Cassilda’s Song

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Black Stars on Canvas, a Reproduction in Acrylic by Damien Angelica Walters She Will Be Raised a Queen by E. Catherine Tobler Yella by Nicole Cushing Yellow Bird by Lynda E. Rucker Exposure by Helen Marshall Just Beyond Her Dreaming by Mercedes M. Yardley In the Quad of Project 327 by Chesya Burke Stones, Maybe by Ursula Pflug Les Fleurs du Mal by Allyson Bird While The Black Stars Burn by Lucy A. Snyder Old Tsah-Hov by Anya Martin The Neurastheniac by Selena Chambers Dancing the Mask by Ann K. Schwader Family by Maura McHugh Pro Patria! by Nadia Bulkin Her Beginning is Her End is Her Beginning by E. Catherine Tobler and Damien Angelica Walters Grave-Worms by Molly Tanzer Strange is the Night by S.P. Miskowski

Edited by Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

Chaosium 2015

My previous ‘Joe Pulver’ reviews HERE

Strangely, I had two stories in Chaosium books… in ‘Cthulhu’s Heirs’ (1994): Watch the Whiskers Sprout – and in ‘Song of Cthulhu’ (2001): Fall From Grace.

When I real-time review this book, my comments will be found in the thought stream below or by clicking on this post’s title above.

24 thoughts on “Cassilda’s Song

  1. Black Stars on Canvas, a Reproduction in Acrylic
    by Damien Angelica Walters

    “A yellow that hurts her eyes if she focuses on it too long, which is ridiculous because it’s just a color, but it’s a color full of wrong.”

    This is the perfect start. A woman chosen for or condemned into an audition with the Yellow King…we are never sure. But her obsessive trial paintings – and her bosom friend who is perhaps not to be trusted in such yellow vyings? – make me literally feel compelled to eat the actual words of this story as Van Gogh was said to eat yellow paint.
    This whole book itself ‘unmasks’…with this darkly, gorgeously figurative tontine towards artistic perfection and acceptance, interval by interval…

  2. SHE WILL BE RAISED A QUEEN by E. Catherine Tobler

    “There, I listened to the echo of the world beyond the walls of this room, distant voices trying to unknot the problem of me, me who did not even have a name.”

    A rich rhapsody of Angelica’s opened raspberries and other images harvested like fruit from KiY, blending Gilman with Gillman, like women cutting gills into men, an accretively self-aware Kafkaesque Metamorphosis, except it is another who becomes a bug (“She fled me then, a skittering bug, her skirts frantic across the polished floors.”) while this self.-aware narrator finds herself discovered gradually, not metamorphosed into a bug, but into a mermaid then into a Queen born from Lake and poetic words, entering a world of inferred homely pursuits, with black stars disrupting the discoverers’ ways, a yearning, a dream, papered in yellow. There is no way any review can convey everything herein. You just have to absorb it for yourself, break it open, unbutton it. Those who stumble not and do read it to the end win all.
    (My real-time reviews usually are written after a single instinctive reading of each story, as is the case here. If I read this one again, I may write something quite different about it. It’s that sort of story.)

    “In this place, none will feel the need to regard me as anything other than what I am.”

  3. YELLA by Nicole Cushing

    Powerful, frightening, inchoate stuff!

    A sort of basement Mrs Rochester, not the attic, heard screaming, visited with carnal knowledge as she is by the Yella Angel, or so she says. Serial and deep impregnations and promise of a later impregnation for her Mr Rochester, making him “sissy”…

    All the -ing words in this text have their end g elided, that God of ending.

    My earlier interpretation of some words in THE YELLOW SIGN HERE might be pertinent to this disturbing experience of a read.

  4. YELLOW BIRD by Lynda E. Rucker

    “…a big old hole like a monster had come along and torn it open.”

    This is as creatively inchoate as the Cushing, as similarly ungraspable as Walters and Tobler, but with a deep daughter-mother yearning that permeates bereavement as well as the haunted homestead detritus and environs occupied by generations of their family.
    It is an evocatively atmospheric copy of the old Yellow book through which this yearning is ignited. filtered, near-spurned and hopefully transcended.

  5. EXPOSURE by Helen Marshall

    “Dim Carcosa. Lost Carcosa. Strange the night where the black stars rise. That’s what the guidebook had said.”

