Gruesome Cargoes

Horror fiction 1925-1937: ‘Not At Nights’ & ‘Creeps’

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Grim Death

Posted by demonik on August 15, 2007

Christine Campbell Thomson (ed) – Grim Death (Selwyn & Blount;Aug,1932)


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Many thanks to Robert Weinberg for kindly granting me permission to use his cover scans.

J. Leslie Mitchell – If You Sleep In The Moonlight
Bassett Morgan – Island Of Doom
Anthony Vercoe – Flies
Arthur Woodward – Lord Of The Talking Heads
Rosalie Muspratt – Helvellyn: Elivion Or Hill Of Baal
Harold Ward – House Of The Living Dead
J. Dyott Mathews – The Wings
Oscar Cook – The Great White Fear
Robert E. Howard – The Black Stone
Elizabeth Sheldon – The Ghost That Never Died
Flavia Richardson (Christine Campbell Thomson) – Behind the Blinds
David H. Keller – The Thing in the Cellar
Hester Holland – Dorner Cordainthus
Maurice Level – Night And Silence
Guy Preston – The Inn

Spoilers, etc

Bassett Morgan – Island Of Doom: On a remote tropical island, Bill Evans carries out his pioneering research in the field of brain surgery with only wife Nell, two Chinese assistants and a tame orang-utang, Willie, for company. “Think if we could take human wrecks and use the best bits! That’s what my surgery is for”, he explains to Mansey, the fellow who periodically visits the island to deliver the surgeon’s supplies. Mansey admires the crocodiles with the brains of hens and the fly trap orchids – “cultivated and bred for size and ferocity” – fed by Willie with lumps of pig meat. Most of all, though, he admires Nell.

Bill Evans’ neglected but loving wife has another admirer, Dink Forster, Bill’s fellow surgeon, whom she jilted, and when he arrives at the island to assist in his rival’s experiments, it is with malice aforethought. Forster takes advantage of Nell’s brief sojourn to Australia (where she’s gone to have a baby) to operate on her husband, transplanting Willie’s brain into his head and vice versa. As he crows to the horrified Mansey: “He’ll have time to think of the Hell I’ve endured thinking of Nell with him. Only with Nell and me the seperation was geographical. With Nell and Bill it’s biological!”

Mansey is clubbed unconscious and strapped down for brain surgery, but the orang-utang with Bill’s brain rescues him, slashes Forster to pieces and then throws himself into the midst of the monstrous vampire flowers.

Guy Preston – The Inn : Frank Metheun, stranded on the mist shrouded Cumberland moors, chances upon an early theme pub with an extremely off-putting sign:
“This was in the nature of a coffin supported by six headless bearers goose-stepping towards a white headstone. Underneath … with grim irony, the legend ‘Ye Journey’s End'”.

Somewhat reluctantly, he decides to put up there for the night. At first, his main cause of concern is that the landlord is eyeless and reminds him of a slug, but there’s also a beautiful girl hanging around and at least she must be harmless …

On retiring to his room, he decides against taking a bath when he notices it is still “thick and slippery” with the blood of the previous guest. As darkness descends, the Landlord and his dishy daughter pay him a visit …

One of my all time favourites of the “Not at Nights”, and the climactic pursuit across the rooftop is genuinely exciting.

J. Leslie Mitchell – If You Sleep In The Moonlight : Psychological terror: did he stick a knife into his cheating wife’s throat and then place her corpse in a trunk in the garden shed, or has he dreamt the entire episode?

Rosalie Muspratt – Helvellyn: Elivion Or Hill Of Baal : Campbell Martin meets a stranger in black on the way to Grisedale tarn. The man, Jones, warns him that it is not safe to be on the mountainside after dark as the Druid’s used to carry out human sacrifices here and the place has a bad reputation.

Muspratt was AKA “Jasper John” who contributed two stories to Montague Summers’ Supernatural Omnibus. Unfortunately, Helvellyn is among the weaker stories in this fine collection.

Arthur Woodward – Lord Of The Talking Heads: At the museum of Indian and African artefacts, Benson, the prematurely aged night-watchman, visits the curator with a bundle he wants kept on display in a sealed case, and his dreadful story of how he came to obtain it.

Two years earlier, Benson had been treasure-hunting in Equador when his guide betrayed him to the Jibaro tribe, “uncivilised brothers who make it a national pastime to remove people’s heads and convert them into household ornaments”. It transpires that their leader talks like something out of The Black And White Minstrels Show, hates honkeys and wants one as his slave.

“Git down on yoh knees, white trash. Git down on yoh knees and crawl heah and kiss mah feet.”

What was there to do? A bloodthirsty, traitorous Indian behind me, a mad coon in front of me, ready to blow my guts out. I did what you’d have done, brother. I crawled.

There is a plus side. Benson learns the secrets of head-shrinking and imprisoning souls by sealing the lips, all of which will come in handy later. Several poles are already decorated with same, and “the Big Smoke” warns Benson that, ultimately, there’s one with his name on it. The worst of it is, the leader is a voodoo adept and can read minds.

