. ("Ardor")
“That’s the crack that runs through everything,” ("Ardor")
Then again, what do you expect from a species that seeps down from cracks between the stars, huh? ("The Blood In My Mouth")
The crack that runs through everything reaches across all time and space, travels jaggedly through all past and all potentiality. It is the slow fracture in the ice, the worm coring its way through the apple, coring the human heart. It is the following shadow. ("The Blood in My Mouth")
LUCTOR ET EMERGO (p. 124)
Latin for “I struggle and emerge”, which may be an appropriate motto for a butterfly (an imago) emerging from a cocoon following metamorphosis, or a bolus of faeces emerging from the rectum following digestion -- in either case, appropriate to the story. Motto for the Dutch province of Zeeland “to denote its battle against the sea”. [source]
GODOFBLOATCHEMOSHBAALPEEORBELPHEGOR (p. 124)
Parsed as god of bloat / Chemosh / Ba'al Pe'or / Belphegor.
The Barronism article “On Belphegor” covers the meaning of the last three elements. The similarities in the form and content of the graffiti provide confirmation, if any was still needed, that this story should be read as a inhabiting the same fictional universe as “Bulldozer”.
I could find no textual source for “god of bloat”, but bloat certainly seems to be in Belphegor’s wheelhouse. “The sacrament of decay” is mentioned in “Bulldozer”, and bloat is a by-product of decay/putrefaction. Dead things experience bloat when bacteria inside the body feed on dead cells and produce gas as a byproduct. Animal bodies are impermeable to liquids and gases, so the gas released in the internal cavities accumulate and cause the body to expand like a balloon. The pressure from the gases may eventually exceed the tensile strength of the surrounding tissues, resulting in an explosive release. Needless to say, these gases are foul smelling.
the yokel graffiti (p. 124)
A call-back to “Bulldozer”’s graffiti artist, Rueben Hicks, whose names (rube + hick) were both synonymous with yokel.
sucker hole (p. 124)
The references to sucker holes that I could find mention three contexts for use. The colloquial use of sucker hole refers to a momentary break in bad weather which suckers you into going out, only to be disappointed (or soaked) when the bad weather returns. The astronomical use refers to a temporary break in cloud cover, with skywatchers tricked into trying to make observations only to be foiled by its return. The aviation use refers to an opening in dense cloud cover, but seen from above the cloud layer, so that the ground can be seen. The temptation to fly down into the clear area is a dangerous one, because (from my limited understanding) the hole may close up, causing the plane to enter the cloud layer, with limited visibility and at a perilously low altitude.
Three low stone pylons (p. 124)
Creepy pylons may have their origin in this anecdote related in an interview (and reproduced in the introduction to The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All):
Periodically, I noted old, old pylons made of sawn logs erected off the beaten path. Markers. Initially, I didn’t have much reaction, but as darkness drew down around us, the dogs’ ears pricked up and a general sensation of nervousness radiated from the team. Within a few minutes I was very much overcome by a sense of dread, a profound and palpable impression of being watched by an inimical presence. Later, I queried several of the villagers about the markers (which indicated trails to hunting and burial areas) and they told me that the region was absolutely unsafe to travel after dark due to aggressive spirits. In the years since, former racers, some of them hard-bitten ex-military men, trappers and hunters, have expressed identical experiences of the approach to Shageluk. [source]
The pylons were rude phalluses (p. 124)
Compare with the “phallus sculpted from human excrement” in “Bulldozer”. This seems a more permanent installation.
carved with lunatic symbols (p. 124)
Compare with “Immediately I noticed bizarre symbols scratched into the occasional boulder” found outside Belphegor’s cave in California, in “Bulldozer”.
The progenitor of all wasp nests sprawled across the ceiling like a fantastic alien city (p. 124)
There are over 1000 current species of paper wasps. The art of making paper from fibrous materials evolved in paper wasps over 65 million years ago, as fossil wasp nests have been found from the Upper Cretaceous [source]. Paper wasp nests have also been found preserved in amber. The image of wasps stinging dinosaurs is a fun one, and I suggest you try visualizing it. I'll wait. The paper-making process was discovered by humans around 2000 years ago.
