Forgotten Fiction: Hand of Death

Forgotten Fiction: Hand of Death

Right now, as you are reading this there are thousands of works of fiction sitting on dusty shelves waiting for our adventurous minds to seek them out.  It is the goal of this little effort of mine to seek out these shuttered tales and see how well they hold up.  Are they hidden gems full of contemporary meaning?  Or are they clunky relics of the past whose time has long slipped through the hourglass?  Let us find out.

The Story

Hand of Death by Marjorie Murch Stanley

“The theory that anyone could use an extra arm might sound humorous; it could breed horror upon horror.”

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This article also available on Medium

[I] went looking for a story that was written by a female author, and one that was of course obscure.  Way in the back of the issue I found this one, sadly sandwiched between countless advertisements.  It gave me the feeling that either this was a new author that they allowed being stuck in the back of the issue, as a way for them to get their foot in the door so to speak, or this was a terrible treatment for a female author.  Perhaps it was a bit of both.  Then I read the tag line for the story, about extra limbs and thought that even if the story was terrible, it would at least be worth a laugh and so here we are 🙂

The story begins with a female protagonist, definitely, a nice change from the male-dominated characters we usually get in these things.  We are not given a name, but we find out that she is in love with a scientist (Tom) who is working with her father on some grand medical experiment.  She and her man have been waiting for some time to get married, and have only the completion of this last experiment standing between them and marriage.  Now, knowing what we do about this being a story about people with additional limbs, I made the prediction that her beloved is going to freakify himself in the name of science, and then totally ruin his life as a consequence.  So we continue on…

We learn that Tom lives with his father in a secluded little house above a laboratory on the outskirts of town.  Of course, he does, because you wouldn’t want to just go strolling down the street with an extra arm coming out of your back in the center of town!

Our narrator tells us that she was getting her outfit ready for her big date with Tom that evening.  Her narration seems to almost pity her past self, about how nieve she was and how she didn’t have even the slightest inkling of the things to come.  She gets a call from Tom’s friend Paul, who is looking for him.  He tells her that there is no answer at Tom’s office and that he had a strange encounter with Tom that morning as he was walking a dachshund.  And here I was thinking, aw shit the dude is going to have dog parts!

Our narrator doesn’t know where Tom is, and can’t explain why he might have a dachshund, but pays it no mind and goes back to prepping for her date.  Now, I think it’s kind of clever here what the author does.  We have a slight brush with things that are laying the groundwork for the strange to come, but it is done in such a way that you can’t fault the protagonist for not seeing anything in the events.  So far we are passing the idiot plot! /woot.

The date night goes terribly as you might imagine.  Tom is distant at best and a downright jerk at worst.  He pays no attention to our narrator, gets terribly drunk, and only carries on a conversation with Paul and Paul’s girlfriend (who has a cool name, Bettina), who has joined them for dinner.  He wears a bulky topcoat to the theater despite the unusually warm weather, which I thought was a dead giveaway for concealing a third arm or something, but he takes it off at the theater, so I guess my assumptions were wrong.  Then he ditches our narrator and zooms off in a cab after the meal.

And then the plot turns as we find out that after a period of a few days where neither Paul or our narrator can get in touch with Tom, Tom’s father is found dead.  Murder by strangulation!  Bum-bum-buuummmm.

The police question everyone, but without much to go on other than an unidentified fingerprint on the table, they release everyone.  Tom doesn’t stop to even say hello to the narrator, and just bolts from the scene.  Our narrator is understandably distraught.

A few days pass without any sight of Tom.  Then our narrator gets a call from Paul.  He tells her that the fingerprint has been identified as belonging to a man that died a week prior to the murder of Tom’s father.  They are both confused and perplexed by this, and so decide that they are going to break into the lab that night and find out what they can.  And it was at this point I was wondering how the fingerprint came to be on the table.  Obviously it belongs to a body that was donated or obtained by the two scientists to do research with, or so I figured, but must still contain a mind of its own.

So the narrator and Paul break into the lab.  And like a couple of dummies they aren’t armed with anything.  Anyway, they just get into the house/lab and start rooting around with Tom appears, totally all emotionless and nutzo.  They try again to reach out to him, to get him to snap out of this crazy stupor that he is in, and eventually get him to tell them what has been going on.

