The Weird: Phantasmagorical and Uncanny Paragraphs

Celebrating a Century of Weird Fiction

The Weird cover image

Today is the official The Weird compendium release date for media outlets in the United Kingdom. In honor of that, Adam Mills helped us compile a sampling of paragraphs from stories in the anthology (full table of contents here).

Come back next week when we’ll run fiction from Leena Krohn, an interview with Michal Ajvaz (and original fiction), features on Alfred Kubin and Franz Kafka, and an interview with Margo Lanagan. Enjoy! 

– Ann & Jeff VanderMeer


No one knew at what time he had gone out, nor where he had been. He was found lying on his back above high-water mark, and an old cardboard bandbox that had belonged to his wife lay under his hand, open. The lid had fallen off. He seemed to have been carrying home a skull in the box – doctors are fond of collecting such things. It had rolled out and lay near his head, and it was a remarkably fine skull, rather small, beautifully shaped and very white, with perfect teeth. That is to say, the upper jaw was perfect, but there was no lower one at all, when I first saw it. — F. Marion Crawford, “The Screaming Skull”


They began their revolting work. They resembled hideous torturers, blood flowing on their hands as they dug ever more deeply into the frigid corpse and pulled out its innards, like white cooks gutting a goose. Around their arms coiled the intestines – green-yellow snakes – and faeces dripped on their coats – a warm, putrid fluid. They punctured the bladder, the cold urine in it glistening like yellow wine. They poured it in large bowls, and it reeked of pungent, acrid ammonia. But the dead man slept. He patiently let them tug at him and pull his hair. He slept. - Georg Heym, “The Dissection”  (translation by Gio Clairval)

Moved by a lively curiosity, I approached the glass case indicated by the green man’s paralyzed gaze and could not repress the shudder that coursed through my every limb: on the shelf I saw a large leaf that had an appearance not unlike that of the prickly pear. But on its surface I did indeed see two eyes, formed with wonderful precision – two very human eyes that seemed to stare out at me in an unpleasant and sinister way. I stepped back, utterly appalled by the sight. -Luigi Ugolini, “The Vegetable Man” (translation by Brendan and Anna Connell)


No need to say how highly he esteemed himself as a painter. His paintings were so different in brushwork and colouring from those of other painters that many of his colleagues, who were on bad terms with him, considered him an impostor. Several legends affirmed that the famous paintings by the ancient masters like Kawanari, Kanaoka and others were so well rendered that one could smell the fragrance of the plum blossoms painted on the doors as the delicate scent wafted about in the moonlit nights, and one could also hear the courtiers painted on a screen play their flutes. But all the paintings by Yoshihide seemed to elicit disturbing feelings. One would cite the scene of the Goshushoji 3, the cycle of births and deaths, hung on the portal of the Ryugai temple. Each time one passed under the gate at night, one could hear the celestial creatures sigh and sob. Some said they could smell the stench of rotting corpses. - Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “The Hell Screen”


The thing that lay half-bent on its side in a foetid pool of greenish-yellow ichor and tarry stickiness was almost nine feet tall, and the dog had torn off all the clothing and some of the skin. It was not quite dead, but twitched silently and spasmodically while its chest heaved in monstrous unison with the mad piping of the expectant whippoorwills outside. Bits of shoe-leather and fragments of apparel were scattered about the room, and just inside the window an empty canvas sack lay where it had evidently been thrown.  - H.P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”


One of these books had diagrams and symbols in the margin which he took to be mathematical formulae of a kind he did not know. He presently discovered that they were drawn, not printed, and that the book was in manuscript, in a very neat, crabbed black writing that resembled black-letter printing. It was moreover in Latin, a fact that gave Mr Corbett a shock of unreasoning disappointment. For while examining the signs in the margin, he had been filled with an extraordinary exultation as though he knew himself to be on the edge of a discovery that should alter his whole life. But he had forgotten his Latin. - Margaret Irwin, “The Book”