While most paper wasp nests are of modest size (a few feet across) larger specimens do exist. A 22 foot wide nest was found in an abandoned house in the Canary islands in 2013. [source] A large subterranean nest was found in Tasmania in 2015. [source] The larger nests are earthbound, gravity being a limiting factor for suspended nests.
This was a polyp, as if the very fabric of the wooden ceiling had nurtured a cancer, a tumor swollen on the bloody juices of unspeakable feasts. The texture was translucent in portions, and its membranous girth enfolded a mass of indistinct shapes. (p. 124)
Compare with the sculpture in the barn in "Shiva, Open Your Eye":
Mr. Connell gaped upon the construct born of that yearning for truth slithering at the root of my intellect. He teetered as if swaying on the brink of a chasm. He beheld shuddering lines that a fleshly tongue is witless to describe, except perhaps in spurts of impression—prolongated, splayed at angles, an obliquangular mass of smeared and clotted material, glaucous clay dredged from an old and abiding coomb where earthly veins dangle and fell waters drip as the sculpture dripped, milky-lucent starshine in the cryptic barn, an intumescent hulk rent from the floss of a carnival mirror.
There are undeniable parallels in the contexts and the language used to describe the masses.
"Harold Carter. We were dorm mates," (p. 125)
If there is any significance to the name, I am unaware of it.
Too young by a couple of years for Viet Nam, (p. 126)
American troop involvement in the Vietnam War lasted from 1965 to 1973. Wallace would have to be younger than 18 in 1973 to be categorically too young to serve in Vietnam, putting his date of birth sometime after 1955. The story is set some undetermined number of years after 2002, capping Wallace’s possible age at around 50.
too old for anything that came about during the bitter end of the Cold War. (p. 126)
The Cold War ended (officially) with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Between the end of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and 1991, the country was involved in conflicts in Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), the Persian Gulf (1987-88), Panama (1989-1990), and the Gulf War (1990-1991). I’m uncertain what “too old” means in this context, but U.S. military recruitment is capped between 28 (Marines) and 35 (Army) and forced conscription was not used after 1973. In order to be too old to enlist for the Gulf War, Wallace would need to have been born around 1955. His age is given as 51 in section 4, which is consistent with the above, and a temporal setting of c. 2006 for the story.
he had been airlifted to Harbor View in Seattle. (p. 126)
Possibly Harborview Medical Center, in Seattle, a teaching hospital for the University of Washington, and the only trauma and burn center in the state. It was founded in 1877.
"Mr. Wallace, you are very unlucky in love , I think," Mr. Woo (p. 126)
Possibly a reference to the proverb “lucky at cards, unlucky in love”. Luck at cards is understood to generalize to luck in financial endeavours, which certainly applies to Wallace.
Gracie divorced me. (p. 126)
I don’t know if this is a reference to a particular individual. The only other Gracie in Laird’s fiction (so far) is a minor character who comes to a bad end in An Atlatl, near Rosendale. New York.
Beth was hell on wheels (p. 126)
I don’t know if this is a reference to a particular individual. There is a character named Beth in "The Carrion Gods in their Heaven", and Elizabeth Lochinvar, who goes by Liz, appears in several stories.
I thought you live in big house in Olympia. (p. 127)
This could be an intentional mistake to reflect Mr. Woo’s imperfect English.
She took the villa in Cancun. (p. 127)
Cancun, Mexico, is a city on the Yucatán Peninsula, known for its beaches and resorts. Glenn in Mysterium Tremendum states that “…Cancun isn’t Mexico. It’s an American college resort. Home away from home of damn fool tourists and yon Neanderthals.”
Here is some Reishi mushroom for Mrs. Wallace. (p. 127)
More flawed English from Woo. The Reishi or Lingzhi mushroom is known (*purported) to have miraculous health benefits. Benefits claimed include immune system modulation, restoration of the body to its natural state, allergy alleviation, tumour elimination, blood pressure reduction, among others. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2000 years. [source]
Delaney had bought Wallace an Irish blackthorn as a welcome home present. (p. 127)
The shillelagh (shi-LAY-lee) or blackthorn stick, is a traditional Irish walking stick and cudgel, typically made from a stout stick with a heavy knob at the tip.
