Short Story Review: “The Vindication of Y’ha-nthlei” by David Busboom

4 of 5 stars.

This two-part tale brilliantly filters the Lovecraftian mythos of Innsmouth through the detective noir voice. The narrator doesn’t actually do any detecting, but the pre-WWII era comes alive through this interesting choice of voice. The tale opens in Massachusetts of 1928 with the detective reading the newspapers about the government’s bombing of Devil’s Reef. In Lovecraft’s world, this event destroyed the deep sea city of Y’ha-nthlei populated by the dysmorphic, immortal race of Deep Ones [not unlike a horror version of mer].

I was at a shabby speak in Newburyport reading one of these papers when in walked this man, a damned drunken swine with small ears and bulging eyes and a narrow, balding head. He stank like fish. When he saw my paper he snorted irritably and muttered something to the effect that Innsmouth was nobody’s damned business. There was something bizarre about his vocal timbre that made me uncomfortable. I told him I’d never even heard of the place until three days ago, and he cussed at me.

“You’ll all get yours,” he said. It was then I noticed the scabrousness of his skin and the loose wrinkled folds on his neck. I’d heard some locals call that the “Innsmouth Look.” So he’d probably just lost his home, or his business, or both, and had every excuse to be mad–but just then I didn’t care.

This scene ends with fisticuffs initiated by the narrator. What’s most telling is that the ugly stranger doesn’t start the fight. Everyone in the speakeasy finds him strange if not reprehensible without him doing anything to provoke it. He has a different look, a different way of speech, a different way of acting, and they all seem to be aware that potentially his home and livelihood just got destroyed by their government. And they don’t care, or empathize. He’s a man ostracized–one could say, driven to extreme measures, in defense.

The second scene takes place three years later with the still-not-detecting detective on his honeymoon cruise off the coast of Cornwall [the location of another mythic Deep Ones city]. Standing on the railing with his new wife, they see men-like creatures breaking the moonlit surface of the ocean and catching up to the cruise ship. Other vacationers start to notice and slowly the railings get thronged with the curious. Things turn ugly when the web-handed fishmen start to scale the hull of the ship with whalebone knives . . .

This tale appears in Whispers of the Abyss 2: The Horrors That Were and Shall Be edited by Kat Rocha. I received this new anthology directly from 01 Publishing through  
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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