He tells them that Tom’s father was obsessed with his work and on the verge of discovery.  Right we knew that.  He tells them that he wanted to take what they theorized to the greater medical community, but his father wouldn’t let him until they had successfully tested it.  Right, ok, no surprise.  Then he tells them that his father knocked him out with drugs and used him as the test case.  Then, to ensure that he is believed, Tom takes his shirt off to reveal a huge hairy twisting arm that jerks itself free when it is unbound.

Finally, the reveal!

I have to say, that when I anticipated this moment I thought it would be far more comical than it actually was.  Something about the way it’s described as “twisting” and “spidery” and how Tom has to hold it with both of his own arms just to control it made it far more creepy.  Kudos to Ms. Stanley.

So Paul and our narrator say to Tom, fuck it man let’s chop the damn thing off of you.  Tom agrees, and so they work to make preparations to do it that night.  Now obviously this is going to be more of a medical endeavor than something you could, say, do with a fire ax.  Nerves and arteries and what-not.

They get everything set, and our narrator goes up to get Tom…but finds that Top has purposefully cut the straps to his third arm and let it strangle himself.  On-ho!

Then the story concludes with two things.  The first is that after the whole ordeal Paul and our narrator become very close and get marries.  Sorry, Bettina.  Then second, that after a few months of closeness our narrator says that Paul is spending an unusual amount of time out at the old lab and with that dachshund.  Implying that perhaps he has caught the madness, and that she no longer feels close to Paul anymore…

Final Thoughts

Enjoyable albeit a bit cheesy.  It was fun to have a female narrator and a female author.  An over the top medical abomination story that I would recommend reading on your commute.  It’s not a story that is going to resonate or linger in your mind after you put it down, however.

Weirdness| 2/10

Horror | 04/10

Novelty | 4/10

Entertainment | 5/10

Forgotten Fiction: The Stolen Mind

Forgotten Fiction: The Stolen Mind

Right now, as you are reading this there are thousands of works of fiction sitting on dusty shelves waiting for our adventurous minds to seek them out.  It is the goal of this little effort of mine to seek out these shuttered tales and see how well they hold up.  Are they hidden gems full of contemporary meaning?  Or are they clunky relics of the past whose time has long slipped through the hourglass?  Let us find out.

Today’s Forgotten Fiction:

The Stolen Mind by M. L. Staley

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This article also available on Medium


[S]o I was originally drawn to this issue of Astounding Stories because of the absolutely ridiculous cover illustration of some sort of white-fur collard and cuffed aeronauts from a crashed plain fighting off gigantic and garishly colored man-sized beetles with their fists.  It’s the kind of art that only could come from the pulps of yesteryear and it is the kind of thing that warms the cockles of my heart.  The story The Stolen Mind is definitely a piece of forgotten fiction, it isn’t the cover piece, nor is it even mentioned on the front of the magazine.  It’s the kind of thing that you would never have seen unless you were perusing the issue, and luckily for you, that is exactly what I was doing.

Initially before reading the piece I was thinking that with a title like The Stolen Mind I thought I was going to be in for some sort of Lovecraftian mind swapping tale.  Perhaps not space aliens or malevolent preternatural creatures, judging from the leading art, more likely from a mad scientist or rogue psychological experiment.

So diving in we learn that our protagonist, named Quest, is a young man who has responded to an advertisement in the paper about a potentially high paying job.  He is meeting with a scientist of sorts, named Keane Clason, that offers him a thousand dollars upfront for him to sign on.  It’s a great lead in to a story because you can put yourself in the position of the protagonist and say, “yeah, I’d take that kind of money” (because remember this is 1920s dollars) but at the same time you know that there must be something really bad here for him to be offering that kind of dough up front and for the protagonist to say yes before really knowing hat he is signing up for.  Here is the quote:

“You say you need money.  How much immediately?”

Quest was unprepared for the question.

“A thousand dollars,” he ventured.

Without hesitation Clason counted out ten one-hundred-dollar notes from his wallet and laid them on the table.

“There’s your advance fee.  You’re ready to go to work immediately, I hope?”