    This time, for me, Carcosa did not soar, arc or even creatively scar, but felt crass. But this story may work for others, echoing the Rucker mother-daughter relationship transposed and stranded on a tourist island…

  6. Just Beyond Her Dreaming
    by Mercedes M. Yardley

    “She still looked at the moving wallpaper and heard the whisper of dead things.”
    This is a moving, artfully deadpan account, of an orphaned woman called Hester inheriting a family through being her husband’s third wife. But she does need a simple wild token from her husband to show he has at least one feeling for her beyond giving her material comfort.
    And then she found a potential lover who is there as real like a child’s ‘imaginary friend’ striated by a yearning from this book’s fields we know. Masked, tentative, well-intentioned…
    “That was the first time she and her lover never met.”
    It seems apposite for my personal consciousness of this book’s fields we know that the first meeting with the potential lover follows this…
    “The Bible said that Mary, Holy Mother of God pondered sacred things in her heart.”
    Today of all days. (Christmas Day, as I write this.)
    But she still has the yearning…
    “Away from something or toward, she wasn’t sure, but what she did know for sure was that she had something to feel.”
    And the ending is purely apposite for this book’s fields we know.

  7. In the Quad of Project 327
    by Chesya Burke

    “She hated to admit it, but she was beginning to relate to the nickname, Z. It was different—unique—without her needing to have had to earn it at all.”

    A plain-spoken telling learning story of school bullying with racial implications. Meanwhile, for me, the chance preternatural finding of another book – by means of a baseball game’s scrying shot described within a different book (a book found amid the undergrowth of the two books’ combined synchronised shards of random truth and fiction) – is a literary epiphany. But…
    “Simply because one of them had imagined it and the others had allowed for the thought to prosper fully within their collect imaginary.”
    …begs a shocking question of who or what is that source imaginarium.
    The alpha and omega of Yellow Jungianism.
    223 – 327

  8. STONES, MAYBE by Ursula Pflug

    “Was he so prematurely aged, inside, to believe something only very old people believed otherwise?”

    A perfect Pflug, blending memories, regrets, and a sort of alternate world wish fulfilment, as Peter deals in his mind with a family lakeside property, its household objects, its commercial business, its clandestine affairs, its black stars or stones, its hoped-for children, one of such children, I wonder, to be that Messiah to be born, if not in reality, perhaps by means of a book…?

    “Maybe for Myrtle it hadn’t been the book but something else. The percolator parts, perhaps, or the tin spoons.”

    “Of course, there was one small snag in this offspring fantasy; you had to have a mother first.”

    “he’d briefly seen their future spread out before him, pretty and comforting as a star quilt.”

    “She wore silver dream catcher earrings,…”

    “Delusions could fall out each morning, come out in clumps in his comb. Marti had once said he looked cute balding, that he was lucky he had the right shape of skull for it.”

    There was a resonant ‘cuteness” to Mr Jefferson’s self-styled ‘ass’ in the previous story, a story that prefigured the book that threads this book’s fields we know. A book within a book found and all-blending.
    Here blending this author’s own ‘Memory Lapse At The Waterfront’ with the percolators, tins and other household objects of her story “Repair”.

    We all have to repair our lives at some stage, if not by death, by the conscious re-figuring of memories and the book found like a household object in a kitchen cupboard.

  9. LES FLEURS DU MAL by Allyson Bird

    “Dumas had the black tulip.”

    ‘The Black Tulip’ (based on Dumas) is the first TV drama serial I remember watching as a child in the 1950s.

    And that is just the start of a dark cornucopia of artistic and literary references. Probably this Bird story is the most amazing work within this book’s fields we know that you might ever read, and need to read again, but perhaps without fully transcending its apparent personal aspects (one of the paintings discovered by a writer of weird in New Zealand and “Jealousy within groups of artists”) and also its universal references – a work to be read time and time again to try find the pure base colours of its foundation canvas that truly underpins some of these creatively staccato sentences and its otherwise poetic tentacles of Carcosan rhapsody and intentional fallacy.

    I will only mention below a few of my own found references deriving from and filling out what I earlier dubbed the Yellow Jungianism…
    Bird’s time travelling Juliette who creates that very Jungianism, it turns out, by visiting Leonora at different times, both of them in a subtle Sapphic Union supporting this book’s earlier ‘collect imaginary’ thus revisited within this book’s fields we know.

    “Paris. July 1938. Fritz Henle would be here now taking his photographs, some in Montmartre, memories of a wonderful city before the occupation.”