Keloid stripes, reminiscent of burns or lashes. (p. 127)
Keloids are firm, rubbery lesions or shiny, fibrous nodules, composed mainly of collagen. They usually form where skin trauma has occurred—the collagen normally present in scar tissue overgrows in the area, forming fibrotic tumors over an area larger than the original wound. The keloids may also form spontaneously. They can be painful, itchy, and cosmetically problematic. They are much more frequent in people of African compared to European descent.
Seen in “Proboscis” and The Light is the Darkness.
Artificial: the trees, the houses, the windup people on the shaded streets. Wallace examined his hands; artificial too. (p. 127)
Derealization, the subjective sense that the external world is unreal, is a dissociative psychological symptom common to many disorders. Depersonalization is the subjective sense that one is detached from one’s body, that one’s body is unreal. Similar effects can be produced by psychedelic (hallucinogenic) substances. Both afflict, to various degrees, the characters in many stories.
He was Death waiting to dance as the guest of honor at Día de los Muertos. (p. 128)
Día de Muertos (Spanish for Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday celebrating and remembering those who have died. The multi-day holiday begins on October 31 and ends on November 2.
Doctor Green said he required more sleep (p. 128)
I don’t know if this is a reference to a particular individual, but he is something of an enigma. Dr. Green re-appears in “The Lagerstätte” (psychiatrist), “Catch Hell” (psychiatrist), The Croning (general practitioner?), and Hand of Glory (sawbones), all set in the Olympia region. The last is set in 1925, so it is likely a different person, probably a direct ancestor, given our knowledge of Barronisms. There is a Doc Green in “In a Cavern, in a Canyon”, a veterinary doctor in 1976 Alaska, and another Doc Green in Alaska in the late 19th-early 20th century in “The Beatification of Custer Poe”.
Are there any non-Green doctors? Yes, many, most of them PhDs and not physicians, but only a few (Dr. Toshi Ryoko, Dr. Campbell, Dr. Souza, and Dr. Kalamov) appear in more than one story. Dr. Green appears to be a far less ambiguous figure than the other recurring doctors, less of a character also, and frequently nothing more than a throwaway mention.
Wallace's closest friend, Skip Arden, (p. 128)
The fictional Arden family is rich and connected in Olympia. Myron Arden “own(s) the politicos, the cops, the stevedores and the stevedores’ dogs” in 1925 Olympia (Hand of Glory). The Broadsword Hotel in Olympia has an Arden Grand Ballroom (“Jaws of Saturn”). Argyle Arden is a phylogeographer, the last standing scion of the family c. 2005, and he lives in the Arden House, in an neighbourhood on the eastside of Olympia (The Croning).
This modern house was designed by a famous German architect (p. 128)
I don’t know enough about architecture to be able to guess who this might be referencing.
Mt. Rainier fumed patiently in its quarter of the horizon. (p. 128)
Mount Rainier (Mount Tacoma) is the highest mountain of the Cascade Range, and the highest in Washington state. It is an active stratovolcano, located about 60 miles due East of Olympia. Its glacier-covered peak is highly visible from the city.
Wallace's personal possessions countered the overwhelming Baroque overtones (p. 128)
The Baroque style originated around 1600 in Italy, and its subsequent spread across Europe was encouraged by the Catholic Church. It is characterized by richness of detail and ornamentation. The term is used pejoratively to describe works which have excessive ornamentation.
WWII American issue Browning .45 (p. 128)
This would be the Browning Model 1911 .45 Automatic Pistol, adopted in 1911 by the U.S. Army. [source]
the Model 76 African .416 (p. 128)
The Dakota Arms Model 76 line of hunting rifle was designed in 1986. It includes a Classic, Classic Deluxe, Alpine, Alpine Deluxe, Mannlicher, Safari, African, Professional Hunter, and Traveler iterations. The African model includes a straddle floorplate with inside release, drop belly magazine with four-round capacity, and a mercury recoil reducer in the stock fore-end. [source]
a Holland & Holland .500 (p. 128)
Holland and Holland is a British manufacturer of handmade rifles, founded in 1835. The .500/.465 rifle was created in the 1890s, and fires a large-bore round, suitable for all dangerous game. Available for purchase, pre-owned, for roughly $80,000 in 2017.
which had come to him from the private collection of a certain Indian prince (p. 128)
I don’t know if this is a reference to a particular Indian prince. All titles, privileges, and privy purses associated with princely states in India were abolished in June 1970 by an amendment to the Indian Constitution. There are still pretenders (in the non-pejorative technical sense of the word) to princely titles in India today.
