PseudoPod 699: Flash on the Borderlands LI: Quaint and Curious Forgotten Lore
Dr. Lambshead’s Dark Room:
“I started my publishing career writing about Edgar Allan Poe, who has been a formative influence on my work since I was a child. I wrote an article in which I coined the term Poepathy to describe the uncanny and infectious influence he seems to have not only on US letters, but throughout the world. In writing it, I realized in diagnosing others I was diagnosing myself, and so “Dr. Lambshead’s Dark Room” became the satirical “therapy notes” for my own Poepathy.”
A Dark Bird
by Bradley H. Sinor
She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. The words of the poems echoed in her head.
She hesitated for only a moment before crossing the threshold, as the blue flames wrapped around her, sending a tingling cold into the deepest bits of her.
For the longest time there was nothing, finally in the distance came the sound of water gently lapping against the piers of a dock, the cold December winds reaching out onto the water. A dark bird of her desire circled near her.
“The one you seek is near,” said the creature.
Two men in the heavy jackets and caps of seamen shivered as she passed, one crossing himself and drawing deeper within his jacket. The other crossed himself, glancing up into the sky at the full moon.
“Why do you torment me?” she asked the bird.
The creature landed atop a broken hitching rail. The top bore a slight resemblance to a man’s head. It preened the ink dark feathers, then looked at her.
“You are the one who torments yourself, pulling yourself here beyond the barriers of time and space and desire. You found his words, his dreams and you want him, you want him as a part of yourself; but you can’t have him, you know that as well as I,” said the bird.
In the distance was a tolling bell, marking the hour. The house she found herself standing in front of was small, two stories. She saw the small plate near the door, 203 Amity Street. The dark bird circled and landed on her shoulder.
It took her a long time before she could make herself reach up and rap on the door, three soft sounds and then nothing. For what seemed like hours she stood silently, watching the door; the sounds of the city distant even here.
When no answer to her knock came, she found herself walking into the house without invitation. The dark bird on her shoulder murmured sounds into her ear as she moved into the room and saw him.
He sat slumped in a worn leather chair, a pile of ancient volumes spread at his feet.
“Are you here, or do I dream again?” he asked without looking toward her.
“I am here,” she replied. “As for dreaming, who can say if this is your dream, mine or perhaps someone else’s?”
“Yet each time you come you take a bit of my soul with you when you leave,” he said. The dark bird made the leap from her shoulder to the arm of his chair, then flitted over to a bust that stood in the corner of the room. “Why do you torment me, Lenore? You know I have loved you, but you are always beyond my reach.”
“And you beyond mine,” she said, leaning forward to let her lips brush his cheek. “Goodbye, Edgar.”
Then, before he could speak, she turned and went back through the door. Outside the house a man in a long cape, white scarf and dark hat, with three roses and a bottle of cognac in his hand, stood.
“Lenore,” he said and offered her his arm. A moment later blue flames wrapped around them as the two walked on.
The man in the house remained unmoving in his chair as the distant church bell tolled midnight. He finally bestirred himself, taking a sheet of paper, a pen in his hand and began to write, speaking each word as his pen moved.
“Once upon a midnight dreary….’
Dr. Lambshead’s Dark Room
by Selena Chambers
About ten years ago, Dr. Lambshead published an article in the Psychomesmeric Quarterly about hypnotic techniques inherited from his grandfather, a great confidant of Herr Mesmer. Among Lambshead’s mesmeric family legacy was the Valdemar method that enabled the doctor, so he claimed, “to extract from even the most cavernous subconscious those diseases that afflicted the soul, as demonstrated in the mesmeric stories of Edgar Allan Poe.”
As a Poe scholar, the doctor’s claims intrigued me and I wrote him requesting a demonstration. I knew the good Doctor could not resist a challenge, so to further intrigue him I mentioned that I felt riddled with a disease of influence that was affecting my work and love life, and offered myself up as the proverbial guinea pig. Within a fortnight I received an invitation to his house, “the only place,” he wrote, “where the Valdemar method could be manifested.”
Surprisingly, Dr. Lambshead appeared to have no maid or butler, and was already waiting at the door when I arrived. An ancient but spry man in a tailored silk bathrobe, he was headed down the hallway before I could put my bags down and greet him.
“To the matter at hand,” he said. “Don’t tell me a thing. That is for the Dark Room to show.”
He waved me inside and led me to the back of the house where he pulled aside a faded Turkish rug to reveal a trap door that fell open into a dark and dusty staircase. He descended into that darkness, and I followed him down several flights, feeling my way around the rocky walls, until he suddenly halted and clapped his hands repeatedly. When he stopped clapping, several floating orbs illuminated the basement.
