THE BROTHEL IN THE NORTH END





JEFFREY THOMAS













THE HOUSE, BUILT IN 1910 BUT NOWADAYS CALLED A CONDO, was on Hull Street in Boston’s North End... a nondescript row house fused with a line of such units, forming a quaint wall of red brick. The street was so narrow that cars could only pass along it in one direction. Across the street from this wall of brick condos, and the row of cars parked tightly in front of them, was the Copp’s Hill Burying Ground.


On the other side of the ancient cemetery, on Charter Street, was the domicile of the controversial artist Enoch Coffin. The owner of the house on Hull Street, aware of Coffin’s interest in painting extraordinary subject matter, once invited Coffin to visit and paint whatever he saw that captured his fancy. Coffin was promised he would discover a wealth of inspiration for his grotesque work. However, upon realizing what went on at that address, the artist turned down the request of his company.


The owner of the house on Hull Street, a man named William Aiken, was insulted by this rejection. Being permitted entrance to his home was an honor that his guests paid great sums for. But then, Aiken supposed Coffin was jaded. His guests had never seen anything like what he had to offer behind that unremarkable and inscrutable door of his.


A stone-lined tunnel ran beneath Hull Street, under the line of expensive parked cars, unbeknownst to Aiken’s neighbors in the condos wedged cheek to jowl against his own. This cramped tunnel communicated between Aiken’s basement and an ant-like series of earthen tunnels beneath the cemetery. He kept the door to that tunnel tightly locked on his side, however, only unbolting it when he had hired men with him. Hired men with guns. And he only unbolted it when it was time to summon the females.


It was in his basement that he had created his brothel.


Oh, Aiken’s guests were jaded, too, in their own way. Money had bought them women of every race and shape and age. Children, both female and male. Money had permitted some of his customers the luxury of snuffing the life from their fleshly toys. But even the most jaded of them had never, before coming to the house on Hull Street, lain with a being that was not human.


These bestial subterranean beings, white as albino cave animals, were encrusted with dirt, with blood from the dogs and homeless people they fed upon, encrusted with the decay of the long-dead corpses they crunched their semi- canine jaws into, encrusted with mold and their sweat. They stank, and that was part of their appeal for Aiken’s wealthy patrons, who lived their lives among people with showered, perfumed, neatly attired bodies that belied their inner filth.​



The females would be lured from the tunnel, fitted with muzzles and bound with restraints at wrist and ankle to prevent them from giving in to their nature in the throes of passion, but they were not forced to engage in these sexual acts. In payment for their acquiescence, before they were tied down they attacked and feasted upon the sacrifices the brothel customers had brought with them: human escorts, who had been led down into Aiken’s soundproofed basement, unaware of what their johns truly had in mind for them.


After they had been sated, the lean and carnal female ghouls – their naked white breasts slathered in blood, their sharp-boned faces masked in gore, shreds of flesh crammed between the ragged teeth hidden behind their muzzles – willingly laid down on the three hospital beds Aiken had arranged in his basement. He only ever accepted up to three customers into his brothel at any one time. Only up to three ghouls were permitted through the door. Aiken didn’t want to worry about too many escorts being reported missing at any one time. More importantly, he didn’t want his hired men to have to watch over more than three ghouls at any one time. There was always the threat that their sacrifices would not be enough to satisfy them, once their bloodlust was stoked.


Aiken took precautions against the ghouls, but ultimately he didn’t take sufficient precautions against his hired men. One night one of them, feeling he hadn’t been paid adequately for his services, and had been verbally abused by his employer, sneaked back into the basement alone before he left the residence on Hull Street, and unbolted that door to the tunnel under the street.


Despite their arrangement, the ghouls couldn’t resist their nature any longer...it was too long between the sacrifices Aiken offered them. And the males had grown jealous of the meals their females were offered.


The next time Aiken ventured alone into his basement, he became the last of the sacrifices in the brothel in the North End.



INTERVIEW: JEFFREY THOMAS



Few know the bizarre nether regions between horror and fantasy so well as Jeffrey Thomas. A veteran tale-spinner of hybrid weird fiction, Jeff sheds some light on his freakish process.





BY CODY GOODFELLOW





1. Take us to Punktown. How did it come about? How conscious were you of the risks and rewards of fusing horror, sf and fantasy tropes into the mashup it became? How are the graphic novel and anthology projects affecting your own perceptions of your creation?


JT: I first dreamed up Punktown in 1980. It was a of flash of inspiration, in which the basic idea came through all at once: a far future, crime-ridden city on a planet colonized by countless sentient races, wherein I could set all types of unconnected stories. I wrote about it quite a lot prior to my first small press sales, in the late 80s, so at that time I thought zilch about potential risks. It was all for me. My brother Scott and I used to pit our Matt Mason action figures against aliens and dinosaurs and dragons and whatever else came out of the toy box. Working with Punktown, for me, feels like that. Luckily I’ve been able to hold onto this “all for me” approach for the most part, post-publication. That being said, it’s fun seeing other people come along and want to play with my toys, too, via the role-playing game, graphic novel adaptation (Visions from Punktown), and shared world anthology (Transmissions from Punktown) that are in the works. It’s cool that I didn’t set those projects into motion, myself other people came to me asking for my permission and my participation. It’s immensely gratifying that my setting has resonated with other creative souls in this way. It so much reminds me of Scott and me with our Matt Masons.