You always wanted to be Hemingway (p. 128)
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American writer, whose economical style of writing was highly influential. His fame rests not only on his literary merit (he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954) but also on his stereotypically masculine lifestyle. He was an ambulance driver in WWI, was seriously wounded by mortar fire, hunted big game in America and Africa, sailed and fished in the Caribbean, was fascinated with bullfighting, covered the Spanish Civil War and World War II as a journalist, married and divorced many times, drank heavily, and finally shot himself with a double-barrel shotgun. The theme of emasculation is “prevalent” in his work, which featured a “male-centric world of masculine pursuits”. Casual misogyny and homophobia also featured.
drink the cantinas dry (p. 128)
Hemingway lived in Cuba for many years.
Maybe you'll end up like the old man, after all. Let's look at those pistols again, hmm? (p. 128)
A reference to Hemingway’s gun-facilitated suicide.
Helen's aides, Cecil and Kate, (p. 128)
I don’t if either Cecil or Kate is a reference to a particular person. There is an unrelated Cecil Eaton in The Imago Sequence, and Kates in “Slave Arm” and X’s for Eyes.
Bruno and Thor (p. 129)
I’m not sure if Bruno or Thor are references to a particular person or dog, beyond the fact that Thor is a obviously a figure in Norse Mythology.
trained by Earl Hutchison out in Yelm (p. 129)
Earl Hutchison also appears in The Imago Sequence (as Earl Hutchinson). Yelm is approximately 20 miles east-south-east of Olympia. I don't know if the name is a reference to a particular person.
Skip and Randy Freeman (p. 129)
I don’t know if Randy Freeman is a reference to a particular person. He is mentioned in “The Broadsword”.
Manfred and Elizabeth Steiner. (p. 129)
Not sure if either of these are references to real people. Manfred Steiner (b. 19562) is an Austrian former ski jumper, and the name given to an autistic child in Philip K. Dick’s novel Martian Time-Slip.
Dad divided his time between the VFW, the Masonic Temple and the Elks Lodge, (p. 129)
The Veterans of Foreign Wars is a non-profit association whose membership consists of veterans who served in the US Navy, Army, Marines, or Air Force and participated in “wars, campaigns or expeditions on foreign soil or hostile waters.” It was established in 1899.
The Freemasons are a fraternal organization, an association of men who gather for various aims, including charity works and social networking. Freemasonry uses themes drawn from stonemasonry, ancient Egypt, and Judaism in its rituals and symbolism.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is a fraternal organization founded in 1868 in New York, originally as a social club to circumvent restrictive drinking laws. The organization initially borrowed rituals and traditions from the Freemasons, but eventually developed its own identity.
playing canasta, (p. 129)
A rummy-type card game typically played with partners. Mentioned in Procession of the Black Sloth and “Catch Hell”.
rambling about "The Big One" as if he had jubilantly kissed a nurse in Time Square to celebrate V-J Day only last week. (p. 129)
A reference to the famous photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt V-J Day in Times Square, picturing a sailor kissing a white-clad nurse on the street.
V-J Day is Victory over Japan Day, the day that Japan surrendered, thus ending World War II (September 2, 1945).
You should ship her to Saint Pete's and be done with it. (p. 129)
Possibly a reference to Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, founded in 1888, the second largest hospital in the state.
discussing a prize Hereford (p. 129)
A breed of cattle.
he was a basso profundo who made Perry Mason sound like a Vienna choirboy (p. 129)
Basso profundo is the bass voice subtype with the lowest range.
