The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All - By Laird Barron

Introduction by Norman Partridge


If you’ve an imaginative turn of mind, the name itself conjures images. A man alone. In a castle… or perhaps a manor house. A solitary gent with a few years on him; a man who’s carved his place in the world.

Of course, we’re talking Scotland. Yes. The man lives in a stone manor on the moors. There he sits, staring at a crackling fire in a huge fireplace. His hunting dogs wait at heel, ready for the bones the master has stripped bare during a long evening meal. The animals are wise enough to hold their place until the word is given. Of course it will be (and soon), for the man loves his dogs as he loves little else.

But something more than love fires this man’s engine. Just look above the carved mantle, at the claymore mounted on a pair of hooks that might just as easily be found in an abattoir. There’s a spatter of tarnish on the weapon’s hilt, but none at all on the blade. And so the claymore speaks of stories that will not cross the man’s lips this night… or any night.

Laird Barron.

It’s a name that conjures images, if you’ve an imaginative turn of mind. That’s no surprise—if you know the words of the man who owns it. If you know the work he has set down on the page.

* * *

I first read Laird’s work in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Cruising the Internet at dialup speed, I’d found that folks were talking about his stories on several message boards. The word around the campfire was that Laird was pretty damned good. In fact, several people in the business were pointing to him as The Next Big Thing.

Often, that kind of attention turns out to be a curse. Sure, it garners a bucketful of buzz, but it definitely sets the bar high when it comes to expectations. So while a young writer’s opportunities may increase exponentially with spotlight attention, there’s a price to pay if he doesn’t live up to the hype. In a way, it’s kind of like being the poor sap who caught the brass ring in the Aztec empire. You know, the one who gets everything he wants, only to be trotted to the top of a pyramid a year later, where his heart is carved bloody and beating from the rat-trap bones of his chest.

Of course, that didn’t happen with Laird.

He was nobody’s one-hit wonder.

He proved that with each new story he published.

But an image like the one I just boiled up? It’s a little hard to let go. So let’s play picture if you will for just a minute. Say Laird slipped through an eldritch wormhole in space and time, and found himself being dragged by several Aztec warriors to the top of a pyramid for a dose of sacrificial dagger and heart excision action.

Let me size up that situation.

Let me put it simply.

I just can’t picture Laird Barron going gently into that good night. I’d pay green money to see those Aztecs try to do their stuff, though.

Especially if that wormhole and pyramid came complete with a requisite number of slithering things.

Now, that’d be something to see.

Or read about—in a Laird Barron story.

* * *

When I think of Laird’s work, I always circle back to the first piece that caught my attention. Originally published in F&SF, “Old Virginia” was a knockout, pure and simple. A piece of situational suspense set in a contained environment—not unlike The Thing, really, when you looked at the story in those terms—but Barron brought so much more to this particular tale that it was scary. It’s a concise marvel, complete with sharp characterization, enough dread and darkness to fill up a novel, and just enough sense of the coming reveal to convince the reader he’s forever playing catch-up.

Anyway, I finished the story and immediately read it again, intent on discovering just how Laird managed all that in a scant eighteen pages. I still don’t think I’ve figured out the answer to that one, though I’ve read the story several times since.

But one thing I have figured out: “Old Virginia” always ends up near the top of the list when I think about the best stories I’ve read in the last ten years.

It’s that good.

And so is Mr. Barron.

* * *

Of course, Laird has come a long way since then. His Night Shade collections, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories and Occultation and Other Stories, earned him a