Tuesday, December 9, 2014

"Train for Flushing" (1940) by Malcolm Jameson, with Notes and Review

"Train for Flushing"

© 1940


Malcolm Jameson

They ought never to have hired that man. Even the most stupid of personnel managers should have seen at a glance that he was mad. Perhaps it is too much to expect such efficiency these days—in my time a thing like this could not have happened. They would have known the fellow was under a curse! It only shows what the world has come to. But I can tell you that if we ever get off this crazy runaway car, I intend to turn the Interboro wrong-side out (1). They needn't think because I am an old man and retired that I am a nobody they can push around. My son Henry, the lawyer one, will build a fire under them—he knows people in this town.

"And I am not the only victim of the maniac. There is a pleasant, elderly woman here in the car with me. She was much frightened at first, but she had recognized me for a solid man, and now she stays close to me all the time. She is a Mrs. Herrick, and a quite nice woman. It was her idea that I write this down—it will help us refresh our memories when we come to testify.

"Just at the moment, we are speeding atrociously downtown along the Seventh Avenue line of the subway (2) —but we are on the uptown express track! The first few times we tore through those other trains it was terrible—I thought we were sure to be killed—and even if we were not, I have to think of my heart. Dr. Steinback told me only last week how careful I should be. Mrs. Herrick has been very brave about it, but it is a scandalous thing to subject anyone to, above all such a kindly little person.

"The madman who seems to be directing us (if charging wildly up and down these tracks implies direction), is now looking out the front door, staring horribly at the gloom rushing at us. He is a big man and heavy-set, very weathered and tough-looking. I am nearing eighty and slight (3).

"There is nothing I can do but wait for the final crash; for crash we must, sooner or later, unless some Interboro official has brains enough to shut off the current to stop us. If he escapes the crash, the police will know him by his heavy red beard and tattooing on the backs of his hands. The beard is square-cut and there cannot be another one like it in all New York.

"But I notice I have failed to put down how this insane ride began. My granddaughter, Mrs. Charles L. Terneck, wanted me to see the World's Fair (4), and was to come in from Great Neck and meet me at the subway station. I will say that she insisted someone come with me, but I can take care of myself—I always have—even if my eyes and ears are not what they used to be.

The train was crowded, but somebody gave me a seat in a corner. Just before we reached the stop, the woman next to me, this Mrs. Herrick, had asked if I knew how to get to Whitestone from Flushing. It was while I was telling her what I knew about the busses, that the train stopped and let everybody off the car but us. I was somewhat irritated at missing the station, but knew that all I had to do was stay on the car, go to Flushing and return. It was then that the maniac guard came in and behaved so queerly.

"This car was the last one in the train, and the guard had been standing where he belongs, on the platform. But he came into the car, walking with a curious rolling walk (but I do not mean to imply he was drunk, for I do not think so) and his manner was what you might call masterful, almost overbearing. He stopped at the middle door and looked very intensely out to the north, at the sound.

"'That is not the Scheldt!' he called out, angrily, with a thick, foreign accent, and then he said 'Bah!' loudly, in a tone of disgusted disillusionment.

"He seemed of a sudden to fly into a great fury. The train was just making its stop at the end of the line, in Flushing. He rushed to the forward platform and somehow broke the coupling. At the same moment, the car began running backward along the track by which we had come. There was no chance for us to get off, even if we had been young and active. The doors were not opened, it happened so quickly.

"Then he came into the car, muttering to himself. His eye caught the sign of painted tin they put in the windows to show the destination of the trains. He snatched the plate lettered 'Flushing' and tore it to bits with his rough hands, as if it had been cardboard, throwing the pieces down and stamping on them.

"'That is not Flushing. Not my Flushing—not Vlissingen! But I will find it. I will go there, and not all the devils in Hell nor all the angels in Heaven shall stop me!' (5)

"He glowered at us, beating his breast with his clenched fists, as if angry and resentful at us for having deceived him in some manner. It was then that Mrs. Herrick stooped over and took my hand. We had gotten up close to the door to step out at the World's Fair station, but the car did not stop. It continued its wild career straight on, at dizzy speed.