Perry Mason is a fictional criminal defense lawyer, most famously portrayed on television by Raymond Burr, both during the television series’ initial run (1957-1966) and in 26 tv-movies from 1985-1993. His voice has been described as a “booming bass”. [source]
The Vienna Boys’ Choir is a choir of boy sopranos and altos, founded in 1498. It is ostensibly the best known boys’ choir in the world.
he had bought The Anarchist Cookbook (p. 129)
The Anarchist Cookbook, published in 1971, contained instructions for the production of explosives, telephone phreaking methods, and recipes for illicit drugs. It’s author requested that the book be taken out of print after his conversion to Anglicanism in 1976. The book has been in print sporadically since 1971, and has been transmitted online in text format since the early 1990s.
past the Mima Mounds (p. 129)
Mima mounds (pronounced MY-ma) are domelike mounds of dirt ranging in size from 3 to 50 metres in diameter and up to 2 m in height. They are found in groups as dense as 50 per hectare. They are found in Washington State, approximately 18 miles south-west of the capital, Olympia. See the Notes on Proboscis for more information, as they feature heavily in that story. They are briefly mentioned in The Light is the Darkness, Mysterium Tremendum, and “The Redfield Girls”.
He had recently completed a study of the behavior of crows in urban environments and planned to write a book. (p. 129)
Corvids display a level of intelligence superior to other birds and to most mammals. They exhibit behaviour consistent with a theory of mind, use tools, and are able to solve complex problems. A popular account can be found here.
You sue those sonsofbitches that own that Black Hills property. (p. 130)
From The Imago Sequence: "The ride from my loft in downtown Olympia served to prepare my game face. I took the 101 north, turned onto Delphi Road and followed it through the deep, dark Capitol Forest and up into the Black Hills." Mentioned in Mysterium Tremendum, “The Broadsword”. The Miller’s house is located there in The Croning.
Jerry Premus is champing at the bit (p. 130)
I don’t know if this is a reference to a particular person. This is his only appearance.
Go on thinking that, Sparky. (p. 130)
I don’t know if there is any significance to this nickname. Military radio operators were frequently given it. Peanuts creator Charles "Sparky" Schulz was named after the horse Spark Plug in the comic strip Barney Google. This is its only appearance.
a tall, conical hat. (p. 130)
Pointed conical hats have been worn in many cultures, but seem associated in the popular imagination with witches and dwarves from European folklore, for reasons perhaps derived from their occasional use in religious garb.
See also brief discussion of Tallhat in the Notes on Old Virginia. Conical hats also reappear in “Six Six Six”, and The Imago Sequence.
Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan (p. 130)
The Ku Klux Klan is a violent, nationalist, anti-immigration, and racist movement formed in reaction to the Civil War Reconstruction (1st Klan, 1865-1871), high immigration from Catholic nations (2nd Klan, 1915-1944) and the Civil Rights Movement (3rd Klan, 1946-present). The 2nd Klan adopted a standard white costume, with pointed hood intended to intimidate, and to conceal the identity of the member while allowing public participation in Klan activities. A Grand Dragon is ruler of a Realm, i.e. a state or territory. The robes of a Grand Dragon may be white, red, or green. [source]
Cortical blindness, the doctors said. (p. 131)
Total or partial vision loss caused by brain damage. The structure of the eye itself is unaffected – the signal gets through, but is not processed properly.
The worst part was the staph infection (p. 131)
Staphylococcus bacteria are round and form grape-like clusters. Several species (S. aureus, S. epidermis, etc.) are part of the normal flora found on the skin and upper respiratory pathways, causing no symptoms. Infections occur when they get through the surface of our protective layer – the skin and colonize the subsurface tissues, or enter the bloodstream (bacteremia). Meningitis, an acute inflammation of the protective membrane covering the brain, can result from a serious head injury.
It refused to scab and was constantly inflamed. (p. 131)
Inflammation is one of the responses of the immune system, and consists of swelling, redness, heat, and pain. It is a side-effect of the increased blood flow into the tissue surrounding the injured or infected cells. The increase in blood flow allows white blood cells to travel to the afflicted area. Blood is a key component in the thermoregulation of humans – heat produced by the internal organs warms the blood, which in turn warms the tissues into which it circulates. From there, the heat dissipates.
She had caught a strain resistant to antibiotics and was essentially screwed. (p. 131)
Antibiotic resistant strains (such as MRSA – methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus) have become more prevalent in recent years in hospital settings.
the RN Kate (p. 131)
She dressed in an official starched white pinafore (p. 131)
A pinafore is a sleeveless, backless garment worn as an apron over other clothes.