“Will-o-the-wisps,” Lambshead said, “from the Iberian coast. I caught them with one of Nabokov’s butterfly nets.” I looked at the floating lights which graduated from green to purple, blue to red like childhood’s LED sparklers. I held out my hand and one alighted on my finger—its touch cool as the Mediterranean.
“How…how do they…?”
“Float? Live? Glow?” He shrugged. “Curious, no?”
This response disappointed me. It was unlike a man of science to pass up a chance to explain away the world. He smiled: “Even in this century, there are still wonders beyond explanation. They are rare, but they do exist, and it has been my hobby, I suppose you could say, to collect all the world’s true curios, as you will see. But no more words for now unless prompted; it disrupts the process!”
We continued through the hallway, and the willo-the-wisps grew brighter as we walked through the cabinet until we entered a dark chamber, empty but with the exception of two worn Louis XVI chairs.
“Ah, now we can really begin.”
He sat in one chair and gestured for me to occupy the other. The will-o-the-wisps floated out of our hands and hovered between our eyes. They undulated, glowing and dimming in tune with my heart-beat that swooshed through my ears.
“I want you to watch the wisps,” he whispered, “and tell me: have you experienced these following symptoms: soaring soul, existential exigency, speaking in cryptically symbolic metaphor, vertigo caused by sublimity, vision heightened by chiaroscuro, dead-dwelling, or head-swelling?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Hmmmm….” His disbelieving expression ebbed into a dare-to-hope.
The two will-o-wisps glowed blindingly blue and I became dizzy and hot, and the doctor and the wisps became double exposed, and somehow I was split twain by the sides until there were two of me. One sat in front of Lambshead and the undulating wisps, while the other, conscious and seeing, was free to traverse the room.
“Do you suffer from daydreaming reflex with reveries that include blackbirds, scents of an unseen censor, or aberrant alliterative applications?”
Beady eyes glowed from the wisps, and wings fluttered by my ears. I smelled dried flowers and cut grass, upturned earth and the fading waft of fabric softener. I looked at my sitting-self in the chair and heard her indolent “Yes.”
“What else do you see?”
The wisps left Lambshead and my sitting-self to illuminate the corners of the empty room where ebon bookcases grew from the walls and within them appeared objects that my sitting-self described: Jaundiced blueprints of a non-Euclidian pendulum; a stuffed cat with a hissing throat encircled in white fur; a fractured skull chilling a broken bottle of blood-thick sherry; a tailor’s mannequin wearing a white blood-soaked and dirt-streaked dressing gown, its neck a splintered pine plank engraved with claw marks.
Beside the cases stood a stuffed gorilla. I couldn’t help but touch its fur, which turned to feathers and fluttered to the ground, revealing the tarred and mal-formed skeleton of a dwarf. Through its eye socket a gold beetle climbed out and over to a shelf that held a jar of putrescence and nestled itself in an open locket containing a strand of blonde hair speckled black.
At the very bottom of the bookshelves were several jorums filled with animated landscapes: tiny ships thrust between a maelstrom pint; a littoral liter with a weeping willow tree overlooking a craggy shore; and a quart of electrified clouds in the shape of women hovering over an abandoned manse, crying dust and leaves.
“What are these?” I asked Lambshead. From his chair he looked up to the ceiling, unsure of my voice’s source.
“What do they look like?” he asked my sitting-self. I heard her describe the jorums and he smiled.
“Mood,” he spoke into the ether, “They are jars of mood.”
I squatted at the bookshelf and selected one containing the cosmos. Several minute stars swam like strawberry seeds within a phosphorescent jam. They churned and congealed into the sun heating the glass. It burned my hand and I dropped it. With a loud bang, it exploded on the floor, incinerating all within the jar and melting the glass, which pooled and cooled into a Bristol blue fetus.
Before I could retrieve it, I heard Lambshead command me awake and suddenly I was back in the chair—whole—and subject to his sherry-sweet breath. The bookshelves, the taxidermy, curios and jars were all gone, but on the ground remained the glass fetus, which the doctor rushed to rescue.
He coddled it in his palm. “This—this is what ails you!”
“Of the imagination, yes. You thought you had a disease of influence, but it is much, much worse. You have a disease of the imagination, probably from too much Poe. But don’t worry, this here is your cure.”
“I thought you said it was what ails me?”
“You are cured,” he said, ignoring me. “And I have another child for my cabinet!” He waved the wisps away and they dimmed in rejection. Before I could ask what the other children were, he rushed me from the basement and out of his house.