“Certainly,” stammered Quest.  Stunned by the swiftness of the transaction, he sat staring that money that lay untouched before him.  To accept it would be like signing an unread contact.  But he had asked for it; to refuse it was impossible.

Clason explains that he and his brother have invented two marvelous devices.  The first is a kind of radio tower that destroys all life in a 500-mile radius.  His brother wants to sell it to a Balkan country, but Clason thinks that it will lead to horrible destruction and can’t allow his brother to do it.  That’s where the second contraption comes in, some sort of mind-altering device that he plans to use to convince his brother not to sell the invention, and for some reason, Clason can’t use the device on his own and needs out protagonist to help him.

The plan is a kind of convoluted one.  Clason wants to use his device, which he calls the Osmotic Liberator, to knock Quest’s mind out of his body.  Once floating free he is going to absorb it into his own body and carry him to his brother.  Once physical contact is made with his brother then Quest will invade his body and battle for control over it.  Quest will then decline to sell the device, and with Clason’s help return to the machine and be returned to his own body.

There are just so many points where this plan could go wrong that I would have slapped that 1k back on the table and got out of there.  But Clason sees the apprehension in Quest’s eyes and tells him that once the plan is done that he is going to pay him an additional $10,000.  I did the calculation and that is the equivalent of 150 thousand dollars in today’s value.  So as you can imagine, Quest is still in.  However, he sends out a note in the outgoing mail as insurance, saying that if he is not heard of in 24 hours that the police should come swarming into the office looking for him.  It’s kind of hard to think of posting a letter in a covert way in a moment when someone leaves the room, but this is the protagonist being somewhat clever so I guess I’m cool with it.

But Ho- A twist! Clason hits a hidden button and while displaying the full-sized version of his Osmotic Liberator he dumps Quest into the center chamber and absorbs his mind into his body.  Quest surmises that Clason is the real dastardly one, and wants to sell the plans for the destructive invention for a boatload of cash.  Despite his best efforts, however, Quest can’t fight back inside the mind of Clason and is essentially along for the ride, observing and feeling the movements of a body not under his control.

We learn that Clason has arranged for his brother to be kidnapped and held in a particular location.  Clason then arranges for the police and him to rescue his brother, and at the time of rescue to transfer Quest’s mind into the body of his brother.  His entire plan hinges on the fact that he has Quest’s mind under hypnotic control to do whatever he says.  There is some great writing here where Quest tries desperately to give control of the body back to Clason’s brother Phillip or even to break the control himself through sheer force of will.  But in both instances, he finds that he is unable, and the hypnotic commands that Clason gives him must be obeyed without question.

There is a real conceit here in the story that I stumbled over.  I just find it hard to believe or perhaps a better way of saying it would be that I find it hard to suspend belief in the fact that Clason is able to hypnotically control another person.  There seems to be at least a modicum of science behind some of the other devices and theories that permeate this story, but in this case, there is only the cold claim that Clason can do this with his mind.

The mad scientist Clason and the possessed body of his brother meet up with their eastern European agent and take a small pane out to the facility where Clason has constructed a full-sized version of the machine.

Now I thought that at the beginning that this device looked like a little radio tower, and that it broadcast a frequency that killed all life in a huge radius around it.  But as we will see in this scene, what is constructed is a tower of sorts, but with a directional set of barrels that can point the radio waves in a particular direction.  It seemed kind of strange to me because earlier in the story Clason laughs at the thought of a “death ray” and says that his invention is so much more devastating than anything that would be considered a “death ray”, but then here you go with what is essentially a pointable weapon that kills everything living in its path.  I mean, it kind of sounds like a death ray to me…

Anyway, despite Quest’s attempts at resisting the will of his master, he is forced to play the part of the brother.  The three leave the plane, and take the machine for a test drive, killing everything in a 500-foot swath.  The agent is impressed and horrified, and the deal is struck.

The story gets a bit muddy at points, with both Clason and his brother being referred to by their shared last name, and with our protagonist being in the body of another man, yet controlled by the antagonist.  The author uses many of the names interchangeably, referring to the antagonist as Keane and Clason.  But by reading slowly you can parse out what the next few scenes are without too much trouble.

