By Christian Chensvold
When night falls, another dimension of reality awakens, as the starlit sky opens the gateway to the dark unknown, the cosmic mysteries and what lies beyond the living dream below. It is the witching hour, when the veil between worlds becomes opaque, offering glimpses into the strange realms on the other side.
Ross E. Lockhart has spent his life fascinated by the supernatural and its spine-tingling depictions in film and literature, so much so that he founded Word Horde, an independent publisher of contemporary horror fiction. And now, just in time for Halloween, he unveils a small shop dedicated to the vast world beyond. The Word Horde Emporium of the Weird and Fantastic opens on Oct. 30 at 301 Second St. in Petaluma, with regular hours Thursday to Sunday, from noon to 5pm.
The operative word for the store is “weird,” not for Lockhart himself—who’s no weirder than us—but for the specific genre of fiction to which the curiosity shop is dedicated.
Every era has its demons. The Victorian era gave us ghosts, vampires and the mad Dr. Frankenstein, while the 1950s saw an invasion of monster movies. The cynical ’70s brought us psycho killers who prowl on Halloween night and on Friday the 13th, while the quintessential creature of the 21st century is the brain-dead, apocalyptic zombie.
Wedged in between the two world wars, like an old chest containing dark secrets, is the period that saw the emergence of a new kind of supernatural horror centered around Weird Tales. Founded in 1923, the pulp magazine went on to showcase the work of horror legends such as H.P. Lovecraft. And like a thing from another world that cannot be killed, the “weird tale” became a mainstay of horror fiction re-animated by each generation. Indeed the motto of Word Horde’s publishing wing is “Weird, redefined.”
In addition to stocking books from Word Horde’s own imprint, the shop will carry a carefully curated selection of horror tomes, classic and contemporary, as well as “spooky stuff like skulls and tarot cards, and gifts for geeks and goths and anyone else who enjoys the darker side of life.”
Or perhaps just the weirder. “The weird tale set up what would become commercial horror fiction in the United States,” Lockhart says. “We publish contemporary authors exploring the numinous, the unusual, the veiled world.” It may be a small press, but Word Horde’s books have gone on to win prestigious horror awards, and many of its authors are prize-winners. Notable titles include A Sick Gray Laugh, by Bram Stoker Award-winning Nicole Cushing; A Spectral Hue, by Lambda Literary Award-nominated Craig Laurence Gidney and A Hawk in the Woods, by Carrie Laben, winner of the Shirley Jackson Award.
Opening the day before All Hallow’s Eve is all but required for an emporium like this, in order to keep the evil spirits happy.
“There’s the sense at Halloween that the veil between worlds is extra thin,” Lockhart says. “Sometimes that means you’re just flooded with memories, or can put on a costume and be somebody else for a few hours. And sometimes dreams emerge from the darkness. Horror is a genre based on a physiological response. And when you feel it, you feel it.”