For the love of heaven,’ he said nervously, ‘don’t give my idea such real importance! There’s no proof that existence is possible outside of our three ordinary dimensions. Just as we’ve never discovered any two-dimensional beings from the world of surfaces, or one-dimensional beings from the linear world, we must be indiscernible to beings, if there are any, who live in worlds having more dimensions than ours. I’m in no mood to give you a lesson in hypergeometry, Mr. Ballister, but I’m sure of one thing: there are spaces different from ours’ - Jean Ray, “The Mainz Psalter


I realized right away that the atmosphere of the town was an artificial creation whose existence relied on the subtle attentions of its inhabitants. It was not just its buildings. The entire system of individual nerves that came together to create its atmosphere was focused on one single, central aesthetic plan. In everything from the slightest stirrings in the air, there was strict adherence to the aesthetic laws of contrast, symmetry, harmony, and equilibrium. These aesthetic laws entailed, however, extremely complicated differential equations that, requiring tremendous effort, made all of the nerves of the town quiver and strain. For instance, even uttering a word slightly too high in pitch was forbidden, for it would shatter the harmony of the entire town. When the inhabitants did anything – when they walked down the street, moved their hands, ate, drank, thought, or even chose the pattern of their clothing – they had to give painstaking attention to their actions to make sure they harmonized with the reigning atmosphere and did not lose the appropriate degrees of contrast and symmetry with their environs. - Hagiwara Sakutarō, “The Town of Cats”


I looked into the black funnel of the instrument and saw deep inside the vague outline of the back of the Sanatorium. Intrigued, I put my head deeper into the rear chamber of the apparatus. I could now see in my field of vision the maid walking along the darkened corridor of the Sanatorium, carrying a tray. She turned round and smiled. ‘Can she see me?’ I asked myself. An overwhelming drowsiness misted my eyes. I was sitting, as it were, in the rear chamber of the telescope as if in the back seat of a limousine. A light touch on a lever and the apparatus began to rustle like a paper butterfly; I felt that it was moving and turning toward the door. - Bruno Schulz, “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass”


When the captives were first thrown into their cubicles, the long sheet was heavy with water. The warders had soaked the material so thoroughly that in the folds the water had gathered into lakes. The warders then issued their instructions. The captives were to wring the sheet dry. It would not do to wring the sheet to what we would normally call a ‘dry’ state – as of clothes ready for airing. On the contrary – this sheet must be purged of every moisture. It must be wrung as dry as a bone. This, the warders concluded, might take a long time. It might even take months of hard work. In fact, they had taken special care to treat the linen so that it would be durable over a lengthy period. But when the task was finally completed, then the men and women would be granted their freedom. They would be released. - William Sansom, “The Long Sheet”


By and by, this lady followed the Skull to his house, and the house was a hole which was under the ground. When they reached there both of them entered the hole. But there were only Skulls living in that hole. At the same time that they entered the hole, he tied a single cowrie on the neck of this lady with a kind of rope, after that, he gave her a large frog on which she sat as a stool, then he gave a whistle to a Skull of this kind to keep watch on this lady whenever she wanted to run away. Because the Skull knew already that the lady would attempt to run away from the hole. Then he went to the back-yard to where his family were staying in the day time till night. - Amos Tutuola, “The Complete Gentleman”


Oh, why did I have to listen to you?’ said the captain. ‘Now I fear for you. That thing you see poking out of the water and following us is not a thing. That is a colomber. It’s the fish sailors fear above all others, in every sea in the world. It’s a dreadful and mysterious shark, more cunning than man. For reasons that perhaps no one will ever know, it chooses its victim, and when it has chosen a man, it pursues him for years and years, for a lifetime, until it devours him. And the strange thing is that nobody can see him but the victim himself and blood relations.’ -Dino Buzzati, “The Colomber” (translation by Gio Clairval)


Toward the middle of the day mysterious beasts appeared. Ten metres at least wide, they resembled giant jellyfish or octopuses. Tentacles as thick as tree trunks. Umbrella shells strangely speckled with red – a detail that made them even more repulsive. They swam all over the swelling waves, so numerous the water had become a bloodied sheet spread out to cover the ocean. As soon as we spotted these monsters, we stretched our limbs along the mast, avoiding any contact, ropes retied around our waists. The sun was sinking now. We prepared to face a fearful night. - Michel Bernanos, “The Other Side of the Mountain” (translation by Gio Clairval)