Clason’s death ray has overshot the mark in the little experiment and killed several people out on a boat beyond where the range of the device should have stopped.  Quest is not hell-bent on stopping the mad scientist at all costs but still has a very hard time doing anything against the master’s will.

Clason then gets an idea, he is going to pin the deaths of those on the boat on his brother and Quest, but before he can put that into motion, what the police are already there!  He is certain that the police won’t believe the body-switching story if the two try and tell the truth, and he will live out the rest of his days super-rich.

Then, a Deus ex Machina event! Clason begins to suffer from chest pains, which we find out later is heart disease.  Exersaiubated by the arrival of the police the mad scientist is weakened enough for Quest to exert some control over the master.  He hits the secret switch over the vat that was once used on him and sends Clason into the center ring of the device.

The switch is thrown and Quest is thrown back into his original body, yay.  The police come bursting in and find Quest naked, Phillip (Clason’s brother) disoriented and Keane Clason dead at the bottom of the device’s liquid.  Despite the strange circumstance, they are instantly clapping Quest on the shoulder congratulating him on a job well done.  Which, yeah, is more than a little abrupt and weird.  Then the story ends with a statement saying that for Quest’s involvement with the whole ordeal he was given a promotion, which doesn’t make any sense because he was not really a on the books kind of employee, and is sent a heartwarming letter of thanks from the president of the united states.

Oof, talk about a hasty and forced ending.

Final Thoughts

While the interplay of wills within Phillip’s mind was novel and well written, the story, on the whole, didn’t really grab me.  The quasi-science was honestly pretty good, and the death machine was understandably a terrifying thing, and definitely something that you wanted to see out of the hands of any kind of military.  But poor scene flow and poor setup of the rules for mind control left me with a lot more questions and frustrations than anything else.  That coupled with the abysmal saccharine ending made me wish I had picked some other story from the issue.

Weirdness| 03/10

Horror | 04/10

Novelty | 6/10

Entertainment | 3/10

Forgotten Fiction: Satan’s Phonograph

Forgotten Fiction: Satan’s Phonograph

Right now, as you are reading this there are thousands of works of fiction sitting on dusty shelves waiting for our adventurous minds to seek them out.  It is the goal of this little effort of mine to seek out these shuttered tales and see how well they hold up.  Are they hidden gems full of contemporary meaning?  Or are they clunky relics of the past whose time has long slipped through the hourglass?  Let us find out.

Today’s Forgotten Fiction:

Satan’s Phonograph by Robert Bloch

This article also available on Medium

[H]ere is a fun little piece I dug up from the Pulp Fiction Archive.  It’s only a scant two pages in the original print, which I’ve linked to above.  It begins with an unnamed narrator who has come to own a phonograph that he tells us has the ability to play from it a human soul.  Now I’m not going to even attempt to figure out how a device that looks like a standard phonograph could play a soul, or even what that would even sound like.  Are we presuming that it would sound like a voice speaking?  I was willing to suspend my disbelief, but things were already on shaky ground.

We learn that the device came from our narrator’s old mentor, a virtuoso at the piano named Gustav Frye.  If there is a reference or homage here, it went over my head.  He is a strange teacher that believes that to truly master the art of playing music, you must play with your soul.  Ah, I thought, I can see a bit clearer where this is going.  Perhaps a musician that bears his soul in his music, and is recorded, has a part of his soul captured in the recording.

Our narrator explains that he found fame and fortune at the piano after learning from the master.  Once he found this fame however, his mater left him.  And so our narrator went along with his life, playing across America and Europe, and eventually marrying his wife Maxine.

…and then, of course, the master returns.

And then- Gustav Frye came back!

I’ll never forget the night, I was home alone.  Maxine had gone our to spand the evening with friends, I remember that I was sitting before the fire stroking the black fur of Tiger, our cat.

Suddenly, the cat arched its back and hissed.  Then silently, our of nowhere, Gustav Frye glided into the room.

He was little, and wrinkled, and old.  He was clad in rags.  But somehow, he looked terribly impressive.  Perhaps it was his eyes- perhaps something that seemed to peer from within or behind them.

Frye has a big black case containing a phonograph in his hands.  He tells the narrator that he has been working ever since they last met on this machine, although he states that it is not mechanical, and he has finally completed it.  Frye also lets us know that he was locked up for a time, but he has recently broken out for the sole purpose of visiting the narrator.