"'Rugwaartsch!' he shouted, or something equally unintelligible. 'Back I must go, like always, but yet will find my Vlissingen!'

"Then followed the horror of pitching headlong into those trains! The first one we saw coming, Mrs. Herrick screamed. I put my arm around her and braced myself as best I could with my cane. But there was no crash, just a blinding succession of lights and colors, in quick winks. We seemed to go straight through that train, from end to end, at lightning speed, but there was not even a jar. I do not understand that, for I saw it coming, clearly. Since, there have been many others. I have lost count now, we meet so many, and swing from one track to another so giddily at the end of runs.

"But we have learned, Mrs. Herrick and I, not to dread the collisions—or say, passage—so much. We are more afraid of what the bearded ruffian who dominates this car will do next—surely we cannot go on this way much longer, it has already been many, many hours. I cannot comprehend why the stupid people who run the Interboro do not do something to stop us, so that the police could subdue this maniac and Ican have Henry take me to the District Attorney."

So read the first few pages of the notebook turned over to me by the Missing Persons Bureau. Neither Mrs. Herrick, nor Mr. Dennison, whose handwriting it is, has been found yet, nor the guard he mentions. In contradiction, the Interboro insists no guard employed by them is unaccounted for, and further, that they never had had a man of the above description on their payrolls.

On the other hand, they have as yet produced no satisfactory explanation of how the car broke loose from the train at Flushing.

I agree with the police that this notebook contains matter that may have some bearing on the disappearances of these two unfortunate citizens; yet here in the Psychiatric Clinic we are by no means agreed as to the interpretation of this provocative and baffling diary.

The portion I have just quoted was written with a fountain pen in a crabbed, tremulous hand, quite exactly corresponding to the latest examples of old Mr. Dennison's writing. Then we find a score or more of pages torn out, and a resumption of the record in indelible pencil. The handwriting here is considerably stronger and more assured, yet unmistakably that of the same person. Farther on, there are other places where pages have been torn from the book, and evidence that the journal was but intermittently kept. I quote now all that is legible of the remainder of it.

Judging by the alternations of the cold and hot seasons, we have now been on this weird and pointless journey for more than ten years. Oddly enough, we do not suffer physically, although the interminable rushing up and down these caverns under the streets becomes boring. The ordinary wants of the body are strangely absent, or dulled. We sense heat and cold, for example, but do not find their extremes particularly uncomfortable, while food has become an item of far distant memory. I imagine, though, we must sleep a good deal.

"The guard has very little to do with us, ignoring us most of the time as if we did not exist. He spends his days sitting brooding at the far end of the car, staring at the floor, mumbling in his wild, red beard. On other days he will get up and peer fixedly ahead, as if seeking something. Again, he will pace the aisle in obvious anguish, flinging his outlandish curses over his shoulder as he goes. Verdoemd and verwenscht are the commonest ones—we have learned to recognize them—and he tears his hair in frenzy whenever he pronounces them. His name, he says, is Van Der Dechen, and we find it politic to call him 'Captain.'  (5)

"I have destroyed what I wrote during the early years (all but the account of the very first day); it seems rather querulous and hysterical now. I was not in good health then, I think, but I have improved noticeably here, and that without medical care. Much of my stiffness, due to a recent arthritis, has left me, and I seem to hear better.

"Mrs. Herrick and I have long since become accustomed to our forced companionship, and we have learned much about each other. At first, we both worried a good deal over our families' concern about our absence. But when this odd and purposeless kidnapping occurred, we were already so nearly to the end of life (being of about the same age) that we finally concluded our children and grand-children must have been prepared for our going soon, in any event. It left us only with the problem of enduring the tedium of the interminable rolling through the tubes of the Interboro.