2. You share the distinction with another of our contributors of having written for the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, for which you'd seem an unlikely, if inspired choice. How did you end up doing a Freddy novel, and how did that experience deviate from your original work?


JT: I was approached to write an original novel based on one of the New Line franchises, to help launch Black Flame – an imprint of Games Workshop. My first reaction was like, “What? I write my own stories...I don’t write about other people’s creations!” That attack of pomposity lasted all of a few seconds, when I realized this was my chance to reach a wider audience. I first pitched an idea for a Jason X novel, because I could do that horror-meets-SF fusion I do in Punktown (and in fact, in my mind my story would be taking place in the Punktown universe), but though the publisher liked my proposal they had a few too many Jason X projects already in the pipeline. Hence, I moved on to ANOES, a series I preferred anyway. My editor at that time, author Mark Charan Newton, coaxed me by suggesting I set my novel in the near future and incorporate Punktown-like technology and themes. This I did, and the project was given the green light. I did my best to give the novel little personal touches, to keep myself fully invested, and in the end it was a lot of fun and a rewarding challenge, because I pride myself on being adaptable and flexible. It was a wise decision doing the book, since on the heels of it I was signed to write two Punktown novels (Deadstock and Blue War) for another imprint of Games Workshop, Solaris Books.


3. Seriously. Take us to Punktown.


JT: ‘Fleck saw that the swimming pigs’ heads had floated off the VT’s screen and were circling the waiting area near the ceiling, even though the commercial had ended and a game show had come back on. They no longer sang, but smiled anthropomorphically. One of the heads drifted down toward a jittery man too nervous to be seated Fleck guessed that he was overdosed on buttons or even purple vortex. The man’s eyes went wide and he scrambled backwards, bumping into people, turned to flee from the grinning head as it continued to follow him, swooping down very close. A gang kid clutching a scorched ray wound to his shoulder pushed at the addict angrily for bumping into him, and the man fell to the floor, yelping and babbling, “Meat! Meat! Meat!” as the disembodied head bobbed only inches from him. A nurse elbowed through the throng, and used a spray can to mist the man’s body. The spell was broken and the head rose like a released balloon. Another staff member pointed the VT’s remote and touched an ad-banishing button. All of the porcine holographic heads vanished.’


4. As the guy "responsible for" Necropolitan Press, you sought to bring to market unclassifiable books. Are markets and audiences for this kind of work growing, or evolving, and do you think these kinds of works can flourish without a hard and fast genre label?


JT: I would say the markets have been growing, becoming more receptive to work that defies easy classification, illustrated by the fact that one of the projects I published through Necropolitan Press was an early chapbook from Jeff VanderMeer – and he’s done quite well since those days! But I don’t expect a vast wave of mass market weird fiction books, any more than I’d expect the film of VanderMeer’s Annihilation to inspire a wave of high-profile, highly-weird movies. Idiosyncratic, strange and daring and hard to classify books, movies, and TV shows will hopefully continue to appear and in larger numbers, based on past successes, but for every Twin Peaks: The Return there will always be countless new superhero movies. Maybe that’s for the best. It makes these freaky mutant things more special makes me love them all the more.





5. Your fascination with Asian, and particularly Vietnamese culture, is a distinct and prevalent flavor in your work. Tell us a bit about how Vietnamese aesthetics and oddities hold sway in your imagination, and your conception of the weird?


JT: Firstly, I’m sure people would wonder how that even came about. In 2003 I entered into a very intense relationship with a Vietnamese woman here in the USA. It didn’t work out, in the long run, but it inspired a fascination in me for Vietnamese culture. I subsequently married a woman I met in Viet Nam (I’ve journeyed there 10 times as of this writing), and though we’ve since divorced we created a wonderful child together. My time in Viet Nam has afforded me radically different perceptions that I’ve tried to utilize in my fiction. I love when an author has these different perspectives to share, based on their experiences or upbringing, like David Mitchell in Ghostwritten or Nadia Bulkin, whose father is Indonesian, in her collection She Said Destroy. It transports me, and I hope to achieve something like that based on my own rather unique experiences. But as a foreigner, I realize the more I experience the less I know, and as my nonindigenous perspective isn’t authentic, more often than not in my work I’ve warped Viet Nam into fictional settings, such as the world of Sinan in my novel Blue War or the country of Somewhere in a series of stories I call Tales from Somewhere. I remember driving around once with a girlfriend in Viet Nam and seeing a lot of intriguing things that I had no context for. I thought, if I can’t understand the context, I’ll invent the context, and that’s where those Somewhere stories came from. Maybe I can be a latter day Lafcadio Hearn, however controversial that may prove to be.


6. What are you currently working on? What's out now or coming out soon, that we should search out?


JT: My most recent short story collections are The Endless Fall (Lovecraft eZine Press) and Haunted Worlds (Hippocampus Press). Beyond that, right now I’m writing short stories for various anthologies I’ve been invited to. I have a number of novels (including one set in Viet Nam) that for several years now have been stalled at about the halfway point – I hope to live long enough to complete those, but I haven’t wrapped up a novel in years. I’m hoping to place that Tales From Somewhere collection, as I think it represents the best work I can do, and I’ve talked with a publisher about releasing a collection of stories set in another fictional city of mine called Gosston. Also, forthcoming is a three-volume omnibus of my Punktown stories to be published by Centipede Press. More stuff, very exciting stuff that might take my work to another medium, is being discussed but I don’t want to Vaguebook, here. So for now, the above will have to do!





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