Ginger Rogers, he privately called her. (p. 131)
Ginger Rogers (1911-1995) was an American actress and dancer, well known for her performances in musical films with Fred Astaire. Tap dancing featured in some of these films, and this is what is being referenced here.
Startle reflex, was the medical term. (p. 131)
The startle reflex is an unconscious reaction to an external stimulus (sudden noise, sharp movement, touch) that serves to protect vulnerable parts. The head, shoulders, and arms will jerk away from the source in order to protect the neck, and the eyes will blink to shield them from danger.
She smelled of baby powder and antiseptic (p. 131)
The recipe for the fragrant oils responsible for characteristic smell of Johnson & Johnson baby powder (and imitators) is a closely guarded secret, but the two top fragrance notes appear to be rose and vanilla. The smell of antiseptic could be the sharp smell of ethanol, or a more elaborate compound.
Detective Adams caught Wallace on a good morning. (p. 132)
Possibly a reference to John Joseph Adams, assistant editor at The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from 2001 to 2009 (Hallucigenia was published therein in 2006), and editor of many genre anthologies since then. He is thanked in the acknowledgements section of Occultation and Other Stories. A Joe Adams is briefly mentioned in “Parallax”.
Wallace was killing a bottle of Hennessy Private Reserve (p. 132)
Jas Hennessy & Co. was founded in 1765 by an Irishman. The company merged with the French Moët et Chandon in 1971, and with Louis Vutton in 1987. It sells about 40% of the world’s cognac.
Wallace was smoking unfiltered Cheyenne cigarettes (p. 133)
Cheyenne International was founded in 2002, providing a lower boundary for the temporal setting of the story.
Rich folks get bored, sometimes they get mixed up with stuff they shouldn't. I've seen it before. There's a history in these parts. (p. 134)
Part of that history is explored in the many stories Laird has set in the area. See “Proboscis”, Hand of Glory, “Blackwood’s Babt”, “Catch Hell”, Mysterium Tremendum, “The Men From Porlock”, The Croning, “The Siphon”, “Jaws of Saturn”, and “The Redfield Girls”, for a start.
"The Choates. Morgan Choate." (p. 134)
Choate is an uncommon name of Anglo-Saxon origin, a variant of Shutt, an occupational name for an archer (shooter). There are Choates recorded as far back as the 16th century. What other significance might be attributed to the name eludes me.
I'd love to find Anton LaVey's nephew (p. 134)
Anton Szandor LaVey (born Howard Stanton Levey) (1930-1997) was an American author and occultist, best known as the founder of the Church of Satan, and writer of The Satanic Bible. He courted publicity and was the public face of the Church. He professed to be a skeptical atheist, and the Church of Satan is perhaps best understood as a defiant satire of Abrahamic faiths.
Developer from Snoqualmie holds the deed. (p. 134)
Snoqualmie is a small city east of Seattle.
Hell, bad apples even fell off the Kennedy tree. Right? (p. 135)
A reference to the politically active Kennedy family whose members notably include Senator then President John F. Kennedy, Attorney General and Senator Robert. F. Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy, along with a slew of town councilors, mayors, Lieutenant Governors, representatives, and ambassadors. Bad apples might include those involved in drug use and overdoses, alleged rape, DUIs, fatal (to others) accidents, and alleged assault.
A peacock strutted back and forth. (p. 135)
A reference to the Wallace poem that opens the story. See previous note. I’m unsure what the thematic significance might be.
the chandelier on its black chain, a mass of tiered crystal as unwieldy as any that ever graced the ballroom of a Transylvanian castle or a doomed luxury liner (p. 135)
References to Dracula and the Titanic. There are no mentions of chandeliers in Bram Stoker's text, so Laird is presumably referring to one or more of the numerous film adaptations of the story. The chandelier below was recovered from the wreckage of the Titanic. The luxury liner sank in 1912 in the north Atlantic after an unexpected encounter with an iceberg.
