L. A. Lewis – Tales Of The Grotesque: Uneasy Tales (Philip Allan, 1934)
Many thanks to Robert Weinberg for kindly granting me permission to use his cover scans.
The Tower Of Moab
The Chords Of Chaos
The Meerschaum Pipe
The Iron Swine
Animate In Death
“Squadron Leader Leslie Allin Lewis (1899-1961) was a veteran of both world wars, flying Sopwith Camels over France in 1918 and Hurricanes over England in 1940. He was also one of the best writers in the macabre and supernatural genre between wars. A collection of his unusual and excellent stories was published in 1934 under the title Tales Of The Grotesque.
From Richard Dalby’s introduction to Haunted Air in The Mammoth Book Of Ghost Stories 2, 1977.
Officially a Creep, a modern edition, edited by Richard Dalby was published by the Ghost Story Press in 1994, and includes what seems to be L(eslie) A. Lewis’s only other contribution to horror fiction, The Author’s Tale – ghosts get down to some serious bondage and caning fun (!) – from Christine Campbell Thomson’s Terror By Night. Prior to that, the excellent Hugh Lamb had revived a few of the stories for his anthologies.
The Child: The narrator, a city boy and motorcyclist – though not, as he hastens to point out, the type “that carries a leggy flapper on the pinion and sports a cigarette holder a yard long”: What’s the matter with him? – investigates an alleged haunting at a gamekeepers cottage in the woods near ‘Wailing Dip’. Some years before, a woman who’d murdered her children had escaped from the local asylum and was last seen near the site. She was heavily pregnant at the time. The woman is presumed dead down a pot hole, but who or what has been stealing poultry from the village these past years and what did a poacher see that scared him to death?
The Meerschaum Pipe: The narrator moves into ‘Heroney’, the former country residence of Harper who butchered several women and buried them in the surrounding fields. Or rather, parts of them:
“The most revolting feature of the murders was his habit of severing the head and limbs and leaving them on the scene for identification, while carrying away the trunk for addition to a sort of museum …”
In between visits to the Vicarage and brushing up on his golf handicap, the new squire takes to smoking Harper’s best pipe. The discovery of a gypsy girl’s mutilated remains in Arningham Woods signals a new reign of terror …
Hybrid: In his youth Chambers was plagued by nightmares which a clairvoyant later convinced him were flashbacks from a previous life when he was an adept black magician. when Chambers marries and takes up home in Sussex he realises that this is where his diabolical incarnation practiced evil and the adjoining field is where he was burnt at the stake. his familiar, a raven-like bird, gradually takes him over until – as his devoted wife explains to Dr. Cole – “His body is mad, but his mind is sane”. chambers degenerates into a hopping, squawking sex maniac and ravishes his wife. Dr. Cole eventually gets a specialist to take care of him but in the meantime Mrs. Chambers gives birth …
The Tower Of Moab: “A veritable flock of ghoulish wraiths whirling about a young girl who stood on the kerb, wearing on her face a look of desperation that spoke of private tragedy … She uttered a ghastly, sobbing scream and hurled herself with a kind of boneless wriggle under the wheels of a lorry.”
A salesman, down on his luck, is fascinated by a huge yellow structure began by a religious cult eighty years earlier as their answer to the Tower of Babel. Fascinated and at a loose end, he jacks in his job and takes a room at the local inn where he can drink himself insensible while investigating the tower. As he sinks further into Whiskey oblivion, he becomes aware of the Devils and Angels flitting about the top of the column until the latter descend on the unwitting public en masse, tormenting them with their sins. Eventually his own demons appear and he’s taken away to a lunatic asylum.
The Author’s Tale: “He would kidnap the venomous swine of a woman and hold her captive in a secret place that he knew, flogging her daily until brute force brought her to absolute subjection.”
He is ‘Lester’, usually an amiable enough fellow with a weakness for the ladies, and she is his third wife who has ruined him, while the remote spot is a deserted farmhouse where he has rigged up his apparatus, a frame with straps and pulleys attached easily capable of suspending his greedy ex until she sees the error of her ways. What he hadn’t accounted for was the place being haunted – and by fiends of particularly sadistic bent who commandeer his torture device and use it to discipline one of their own with a savagery that has even the vengeful Lester. what he witnesses that night persuades him to make a significant amendment to his plans …
Haunted Air: “Apart from its extraordinary shade of pulsating, unnatural green, the object was quite evidently not a bird, and he might momentarily have dubbed it a grotesque toy balloon … but for the fact that it was so obviously – and somehow horribly alive. Carr described it as resembling a monstrous monkey, clambering with incredible speed up an invisible rope.”
A series of mysterious light aircraft crashes claim the lives of a succession of experienced pilots and their passengers. Ace record-breaker Pitchmann sneers at Carr’s death, dismissing him as an amateur and a lightweight, and takes to the skies in unpromising weather to prove how great he is. Meanwhile at the bar, Beckett gives his alarming take on the recent tragedies.
Vault of Evil’s Tales of the Grotesque thread.