Gruesome Cargoes

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

Archive for the ‘Shudders’ Category


Posted by demonik on August 15, 2007

Charles Lloyd (ed) – Shudders (Phillip Allan,1932)

H. R. Wakefield – Or Persons Unknown
Tod Robbins – Toys
Elliott O’Donnell – Accusing Shadows
H. R. Wakefield – Professor Pownall’s Oversight
Charles Lloyd – The Harlem Horror
Philip Murray – The Trunk
H. R. Wakefield – The Third Coach
Mrs. Everett – The Crimson Blind
Elliott O’Donnell – The Haunted Spinney
Philip Murray – The Patch
H. R. Wakefield – That Dieth Not

Charles Birkin – The Harlem Horror: The Harwoods, Michael, Mary and little Clare, move from London to New York. There have been a spate of child disappearances in the Big Apple, and one day Clare goes missing. Some months later, the grieving, broken parents attend a funfair on Coney Island. During a sudden downpour they take shelter in a tent which turns out to be the entrance to a freak show. The star exhibit is the ‘What-is-it?’, a one-eyed, hideously deformed creature which the barker assures is female and aged no more than ten. On the boat home to England, Michael buys a newspaper. The lead story tells of a police raid on a laboratory in Harlem where the brilliant – albeit criminally insane – plastic surgeon, Sir John Trowbridge, has been performing abominable vivisections on children and animals which he then sells on to the freak shows …

Tod Robbins – Toys: Before the town of Creston is destroyed by an earthquake, the narrator owns a toy shop in the High Street. His pride and joy is a hand-crafted model of the town, peopled with little wooden figures, one for each resident.
As the evenings grow darker, he notices a disheveled, hugely sinister gent peering through the window whenever he is alone and after several weeks this person introduces himself as Mr. L. P. D. Fate and asks him to name his price for the model. To get rid of him, the owner quotes £1,000 and is astonished when the old boy pays for it in cash there and then. Before he leaves, Fate sets fire to the model representing the owner’s house with the figure depicting his mother-in-law inside. Even as the replica burns, so does the original.
Fate, bored senseless by his immortality, uses the model as a voodoo doll, having a boy who displeases him run over by a tram and pouring a cup of water in the river to overflow the banks. By the time he’s finished, only the narrator is in one piece.

Philip Murray – The Trunk: “It is the execution of Burgomaster Heinrich who, as you see, was tortured to death in 1547. Yes, the method of extracting the entrails by drawing them from the slit belly by a spit was rather a favourite in those days …”
His aunt’s dying wish is that he take the massive iron-bound trunk and burn it. When he examines it a first time, he notes a deep stain at the bottom. Later, this time viewing it by candlelight, “inside glistened the back of a naked boy, the head forced down so abruptly that the shoulders almost touched the end of the box. The lid fell with a crash … when my brother found me a few moments later and we opened the trunk it was empty.” Later, a torture scene in a Flemish painting offers some clue as to the history of the grim dower-chest.

Philip Murray – The Trunk: The old woman on her death bed, paralysed and only able to turn her eyes in the direction of the trunk, orders ‘Burn it.’ But of course he doesn’t… A chilly little vignette from the ‘Thirties, not easily forgotten. Roger Pile

H. R. Wakefield – The Third Coach: The life and crimes of Rev. Wellington Scott, a con-merchant exposed 74 times by Truth magazine, written in his own hand from his cell at the Royal Portwick Lunatic Asylum. The ‘supernatural’ element is small but significant. Scott witnesses a train crash in which the third carriage is destroyed. Running off to inform the newspapers and claim his £20 for the scoop (no-one does sardonic quite like Wakefield), he suddenly realises there was something very odd about the tragedy: it took place in complete silence. When he looks back over the hill, all is as it should be. In time the premonition serves him well when he wishes to dispense with the services of Charity, his treacherous partner.
Dr. Langton confides to the narrator, Martin Trout, that this confession, which Scott compulsively rewrites with nary a word out of place, is all nonsense. Rev. Scott has been under the delusion that he is an infamous conman ever since he received a head injury in the Panthem rail disaster when he was thrown from the third coach.