"In the pages I have deleted, I made much of the annoyance we experienced during the early weeks due to flickering through oncoming trains. That soon came to be so commonplace, occurring as it did every few minutes, that it became as unnoticeable as our breathing. As we lost the fear of imminent disaster, our riding became more and more burdensome through the deadly monotony of the tunnels.

"Mrs. Herrick and I diverted ourselves by talking (and to think in my earlier entries in this journal I complained of her garrulousness!) or by trying to guess at what was going on in the city above us by watching the crowds on the station platforms. That is a difficult game, because we are running so swiftly, and there are frequent intervening trains. A thing that has caused us much speculation and discussion is the changing type of advertising on the bill-posters. Nowadays they are featuring the old favorites—many of the newer toothpastes and medicines seem to have been withdrawn. Did they fail, or has a wave of conservative reaction overwhelmed the country?

"Another marvel in the weird life we lead is the juvenescence of our home, the runaway car we are confined to. In spite of its unremitting use, always at top speed, it has become steadily brighter, more new-looking. Today it has the appearance of having been recently delivered from the builders' shops.

I learned half a century ago that having nothing to do, and all the time in the world to do it in, is the surest way to get nothing done. In looking in this book, I find it has been ten years since I made an entry! It is a fair indication of the idle, routine life in this wandering car. The very invariableness of our existence has discouraged keeping notes. But recent developments are beginning to force me to face a situation that has been growing ever more obvious. The cumulative evidence is by now almost overwhelming that this state of ours has a meaning—has an explanation. Yet I dread to think the thing through—to call its name! Because there will be two ways to interpret it. Either it is as I am driven to conclude, or else I… (7)

"I must talk it over frankly with Nellie Herrick. She is remarkably poised and level-headed, and understanding. She and I have matured a delightful friendship (8).

"What disturbs me more than anything is the trend in advertising. They are selling products again that were popular so long ago that I had actually forgotten them. And the appeals are made in the idiom of years ago. Lately it has been hard to see the posters, the station platforms are so full. In the crowds are many uniforms, soldiers and sailors. We infer from that there is another war—but the awful question is, 'What war?'

"Those are some of the things we can observe in the world over there. In our own little fleeting world, things have developed even more inexplicably. My health and appearance, notably. My hair is no longer white! It is turning dark again in the back, and on top. And the same is true of Nellie's. There are other similar changes for the better. I see much more clearly and my hearing is practically perfect.

"The culmination of these disturbing signals of retrogression has come with the newest posters. It is their appearance that forces me to face the facts. Behind the crowds we glimpse new appeals, many and insistent-'BUY VICTORY LOAN BONDS!' From the number of them to be seen, one would think we were back in the happy days of 1919, when the soldiers were coming home from the World War (9).

My talk with Nellie has been most comforting and reassuring. It is hardly likely that we should both be insane and have identical symptoms. The inescapable conclusion that I dreaded to put into words is so—it must be so. In some unaccountable manner, we are unliving life! Time is going backward! 'Rugwaartsch,' the mad Dutchman said that first day when he turned back from Flushing; 'we will go backward'—to his Flushing, the one he knew. Who knows what Flushing he knew? It must be the Flushing of another age, or else why should the deranged wizard (if it is he who has thus reversed time) choose a path through time itself? Helpless, we can only wait and see how far he will take us.

"We are not wholly satisfied with our new theory. Everything does not go backward; otherwise how could it be possible for me to write these lines? I think we are like flies crawling up the walls of an elevator cab while it is in full descent. Their own proper movements, relative to their environment, are upward, but all the while they are being carried relentlessly downward. It is a sobering thought. Yet we are both relieved that we should have been able to speak it. Nellie admits that she has been troubled for some time, hesitating to voice the thought. She called my attention to the subtle way in which our clothing has been changing, an almost imperceptible de-evolution in style.

