I was very indecisive when picking my Deal Me in Stories, so I added an extra “Lunar” twist.
For each full moon, I’ll be reading a horror story written by a woman.
“The Specialist’s Hat” by Kelly Link
Card picked: An eight
Thoughts: “The Specialist’s Hat” is the short tale of twins Claire and Samantha. The twins are generally ignored by their father (their mother is dead) and they’re left to explore and make up games on their own. Their favorite? The Dead game–when you’re Dead you always tell the truth (unless you don’t want to) and you’re never afraid.
They live in Eight Chimneys a two hundred year old house which once belonged to Charles Cheatham Rash, the subject of their father’s research. Rash was a mediocre gothic poet and author of one novel, The One Who Is Watching Me Through the Window. Bits of Rash’s poetry is sprinkled throughout the story along with a myth he learned at sea, that of the Specialist’s Hat. The Specialist’s hat can imitate any sound.
Something is creeping up the stairs,
Something is standing outside the door,
Something is sobbing, sobbing in the dark;
Something is sighing across the floor.
Rash learned about the Specialist’s Hat from a magician who died on board one of the ships he sailed on.
“Their father says that the other sailors wanted to throw the magician’s chest overboard, but Rash persuaded them to let him keep it”
This reminds me of Descartes mechanical daughter, an automaton that Descartes constructed to prove that something could seem alive and ensouled, yet not be. Story goes that the doll was convincing enough that a particularly superstitious ship’s captain believed it to be of the devil and threw it overboard. With themes of “death” and imitation running throughout this story, I assume the reference was intended.
I didn’t realize that this story would be a suitable read for the Gothic Challenge. With a grand house, surrounded by dark woods, and admonishments not to go into the locked attic, I’m not sure you could hit more Gothic beats in a 5000 words story. It’s a tense and creepy gem.
About the Author: I don’t think I’m overstating when I say that Kelly Link is one of the best and most lauded speculative fiction writers of the last 15 years. If you’ve made a point to read some of the Nebula or Hugo short fiction nominees lately, you’ve read her. Most recently, I enjoyed “Two Houses” from the Bradbury tribute Shadow Show and I’ll be reading her again later in the year for Deal Me In.
I came to this story through Paula Cappa’s Women of Horror for Halloween.