Monday, 3 May 2010

Cthulhu’s Dark Cults: “Perfect Skin” by David Witteveen

Here is the extract from Cthulhu’s Dark Cults, this time a story from fellow Australia author David Witteveen with his short story “Perfect Skin”.

David lives in Melbourne, Australia. He won the inaugural Australian Horror Writers Association's Flash Fiction Competition. His other published Mythos work includes the story “Ache” in Hardboiled Cthulhu, which was reprinted in Australian Dark Fantasy and Horror Volume 2. By night he writes, drinks absinthe and wears cravats. By day, he does something dull with computers. He’s a very talented author and I’ve always admired how he can say so much with so little words.

David and I are long time friends, having met in high school. For a time we shared a flat with another friend, and backpacked through Africa and the United Kingdom together. We’ve also collaborated, on the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game supplement Devil’s Children and more recently in a short story appearing in Macabre from Brimstone Press, out later this year.

“Perfect Skin” is set in Istanbul featuring the cult that is central to the Call of Cthulhu campaign Horror on the Orient Express. David was inspired by two things when he wrote this story, as he explains, “The first was the factoid that President Ataturk banned the fez from Turkey in the 1920s. He wanted to transform Turkey into a modern, Western country rather than a traditional Oriental one. As part of that, he wanted Turks to wear Western clothing. But not all the citizens felt the same way, and there was a black market that smuggled fezzes in from other countries.

“The second inspiration was Evelyn Waugh's novel Vile Bodies. It's the definitive novel about the Bright Young Things. I love how the dialogue is so breezy and witty, but it's very clear the characters are all terribly sad underneath.

“The honeymooners Charles and Evelyn in "Perfect Skin" are my humble attempt to write something similar. And like Vile Bodies, my story starts off being quite light-hearted and amusing, and ends up somewhere very bleak.

“Something else I enjoyed about writing this story: there's not a squid-headed monster or unpronounceable name in sight. Lovecraft’s Mythos are a rich and deep platform for telling stories, and there’s a lot more that can be done with them than just the usual clichés.”

An extract from the story follows:

David Witteveen
Istanbul, Turkey, 1922

The sun rises in the east. Five hundred years ago the Ottomans swept out of Istanbul into Europe as a tide of Islam and blood. Now Europe sends its revenge –- a dozen luxury carriages, drawn by the very latest thing in steam locomotives. The Orient Express, a luxury hotel on rails, carrying smiling tourists to holiday in the city where the Sultans once plotted war.

Come into the dining car. Breakfast is being served.

Businessmen and diplomats sit side by side with gangsters and flappers. Look there by the window: newlyweds Charles and Evelyn Drake are sharing a meal. Such a handsome couple. His suit is expensive, his skin tan, his smile rakish and charming. And Evelyn -- slim and blonde, skin white and fresh as milk, her blue eyes wide with excitement.

“How long until Istanbul?” she asked.

Charles flicked back his sleeve to check his watch. “Another hour yet, darling.”

Evelyn watched the brown hills flicker past the window. She was a London girl, born and raised. The landscape out the window was as alien to her as the moon. Charles, who made business trips here six times a year, barely glanced up from his omelet.

“Where shall we go first?” she asked. “The bazaar?”

“If you like. They sell monkeys there, you know.”

“Really? Monkeys? Will you buy me one?”

“Of course. Nothing says ‘I love you’ quite like a small hairy mammal.”

Someone coughed behind Evelyn. She turned, thinking it was the waiter come for her plates. And her breakfast lurched back up in her throat.

A man stood there. Half his face had melted. The skin was rippled and scarred like the wax on the side of a candle.

Evelyn tried to swallow, but the food was stuck in her throat.

“Charles Drake?” asked that horrific face. “My name is Colonel Phelps, British Embassy. We need to talk.”

Charles stared up at him coolly. “You’re scaring my wife, Sir.”

“My apologies. But I insist that we talk.”

“Insist away. I’m having breakfast.”

“It concerns one of your clients in Istanbul, Mr. Drake.”

“We’re here on our honeymoon, Colonel. This trip is strictly pleasure.”


Charles sighed and put down his cutlery. “Look. You’re scaring my wife and you’re spoiling my breakfast. If you want to talk, go talk to a mirror. Otherwise I’m calling the waiter.”

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