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Beneath Strange Stars

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Beneath Strange Stars

  Tales of Wonder,

  Mystery & Adventure

  From times past and future, from civilizations of Earth now lost in the dust to cultures spread among the stars where Earth is but a myth, from ages where gods rule from shadowed realms to far aeons hence when the only light remaining in a universe of darkness is that which abides in the human heart – these tales are taken from more than four decades of writing for magazines, small and large, representing a cross-section of the literary worlds created by Ralph E. Vaughan. Among the stories you will encounter:

  A woman warrior who follows the Triple Goddess in the waning years of the Age of Bronze is shipwrecked upon an unknown shore and falls among a strange people who dream their own reality.

  A young woman fleeing from a powerful ruler of Nippon enters a land poisoned by a long ago war and learns that sins follow where virtues are forgotten.

  A lost sailor who screams blasphemies from an underground cell, prophesying of a starship’s advent, while the king cowers and seeks dark diversionary pleasures.

  A rover upon an Earth that has become a corpse under a swollen red sun who finds a carnival where dreams come to life and games of chance call for wagering your soul.

  An inventor who asks questions in a Europe where questions are not encouraged finds a shipwrecked sailor who hails from a port-of-call not found on any map.

  Also by Ralph E Vaughan:

  Sherlock Holmes Adventures

  The Adventure of the Ancient Gods

  Sherlock Holmes: The Coils of Time & Other Stories

  The Dreaming Detective

  The Terror Out of Time

  Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Mythos Adventures

  Professor Challenger: Secrets of the Dreamlands

  Paws & Claws Adventures

  Paws & Claws: A Three Dog Adventure (P&C #1)

  A Flight of Raptors (P&C #2)

  K-9 Blues (P&C #3)

  The Death & Life of an American Dog (P&C #4)

  Dogs of S.T.E.A.M. (P&C #5)

  The Dog Who Loved Sherlock Holmes (P&C Special)

  Adventures of Folkestone & Hand

  Shadows Against the Empire

  Amidst Dark Satanic Mills

  Other Works

  Reflections Upon Elder Egypt (nonfiction)

  HP Lovecraft in the Comics (nonfiction)

  Fear & Loathing in the World of the Alien (nonfiction)

  Oh, Mr Yoda! (play, w/Patricia E Vaughan)

  The Horses of Byzantium & Other Poems (poetry)

  A Darkness Upon My Mind (poetry)

  Midnight for Schrödinger’s Cat (poetry)

  As Editor/Illustrator

  The Many Worlds of Duane Rimel (Duane Rimel)

  The Second Book of Rimel (Duane Rimel)

  Dreams of Yith (Duane Rimel)

  Fungi From Yuggoth (HP Lovecraft, w/Nick Petrosino)

  Martian Twilight (John Eric Holmes, w/David Barker)

  Beneath Twin Moons (anthology)




  A Collection of Tales


  Ralph E Vaughan

  Dog in the Night Books


  Beneath Strange Stars

  ©2015 Ralph E Vaughan

  Cover: “Port of Mystery” ©2015 Ralph E Vaughan

  “Fluxed in Nova Byzantium” and “A Measure of Faith” appeared in Aboriginal Science Fiction Magazine

  “Dark Deception” and “Beneath the Dark, Red Sun” appeared in After Hours Magazine

  “Mythologies” appeared in Darkness Rising

  “Invaders From the Stratosphere” appeared on DavidZondy.com and was the First Place winner in that site’s 1994 fiction contest

  “Twilight Journey” appeared as an illustrated chapbook by Running Dinosaur Press

  “Beneath the Eye of God” appeared in Lost Worlds

  “Upon the Plain of Glass, By the Sea of Memories” appeared in Scry Magazine

  “Sailor Upon the Sea of Never” and “The Tower in the Forest” appeared in Sozoryoku: Quarterly Journal of the Imagination

