Appearing in the latest issue of British horror zine Black Static (Issue 31) is Jackson Kuhl's medicinal mummy story, Barbary.
Suffering from a degenerative condition of the eyes, our protagonist, an unexcited sailor, seeks relief through his pipe -- smoking neither tobacco nor opium, but a blend of the mummified remains of ancient Egyptians, sold to him by the wizened types who populate the back streets of any port of call. Kuhl inventively details the curing process of this exotic smoke, throwing in a hierarchy of kings to be crumbled into a bowl and sucked through a stem of centuries: the ceremonies around embalming and burial add something to pleasure and pain relief, and our protagonist finds his tastes to be aristocratic and expensive. However, a poor sailor needs as must, and he often finds himself resorting to a more contemporary blend, made up from the human refuse he finds in back alleys. In turn this leads to physical marking out of our sailor as an outcast, beyond the pale -- as his tastes decline, so does his conscience, leading him closer to the corruption of the ultimate blend,
Kuhl vivedly evokes a dissipated waterfront atmosphere; the cumulative effect of his prose deposits in the memory an arresting still from any 1930s double feature film -- perhaps, Mr Moto's Last Warning b/w The Saint Takes Over. There are wonderful echoes of Cornell Woolrich's story of physical and moral degeneration, Jane Brown's Body. And, as a pipe-smoker myself, I raise my Peterson to the author who has written an authentic horror story which works through artifacts rather than artifice, and which delights and surprises throughout. This is the first Jackson Kuhl story I've had the pleasure to read and, I hope, not the last. Well worth investing in a copy of this issue of Black Static to read Barbary alone.
Incidentally, the story is nicely illustrated by Ben Baldwin, who has chosen a bent pipe...