Simon Kurt Unsworth: Ode to Lovecraft
British author Simon Kurt Unsworth has an impressive list of publications to his name. He has won horror awards and has released a number of novels and short story collections. His short story, “Into the Water,” appears in Best New Horror, Volume 25 as an ode to H.P. Lovecraft. It is ironic then that Unsworth prefaces this story with a harsh (though accurate) critique of Lovecraft, even while he admits to enjoying some of the stories.
I agree with Unsworth, who says Lovecraft can be stuffy – even claustrophobic – and hysterical, to the point of featuring cliché characters who veer dangerously close to the stereotypical (and, I’d add, given Lovecraft’s personal views – racist). There is something elemental about Lovecraft’s stories, but they are rarely subtle, and in tackling “Into the Water” after a haunting image refused to release his imagination, Unsworth had to find that balance in capturing the atmosphere of the classic author without embodying the more negative aspects
“Into the Water” tells the story of journalists witnessing a massive global flooding event. Nothing imminent and quickly encroaching, but a slow, steady rise of the waters as towns are overtaken one by one all over Europe. Everyone is at a loss for why the waters are rising, but it is growing more and more apparent that the worst has yet to come. Cameraman Isaac Kapenda is on assignment when he meets the enigmatic David and starts finding strange figurines in some of the flood zones. The figurines represent denizens of a long-lost civilization, and as frightening as they appear, they are merely harbingers to what is coming in with the flood.
Unsworth succeeds in capturing the mythos of Lovecraft in this terrifying tale about the eve of humanity’s destruction as seen by one of the witnesses to the event, and possibly even the only person to know what’s going on.
I drink a Miller Lite at the Rowdy Beaver with my lunch – a double-cheeseburger and some fries – before walking around downtown Eureka Springs. The town is unlike anything one might expect from Arkansas. An artist community highlighted by Victorian homes that line the red-curbed historic district, a haven built onto the sides of two facing hills for the fringe of Southern culture: painters and writers and bikers and the sexually marginalized.
I visit the Basin Park Hotel and some of the underground historical Prohibition sites. It’s fun to visit the curio shops aligning the cobblestone streets. There are a few small art galleries with just enough paintings to take up time enjoying them. There is a magic shop whose curator is more than welcome to put on a brief slight-of-hand show. I visit the old library and search the reference stacks for historical books on Eureka Springs. Inspired by the magic shop and my month-long mission, I search for books on the occult. On real magic. I heard there is a secret history of the town. Mythic. Supernatural. Water flows in wellsprings underneath the soil. Limestone is the material of choice in the construction of the buildings. Ghosts are attracted to both.
When I emerge from the library, dusk is settling. The slope to the west is steep, enough to obscure the setting sun. It’s the same effect as being caught downtown in a major city under the penumbra of skyscrapers while at twilight, while in the suburbs it’s still sunny.
I have work to get done, and so I’m called back up to the Crescent. A set of concrete steps lead up a nearby hill, into the wilderness. I know the hotel is up there, somewhere. It is dark and the leaves scuttle over the steps, a solitary sound, made all the more ominous as the steps ascend to shadows.
Maybe it’s a sign. I’ve read too many horror novels and too many ghost stories. But I have a deadline to meet, and I’m only on October 11th and there are thirty-one days this month. And I haven’t even begun to touch on the number of great horror and genre stories out there.