They crossed the new Fourth Avenue Bridge with its extra-wide sidewalks and faux Gaslight Era lampposts that conveyed a gauzy and oh-so-cozy glow (p. 136)
a swanky restaurant called The Marlin (p. 136)
There is currently no restaurant of that name in Olympia, nor could I find evidence that there has ever been one. It reappears in The Imago Sequence, where it is specified that it is “on the waterfront”. The Oyster House, located on 4th avenue just east of the bridge, on the waterfront, is the oldest restaurant in the state. It appears to offer slightly upscale service -- fine dining graded on an Olympia bell curve, perhaps. It is also named after a marine animal, making it my leading contender for The Marlin, but I would be grateful for any correction locals could provide. It burned down in 2013.
The Johnsons (p. 136)
I don’t know if this is a reference to a particular person.
and Steiners attended as a unit (p. 136)
I don’t know if this is a reference to a particular person. One candidate might be Professor Bradley J. Steiner, a Seattle martial artist in whose Jen Do Tao system Laird earned a third degree brown belt. [source] [source]
Barb and Michael Cotter (p. 136)
I don’t know if these are references to particular persons. Barb Cotter might be a reference to Barbara Cartland, a British romance novelist whom Laird read as a child. [source]
Mel Redfield, the former California poet laureate (p. 136)
There is no California poet laureate of that name. [Source] I don’t know if the name refers to a particular person, but there is every indication that it is. The name recurs in the Redfield Memorial Middle School in Olympia (not a real school, “The Redfield Girls”), the Redfield (Memorial) Museum of Natural History in Olympia (not a real museum, Hand of Glory and The Croning), and the Redfield Observatory (not real, “Blood and Stardust”) and as one of the old money families listed in The Croning. Mel Redfield has a peripheral role in The Croning:
Melvin Redfield the prodigal poet and heir apparent of the Pierce County Redfields, who owned enough of said county to convert it to a duchy were they so inclined. Melvin was a one-time high school baseball captain, fulltime wastrel, and prematurely gray. He’d always been shrill and his voice was in fine form after a snootful of Hennessy.
old man Bloom, the former city councilman, and his nephew Regis, (p. 136)
I don’t know if this refers to a specific person or persons.
Skip Arden, doing his best John Huston as The Man from the South (p. 136)
“Man from the South” is a short story by Roald Dahl. It was filmed for television and film several times, including in 1985 for the series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In the story, an old man (John Huston in the adaptation) wagers that a young man will be unable to light his lighter ten times in a row, staking his expensive automobile against the young man’s little finger.
Hong Kong tailor of legendary distinction (p. 136)
This might be a reference to Sam’s Tailor, founded in 1957 by Sam Melwani. His clients include British royalty, American presidents, and A-list celebrities. [Source]
Jacob Wilson, recent heir to the Wilson fortune, (p. 136)
I don’t know if this refers to a particular person. This Jacob Wilson re-appears in The Imago Sequence and “Jaws of Saturn”.
Jacob's bodyguard, Frank , a swarthy man in a bomber jacket (p. 136)
This might be a reference to Franco, Jacob Wilson’s bodyguard and the doomed protagonist of “Jaws of Saturn”. His girlfriend calls him “Frankie”.
the lone Rolling Rock beer he would order for the duration of the evening (p. 136)
An American beer launched in Pennsylvania in 1939. Mentioned also in The Croning and Blood Standard.
and his lovely, staid wife, Janice (p. 136)
I don’t know if this refers to a particular person.
the Jenson twins down from Bellevue, Ted and Russell who worked for Microsoft's public relations department (p. 136)
I don’t know if Ted and Russell Jenson refer to particular persons. Bellevue is a city located across lake Washington from Seattle. It is close to Redmond, Washington, home of software giant Microsoft.
the kind of semi-valuable jewelry Malloy's on State Avenue might rent by the evening (p. 136)
There is a State Avenue in Olympia, but I could find no mention of a Malloy’s. There is a Maloy’s Jewelry in Portland, Oregon (located on 10th Avenue).
