Short Story Review: “A Clutch” by Laird Barron

3 of 5 stars.

Deathbed confessionals, scandalous things that they are, often take 2 forms. They often reveal hidden maternity or paternity, or even a crime committed and never before admitted. Or, the confessors finally admits to an experience or belief they were too ashamed or cowed to own. Either way, the deathbed confessional serves as the ultimate clearing of conscience.

This outre folk tale centers on a dying man’s confessional that both reveals a hidden identity and paternity, and admits to a wide-ranging supernatural experience with dire consequences. Alone in a cabin, an elderly dying uncle and his devoted niece have a final heart-to-heart. It veers awkward when the uncle, who’d first shown up days after the death of the niece’s parents, waxes nostalgic about the niece’s mother and confesses to being her father. But further delving into his story disperses the scandalous aspect . . .

As a young man, the uncle had joined a mission for the crown to raid ancient tombs to gather jewels and rare relics. In the labyrinthine understories of a centuries-abandoned castle, he finds a dozen obsidian eggs. He hides 3 on himself and shows the rest to his teammates. However, he gets lost alone within the dark maze, and consumes the 3 eggs to survive. Later, he finds his escape and the men taking due punishment. But he also finds his insides rent with pain. After a horrific, bloody ordeal alone in the swamps, the man births 3 eggs from his bowels that sink into the strange waters. Inside each egg, swims a horrible creature slightly resembling the shocked young adventurer.

It’d be an experience worth dismissing if he wasn’t killed before making it back home to his parents. And then he’s reborn into the swamp, looking nearly, but not quite, like he used to. The reborn man ages quickly and heads home to reunite with his parents and younger brother . . .

This tale appears in the New Lovecraftian anthology, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu edited by Paula Guran. I received my copy of the anthology directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “(Little Miss) Queen of Darkness”, “Mysterium Tremendum”, “Proboscis”, and “Strident Caller”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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