We are now on the lookout for ways in which to date ourselves in this headlong plunging into the past. Shortly after writing the above, we were favored with one opportunity not to be mistaken. It was the night of the Armistice. What a night in the subway! Then followed, in inverse order, the various issues of the Liberty Bonds. Over forty years ago-counting time both ways, forward, then again backward—I was up there, a dollar-a-year man, selling them on the streets. Now we suffer a new anguish, imprisoned down here in this racing subway car. The evidence all around us brings a nostalgia that is almost intolerable. None of us knows how perfect his memory is until it is thus prompted. But we cannot go up there, we can only guess at what is going on above us.

"The realization of what is really happening to us has caused us to be less antagonistic to our conductor. His sullen brooding makes us wonder whether he is not a fellow victim, rather than our abductor, he seems so unaware of us usually. At other times, we regard him as the principal in this drama of the gods and are bewildered at the curious twist of Fate that has entangled us with the destiny of the unhappy Van Der Dechen, for unhappy he certainly is. Our anger at his arrogant behavior has long since died away. We can see that some secret sorrow gnaws continually at his heart.

"'There is een vloek over me,' he said gravely, one day, halting unexpectedly before us in the midst of one of his agitated pacings of the aisle. He seemed to be trying to explain—apologize for, if you will—our situation. 'Accursed I am, damned!' He drew a great breath, looking at us appealingly. Then his black mood came back on him with a rush, and he strode away growling mighty Dutch oaths. 'But I will best them—God Himself shall not prevent me—not if it takes all eternity!'

Our orbit is growing more restricted. It is a long time now since we went to Brooklyn, and only the other day we swerved suddenly at Times Square and cut through to Grand Central. Considering this circumstance, the type of car we are in now, and our costumes, we must be in 1905 or thereabouts (10). That is a year I remember with great vividness. It was the year I first came to New York. I keep speculating on what will become of us. In another year we will have plummeted the full history of the subway. What then? Will that be the end?

"Nellie is the soul of patience. It is a piece of great fortune, a blessing, that since we were doomed to this wild ride, we happened in it together. Our friendship has ripened into a warm affection that lightens the gloom of this tedious wandering.

It must have been last night that we emerged from the caves of Manhattan. Thirty-four years of darkness is ended. We are now out in the country, going west. Our vehicle is not the same, it is an old-fashioned day coach, and ahead is a small locomotive (11). We cannot see engineer or fireman, but Van Der Dechen frequently ventures across the swaying, open platform and mounts the tender, where he stands firmly with wide-spread legs, scanning the country ahead through an old brass long-glass. His uniform is more nautical than railroadish—it took the sunlight to show that to us. There was always the hint of salt air about him. We should have known who he was from his insistence on being addressed as Captain.

"The outside world is moving backward! When we look closely at the wagons and buggies in the muddy trails alongside the right of way fence, we can see that the horses or mules are walking or running backward. But we pass them so quickly, as a rule, that their real motion is inconspicuous. We are too grateful for the sunshine and the trees after so many years of gloom, to quibble about this topsy-turvy condition.

Five years in the open has taught us much about Nature in reverse. There is not so much difference as one would suppose. It took us a long time to notice that the sun rose in the west and sank in the east. Summer follows winter, as it always has. It was our first spring, or rather, the season that we have come to regard as spring, that we were really disconcerted. The trees were bare, the skies cloudy, and the weather cool. We could not know, at first sight, whether we had emerged into spring or fall.

"The ground was wet, and gradually white patches of snow were forming. Soon, the snow covered everything. The sky darkened and the snow began to flurry, drifting and swirling upward, out of sight. Later we saw the ground covered with dead leaves, so we thought it must be fall. Then a few of the trees were seen to have leaves, then all. Soon the forests were in the full glory of red and brown autumn leaves, but in a few weeks those colors turned gradually through oranges and yellows to dark greens, and we were in full summer. Our 'fall,' which succeeded the summer, was almost normal, except toward the end, when the leaves brightened into paler greens, dwindled little by little to mere buds and then disappeared within the trees.