I did not see where he kept the Dark Room’s off-spring, and I suppose now I never will, but after I left Lambshead and his curious cabinet, I admit I felt a lot lighter. Before booting me off the steps, he gave me permission to write of my disease, which seemed to ameliorate my condition more.
Having been able to resume a normal life, I am forever indebted to that cabinet and to Dr. Lambshead. When I read of his death, just three years later, I mourned not only the loss of that great man, but also of his dark room and its soul-ware nursery that has inevitably become overexposed and returned to the ether.
The Conqueror Worm
by Edgar Allan Poe
Lo! ’t is a gala night
Within the lonesome latter years!
An angel throng, bewinged, bedight
In veils, and drowned in tears,
Sit in a theatre, to see
A play of hopes and fears,
While the orchestra breathes fitfully
The music of the spheres.
Mimes, in the form of God on high,
Mutter and mumble low,
And hither and thither fly—
Mere puppets they, who come and go
At bidding of vast formless things
That shift the scenery to and fro,
Flapping from out their Condor wings
That motley drama—oh, be sure
It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore
By a crowd that seize it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
To the self-same spot,
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
And Horror the soul of the plot.
But see, amid the mimic rout,
A crawling shape intrude!
A blood-red thing that writhes from out
The scenic solitude!
It writhes!—it writhes!—with mortal pangs
The mimes become its food,
And seraphs sob at vermin fangs
In human gore imbued.
Out—out are the lights—out all!
And, over each quivering form,
The curtain, a funeral pall,
Comes down with the rush of a storm,
While the angels, all pallid and wan,
Uprising, unveiling, affirm
That the play is the tragedy, “Man,”
And its hero, the Conqueror Worm.
About the Authors
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849) was an American writer, editor, and literary critic. Poe is best known for his poetry and short stories, particularly his tales of mystery and the macabre. He is widely regarded as a central figure of Romanticism in the United States and American literature as a whole, and he was one of the country’s earliest practitioners of the short story. Poe is generally considered the inventor of the detective fiction genre and is further credited with contributing to the emerging genre of science fiction. He was the first well-known American writer to try to earn a living through writing alone, resulting in a financially difficult life and career.
Bradley H. Sinor
Bradley H. Sinor has been writing for five/sixths of his life, and has written many short stories, most of them published in a variety of anthologies and three short story collections. His Holmsian collection – The Game’s Afoot: A Sherlock Holmes Miscellany, published by Pro Se Productions – is available on Amazon. His new novel, ‘The Eye Of Dawn’, is forthcoming from Airship 27 Productions. He lives in Tulsa, OK, with his wife, (writer and copy-editor) Sue Sinor, and three cats. He can be contacted on his Facebook page as Brad Sinor.
Selena Chambers’ fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a variety of venues including Clarkesworld, The Non-Binary Review, Tor.com, Literary Hub, and Luna Luna Magazine. Her work has been nominated for Pushcart, Best of the Net, the Hugo, two World Fantasy awards, as well as a Colorado Book Award for Mechanical Animals, which she co-edited with Jason Heller for Hex Publishing. “Dr. Lambshead’s Dark Room” can be found in her debut story collection, Calls for Submission (Pelekinesis). To learn more about Selena, you can find her either on Twitter and IG as @BasBleuZombie, via her Tinyletter or on her website.
About the Narrators
Wayne was born and raised in New Jersey (USA). He worked as a clinical scientist in the pharmaceutical industry for 40+ years. He currently lives in south central Kentucky, the land of Bourbon, Corvettes, and corrupt politicians.
Matt Franklin is a narrative developer and vocal talent working in the game design industry. He would like to thank his director, Pauline Lu, for continued support
Tatiana Grey is a New York City based actress of stage, screen, and of course, the audio booth. She adores traveling and counts her lucky stars that acting and dancing have taken her all over the United States, to Montreal, Vancouver, Ireland, and Holland… but she loves coming home to New York where it all started. Equally at home speaking heightened language in a corset, in a leather jacket spouting obscenities, and as a dancer she has been compared to such dark, vivacious heroines as Helena Bonham Carter, a young Winona Ryder and Elliot Page. This depth and facility with multiple genres garnered her a New York Innovative Theatre Award Best Featured Actress nomination for her work in The Night of Nosferatu. Her facility with accents has landed her quite a few audiobooks and numerous on-camera roles including the role of Evgenya in the award winning I am A Fat Cat. Tatiana is a proud member of Actor’s Equity Association.