    I have just finished reviewing (HERE) ‘The Siren of Montmartre’ by Leopold Nacht, a book that is steeped in a sensibility of German occupied Montmartre and resonates coincidentally with this, Bird’s own siren-like story.
    (This recent real-time review actually links HERE to my own Baudelaire ‘lurching together’ verselet from the 1960s. It feels as if Juliette actually visited ME when I was writing that verselet then! And perhaps even more remarkably that review HERE linked to the three Gongoozlers!)

    “Why would I live in a world created by someone else—it could turn out to be hell and I have enough of that already. I don’t even know if you really exist.”

    The explicit ability to create fiction wherein we can inhabit for real.
    And then, of course, Juliette must have visited our own little on-line coterie of the noughties, I sense, as well those Gongoozlers in 1988… It seems all there…

    “One day I won’t be left out. The women will have a voice eventually. I’ll be recognized one day.’”

    “‘Ah. He’d insulted me once a very long time ago so I thought I’d do that. Not my greatest hour but funny at the time.’”

    “‘There was another who offended you.’
    ‘The other—mmmmm there was one who played Bottom in the Shakespeare play and when he tried to remove the head it wouldn’t come off—everyone said the head looked so real.’
    ‘What happened to him next?’
    ‘Sideshow for a time then his real head was put back on. He still thought he was an ass though so he was committed to the Belmont Mental Institution.’”

    “Juliette had many enemies, too. There was one in particular who hated poets, writers, and any artists who ‘interpreted’ the yellow sign—he would try to bring about their demise in some way. Silence them. Shut them down. She knew exactly where he was and Juliette had been told that he would not catch up with her just yet. She always lived on the edge.”

    Juliette was even present, I sense, when Gilman wrote the Yellow Wallpaper and Van Gogh ate his yellow paint.

    I feel sincerely that this is an important work in the realms of weird literature. Eminently and strangely satisfying. Preternaturally startling. And I have only scratched the textured surface of its references, dealing mainly with those that are meaningful to me. Those meaningful to you may be quite different and I can easily collect-imagine that they will all be there waiting for you to find when you read this remarkable Bird work. Each ladder of references, a Yellow-seeking tontine?

    Above all, this work, unlike the earlier one above I reviewed, now does make Carcosa soar, arc and, yes, scar. Scar indelibly.
    (Meantime, beware! – Juliette may leave things in your own work to show she’s been there.)

  10. While The Black Stars Burn
    by Lucy A. Snyder

    “The sharp, cold jolt made the puckered scar in her palm sharply ache, and the old memory returned fast and unbidden:…”

    An indelible stigmata instilled by the movements of a musical work in words, instilled literally by her father real, and figurativeLy by her father yellow, combined or alternating. The former an alcoholic composer who encourages his daughter in music, leaving, after his death, violin sonatas for her to play, for she who had been made to think “that she was quite plain, good as a violinist but unremarkable as a woman.” A threnody for this book’s writers?
    This story has the common flaws of humanity transcended when blended with a Zannesque or Scriabinesque musical sensibility that tells more of this book’s fields we know than anything written in philosophy or sociology books. Here it is by the power of contemporary classical music, a factor that was likely to appeal to the likes of me. And it does with a human re-enablement that only fiction can compose within us. An arc of music between movements.
    Dabbling with diabelli.

    “…and the stark black notes transubstantiated into soaring music as nerves drove muscle,…”

  11. OLD TSAH-HOV by Anya Martin

    “The only difference was that he had a short stump instead of a curled tail like my own—its absence likely a scar from some previous battle.”

    A growing story, where the meanings of words mean something in their own tongue like the title’s colour and the ending’s self that some end up calling bad – whether or not these words are in your tongue at all, a story that continues growing its meaning upon you, as you realise who or what you are within it, and the relationships that the others have with you, and their own changing circumstances. Some things like love and birth, others like war. The accoutrements of ownership and survival, and variations between, of that holocaust in the reader’s own history if not your history, until you return full circle to the prison ‘chamber’ where you started.
    Who the King, what religion, what creed, what mongrel breed, what colour?
    Until then you never knew that you could cry.

    “I wondered if he was disappointed that I had found a savior.”

    “This place was not the color of the sun, but different colors, colors that resembled shadows to me and for which I had no names.”

    A story you keep thinking about, because you are still in it.
    In some religions, they end up throwing stones at you. Even rocks.