"The passage of a troop train, its windows crowded with campaign-hatted heads and waving arms tells us another war has begun (or more properly, ended). The soldiers are returning from Cuba (12). Our wars, in this backward way by which we approach and end in anxiety! More nostalgia—I finished that war as a major. I keep looking eagerly at the throngs on the platforms of the railroad stations as we sweep by them, hoping to sight a familiar face among the yellow-legged cavalry. More than eighty years ago it was, as I reckon it, forty years of it spent on the road to senility and another forty back to the prime of life.

"Somewhere among those blue-uniformed veterans am I, in my original phase, I cannot know just where, because my memory is vague as to the dates. I have caught myself entertaining the idea of stopping this giddy flight into the past, of getting out and finding my way to my former home. Only, if I could, I would be creating tremendous problems—there would have to be some sort of mutual accommodation between my alter ego and me. It looks impossible, and there are no precedents to guide us.

"Then, all my affairs have become complicated by the existence of Nell. She and I have had many talks about this strange state of affairs, but they are rarely conclusive. I think I must have over-estimated her judgment a little in the beginning. But it really doesn't matter. She has developed into a stunning woman and her quick, ready sympathy makes up for her lack in that direction. I glory particularly in her hair, which she lets down some days. It is thick and long and beautifully wavy, as hair should be. We often sit on the back platform and she allows it to blow free in the breeze, all the time laughing at me because I adore it so.

"Captain Van Der Dechen notices us not at all, unless in scorn. His mind, his whole being, is centered on getting back to Flushing—his Flushing, that he calls Vlissingen—wherever that may be in time or space. Well, it appears that he is taking us back, too, but it is backward in time for us. As for him, time seems meaningless. He is unchangeable. Not a single hair of that piratical beard has altered since that far-future day of long ago when he broke our car away from the Interboro train in Queens. Perhaps he suffers from the same sort of unpleasant immortality the mythical Wandering Jew is said to be afflicted with—otherwise why should he complain so bitterly of the curse he says is upon him?

"Nowadays he talks to himself much of the time, mainly about his ship. It is that which he hopes to find since the Flushing beyond New York proved not to be the one he strove for. He says he left it cruising along a rocky coast. He has either forgotten where he left it or it is no longer there, for we have gone to all the coastal points touched by the railroads. Each failure brings fresh storms of rage and blasphemy; not even perpetual frustration seems to abate the man's determination or capacity for fury.

That Dutchman has switched trains on us again! This one hasn't even Pintsch gas, nothing but coal oil. It is smoky and it stinks. The engine is a woodburner with a balloon stack. The sparks are very bad and we cough a lot.

"I went last night when the Dutchman wasn't looking and took a look into the cab of the engine. There is no crew and I found the throttle closed. A few years back that would have struck me as odd, but now I have to accept it. I did mean to stop the train so I could take Nell off, but there is no way to stop it. It just goes along, I don't know how.

"On the way back I met the Dutchman, shouting and swearing the way he does, on the forward platform. I tried to throw him off the train. I am as big and strong as he is and I don't see why I should put up with his overbearing ways. But when I went to grab him, my hands closed right through. The man is not real! It is strange I never noticed that before. Maybe that is why there is no way to stop the train, and why nobody ever seems to notice us. Maybe the train is not real, either. I must look tomorrow and see whether it casts a shadow. Perhaps even we are not…

"But Nell is real. I know that.

The other night we passed a depot platform where there was a political rally—a torchlight parade. They were carrying banners. 'Garfield for President.' If we are ever to get off this train, we must do it soon (13).

"Nell says no, it would be embarrassing. I try to talk seriously to her about us, but she just laughs and kisses me and says let well enough alone. I wouldn't mind starting life over again, even if these towns do look pretty rough. But Nell says that she was brought up on a Kansas farm by a step-mother and she would rather go on to the end and vanish, if need be, than go back to it.