“Thinkin’ uh leaving me, wuz yoh? Jus’ try it, white trash! Yuh haid will look purty fine up dar among dose fine gemmemun. Yassuh, soon’s yoh daid I’m gonna sew yoh soul inside yoh head and keep yoh to help me lak I does dem other white folks. Yassuh, dyin’ won’t let yoh go. I keeps yoh atter you-all am daid. Oooee, I got power, I’se got conjure medicine …”

Obviously, Benson turns the tables – otherwise he’d not be a night-watchman at the museum, right? – so you’ve probably guessed what’s inside the bundle. But that’s just the beginning of his worries …

Lord Of The Talking Heads was Woodward’s solitary contribution to Weird Tales (December, 1931). It was later reprinted in the May 1954 issue.

Anthony Vercoe – Flies: A starving tramp breaks into a vacant Elizabethan house in Holborn, and is transported back in time to the height of the Great Plague. Another overwraught mini-masterpiece, revived by Herbert Van Thal for his Pan Horror series.

Anthony Vercoe – Flies: The old tramp dying in the hospital ward had a strange story to tell about the Elizabethan house where he had sheltered from the rain. Fully furnished, and with food upon the table, but no one home. Only the coffin with its solitary occupant, and a strange sound from the street… Roger Pile

Maurice Level – Night And Silence: A pair of wretched beggars – one blind, the other a deaf mute, both crippled – freeze the night away in their hovel. The third of their number, a woman, has just died and is lying in her coffin in the same room. The blind man hears scratchings and muffled cries coming from within the box …

Harold Ward – The House Of The Living Dead: “Living corpses! Men and women filched from the grave, festering in their mouldering cerements, talking, laughing, dancing, breathing, holding hellish jubilee!”
So begins The House Of The Living Dead, and Ward keeps up this hysterical note for the entire 33 pages. Dr Darius Lessman, mad scientist, abducts and kills several persons with no strong family ties and projects their minds into various corpses to reanimate them. Fortunately, Ada Rider, PI, is on to his pranks and determines to put a stop to these macabre games of musical chairs.
Graverobbing, Egyptian mummies, shambling corpses gyrating to Betty Coed on the radio – in many ways, the quintessential Not At Night story.

Flavia Richardson – Behind The Blinds: Everyday story of a brilliant scientist “stricken with a loathsome disease” and his elderly assistant, who keep girls chained up in the spare room and starve them to death. As the twisted old spinster explains to plucky Joan Morgan: “slimming is so fashionable now. Our method of reducing is a little drastic perhaps, but so efficacious … in a few days you will hardly know yourself. Your clothes will hang on you so loosely that it will be simpler to remove them entirely …. we keep our patients under a very strict regime – no outings, and no visitors – except the doctor, of course. And he comes twice daily”.
She’s the talkative one of the two. It’s the best the wheelchair-bound old boy can do to slobber “too fat … too fat” and chuckle with “filthy, senile amusement.”

Robert E. Howard – The Black Stone: Stregoicavar, Hungary. The eerie wood houses a monolith which causes madness and suicide in all those who gaze upon it for too long. The narrator, aware that it is at the height of it’s powers on Midsummer’s Eve, witnesses a bestial and bloody ceremony from the past in which a child has it’s brains dashed and a hideous, toad like God manifests on the altar. Excavating beneath the stone, he discovers a pile of bones, and a document which holds terrible implications for mankind.

Elizabeth Sheldon – The Ghost That Never Died: “You can go to bed at night and set your will to do something you want to accomplish – miles away – and it will do the thing for you, just as if you were there.”: Evelyn Renard, editor-in-chief of Mother And Child, eliminates her rivals by ‘astral murder.’ Unseen by them, her ghost hangs on their shoulder, nagging at them to commit suicide. Young Blanche proves entirely immune to her suggestions, which is doubly unfortunate for Evelyn …

J. Dyott Matthews – The Wings: Greatcombe, a small Devonshire village. Larsden is a member of the Psychical Research Society. The previous year he’d experienced some horrible phenomena in a hotel room where a man was once tied to a bed and torn apart by vultures.

Gerald Lennox is a convalescent. His Doctor has warned him that he’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown if he doesn’t rest up.

Larsden persuades him to take the shunned room 12 …

Hester Holland – Dorner Cordainthus: Another demon flower story, this one set in Surrey. Palaeobotanist Dormer patiently cultivates the maggot-like seed he’s brought back from his travels in Gondwana Land. The thing rapidly grows into a many-tentacled, carnivorous monstrosity that crushes and devours every living thing that strays too close.

Oscar Cook – The Great White Fear
Mervyn Aird, District Officer, falls for a beautiful woman who is shunned by his natives as the spirit of the Great White Death, although he knows her to be the orphaned daughter of a former D.O. Against the advice of he heads out to her cave and she agrees to wed him if he will not be ashamed to show their union in front of his people. So he takes her back downstream with him, the beautiful woman who is the embodiment of cholera …

David H. Keller – The Thing In The Cellar: From the age of three months, young Tommy Tucker has been terrified of the cellar. His parents take him to see Dr. Hawthorne who learns that the child’s fear is rooted in his belief that there’s something lurking down there. Hawthorne advises the Tuckers as to what they should do to disillusion the boy of his ridiculous fancy.

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