A Mountain Walked

by Various Authors, S.T. Joshi (Ed.)

“This prayer must be for you—for you and all the others who must be left behind, who cannot walk with me, up that final flight of wooden stairs, to peace and escape, who must go on living in the shadow of a monstrous evil of which they are not even aware, and so, can never destroy.”
-C. Hall Thompson

There’s a lot to cover here not just because the book is massive, but because the stories are complex and there’s an unusual concentration of highly ranked entries.

First things first, A Mountain Walked is an ambitious undertaking. Originally released in a limited edition by Centipede Press, a very similar trade edition was later released by Dark Regions Press. The two versions differ slightly in story content, with Dark Regions dropping a few and adding another. Editor S.T. Josh has stated he feels the Dark Regions book to be in some ways superior to that of Centipede’s in the area of content, citing for the Centipede release he was forced to include a couple of stories by H.P. Lovecraft that didn’t fit the rest of the book. Thematically he is at least partially correct, but from a book-lover’s perspective not so much. Not only is the Centipede release of a quality that is to be championed, the inclusion of the two Lovecraft stories in question was thematically important, though in a non-standard capacity:

Centipede reached out to authors John Kenn Mortensen and Thomas Ott to pick a favorite Lovecraft story and write a series of illustrations for it. And not only are they wonderful tales of horror, they’re beautifully illustrated (pics below).

In terms of artwork there’s no comparison between the versions with Centipede’s containing huge amounts including standard story art, multiple portfolios and comics, but the story list itself is very similar. Here’s the breakdown of differences, and there’s a picture of the Centipede T.O.C. in the gallery below:

Dark Regions exclusive:
“The Man with the Horn” by Jason V. Brock

Centipede exclusives:
“Man with No Name” by Laird Barron
“Thirteen Hundred Rats” by T.C. Boyle
“Rupa Worms from Outer Space” by Denis Tiani
“Pickman’s Model” by H.P. Lovecraft (illustrated)
“The Lurking Fear” by H.P. Lovecraft (illustrated)
“Excerpts from a Notebook” by Drazen Kozjan (illustrated)

Centipede’s edition is, by a long shot, the greater of the two anthologies. There is, of course, a huge difference in price. Centipede has the large format, extra stories, tons of artwork and the signatures, and it’s going to cost you. In this case, as in many others with this publisher, it’s worth it. For purposes of completion, all stories from each version are considered here.

*Note: some of the lowest numbered Centipede editions (appears to be a few dozen of them) have an additional overlay page tipped in with Neil Gaiman’s and T.C. Boyle’s signatures—the vast majority of the 500 signed editions do not have this page.

There’s a link below for a synopsis of each story, but let’s look at the monster standouts.

“The Deep Ones” by James Wade – Mr. Dorn joins the small research team of Dr. Wilhelm and his assistant Josephine to study dolphins. As the research deepens one dolphin in particular, Flip, is the main focus. Josephine is hypnotized and left with Flip for long periods of time, searching for a telepathic link and yielding disastrous consequences.

This is an outstanding story examining the intelligence of dolphins and what it might mean. And in this case, it means there may be another species on the planet capable of killing man faster than man himself.

“Where Yidhra Walks” by Walter C. DeBill, Jr. – Peter Kovacs is traveling when he’s confronted by a tornado and trapped in a town he will not be able to escape until water levels decrease. During his stay he learns some of the local legends of an Indian cult entwined with the town’s past and he investigates, meeting an alluring young woman along the way.

This is one of the best ‘trapped in a small town and trying to escape’ stories you can find in horror. It’ll get your heart pounding but at the same time asks questions about the history of man and Earth—questions that haven’t yet been answered to many peoples’ satisfaction. Tying everything together into the legendary world of Lovecraft, this is one of the greatest stories in the book.

“Virgin’s Island” by Donald Tyson – Told through the recovered remains of a journal, this is the terrifying exploration of an island all but inaccessible to modern man. Strange rock formations seen from the sea at certain times of the day and times of the year have helped perpetuate the sailor’s superstition to “salute the lady” when near the island.