"That thing about the end troubles me a lot, and I wish she wouldn't keep mentioning it. It was only lately that I thought about it much, and it worries me more than death ever did in the old days. We know when it will be! 1860 for me—on the third day of August. The last ten years will be terrible—getting smaller, weaker, more helpless all the time, and winding up as a messy, squally baby. Why, that means I have only about ten more years that are fit to live; when I was this young before, I had a lifetime ahead. It's not right! And now she has made a silly little vow—'Until birth do us part!'—and made me say it with her!

It is too crowded in here, and it jolts awfully. Nell and I are cooped up in the front seats and the Captain stays in the back part—the quarterdeck, he calls it. Sometimes he opens the door and climbs up into the driver's seat. There is no driver, but we have a four-horse team and they gallop all the time, day and night. The Captain says we must use a stagecoach, because he has tried all the railroad tracks and none of them is right. He wants to get back to the sea he came from and to his ship. He is not afraid that it has been stolen, for he says most men are afraid of it—it is a haunted ship, it appears, and brings bad luck.

"We passed two men on horses this morning. One was going our way and met the other coming. The other fellow stopped him and I heard him holler, 'They killed Custer and all his men!' and the man that was going the same way we were said, 'The bloodthirsty heathens! I'm a-going to jine!'
Nellie cries a lot. She's afraid of Indians. I'm not afraid of Indians. I would like to see one (14).

"I wish it was a boy with me, instead of this little girl. Then we could do something. All she wants to do is play with that fool dolly. We could make some bows and arrows and shoot at the buffaloes, but she says that is wicked.

"I tried to get the Captain to talk to me, but he won't. He just laughed and laughed, and said,
"'Een tijd kiezan voor—op schip!'

"That made me mad, talking crazy talk like that, and I told him so.

"'Time!' he bellows, laughing like everything.' 'Twill all be right in time!' And he looks hard at me, showing his big teeth in his beard. 'Four—five—six hundred years—more—it is nothing. I have all eternity! But one more on my ship, I will get there. I have sworn it! You come with me and I will show you the sea—the great Indian Sea behind the Cape of Good Hope. Then some day, if those accursed head winds abate, I will take you home with me to Flushing. That I will, though the Devil himself, or all the—' And then he went off to cursing and swearing the way he always does in his crazy Dutchman's talk.

Nellie is mean to me. She is too bossy. She says she will not play unless I write in the book. She says I am supposed to write something in the book every day. There is not anything to put in the book.

Same old stagecoach. Same old Captain. Same old everything. I do not like the Captain. He is crazy. In the night-time he points at the stars shining through the roof of the coach and laughs and laughs. Then he gets mad, and swears and curses something awful. When I get big again, I am going to kill him—I wish we could get away—I am afraid—it would be nice if we could find mamma—"

This terminates the legible part of the notebook. All of the writing purporting to have been done in the stagecoach is shaky, and the letters are much larger than earlier in the script. The rest of the contents is infantile scribblings, or grotesque childish drawings. Some of them show feathered Indians drawing bows and shooting arrows. The very last one seems to represent a straight up and down cliff with wiggly lines at the bottom to suggest waves, and off a little way is a crude drawing of a galleon or other antique ship.

This notebook, together with Mr. Dennison's hat and cane and Mrs. Herrick's handbag, were found in the derailed car that broke away from the Flushing train and plunged off the track into the Meadows. The police are still maintaining a perfunctory hunt for the two missing persons, but I think the fact they brought this journal to us clearly indicates they consider the search hopeless. Personally, I really do not see of what help these notes can be. I fear that by now Mr. Dennison and Mrs. Herrick are quite inaccessible.



(1) - The Interborough Rapid Transit company, which was established 1904 and bought by New York City in 1940.  This story would have been written in 1939, hence the narrator is talking about suing a private company.

(2) - The 1-2-3 lines, by the MTA's modern designations.

(3) - "Nearing eighty" in 1939 means he was born ~1860.  This becomes important to the story.