  “In an Elder Place” appeared in Crossroads Magazine

  “The Demon of the Rock” appeared in Black Lotos

  “The Stranger” appeared in Altair: A Journal

  “Agent in Hell” appeared in Detective Story

  “Nighttime” appeared in Tales of Lovecraftian Horror

  “The Demon of Don’t Ask” appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine

  “Carnival of Souls” appeared in Dead of Night

  “The Lost City of Venus” appeared in Victorian Fantasies

  “Olmec Dreams” appeared in Mystic Fiction

  “His Dark Clockwork Heart” appeared in Unique Tales

  “Where Paths Cross” appeared in Mythos

  “The Spider’s Web” appeared in Fortress

  “Distant Suns” appeared in Wayfarer

  “Castaway Among the Dreamers” appeared in Spellbound Magazine

  “Possession Earth” appeared in West Coast Fiction

  “Petals in the Wind” appeared in the MOSCON XV Program Book

  “Murder in the Eyes of the Gods” is original to this collection


  This collection of stories is dedicated to Robert Vigil and Phil Ligon, two of my teachers at Castle Park High School, more years ago than I care to recall. Mr Vigil not only let me write my stories in his homeroom class, but introduced me to HP Lovecraft, which had a profound effect on me and my writing; Mr Ligon taught me the disciplines necessary for a photojournalist, was my first creative writing teacher, and told me that everything, and everybody, had a story, just waiting for me to find it.

  Table of Contents


  Fluxed in Nova Byzantium

  Dark Deception


  Invaders from the Stratosphere

  Twilight Journey

  A Measure of Faith

  Beneath the Eye of God

  Upon the Plain of Glass, By the Sea of Memories

  Sailor on the Sea of Never

  In an Elder Place

  The Demon of the Rock

  The Stranger

  Agent In Hell


  The Demon of Don’t Ask

  Carnival of Souls

  The Lost City of Venus

  The Tower in the Forest

  Olmec Dreams

  His Dark Clockwork Heart

  Where Paths Cross

  Beneath the Dark, Red Sun

  The Spider’s Web

  Distant Suns

  Castaway Among the Dreamers

  Possession Earth

  Petals in the Wind

  Murder in the Eyes of the Gods

  Note to the Reader


  Concerning Stories Told Around the Campfire

  It’s all about the stories.

  And the characters who live in them.

  And the readers who live through them.

  Regardless of cultural conventions and popular sayings, the job of Storyteller has to be at least the third oldest profession. First came the Hunter who tracked and slew Dinner, then the Cook who made Dinner palatable and something to look forward to; then, as the tribe sat around the campfire digesting Dinner, the Storyteller rose and told of spirit animals, great heroes, and beings who danced upon the mountaintops with footfalls of thunder.

  On the other hand, it may have been the Hunters would not go out until the story of the Great Hunt had been painted upon the cave walls, which would make Storyteller the oldest profession, the Hunter second. And the third oldest profession? That would be the unsuccessful hunter who returned to the cave and ch
ucked a spear into the Storyteller’s chest – the first Critic.

  Telling stories is somewhat less dangerous these days as we sit around the campfire that is our sun, though, of course, one must still be wary of Critics, dodging the slings and arrows of outrageous reviews. Most writers seek fame and/or fortune but find neither, and almost all fall by the wayside, disappointed or burnt-out. Only two kinds of writers continue to write year after year – those who prosper and achieve a kind of fame, even if only as a frog in a small pond, and those who persevere simply because they cannot stop writing.

  I am not the first kind of writer.

  And I’ve not been the first kind of writer for a long time,

  Some kids played baseball or basketball; I told stories, much to the chagrin of parents and consternation of teachers. Even before I learned to read, which I did at an early age (Uncle Bob was well-intentioned but his reading aloud of comic books left much to be desired), I told stories, which meant convincing other kids that a monster lived under the woodpile, or that a dinosaur had wandered down Seventeenth Street in National City at midnight, or that the Victorian house we all passed twice daily to and from Highland Elementary was haunted.

