Joseph Payne Brennan - Nine Horrors & A Dream (Ballantine, 1958)
Slime Levitation The Calamander Chest Death In Peru On The Elevator The Green Parrot Canavan's Back Yard I'm Murdering Mr. Massington The Hunt The Mail For Juniper Hill
Is there any point putting SPOILER warnings any more? Whole board is like one enormous festival of the bastards. Anyhow. Brennan dedicates Nine Horrors .... "To the Memory of Weird Tales 1923-1954" and, along with Richard Matheson, he was among the last of that esteemed mag's great finds.
Levitation: Morgans Wonder Carnival plays Riverville, an isolated mining community starved of entertainment. The troupes star attraction is the black-clad Hypnotist who requires a volunteer for his demonstration. Frank is eventually shamed into the job after lobbing peanuts at volunteer #1. The Hypnotist puts him under and commands him "Rise from the platform. Rise!" Frank rises. The Hypnotist falls to the floor clutching his chest. Frank rises.
Slime: "A thing of slimy blackness, a thing which had no essential shape, no discernible earthly features. It was a shape of utter darkness, one second a great flopping hood, the next a black viscid pool of living ooze which flowed upon itself, sliding forward with incredible speed."
Blown from the ocean bed by a volcanic eruption, the slime takes up home in Wharton's Swamp on the outskirts of Clinton Center. Cursed of an insatiable appetite, it devours all living things in its path, getting its first taste of human flesh when wino Henry Hossing sets up camp in the trees. Next up is old man Gowse's cow, followed shortly afterward by his neighbour, Rupert Barnaby. At first his claims that there's something terrible lurking in the swamp are laughed off as further evidence of his lunacy, and the slime amasses a considerable number of victims before Chief Underbeck realises he's right.
On The Elevator: A rotting ship is dislodged from the sea bed during a storm and pieces of wreckage wash ashore. Presently a figure in a rotting black raincoat slopes through the lobby of the Atlas Hotel on Ocean Street and into the elevator before the night-porter can get a good look at him. A piercing scream from the woman in 311 heralds a night of terror.
Great little horror story this and notable for an extreme death by long fingernails!
The Hunt: Mr. Oricto is overcome by a wave of depression at Newbridge station. He's sharing the waiting room with a nondescript gent, who, for some reason, makes him feel extremely vulnerable. When the train arrives, the stranger boards the same carriage and doggedly pursues the target, at one point even gatecrashing his taxi ride home. Cornered in an alley, all Mr. Oricto can do is ask "Why?" The stranger chuckles with glee ...
I've known bibliophiles to list this as both a werewolf and a vampire story and I guess you can make a reasonable argument for both cases.
The Mail For Juniper Hill: Big Ed Hyperson may be a "hard-drinking skirt-chasing rascal" but he's also a damned good postman, never having failed to complete his collection round in ten years, so he's not about to lose his record to a snow storm. Furled on Cider and Brandy he sets off into the blizzard: "I'll have the mail back here today with Christ's help - or the Devil's. I'll bring the mail from Hell, needs be!" Famous last words.
I'm Murdering Mr. Massington: Brennan encounters Massington in a Boston bar. The man is tormented by the thought that when he dies nobody will remember his name or that he ever existed. On learning that his drinking partner is a struggling author, he asks to see some of his work. Brennan lends him a book of poetry and a few magazines:
"He said he was sure that a handful of stories would survive. The stories he found uneven, but he felt some day I would publish the best of them in a collection. At the least, he predicted, a half a dozen of them would pass into anthologies".
Mr. Massington clearly had something of the Nostradamus about him.
Seeing a way out, Massington imposes on Brennan to write a story about him. He insists on one macabre condition: on publication, he will kill himself which should help gain the piece notoriety and ensure his name lives on.
The following, not included in Nine Horrors And A Dream are also worthy of your time.
Marianne: Marcellus stands gazing out to sea calling out to his drowned lover. The bloated corpse responds to his call. Dead people coming out of the sea seems to have been a favourite of his. See also On The Elevator and:
Black Thing At Midnight: (Magazine Of Horror #16, Summer 1967) The hideously mutilated animated corpse of beachcomber old man Fallon returns to the empty Seabreeze Manor, and destroys hapless Jenkins the Janitor.
The Horror At Chilton Castle: Wexford village, North of England. Brennan, on a working holiday in England, has a chance meeting with William Cowarth, factor of the castle, who informs him that tonight's the night when Frederick, the 13th Earl, must learn the sinister secret of the locked room. Brennan's arrival is providential as another of the blood is required to accompany him, and Frederick's father has recently died. Within, fettered to the wall, awaits Lady Glanville who made a pact with the Devil in the 15th Century. How has she survived that long?
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.