Virgin’s Island is an incredible story in a book of incredible stories teaming with high notes on the horror scale. Since the journal we’re reading from was only recoverable by about 75%, our imaginations work overtime in the gaps, and although a coherent story is told with what remains an extra layer of mystery evolves due to the partially incomplete account.

Furthermore, after the explorer contacts his high school friend, an expert climber, to help him manage the virtually unscalable cliffs, we get the bonus of both the academic mind and the physical expertise to explore realms like this. The natural human fear of subterranean caverns adds a further element of terror, let alone the Lovecraftian monstrosities present throughout these stories.

As far as the modern take on the Lovecraftian mythos, stories don’t get any better, or more infused with creeping dread followed by true horror, than this one. It’s another you absolutely do not want to miss.

“Greater than the mighty ocean is the sea of time on which we float, unbounded and infinite. Who knows what wonders, what horrors, may have transpired in the dim past, before our race stood erect?”

“[Anasazi]” by Gemma Files – A paramedic and his partner, along with two firemen, break down the door of a retired anthropologist only for our main character, Colin, to be viciously attacked by the old man and hurt badly enough he’s forced into retirement; the old man dies in the process. Circumstances lead Colin into renting the same apartment the deceased has vacated, and as he and a new friend digs through the old man’s belongings he begins to feel an ancient, inevitable pull towards violence for the sake of itself. Affecting Colin and others in the area, unveiled slowly in a parallel architecture, are the spirits of the Anasazi Indians, who left this world purposely in a kind of mass suicide in order to spectrally travel the universe and dominate all living species.

This one was brilliant, a near-perfect story of the downward spiral of a man adrift in a society of violence, crammed into close quarters with other people and yet perpetually alone. The story gives us the idea these ancient humans, now war-veterans of the entire galaxy, are coming home to finally destroy the last remaining enemy. What makes it so smart is the influence the Anasazi have on a local area, an area increasing daily in bizarre acts of violence and frenzy, yet we hear similar acts all the time on our regular news. Either we don’t need these ancient warmongers’ influences to devolve into animals, or we do and they’re already here.

“We are the coming wave, the wind of dust, the End of All Things. We are the Unspoken Word, the name whose sound heralds plague without cure. Not the first, we still will be last, or know the reason why.”

“Thirteen Hundred Rats” by T.C. Boyle – An elder gentleman in small community has lost his wife and fallen into despair. His friends keep telling him that he needs to get a pet to help with the loss, and he eventually buys a python. After realizing he’d need to feed the snake rats, he buys a few while his neighbors are on vacation, and after they return they wish they’d never left.

This one’s oddly compelling, and not just because it’s the great T.C. Boyle. The type of story doesn’t exactly fit like a glove with the rest of the anthology, but it is so well put together and disturbingly moving it gets to the point you can’t imagine it not being included.

And now I think I need a pet.

Just because the above stand out as perfect or near-perfect stories, it’s not the case that others pale by comparison. Many other excellent stories are present here with only one miss in the entire collection. Here are some further standouts:

“The House of the Worm” –  Mearle Prout
“Spawn of the Green Abyss” – C. Hall Thompson
“Black Man with a Horn” – T.E.D. Klein
“The Last Feast of Harlequin” – Thomas Ligotti
“Mandelbrot Moldrot” – Lois H. Gresh
“…Hungry…Rats” – Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
“In the Shadow of Swords” – Cody Goodfellow
“John Four” – Caitlin R. Kiernan
“Beneath the Beardmore” – Michael Shea
“Pickman’s Model” – H.P. Lovecraft (Centipede only – illustrated)
“Excerpts from a Notebook” – Drazen Kozjan (Centipede only – illustrated)

full story list

Centipede claimed on its site, “This landmark anthology will surely be known as a classic in its field,” and the book lives up to that hype. In the end this is an instant classic and already a timeless work of art in word, picture and production. Check it out if you get a chance. It’s likely there’ll never be another Lovecraft anthology to match this one. It’s a shame only the stories themselves are averaged out to rate a book here, but no system is perfect.

As Donald Tyson writes, “It’s a curious thing to relate in the chill rationality of written words, but when I look away from it, the memory of it in my mind appears to dance.”

4 stars

 

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