Philip Murray – The Patch: A haunted four-poster. The narrator is convinced that somebody is hiding under his bed and, armed with a poker, takes a look. Sure enough, “A man was lying there on his side, his face toward me, his knees drawn up.” He raises the alarm, but when his fellow guests investigate they discover a dark patch on the carpet in the vague shape of a man. The next night, the bed having been moved, he allows himself a tiny peek to reassure himself that it was all nonsense …

H. R. Wakefield – Or Persons Unknown: How Sir Roger Wallington met his dreadful end after taking on the Gypsy poachers on his magnificent property, Elin Court. Having gotten himself royally pissed at his club, Wallington is driving home by the woods near Ollen when he spies his nemesis, Black Jack and his faithful hound, Scottie, standing in the road. Sir Roger swings the car at Black Jack, misses, and mows down the dog instead. “I was rather fond of Scottie, and knew all his tricks … He’s got some funny tricks too. Don’t be too sure you’ve done with him!” warns the poacher, shoving the dogs mangled face into Wallington’s.

Scottie dead proves to be even more formidable than Scottie alive and tears out the old boy’s throat.

Elliott O’Donnell – The Haunted Spinney: St. Meave, Cornwall. The narrator is passing through the Spinney by moonlight when he is accosted by a terrified, clearly half-witted labourer who asks if he heard a scream. Together they investigate and chance upon the body of a young woman – the half-wit’s wife, Mary – brutally murdered. At this grim discovery, the labourer loses it completely and accuses the stranger of killing her. The police see it differently, and the local man is hung.

Six weeks later, back in London, our man is visited by a journalist friend, Widmore, who is a member of the New Occult Research Society and imposes upon him to return to St. Meave where there have been reports of ghostly activity. Reluctantly, he complies and joins with Widmore in a midnight vigil. Sure enough, the murder is re-enacted before their eyes …

Mrs. Everett – The Crimson Blind: In his youth, Ronald McEwen had spent a fortnight at Swanmere Rectory as a guest of his uncle, Rev. Sylvanus Applegarth. The reverend’s sons are wont to tease Ronald about his belief in ghosts and one night persuaded him to visit a derelict house which – they tell him – has a reputation of being haunted. Ronald is well aware that the boys are planning a prank, but they seem as surprised as he when an upstairs blind is raised and a deranged figure comes crashing through the glass at them. Twenty years later, when the property is incorporated into his friend’s luxurious manor house, McEwen learns the truth. It transpires that the place was once a lunatic asylum, and an inmate had tried to burn his room to the ground, killing himself when he jumped out through the window.

H. R. Wakefield – That Dieth Not: “… and there were the steps at Paradown, and Ethel came out, and I behind her, and down she went, and then her crushed and bleeding face grew and grew and thrust itself into mine.”

Two documents. In the first, Sir Arthur Paradown outlines how and why he came to murder his abominable first wife, Ethel. The second is his suicide note, relating how Ethel has haunted him with crushing relentlessness since her death, the final straw being when she slips into bed with him after ruining his night out at the cinema with second wife Margaret. At one point in the drama, Ethel’s mutilated face invades a Charlie Chaplin movie!

H. R. Wakefield – Professor Pownall’s Oversight: “Morrison and you are the most brilliant undergraduates who have been at Oxford in my time. I am not quite sure why, but I am convinced of two things; firstly, that he will always above you, and secondly, that you have the better brain.”

So it proves, save for at games of chess, Pownall showing himself to be the greatest player in Britain … until a slip up at Bournemouth in the Masters final – versus Morrison – decides him to murder his life-long rival. Pownall goes on to represent his country at the World Championship in Budapesth, but Morrison’s ghost is waiting for him, guiding the pieces of his bewildered opponents. Exasperated, the Professor can only see one way out.

Elliott O’Donnell – Accusing Shadows: “A ghost story founded in fact.” Hartz Mountains. Osmandson, desperate for a room for the night, takes refuge at Frau Krassein’s. All she can offer him is the room in which her master passed away two days ago – and his remains have yet to be removed. Osmandson reluctantly accepts, even when he discovers the big black coffin at the foot of his four poster. During the night, the old man’s gruesome hammer-and-nail murder is re-enacted in shadow play on the ceiling.


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