The exit landing faced a narrow, dirty street and the sooty, featureless rear wall of Gossen's Fine Furniture. (p. 137)
I was unable to find a store of that name in Olympia or elsewhere. There is a Gossen company which is a manufacturer of PVC exterior furniture, decks, porches, and windows, but it has no stores – it sells to retailers, or through dealers. There is a Selden’s Fine Home Furnishings on 220 Legion Way in Olympia, which is a few streets south of 4th avenue. I don’t know what the significance of the name Gossen might be.
chopping like Pizarro through the Peruvian jungles on the trail of jaguars (p. 138)
Francisco Pizarro González (1471-1541) was a conquistador who conquered the Inca Empire (in modern-day Peru) for Spain.
"Prease, mistuh. You put a hotel in my rice paddy, mistuh." (p. 138)
A reference to the conversation Wallace escaped in the restaurant. I’m noting it only because I hadn’t made the connection in my first reading, and because it is another example of a common Barronism: characters displaying knowledge of private conversations or thoughts in order to unnerve another character. I've noted it before under the unsatisfying rubric "mind-reading".
The sodium lamp dimmed (p. 138)
Another well-travelled Barronism: lights flicker/die. It's unclear whether this is another example of the antagonist weaponizing horror tropes for maximum psychological impact on the protagonist. Is this effect under Choates' control, or an unintended consequence of his new nature? This is not to my knowledge conclusively determined in any story so far.
crowned with bizarre headgear reminiscent of a miter or a witch's hat (p. 138)
A miter is a tall headdress worn by senior church officials. It tapers to a point in the front and back, with a cleft in the middle.
The shade of Tommy Tune. (p. 138)
The only Tommy Tune that I can find information about is the American actor and choreographer (b. 1939), who is not deceased. He is however 199 cm (6 feet 6”) tall, which certainly qualifies as "very tall" (p. 138). This is the only sense that I can make of this sentence fragment.
One of the inheritors of the Earth (p. 138)
Compare with “Vastation”:
We’ll be long gone by then, scooped up into the slavering maw of functionally insensate apex predators, or absorbed into the folds of the great old inheritors of the Earth who revel and destroy, and scarcely notice puny us at all.
I am a digger of holes, an opener of doors (p. 138)
Call-back to “Bulldozer”:
Holes close. Holes open. I'm an Opener. They Who Wait live through me.
In self-aggrandising chattiness, predatory playfulness, and other aspects, Choates is cut from the same mold as Hicks.
I am here to usher in the dark. (p. 138)
Repeated three times in this story, and nowhere else.
The odor grew more pungent. Glutted intestines left to swell in greenhouse heat; a city stockyard in July. (p. 138)
The eau-de-Belphegor body odor is another characteristic shared with Hicks.
He lives in the cracks, Wally. The ones that run through everything. In the cracks between yesterday and tomorrow. Crawl into the dark, and there He is, waiting . . . (p. 138)
See previous notes on cracks.
A great, Neolithic cannibal was making love to his hand. (p. 139)
The Neolithic (“new stone”), the last part of the stone age, was a period lasting roughly from 12,000 to 6,500 years ago. It ended when metal tools became widespread, initiating the Bronze Age. Cannibalism is the practice of eating members of one’s own species. In humans, it has been practised since the dawn of time in periods of food shortage, and may have been practised ritualistically to eliminate corpses which might otherwise attract predators. The Neolithic does not appear to be a period in which cannibalism was more or less widespread – if anything the agricultural revolution, dated to this period, may have contributed to a reduction in the prevalence of cannibalism compared to the previous Paleolithic period.
There is a fetishization of "primitive", ancestral strains of humanity, which recurs in multiple stories, and which will be examined in greater detail when we look at The Imago Sequence and The Light is the Darkness.
Then his hand slipped deeper, as the beast grunted and gulped and the mouth closed softly over his forearm, (p. 139)
Another call-back to “Bulldozer”:
—Then He bites off my shooting hand.
ask if he should be mixing Demerol with ten different kinds of booze (p. 139)
Demerol is the commercial name for Pethidine, a synthetic opioid pain medication. As with all opioids, it binds with opioid receptors in the brain to produce morphine-like effects (pain reduction, sleepiness, feelings of pleasure), and carries a significant risk of addiction.
Know what I shelled out for that? (p. 139)
Online prices vary from $45 (Amazon.com) to $175 (Oldshillelagh.com) in 2017 dollars.