After a while, when they saw me coming they would rush inside their houses and lock the doors. Everywhere I heard a word that began to haunt me, as if it were born from light and darkness or the wind were whistling it. Witch, witch, witch. The doors would close and I walked through the streets of a dead village. When I glimpsed eyes through parted curtains, they were always icy. One morning I found it difficult to open the front door, a door of old wood split by the sun. In the center of it, they had hung an ox head with two tender branches wedged in the eyes. I took it down – it was heavy – and, not knowing what to do with it, left it on the ground. The twigs began to dry, and as they dried, the head rotted; and where the neck had been severed, it swarmed with milk-colored maggots. - Mercè Rodoreda, “The Salamander”


To listen to [the Ghoulbird] was to lose one’s will to the bird and forever be the creature’s slave. Obedient, the victims rose from the beds, left the security of their homes and went out in nightclothes, like sleepwalkers, heading toward that bird of Hell, which rejoiced in any new prey. The victims went to the bird, oblivious of the mud that squelched under their feet, not realising they were padding through the marsh. And the creature would draw back, retreating further to lure its prey into the slimy depths that captured and swallowed its victims without mercy. - Claude Seignolle, “The Ghoulbird” (translated by Gio Clairval)


He took one from his packet and lighted it for her. She sounded normal, herself again. She wasn’t trembling. And if this sudden belief was going to keep her happy he couldn’t possibly begrudge it. But… but… he wished, all the same, it hadn’t happened. There was something uncanny about thoughtreading, about telepathy. Scientists couldn’t account for it, nobody could, and this is what must have happened just now between Laura and the sisters. So the one who had been staring at him was blind. That accounted for the fixed gaze. Which somehow was unpleasant in itself, creepy. Oh hell, he thought, I wish we hadn’t come here for lunch. Just chance, a flick of a coin between this, Torcello, and driving to Padua, and we had to choose Torcello. - Daphne du Maurier, “Don’t Look Now”


Then, from somewhere within the house, came a shattering, ear-piercing scream, and then another, and another. It was impossible to tell whether the din came from near or far; still less whether it was female or male. Maybury had not known that the human organism could make so loud a noise, even in the bitterest distress. It was shattering to listen to; especially in the enclosed, hot, total darkness. And this was nothing momentary: the screaming went on and on, a paroxysm, until Maybury had to clutch at himself not to scream in response. - Robert Aickman, “The Hospice”

(Eric Basso)

A vinyl oxygen mask sprang out on the end of a lamp-blacked bellows. Apart from the proprietor, there was only one other man in the warehouse. I tried to push the mask back into its case. He was lying on the floor. Hidden. Life-size painted statues of St. Theresa, the Baptist and the martyr Sebastian, his bleeding chest and legs shot full of arrows, perched on the tie-beam above my head. It wouldn’t go. Ikons. His shoes, covered in a fine layer of dust, peeked out from between an upturned box spring and an antiquated harmonium. Their enameled eyes turned to the heavens. He must have been asleep. Heads tilted back, almost grazing the laths under the iron ceiling with their noses. The full weight of my hands pressed down on the olive-drab lid. Unseen. Din of the rain above the last bellows-gasp. Collapsing inwards. Lost beyond the vaulting. Hidden. Forcing the mask back down. The upper reaches of darkness. - Eric Basso, “The Beak Doctor”


My mother…grew plates of metal-colored scales on her back, and light, when it collided with this surface, would shatter and collapse into tiny points. Her teeth now arranged themselves into rows that reached all the way back to her long white throat. She uncoiled her hair from her head and then removed her hair altogether. Taking her head into her large palms, she flattened it so that her eyes, which were by now ablaze, sat on top of her head and spun like two revolving balls. Then, making two lines on the soles of each foot, she divided her feet into crossroads. Silently, she had instructed me to follow her example, and now I too traveled along on my white underbelly, my tongue darting and flickering in the hot air. ‘Look,’ said my mother. - Jamaica Kincaid, “My Mother”