  12. The Neurastheniac
    by Selena Chambers

    “All the women here make poetry, while I write it like the men.
    The women hate me and the men hate me and I hate myself.
    The men who like me like me because they hate women and they can look at me and see themselves in a form they could fuck.”

    That contemporaneous example of her Ferlinghetti-like poetry (poetry that sometimes in this work approaches, to my eye, fin de siecle decadence) is a section of this delightful patchwork quilt of impressions and examples of the work of Helena Heck (1937-1968) whom KiY’s surnamesake surconscious author Selena jams for us like jazz. She even has an alternative name for Carcosa that again soars, arcs and, finally, with a fine escritoire flourish, scars with a hand from a gramophone horn, as she (author or subject) tells us strikingly of her trespasses, under the influence, into the Lethal Chambers with Ligottian anti-natalist trills. The only flaw is the inability to spell ‘stationery’ when meaning paper products.
    I enjoyed it as much as the Bird.
    I once dreamt I met Heck on the Mall. They didn’t have pizza those days, but we ordered anchovies on toast.

  13. Dancing The Mask by Ann K. Schwader

    “UNMASK THE DANCE OF DARKNESS
    She blinks at the caption a few times before realizing she’s seen it on the mall.”

    Drawn by various urban messages in urban hard times, messages writ in a mysterious hand on paper, a ballet-dancer, crippled by an earlier balletic accident, reaches a healing of dance when swaddled by a whole array of resplendently poetic images from this book’s fields we know. You know we know such fields because you already knew the keynotes of everything already placed in this book. It is as if something you can’t do is do-able simply because you are already doing it. The masked world of we readers here is unmasked for us to see that retrocausal truth.
    Inspiring.

  14. Family by Maura McHugh

    “Once we’re off the straight roads it’s a twisting drive. Are you sure you remember the way, in the dark?”

    …as only the deep-seated feel of families can replicate upon our emotional and dynastic road maps, as this story strikingly shows, whether you are play-acting (an art form called ‘mercurial shape-shifting’ here in the growing career of the sister half of this Irish sibling relationship) or just struggling to steer clear of past family darknesses (or perversely, counter-intuitively re-entering them as a search for healing?)…
    A yellow castle in a play area, yes, but a blue door, a red door, a red towel, making this not ALL Yellow. But we as seasoned readers of books like this always know that life provides artful subterfuges or decoys to accentuate the inevitably retrocausal climax that stains deep Yellow back through the only book as play, the only play as book , the only part to ‘play’ at Destiny’s familial end now beginning.
    Some nice linguistic touches, too, as we take this Irish journey.

  15. Pingback: Story Published: “The Neurastheniac” in CASSILDA’S SONG | Selena Chambers

  16. Pro Patria! by Nadia Bulkin

    “Something leather-bound and rotten, the corners of its pages curling like shed skin. He saw that she had marked it up violently as he flipped the pages,…”

    …as I have, too. This book and its book’s book.
    I have long wished that I might one day read a King in Yellow mythos story like this one, or I THINK I have thus wished. It’s hard to judge, now having just read it and been satisfied.
    It is a literary-style work of a mid 20th century ilk, housing such a yearned-for threading by the KiY Mythos, with a prose style tractable but beautifully ‘al dente’ textured, reminding me of Graham Greene or possibly Malcolm Lowry.
    A story that deals with old school Colonialism, Constitutional Governance of a new country, in a maturely mind-awakening way – full of believable characterisation – and touching upon themes like Machiavellianism, the propensity of Power towards not necessarily corruption but madness, and this story’s own glimpse of a new law that one of its characters embodies but denies: the Restitution of the Damned.
    Can you tell I am impressed?
    It also adds towards continuing to make this book a satisfying patchwork of different styles and tastes, all floating within a Carcosan sump.

  17. Her Beginning is Her End is Her Beginning
    by E. Catherine Tobler and Damien Angelica Walters

    “This is too large a tale for words alone,”

    …and, somehow, from within it, that summarises this whole novelette, one that sits outside you, beyond you, so rhapsodic, yet so intangible, so amorphous. Which of these two authors, the two Cassildas, which of the two Suns, which of the many doors, which or who is right or wrong, fiction or truth, mask or unmask, motherly or barren, scholar or king, messiah or traitor? Each a “disgusting dichotomy” or a path to a perfect truth or song? A Nevervescent Carcosa or a Croatoan one?

