What's the use if the Engine makes it so all is bound to happen the way it does?
Christopher Slatsky's Weird tale, Alectryomancer, has fractured the foundation I have built my entire world on; it's on the verge of total collapse. I've seen--at least, I think have--fragmented images of the Engine that lies beneath the Earth's crust. Aeons of archaic heritage slowly creeping out from dark vaults located in the vast, remote recesses of my mind, triggered by Phainothropus and its ancient influence.
After experiencing the geological shock wave of Slatsky's mind-shattering story, I had to do some research on him, and it bore strange fruit. One article I found on a website centered around eschatology said he was the result of immaculate conception. Another site said he has been around since before the Big Bang, originating from the universe that existed before this one. I've even read that Slatsky is a conduit for the Earth, maybe even the universe. Despite the multiple theories regarding the genesis of Christopher Slatsky, one thing is universal among all: Slatsky transcends any and all knowledge--if we can even call it knowledge--we inferior humans possess. Slatsky knows secrets that could destroy your psyche, and Alectryomancer is proof of that.
A chapbook published by Dunhams Manor Press, Alectryomancer tells the story of Rey, a field laborer in California. By day he sweats and toils in the desert fields, trying to hold on to the fading memories of his past, of another life; a life, perhaps, from another time. By night, he partakes in cockfighting, pitting Little Cerefino, his prize gamecock, against other gamecocks. One particular night, Little Cerefino is set to go against Alectryomancer, the gamecock of El Amarrador. Alectryomance is undefeated, a monster of a gamecock, "otherwordly," and "black as space." Rey has no idea, though, that greater, incomprehensible things are at work, and Little Cerefino's fight against Alectryomancer will set something gargantuan in motion that "shoulda been left alone."
Slatsky's story is by far the weirdest Weird tale I have read thus far. There is much going on, comprising layers upon layers of themes and concepts, rivaling any of Laird Barron's cosmically-charged tales. From beginning to end, Alectryomancer is nothing short of surreal, and you aren't certain if anything Rey experiences is actually real. It's possible, that the crushing weight of poverty and vague memories weigh on Rey, to the point of hallucination.The hallucinatory qualities of the desert landscape conjured thoughts of Jodorowsky's "El Topo." At the beginning of the story, Rey experiences a vision (or is it?) of a burning horse. Rey swears that everyone else saw it too, but wouldn't admit it, as "the meek refused to acknowledge this violation of their world." It's possible that Rey was the only one who saw the burning horse at that time (others would later admit to seeing it), or perhaps no one wanted to acknowledge it because something of that magnitude is better left unacknowledged. It's said by a boy that the burning horse is responsible for taking other workers to the "heavens." Another instance saw Rey being attacked by a feral boy, who the previous day was normal. Rey chased him, yet no one seemed to notice. Again, all in Rey's head, or others just wanting to avoid such strange occurrences?
Much stranger and disturbing things are afoot in Slatsky's story. Rey is in possession of a book, and has no idea how he acquired it. The book speaks of primates being "hardwired to assist in the construction of Antediluvian engines," exploited by a species dubbed Phainothropus. Phainothropus exploited the proto-humans' "predilection towards engineering skills to build Antediluvian Engines in anticipation of the Flood." These mind-fracturing passages are beyond Rey's depth. The book, in his limp hands, is of a "dreadful weight." The passages speak of archaic slavery steeped in Deep Time, taking place in a time we can't even fathom. Additionally, each time Rey opens the book, he can never remember anything he reads, always discovering something new. Along with the book, Rey is in possession of various photos. Some photos evoke fading memories, and others are completely unfamiliar to Rey. One photo in his possession is of a group of people wearing masks. He recognizes a child in the photo, but the handwriting on the photo is not his, yet it looks familiar to him.
Later on, Rey would read more from the book. It reveals that a Phainothropus head lies submerged beneath the Mohorovičić discontinuity, which is the boundary between the Earth's crust and the mantle. The book further states:
It is suspected to have evolved from crystalline substrates, recalibrated fractal connections within cognitive clouds drifting from planet to planet, accumulating minerals to repopulate, rebuild, reconstruct, and reproduce. Perpetually. Of this comes the dawn of the new intelligence. The birth of Phainothropus.
This decapitated head, even in death, retains immense power. The brain continuously transmits an "array of magnetic resonances," well into the cosmos, "spreading units of contact across planets, focal points, ascribing ley lines of derivative neo-axiomatic postulates on Earth's continents, photovoltaic vitalization reaching an apex in the Afar Triangle region." The energies from Phainothropus have influenced the evolution of Homo sapiens, with the strongest influence being found in the Afar Triangle, a geological depression that is one of the cradles of extinct hominids, site of the world's oldest tools, and home to the discoveries of Ardipithecus ramidus, and Australopithecus afarensis. The influence of Phainothropus also spread to other geographical locations, homes to megaliths and ancient monuments. Slatsky turns up the volume on the whole idea of human insignificance in the grand scheme of things. People like Rey have their belief in God, in some form or another, but that belief is incredibly simplistic and lacks true understanding when compared to the complexities of Phainothropus. El Amarrador has some semblance of what is going on. After Little Cerefino defeated and killed Alectryomancer, the Earth trembled, and El Amarrador said to Rey, "Wasn't supposed to happen like that. No telling what machinery been set in motion now." Rey pays no mind to the words, only wanting the money he won. El Amarrador doesn't have it, and tells Rey he'll get it tomorrow. Rey says, "suppose I got no choice." El Amarrador replies with, "None whatsoever. Like that little tremor we got right before the earthquake. Metal orbs shifting under our feet. Can't control none of it." Rey and everyone else are subject to the whims, fancies, and manipulations of a puppet master entrenched in the Earth. It should also be noted that Alectryomancy--one aspect of it--is cockfighting as a means of communication between gods and men. It's obvious that Rey has no knowledge of this, but there may be some sort of connection between that, El Amarrador and Alectryomancer; perhaps the death of Alectryomancer was a communication of sorts.
There's more, though. The Phainothropus distorts space-time. The trajectory of time can be manipulated and bent, which can explain the fading--or completely forgotten--memories of Rey, and those of others. When Rey went to collect his money from El Amarrador, the day after Alectryomancer died in the cockpit, the three men who guarded the entrace to the gallera had no idea who he was, even though they talked him just the other day. Additionally, the gallera was no longer there!! Tachyons and tachyonic antitelephone, signals being sent back in time, field workers disappearing, and perhaps the many worlds interpretation, play a role in time being skewed, and the possibility of alternate histories bleeding over into Rey's reality, which could explain why he doesn't outright know or recognize something, yet is vaguely familiar to him.
Honestly, it's difficult for me to go into this any further, as there is so much to digest and discuss. Slatsky has brought the big guns to Weird Fiction, and is a powerful force beyond our comprehension. He is also quickly solidifying himself as a master of the genre and his craft. I must admit, I'm somewhat afraid to read his other tales, for fear of collapsing from mental stress caused by the weight of his cosmic revelations. Christopher Slatsky is here; he is now. And if you aren't reading his stories, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.