"Madness is the key to all of it; don't you see?"
These Black Winged Ones is the first chapbook released by Myth Ink books. The initial printing was limited to a mere 100 copies, though a second printing is still available for order as of this writing.
Within the first few pages we are greeted with a rather touching introduction from Pete Rawlik, a tremendous author in his own right that more people should be reading. To be honest, his foreword is as beautifully crafted as the story it introduces.
Pugmire's tale begins by acquainting us with a young woman willing to do whatever necessary to acquire the ability to dream. Her obsession leads her to a neglected bookshop, replete with dusty tomes of occult lore and a mysterious gentleman willing, at least initially, to assist in her quest. As the two characters converse, we are given an underlying sense that both are harboring secrets and their coming together will likely not end well. The setup reminded me of something out of a Machen or M.R. James story, and I quite enjoyed the antiquated atmosphere.
This being a short story, I am hesitant to speak too much of the plot for fear of spoiling the fun for those yet to read it. What I will say is that, in the span of just over 3,000 words, Pugmire guides us expertly from the dimly-lit bookshop and into a place of even deeper shadow; a place where things are waiting, and have been waiting for a long time.
Wilum H. Pugmire has accomplished something exceedingly difficult with his fiction: he has mastered the art of writing a Lovecraftian tale without it becoming a pastiche. His word choice, his dialogue, even his themes are at times quintessential Lovecraft; however, when he chooses to show that influence, it never detracts from the seriousness of the story, and most certainly never overshadows the confidence of his own voice.
I'd also like to give quick mention to illustrator Luke Spooner's beautiful cover artwork. Not only has he provided a captivating illustration that complements the story, he has visualized the theme of the tale without spoiling it. I hope to see more of his work in the future.