Finally, he stopped feeding them. Two days after the table scraps had ceased to fall from their desert sky, four black mobiles surrounded an orange and dragged it back to their maw. They maimed it first, ripping off its mandibles and antennae and limbs, and carried it through the shadowed main gate of their miniature castle. It never emerged. Within an hour, more than forty orange mobiles marched across the sand and attacked the blacks’ corner. They were outnumbered by the blacks that came rushing up from the depths. When the fighting was over, the attackers had been slaughtered. The dead and dying were taken down to feed the black maw. Kress, delighted, congratulated himself on his genius. - George R. R. Martin, “Sandkings”


She found the first grub. It was fat and deep red with his blood – both inside and out. It had already eaten its own egg case but apparently had not yet begun to eat its host. At this stage, it would eat any flesh except its mother’s. Let alone, it would have gone on excreting the poisons that had both sickened and alerted Lomas. Eventually it would have begun to eat. By the time it ate its way out of Lomas’s flesh, Lomas would be dead or dying – and unable to take revenge on the thing that was killing him. There was always a grace period between the time the host sickened and the time the grubs began to eat him. - Octavia E. Butler, “Bloodchild”


Some of them, he could see, wore leather harnesses, tightly buckled around their upper chests, and snaking out from these contraptions were lengths of rope, miles and miles of it. The closer he looked, the more he saw of the extraordinary system of knots and lashings that still held the bodies together. For some reason these people had been tied together, side by side. Some were yoked on their neighbors’ shoulders, straddling them like boys playing at horseback riding. Others were locked arm in arm, knitted together with threads of rope in a wall of muscle and bone. Yet others were trussed in a ball, with their heads tucked between their knees. All were in some way connected up with their fellows, tied together as though in some insane collective bondage game. - Clive Barker, “In the Hills, the Cities”


In the lower branches of the willow tree, the lone willow that feeds upon a hidden spring beside the sloping lawn, there is a boy. His eyes are green and lucent as tourmaline, and silvery moths are drawn to them. His hands clutch the slender willow-wands: strong hands, so pale that I trace the blood beneath, and see the muscles strung like young strong vines. As I watch he bends so that his head dips beneath a branch, new leaves tangling fair hair, and then slowly he uncurls one hand and, smiling, beckons my brother toward him. The wind rises. Beneath his bare feet the dewy grass darkens as Aidan runs faster and faster, until he seems almost to be skimming across the lawn. And there, where the willow starts to shadow the starlit slope and the boy in the tree leans to take his hand, I tackle my brother and bring him crashing and swearing to earth. - Elizabeth Hand, “The Boy in the Tree”


Against the sculpted hollow of Louis’s throat, the thing on its chain seemed more strangely beautiful than ever. Have I neglected to describe the magical object, the voodoo fetish from the churned earth of the grave? I will never forget it. A polished sliver of bone (or a tooth, but what fang could have been so long, so sleekly honed, and still have somehow retained the look of a human tooth?) bound by a strip of copper. Set into the metal, a single ruby sparkled like a drop of gore against the verdigris. - Poppy Z. Brite, “His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood”


And, her thought seeming eerily a signal, she heard the preliminary noises, shifting warm through the wall as if they stroked her: Anne’s breathy wordless voice, that rush of sound, half-sinister whirlwind pavane. Pressed against the wall itself, her bare-skinned sweat a warm adhesive, Lurleen stood, mouth open and eyes shut, working her thin imagination as Anne, presumably, worked her thin body, both – all three – ending in vortex, whirlpool, mouthing that dwindling symphony of screams, Lurleen herself louder than she’d ever been, with any man. Loud enough that they could, maybe, hear her through the walls. - Kathe Koja, “Angels in Love”