The old master claims that the device can capture souls, not just sound waves.  He babbles a bit about vibrations and electrical impulses, but our narrator laughs at the ridiculousness of it.  I and have to admit that although a half-hearted explanation is given about how such a device would operate on principal, I was still feeling a bit shakey about it.  The old man has a bunch of scientific explanations about bodily waves but is really talking about the soul.  A concept that does not have any scientific basis, and so it felt strange trying to justify the principals of the machine in scientific terms when what it does has nothing to do with that.  Anyway…

Frye wants to put on a demonstration, and so like in so many stories like this the cat is used as a test.  The phonograph has red glowing lights but does not need to be plugged in.  The cat is then held up to the microphone, which looks like a standard microphone, and hisses and yowls into it.  After a moment the recording is complete, and the cat is DEAD!

I was not sure that it was going to kill the cat.  In many stories bodies can exist without a soul, usually depicted as lethargic and without any energy anymore, or willpower.  But here the cat is just dead.  The narrator yells at Frye, demanding that he leave and never return.  Frye seems confused and tells our narrator that he was responsible for his fame and fortune and that our narrator owes him.  He wants protection and a place to work to perfect his machine and even offers our narrator a portion of the fortune to be made once his plans and the machine are perfected.

Our narrator kicks him out.  But the next day Frye returns, while the narrator is away, and meets his wife Maxine.  Our narrator then returns home to find his wife dead on the floor, with her voice being played from that infernal machine on a nearby table, calling out to him for help.

Our narrator is distraught, and can only think about how he will never see his wife again.  He collapses, weeping to the floor.  He presumes to have fallen asleep, but I think it is more likely that he was drugged by Frye.  For the old master seemingly has returned while our narrator was asleep and recorded HIM!

The story concludes with a fun and clever little ending.  The story that we have been reading is really the recording of our narrator’s voice.  He is pleading with us to find Frye and release him from the recording.  Then at the end, the recording skips, and his plea to us repeat over and over again.

Final Thoughts

Fast and fun, with only a little bit of hokey scientific logic to get over to enjoy.  Definitely worth a quick read.  It’s the kind of story that lets you see a bit of how Bloch operates.  He clearly got a fun idea into his head, and then wrote this little piece to fully explore that seed of a scene.  We don’t learn where or how Frye was able to create such a device, or what his eventual plans are which lends itself to the weird in a way.  It has a couple of enjoyable horror tropes, killing the cat and ending with the narrator trapped and pleading with us as the reader.  I thought the concept was fun and original and had a good time.

Weirdness| 03/10

Horror | 07/10

Novelty | 7/10

Entertainment | 7/10

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Forgotten Fiction: The Specter Cuts the Ace

Forgotten Fiction: The Specter Cuts the Ace


Right now, as you are reading this there are thousands of works of fiction sitting on dusty shelves waiting for our adventurous minds to seek them out.  It is the goal of this little effort of mine to seek out these shuttered tales and see how well they hold up.  Are they hidden gems full of contemporary meaning?  Or are they clunky relics of the past who’s time has long slipped through the hourglass?  Let us find out.

Today’s Forgotten Fiction:

The Specter Cuts the Ace by Stinson Hosey

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[T]he title of this story is what caught my attention.  It seemed intriguing, although admittedly I didn’t know what exactly what was meant by “cutting the ace”.  It’s the cover story for Ghost Stories Magazine, which is usually also a good sign, since I have to believe that the editors of these periodicals must have wanted to put their best foot forward.  The scan of the yellowed pages was fun to dive into; so let us examine this little blast from the past.

The story begins with the narrator named Stinson spying on his wife as she gets ready for a night out on the town.  We learn that there are rumors of perhaps infidelity on her part with his friend Randolph.  The narrator comes across as hot tempered and jealous by nature, and as I read along I couldn’t help but feel like he was unjustified in his actions/emotions.  We learn that the couple are planning a trip to Washington, but that he would rather not go.

