Rated R for violence and MONSTERS.
Skulls in the Stars
by Robert E. Howard
There are two roads to Torkertown. One, the shorter and more direct route, leads across a barren upland moor, and the other, which is much longer, winds its tortuous way in and out among the hummocks and quagmires of the swamps, skirting the low hills to the east. It was a dangerous and tedious trail; so Solomon Kane halted in amazement when a breathless youth from the village he had just left, overtook him and implored him for God’s sake to take the swamp road.
“The swamp road!” Kane stared at the boy. He was a tall, gaunt man, was Solomon Kane, his darkly pallid face and deep brooding eyes, made more sombre by the drab Puritanical garb he affected.
“Yes, sir, ’tis far safer,” the youngster answered to his surprised exclamation.
“Then the moor road must be haunted by Satan himself, for your townsmen warned me against traversing the other.”
“Because of the quagmires, sir, that you might not see in the dark. You had better return to the village and continue your journey in the morning, sir.”
“Taking the swamp road?”
Kane shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.
“The moon rises almost as soon as twilight dies. By its light I can reach Torkertown in a few hours, across the moor.”
“Sir, you had better not. No one ever goes that way. There are no houses at all upon the moor, while in the swamp there is the house of old Ezra who lives there all alone since his maniac cousin, Gideon, wandered off and died in the swamp and was never found–and old Ezra though a miser would not refuse you lodging should you decide to stop until morning. Since you must go, you had better go the swamp road.”
Kane eyed the boy piercingly. The lad squirmed and shuffled his feet.
“Since this moor road is so dour to wayfarers,” said the Puritan, “why did not the villagers tell me the whole tale, instead of vague mouthings?”
“Men like not to talk of it, sir. We hoped that you would take the swamp road after the men advised you to, but when we watched and saw that you turned not at the forks, they sent me to run after you and beg you to reconsider.”
“Name of the Devil!” exclaimed Kane sharply, the unaccustomed oath showing his irritation; “the swamp road and the moor road–what is it that threatens me and why should I go miles out of my way and risk the bogs and mires?”
“Sir,” said the boy, dropping his voice and drawing closer, “we be simple villagers who like not to talk of such things lest foul fortune befall us, but the moor road is a way accurst and hath not been traversed by any of the countryside for a year or more. It is death to walk those moors by night, as hath been found by some score of unfortunates. Some foul horror haunts the way and claims men for his victims.”
About the Author
Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) was most famous for inventing the modern sword & sorcery tale with his Conan stories, and while he often introduced horror elements as a threat in his short fiction the evocation of supernatural dread is only incidental in most of his tales; the chronicling of titanic adventure is the primary purpose. When Howard later switched from fantasy to westerns, he made the transition with the story The Horror From the Mound.
Howard’s major horror genre reputation rests with three stories (sadly, all of which are a bit too long for the podcast): “Black Canaan” (Weird Tales, 1936) was praised by Lovecraft for its “genuine, regional background and its compelling picture of the horror that stalks through the moss-hung, shadow-cursed, serpent-ridden swamps of the American far south”; “Pigeons from Hell” (Weird Tales, 1938) was praised by Stephen King as “one of the finest horror stories of our century” and “Worms of the Earth” (Weird Tales, 1932) is thought by many Howard fans to be his best story. The Del Rey series of Howard’s collected fiction includes Horror, Historical Adventures and Desert Adventures, in addition to his better known Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane tales. Please see this site.
About the Narrator
Your narrator is the the King of Kitsch, the Sultan of Strangeness, the Odin of Oddity, the Nadir of nonNormalcy, Mr. Norm Sherman. You’ve probably heard Norm over at our sister podcast, Escape Pod, where he is Editor. And if not there, you’ll surely have heard him over on his own podcast, the Drabblecast, strange stories by strange authors for strange listeners, such as yourself. And if not THERE, well, just about anywhere in the genre pod-o-sphere.