  The first story I remember writing, where I made a conscious effort to employ such literary devices as plot, characterization and dialogue was “The Mouse in the Haunted House,” written in first grade, a standard haunted house tale with all the usual weird goings on, but told from the viewpoint of the mouse who dwelt therein.

  I thought it was a pretty good story. Mrs Hamilton, my teacher, was not so sure, and thus began trips to the school psychologist (all the rage in the Fifties for the misunderstood youth of America). Well, I did call her “Horrible Hamilton,” so, looking back, maybe I would have ended up in that office anyway.

  Valiant defenders fighting Horrible Hamilton

  My next foray into fiction, a much more serious attempt, was a couple of years later, as part of a class assignment. Mrs Decker (we had no pejorative terms for her because she was a wonderful teacher) showed a series of photographs and asked us to choose one and write a short story.

  The photo that impressed me was of a pure white bird with bright red eyes. As soon as I saw it, the plot for a story flashed into my mind, and the result was “The White Raven.” Yes, ravens are black, I know it now just as I did then, but the story was about a white raven, and the plot not only revealed why he was white and had red eyes, but also explained that shadowy building seen in the background – yes, another haunted house.

  Mrs Hamilton would have sent me to the school shrink, or sent a note home to my mother, or both, but Mrs Decker was a much more perspicacious person. She entered the short story into a district writing contest and it won first prize.

  Using photos and art as sources of inspiration is a technique I’ve turned to many times in the six decades since I saw “The White Raven,” either photographs and paintings by others, or drawings of my own. I often sketch characters and scenes and keep them near me while I write. In high school, this visual technique was adopted by Mr Phil Ligon, my journalism, photography and creative writing teacher, and we used Pictures for Writing by David A. Sohn as an unofficial textbook.

  During high school, also, I wrote a story called “On the Moor,” about a publisher motoring through the misty wilds of Scotland who comes to a bad end. The story is not important (and it’s probably a good thing that it is mostly lost) except in that it started a chain of events that affects me even now. I had typed it on my Remington Quietwriter and was reading it in homeroom class one day. Mr Robert Vigil noticed I was not frantically trying to finish homework assignments from the day before (yes, I was one of those students) and he asked to read what I had written.

  I was hesitant. I am at heart very shy, a trait most writers seek to overcome. A few years ago, I attended a social gathering at the San Diego Public Library for local authors. It was very crowded and you could not go anywhere without bumping into either an author or his ego. A few were my age or older, but most were younger, adept at networking and socializing, both on- and off-line. The way they aggressively worked the room, trying to hustle copies of their own books and forge relationships, you would have thought the room was filled with editors and publishers rather than desperate writers.

  My experience is that most writers are extroverts, and those who are not Big Names are often driven by a kind of desperation that will make them buttonhole and glad-hand any possibly useful stranger not fast enough to get away. When I attended the World Fantasy Convention in Tucson (1991), I had the great pleasure of seeing the room worked by a master of the art, my friend, the late t. Winter-Damon, with whom I worked on a few projects. No editor, publisher or writer could escape him. When I remarked on his outgoing nature to his wife, Diane, she laughed and said: “Yeah, Tim can work a room like a two-dollar hooker at a Shriner’s convention. You can bet he’s going to end up with at least a half-dozen contracts.” It’s an enviable skill.

  But I digress. At the time Mr Vigil asked to see the story, my private writing was still a private matter. But he was a pleasant person and asked nicely, and I did not feel he would ridicule me, which is every young teen’s second greatest fear. So I let him read it. When he saw me the next day, he handed the story back, said he had liked it very much, and asked me, “Have you ever heard of a writer named H.P. Lovecraft?”

  I had not, but I soon would, and that long-dead fantasy writer would eventually loom large in my life and writing. Through high school and college, and on into adulthood, I read and re-read Lovecraft’s stories, eventually branching out to the other writers of his era, as well as modern writers also under his spell.