Approaching his wife who’s name we learn in Jean, the narrator sees in her minuscule reactions things that confirm his growing suspicions.  We find out that they are both leaving for separate trips, the wife leaving with friends to “The Forresters” and then via a late night train, and our narrator by other means.  Their dialogue starts off light, with Stinson raining compliments down on his wife, but quickly things get a bit weird.  Stinson makes a comment about being jealous of another man, and his wife picks up on a bit of his underlying rage.

We then learn about a weird quirk in their relationship.  Apparently they agreed to be together for five years, during which time if they fell in love with another they would be allowed to leave the relationship.  At the time when I read this I was thinking that this might be a marriage of convenience, so that perhaps the woman could become an american citizen or something.  Our narrator then might have caught feelings for her, and complicated this plan that they had going.

Stinson then bids farewell to Jean before they can really conclude their conversation and jumps off into a cab.  He reflects as he is speeding away how he has felt followed the last few times he has left, but since he can’t seem to spot anyone on his tail he gives it no further thought.  What he does however is say the following:

Jean Riviere had been mine for three years.  And, pledge or no pledge, I intended to keep her as long as I chose.  I did not live her; I had never expected her to love me.  To her I was simply a middle-aged protector- and a source of money, gowns, and jewels.  Her pledge, I believed, was merely an effort to salve a passing qualm of conscience.  But she could not trick me.  My hands clenched at the thought.  I would not be made a laughing-stock.

So needless to say my opinion of our narrator sank even further.  He’s basically keeping a woman bound to him out of some strange loveless pledge, and then still conjuring up rage against her and and another man.  Either he’s lying to himself about his own feeling towards Jean, or he’s just psychotic.

Stinson continues to feel like he is being followed, and so ditches the cab and walks a distance in front of a series of reflective shop windows.  He watches the windows to see if he is being followed, and discovers that yes he is!  There are two men watching him from across the street, one looks to be a rather clumsy detective type, and the other looks like an aged and stooped version of himself.  Doing his level best Stinson evades his pursuers in the train station, making it appear as if he boarded the train, but secretly slipping out the back and to the street behind the building.

The narrator then goes through several motions with Sinson, sowing how cautions he is being, and building a bit of tension as he comes closer to completing his plan.  He goes to a poor set of brownstone houses, and we learn that he had rented a room there.  He then dresses in disguise, a shabby coat over evening ware, and puts a silenced revolver in his pocket.  He then slinks his way to the Golden Peacock, the ritzy night club that he knows Jean will be at with another man.

Stinson greases some palms and makes his way unnoticed to an upper balcony that overlooks the dance floor below.  His rage grows as he watches Jean flirt and dance with Randall (her new love).  He watches as they ascend to the upper level where he is, and he remains hidden nearby as they take a private booth that overlooks the inn courtyard.

As an aside, as I was reading this story I thought about how cool it would be to experience a swinging 1920s nightclub like this Golden Peacock.  The smokey rooms, the live swing music, the glitzy art deco, flapper dresses and Stetson have a certain allure to me.  I wasn’t sure just where this story was taking me, but I appreciated the fun images it was conjuring up in my mind along the way.

We learn here that Randall and Jean intend to marry and run away to japan together.  Randall wants to run off and leave immediately, while Jean wants to party the night away knowing that she is truly free with Stinson out of town.

Our narrator knows that they will have to return to his house to pack Jean’s things, and so he leaves the club to go lie in wait for them.  We get another glimpse of the strange doppelganger that is seemingly following our narrator here, but Stinson just shrugs it off.  It’s one of those things where I wish I hadn’t read the title of the story; because knowing that there is going to be a specter kind of spoils any kind of surprise about what this strange double actually is.

The author does a good job of conveying the stuffy tense atmosphere of Stinson’s apartment as he waits to kill the two lovers.  His nerves are tense, and he paces and plays solitaire to try and keep focused.  Ultimately he slumps in a chair, waiting and listening for the two to come.  But when Stinson looks up he sees- his doppelganger!

In a very corny exchange we learn that the look-alike is really a sort of spirit of his better self.  Translucent and independent, the specter tells Stinson that he was exorcised from him during his teenage years, and accuses him to be driven only by selfishness and hate.  Stinson denies this, asserting that he is only reacting to Randall cheating him out of Jean.  The specter tells Stinson that he has never been a fair man, and would never take a risk unless he was sure to win; and so a contest is set.  Each will take turns cutting the deck of cards until one draws an ace, if the doppelganger cuts the ace first Stinson will leave and not come back, and if Stinson wins he will no longer be haunted by the spirit.