The thing that the whisky has burnt out in the photographs is, in each one, identical, allowing for certain differences of – what I shall have to call – posture, and size. It has the head of a sort of frog, but this is horned, with two flat horns – or possibly ears – that slant out from its head sideways. The body is bulbous at the front, and it has two arms or forelegs, which end in paws, resembling those of a large cat. The body ends not in legs, but in a tail like that of a slug. This is all bad enough, but in the visage or head are always two red dots, that give the impression of eyes.  - Tanith Lee, “Yellow and Red”


The Dead game has three rules. One. Numbers are significant. The twins keep a list of important numbers in a green address book that belonged to their mother. Mr. Coeslak’s tour has been a good source of significant amounts and tallies: they are writing a tragical history of numbers. Two. The twins don’t play the Dead game in front of grownups. They have been summing up the babysitter, and have decided that she doesn’t count. They tell her the rules. Three is the best and most important rule. When you are Dead, you don’t have to be afraid of anything. Samantha and Claire aren’t sure who the Specialist is, but they aren’t afraid of him. To become Dead, they hold their breath while counting to thirty-five, which is as high as their mother got, not counting a few days. - Kelly Link, “The Specialist’s Hat”


There’s a sort of a boardwalk at the bottom of the stairs, a short path of warped planks and rails and pilings gone driftwood soft from the perpetually damp air, from the spray and seawater lapping restlessly at the wood. The strange light is coming from the water, from the wide pool that entirely fills the cavern at the foot of the stairs, coruscating light that rises in dancing fairy shafts to play across the uneven ceiling of the chamber. Tara’s stopped moving, and people are having to step around her, all the impatient crows grown quiet and beginning to take their places on the boardwalk, no sound now but the hollow clock, clock, clock of their shoes on the planks and the waves splashing against the pier and the limestone walls of the sea cave. - Caitlín R. Kiernan, “A Redress for Andromeda”


From the brambles of a murderer’s eyes the gaze of the genius of assassins falls on you: a sooty-winged owl with a blanched, dead mask of livid unfeathered skin. The eyes are sacs of blood that glow with a cold red flame, with a dagger in between – it wants to share its savage idiocy with you. It’s small; it hides itself easily in those brambles, and stares. Small though it is, when it draws near, the shade of its outspread wings, shedding their heavy dust, is broad enough to blot out a mind completely, and all too briefly. Wide-eyed unblinking it descends out of darkness on silent pinions, and snatches away its quarry with a movement too swift to follow. A face turns into a livid mask and a body is galvanically transformed. With an inconsequential-looking gesture the knife makes a little opening somewhere and the appalled life gushes out; the mask shifts from the murderer’s softening features to the victim’s stiffening face. The victim’s body undergoes its own transformation: it cools, darkens, sours, stinks, by turns slack and rigid. The murderer is gone; the genius is hidden; a raw new person flees in panic, flees his gory hands. - Michael Cisco, “The Genius of Assassins”


It’s dawn and the boy has woken early when the friend appears. It unfurls from under the bed. Its features have not quite coalesced. Its skin rises up like a blush. The mouth, full of rapid shadows, comes painfully. As the boy watches, its teeth emerge and its eyes take on their hues. It’s both gawky and graceful and the boy is touched by the tentativeness of its existence. Its limbs fold out with small tremblings. The boy moves over in the bed and the friend huddles gratefully into the warm depression he leaves. The boy knows not to touch the friend as it is born. Shyly, the boy indicates that the friend is welcome. - Micaela Morrissette, “The Familiars”


Within every living thing is a starlike piece. Those within human beings are bright, and those within children are the brightest of all. As people age, the starlike parts grow dim as though with distance, except in the cases of certain geniuses and halfwits. At first I didn’t understand how children can be so cruel and their starlike parts so bright, but the White Ma’at, who told me these things when she gave me the Wine of Smoke, said that she knew nothing of stars being kind, only of their being powerful. - K.J. Bishop, “Saving the Gleeful Horse”

This post is for promotional purposes only. All text copyright to the individual authors or estates and all rights reserved.

2 replies to “The Weird: Phantasmagorical and Uncanny Paragraphs