    Forgive me for quoting below so much from this novelette, but there is a huge amount of streaming text to choose from, and these passages as discretenesses are not only typically beautiful of the rest of the other possible discretenesses from this sprawling text but also meaningful to Juliette’s earlier travels in this book, through the doors of time, leaving bits of herself in all our memories, Anne or Nura or by another name…

    “The ink melts inward across the pages, running to the spine where it pools into a black hole. The paper breaks apart at the edge of this darkness, falling in, falling away, until there’s nothing left but a ghost image of the Yellow Sign, the sigil, hanging in the air. Then that, too, vanishes.”

    “Even so, when she looked upon her work and smoothed the linen back into place, she feared what she had done to this man. There was still no time to doubt, none, so she gave him up to his men and they in turn gave him up to the waters he had so loved. His people would make for him a tomb on dry land, but it would be forever empty.”

    “This doorway was a mistake, a subtle torment, a way for the King to show her she’d never succeed, a way to torture her with her own failure, not her greatest failure—that belonged to the writer and would that she could go back to that moment and push him from the window, erase his lies before they fomented in his mind—but a failure that drove daggers into her heart.”

    “Was then now and now then? So many doorways, so many whens, so many men and women and words and inside, she was a circle of knots and nots.”

    And tears came to my eyes at what has befallen us.
    Leaving just another Alice in Wonderland trying to fit herself into a door.

  18. Grave-Worms
    by Molly Tanzer

    “There was poetry, there was action. Things occurred, and did not occur. It was more confounding than alarming. It reminded her a bit of Antigone, which she had also not quite understood, when she’d read it in school.”

    There have already been some matchless stories in this book, and this story has the sound of a lighter at a crucial moment. The work is perfect, indeed matchless, as an example of a work that could easily have appeared in the original ‘King in Yellow’ book; it is elegant, literary, with the feel of the fin de siecle, as well as Truman Capote and Elizabeth Bowen. Those New York grave-worms, those shoals of the dead as bright young things. An apotheosis of cigarettes, and one particular brand, and the Yellow Sign thus seems here for the first ever time so exactly appropriate to smoking. And there are the business relationships (in parallel with the equally exquisitely done Colonial and Governance relationships of the Bulkin), the gender politics, the cynical sex, the glass ceiling (where starlight and skyscrapers change places), and the knotty debate between abstraction and representation in art. This is wildly good, sedate, too. I imagined when the heroine stood on the balcony with her cigarette that the climax was soon to be the balcony vanishing into avant garde nothingness and she falling to the lighted city below. I was wrong. The real ending was even better. Robert W. Chambers couldn’t have done it better.

  19. Strange is the Night by S.P. Miskowski

    “He would lie in the pale dawn while the city cast jagged shadows across the art deco building where he had lived for twelve years. He would stare at his five hundred square feet of hardwood floors and fluted glass door knobs,…”

    As satisfyingly acute as the 20th century mad Machiavellianism of Bulkin and the fin de siecle elegance of the entrepreneurs in Tanzer, this is another tractably ‘al dente’ prose-textured theme and variations of things Yellow, here retroactively retributive with a truly dramatic closing scene that the false balcony would have been in the Tanzer, if Tanzer hadn’t left the whole book’s avant garde climax for Miskowski to wreak.
    Not tangible Yellowness like paint or wax so much as Marmalade.
    Again gender and office or business politics take sway, and the abstraction versus representation Aesthetics debate from the Tanzer becomes here the different traditions of reviewing plays: encouraging versus condemnatory etc.
    This is a hilarious, page-turning story of a failed playwright who plugs away in an office’s hive of carrels, with a sense of the earlier geometric glass ceiling; he represents the bullying with racial implications from the Chesya Burke, and unlike the more subtle retributive distaff machinations of the Bird and the Tobler-Walters, there can be nothing more clear-cut as theatrical thick-cut marmalade causing all of us unequivocally to cheer on the radiant actress whom he had earlier called ‘porcine’ in his review.
    This makes a perfect witty scatology / eschatology of a Yellow coda to the whole book, and I, for one, now replace tears of sadness with tears of laughter.

    This whole book will become a historic hive of Chambers whence these sometimes scarred but stinging Queens of Carcosa arc and soar, swarming to become one of the two Suns that rise above us – and I dreamt last night that I met Joe on the Mall where we ordered them yolk-yellow sides up.

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  21. Pingback: Des Lewis reviews Cassilda's Song - Ursula Pflug

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