(4) - The reference here is to the New York World's Fair of 1939.

(5) - Once again, Captain Van Der Decken (the more common spelling of the name of the Captain of the Flying Dutchman) makes a Blasphemous Boast.  You would think he'd learn ...

(6) - It's a bit surprising that neither Dennison nor Herrick have figured out just who is their Captain.

(7) - They are traveling back through time, but in a strange way; they are growing younger, and so are their clothes (becoming of earlier fashions), even though they are thinking in the normal temporal direction relative to the car.  The car is growing younger (and of earlier models) too.  This is one way the story is obvious fantasy, rather than science fiction.

(8) - They are, in fact, falling in love.  When one considers their very limited physical circumstances, this causes some Fridge Horror considerations -- how do they get any privacy on a single subway car operated by the Flying Dutchman?  Though they have no normal bodily needs, they still  might have desires, and they could be emotionally very frustrated.  (Or perhaps they come to an accommodation with the Captain --even one for simple privacy could not be explicitly discussed in a respectable pulp story published ~1940).

(9) - 20 years before their trip started -- they are now (in 1919) only in their late 50's.

(10) - 1905 is 34 years before they started.  They are now in their mid 40's.s

(11) - Various open-air railroads preceded the New York City subway system, and now they are leaving the city and heading west into the country.

(12) - The Spanish-American War of 1898, 41 years before they started.  They are now in their late 30's.

(13) - Garfield was elected in 1880.  They are now 59 years before they started, and about 20 years old.  If they could get off the train, they could try to have a full life together.

(14) - They're about 16 now (in 1876) -- not much more than children.


This is of course inspired by the legend of the Flying Dutchman, which originated in 17th century nautical lore, and was immortalized in Richard Wagner's 1843 opera.  Van Der Decken has somehow lost his ship and wandered into the New York City Subway, from which he takes a car and (accidentally) two confused old people.

The story is light horror fantasy -- the two mortals taken by Van Der Decken suffer a frightening fate which is much alleviated by the facts that (1) they were old and likely to die soon anyway and (2) they fall in love and enjoy each other's company during their long, strange journey back through time.

For a modern reader, the story greatly emphasizes how close the world of 1939 -- just 75 years ago, so most of you reading this know at least one person who remembers it -- was to events we consider safely buried in history.  The narrator was born in 1860  -- for him, such events as the Sioux Wars and the Spanish-American War belonged to the memories of his teenage years to younger manhood.

The ultimate fate of the two main characters is unknown.  What happened when they were carried back beyond their birth?  Were they released to the afterlife?  Or did they journey all the way back with Van Der Decken, to serve on his galleon?

We shall never know ...


Sunday, December 7, 2014

"Nemesis" (1917) by H. P. Lovecraft


© 1917

H. P. Lovecraft 

Through the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
  Past the wan-mooned abysses of night,
I have lived o'er my lives without number,
  I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.

I have whirled with the earth at the dawning,
  When the sky was a vaporous flame;
I have seen the dark universe yawning
  Where the black planets roll without aim,
Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or lustre or name.

I had drifted o'er seas without ending,
  Under sinister grey-clouded skies,
That the many-forked lightning is rending,
  That resound with hysterical cries;
With the moans of invisible daemons, that out of the green waters rise.

I have plunged like a deer through the arches
  Of the hoary primordial grove,
Where the oaks feel the presence that marches,
  And stalks on where no spirit dares rove,
And I flee from a thing that surrounds me, and leers through dead branches above.

I have stumbled by cave-ridden mountains
  That rise barren and bleak from the plain,
I have drunk of the fog-foetid fountains
  That ooze down to the marsh and the main;
And in hot cursed tarns I have seen things, I care not to gaze on again.

I have scanned the vast ivy-clad palace,
  I have trod its untenanted hall,
Where the moon rising up from the valleys
  Shows the tapestried things on the wall;
Strange figures discordantly woven, that I cannot endure to recall.