As you might have guessed by the title of the story the specter cuts the ace, and Stinson honors the bargain.  He leaves a note for Randall telling him that he knew about everything and that he shall not return.  The end.

Was this a scary story? No.  Was this an innovative story? No.  This was entertaining only for the atmosphere and the build up of tension as we learn that the narrator intends to commit murder.  There is no twist, or unexpected challenges, nor is there really any kind of explanation as to why Stinson’s ghostly better self comes into play at all.  It’s a battle of  conscience that does not really involve the narrator learning any sort of lesson save for the fact that he will lose a game of chance.  Not recommended.

Final Score

Horror  |  01/10
Innovation  |  2/10
Entertainment  |  4/10
Sexiness  |  2/10

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Forgotten Fiction | Satan’s Bondage

Forgotten Fiction | Satan’s Bondage


Right now, as you are reading this there are thousands of works of fiction sitting on dusty shelves waiting for our adventurous minds to seek them out.  It is the goal of this little effort of mine to seek out these shuttered tales and see how well they hold up.  Are they hidden gems full of contemporary meaning?  Or are they clunky relics of the past who’s time has long slipped through the hourglass?  Let us find out.

Today’s Forgotten Fiction:

Satan’s Bondage by Manly Bannister

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[W]ho’s ready for a werewolf western?  I am!  Or so I thought going into this piece.  The cover story of Weird Tales volume 36 number 07 is none other than Satan’s Bondage by Manly Bannister.  Two things right off the bat here: Firstly, the title of this werewolf western is “Satan’s Bondage”?  What a lame name.  So lame in fact that I almost chose something different.  I was hoping for something more like- “Dances With Werewolves”, “A Fistful of Silver Bullets”, or perhaps “The Good, The Bad and the Wolfey”.  But oh well, here we are.  Secondly, the author’s name is Manly Bannister, and yes that is his actual name.  Sounds pretty macho, but let’s stop judging this thing by the cover and the author’s name and get into it.

Side note, I could only find an article about the author on the German Wikipedia… not sure what that’s about but here you go.

The story opens with our narrator and protagonist driving through the intense heat and landscape of what I presume is an American dessert.  The whole thing is just chock full of description, and after the first page of it, you want to shout at the pages to stop.  Predictably the car breaks down, and we get introduced to Joan.  Joan is an attractive young blond woman who both the narrator and I thought had no business “hiking” around out in the middle of this unforgiving landscape.

She seems suspicious and it’s refreshing that the narrator thinks so too.  He agrees to give her a lift down the road, and after adding water to the radiator and letting it cool the two are motoring along.  We find out here that the young woman is heading in the same direction as the narrator to, wait for iiiit, “Wereville”.  That’s right fellow readers the narrator of this werewolf story is headed a place called Wereville.  Oof.  I couldn’t help but feel that our chances for a great story were narrowing.

There is a weird reaction from a cowboy that they pass, further confirming that she’s bad news, and then something funny happens.

The narrator and the girl come up to a blocked road guarded by a bunch of yokels.  They tell our narrator to turn around and that outsiders are not welcome in their town.  But our man is so insistent that he belongs there, that he must go there that I started to think that maybe we were in for a twist and that HE was the actual monster.  We find out that his parents were from the town, a fact confirmed by the oldest and most curmudgeonly of the yokels, and the posse lets them pass.

Was this really a whole town of werewolves?  It’s a bit heavy-handed, the mountain behind the town is described as wolf-like, the people are wolf-like, we get it.  Even still, I was back on board.

Our narrator gets into town and convinces the locals that he is indeed the son of his parents, who were once members of the community.  We are introduced to Joan’s father Jordan, and we learn a bit more about the local ranchers in the surrounding area mobilizing against those in Wereville.  Apparently, some bible thumping priest has brought them together, and it was here that I was starting to see the making of a shootout between the townies and the ranchers.  The narrator is brought to his old family home which has been kept up and vacant.