  About that time Mr Vigil asked to see “On the Moor,” I was encouraged to apply to the local paper, the Chula Vista Star-News, as a book reviewer. Publisher Lowell Blankfort was looking for a hip student’s point of view at a time when the counter-culture was in full swing, but what he got instead was me. I sent him some sample reviews, he liked what he read, and I was hired. Well, “hired” is a relative term since there was no pay, but I did get to keep the books.

  Publication in the Star-News brought a kind of notoriety, and people who had overlooked me started to notice I was alive. But I kept writing the reviews anyway. Back in those days, newspapers were still very big, especially community newspapers like the Star-News. Everyone in Chula Vista subscribed, if only to keep up to date with high school sports. The Star-News (founded 1882) is still around, but, sadly, time has not been kinder to it than any other local paper, though it manages to maintain a kind of faded glory. Because of my book reviews, I was asked to work on the Trojan Trumpet, the school newspaper, which led to formal journalism training, photography and creative writing.

  All those activities taught me about writing, but even more about publishing. I started submitting stories to science fiction and mystery magazines I had been reading for years, but not with much success, though I was able to place articles and poems with smaller journals. There were more than four dozen major digest magazines publishing science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror and detective stories, and many dozens more little and literary magazines. Of course, that was then, for now there are three science fiction magazines and two mystery magazines, and even they are not what they once were.

  Even in the waning years of fiction (I didn’t know it then, but I do now) I published regularly, even though mostly in magazines familiar to just a handful of people. While publications like The Writer, Writers’ Digest and Writers’ Marketplace played a big role in submissions, smaller publications like File 550, the Gila Queen’s Guide to Markets, and, most especially, Scavenger’s Newsletter played an even bigger role.

  Scavenger’s Newsletter was founded, published and edited by Janet Fox (1940 – 2009) a wonderful writer of fantasy and horror who also excelled as a teacher and poet. Though we never actually met, I almost feel as if I had known her.

  If it had not been for Janet dutifully publishing market lists month
after month, many of the stories in this book might never have been published. As with other aspects of the writer’s life, the marketzine has been overtaken by the digital age, and though such lists come at us now with the speed of electrons rather than the pace of a trudging mailman, it’s just not the same.

  Because of the influence of Lovecraft, I wrote lots of Cthulhu Mythos stories, some slavishly chained to Lovecraft’s archaic and formal style, others in my own developing voice. The Mythos story that finally made a splash was actually a hybrid tale, “The Adventure of the Ancient Gods,” which appeared in a fanzine called Holmesian Federation. Other tales mixed Sherlock Holmes with Star Trek, but mine brought Holmes into contact with Lovecraft’s alien gods. Since the background of that story has been explained in other venues (Sherlock Holmes: The Coils of Time & Other Stories and Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Mythos Adventures), I won’t go into it or its sequels here. One outcome of the story and its sequels was that I was profiled in “Ralph E. Vaughan: Visionary of the Dreamlands,” written for Shoggoth by t. Winter-Damon.

  It is often harder to sell a second story to an editor than the first, but usually easier to sell the third, even though in the small press world “sell” does not always equal money, and finding a little magazine that actually makes it to the third issue can be difficult. The profile in Shoggoth was a huge ego-boost, but it also caused some editors to look at my stories a little differently when they sailed over the transom. It was never easy submitting a story, but in some cases it became not as difficult.

  Just as my drawings revolve around themes and archetypical characters, so do my short stories. In themes, we have alienation, alternate history, ancient cultures, religion, fear, corruption and the feeling of being lost. For my characters, I created Mitsuko, a young woman running from a warlord in an alternate Japan; Kira, a bronze-clad warrior living at the end of the Bonze Age; Tawa of the Sky Clan, a paleo-Indian maiden taken from her home by raiders; and a bevy of loners dwelling on a dead Earth at the end of time.

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