Inside his old family dwelling, we get confirmation that our narrator, Kenneth Mulvaney, has the characteristics of the townies.  He has the same empty stare to his eyes, and just before he turns in for the night we learn that he casts no shadow in the lamplight.  Now normally I think of casting no shadow as being more of a vampire trait, but I can get behind it.  He is confirmed supernatural and guaranteed to be hated by the angry ranchers.

The next section is seen through the eyes of Sam Carver, a big man and the defacto leader of the ranchers.  He’s talking to the new Priest in town Father d’Arcy.  We learn that as the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan these wolves are only really vulnerable to silver bullets and that they kill cattle in droves every full moon.  This time the ranchers have been supplied with werewolf killing bullets, and despite their suspicions that the priest’s suggestions are a load of bunk, they gear up.  I liked this section.  You get the feeling that the ranchers are acting from a believable standpoint, skeptical but willing to try anything, and you get the motivation of the catalyst.  Father d’Arcy has dedicated his life to “stamping out evil” and clearly knows how to combat werewolves.  The tension has been cranked up, let’s see where we go.

Finally, we get the transformation scene.  Joan comes to the narrator in the middle of the night, naked.  Always in these old pulps, there are naked women.  Anyway, she leads our man to a nearby creek and the transformation happens in the water.  She explains a bit about being a werewolf, and the two trot to the mass meeting of the werewolves that is happening that night.

Manly’s werewolves are a bit different than the standard:

  1. Were-people only transform in the valley
  2. Cast no shadow during the night of the full moon
  3. Vulnerable to silver
  4. Transformation occurs in water
  5. Sunlight is deadly in wolf form
  6. They must drink fresh blood on the night of the full moon
  7. Silvered mirrors show their true form

We learn that the leader of the werewolves is an evil black wolf, a character named Bock who made a small appearance when Mulvaney first got to town.  Bock insists that the wolves hunt as a group, and that instead of going after regular game animals like deer, that they go after cattle and humans.  The narrator sees Bock as truly evil, and as a younger stronger beast, he threatens to topple the old alpha.  Werewolf fight!

They fought as wolves fight- fang to fang and claw to claw.  Rage and murderous hate flamed in Mulvaney’s wolf-brain.  His man-brain looked askance, observed what he did, and approved.

The night was made fearful with their hate.  Their snarling rage struck silence and terror to the tiny denizens of the field.  The moon and the stars looked on impassively.

Mulvaney sought with murderous fangs the throbbing jugular of his enemy.

Mulvaney prevails, yay!  But then something strange happens.  Instead of blood Bock seems to have bled glowing sulfur, and rising up there is a demonic form cloaked in mist and purple lightning.  We learn that a demon was possessing Bock, and seeks at some point to possess our narrator.  It seems the demon has collected all of the old descendants of the witch folk of eld (the werewolves) for some greater purpose to collect souls and battle against humanity for supremacy.

Corny super-villain alert.  Let’s be real here for a moment, the demon has assembled 65 people in a remote town where they can barely eke out an existence.  It seems to me that there is really no threat here.  And let’s add to that the fact that while he possesses somebody, besides perhaps making them want to do evil things they gain no power.  Bock died no problem.  I don’t know, it just feels like this contrived demonic figure really is all bark and no bite (duh-dum, tiss).

Mulvaney leads the pack to the cattle, where he is attacked by a rancher with holy water.  The blessed fluid burns him and sends him and the rest of the back fleeing.  Mulvaney has a moment of clarity because of this, and figures that he will just lead the group back to the creek where they will transform back into people and be done for the night.  But wait! The ranchers have mobilized along the creek and are ready to attack.

Half of the wolves die in the first assault, Joan among them.  The rest fled back up into the hills and howl with all their sorrow and frustration.  Mulvaney knows that they are monsters, that they have been beaten and are doomed.  Dawn is fast approaching, and so they rush the waterline once more and are slain.

Final Thoughts

An entertaining story that lets you empathize with the werewolves instead of making them into the default monsters of the piece.  I liked that there were no good guys and bad guys save for the priest and the demon who were both evil in my mind, but rather a bloody conflict born out of a bad situation.  Solidly entertaining and only stumbled a couple of times I think.


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