I have peered from the casements in wonder
  At the mouldering meadows around,
At the many-roofed village laid under
  The curse of a grave-girdled ground;
And from rows of white urn-carven marble, I listen intently for sound.

I have haunted the tombs of the ages,
  I have flown on the pinions of fear,
Where the smoke-belching Erebus rages;
  Where the jokulls loom snow-clad and drear:
And in realms where the sun of the desert consumes what it never can cheer.

I was old when the pharaohs first mounted
  The jewel-decked throne by the Nile;
I was old in those epochs uncounted
  When I, and I only, was vile;
And Man, yet untainted and happy, dwelt in bliss on the far Arctic isle.

Oh, great was the sin of my spirit,
  And great is the reach of its doom;
Not the pity of Heaven can cheer it,
  Nor can respite be found in the tomb:
Down the infinite aeons come beating the wings of unmerciful gloom.

Through the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
  Past the wan-mooned abysses of night,
I have lived o'er my lives without number,
  I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.


Friday, December 5, 2014

"Ooze" (1923) by Anthony M. Rud, with Notes and Review


© 1923

Anthony M. Rud

In the heart of a second-growth piney-woods jungle of southern Alabama, a region sparsely settled by backwoods blacks and Cajans  — that queer, half-wild people descended from Acadian exiles of the middle eighteenth century (1) — stands a strange, enormous ruin.

Interminable trailers of Cherokee rose, white-laden during a single month of spring, have climbed the heights of its three remaining walls. Palmetto fans rise knee high above the base. A dozen scattered live oaks, now belying their nomenclature because of choking tufts of gray, Spanish moss and two-foot circlets of mistletoe parasite which have stripped bare of foliage the gnarled, knotted limbs, lean fantastic beards against the crumbling brick.

Immediately beyond, where the ground becomes soggier and lower — dropping away hopelessly into the tangle of dogwood, holly, poison sumac and pitcher plants that is Moccasin Swamp — undergrowth of ti-ti and annis has formed a protecting wall impenetrable to all save the furtive ones. Some few outcasts utilize the stinking depths of that sinister swamp, distilling “shinny” of “pure cawn” liquor for illicit trade (2).

Tradition states that this is the case, at least — a tradition which antedates that of the premature ruin by many decades. I believe it, for during evenings intervening between investigations of the awesome spot I often was approached as a possible customer by woodbillies who could not fathom how anyone dared venture near without plenteous fortification of liquid courage.

I know “shinny,” therefore I did not purchase it for personal consumption. A dozen times I bought a quart or two, merely to establish credit among the Cajans, pouring away the vile stuff immediately into the sodden ground. It seemed then that only through filtration and condensation of their dozens of weird tales regarding “Daid House” could I arrive at understanding of the mystery and weight of horror hanging about the place.

Certain it is that out of all the superstitious cautioning, head-wagging and whispered nonsensities I obtained only two indisputable facts. The first was that no money, and no supporting battery of ten-gauge shotguns loaded with chilled shot, could induce either Cajan or darky of the region to approach within five hundred yards of that flowering wall! The second fact I shall dwell upon later.

Perhaps it would be as well, as I am only a mouthpiece in this chronicle, to relate in brief why I came to Alabama on this mission (3).

I am a scribbler of general fact articles, no fiction writer as was Lee Cranmer — though doubtless the confession is superfluous. Lee was my roommate during college days. I knew his family well, admiring John Corliss Cranmer even more that I admired the son and friend — and almost as much as Peggy Breede whom Lee married. Peggy liked me, but that was all. I cherish sanctified memory of her for just that much, as no other woman before or since has granted this gangling dyspeptic even a hint of joyous and sorrowful intimacy.

Work kept me to the city. Lee, on the other hand, coming of wealthy family — and, from the first, earning from his short stories and novel royalties more than I wrested from editorial coffers — needed no anchorage. He and Peggy honeymooned a four-month trip to Alaska, visited Honolulu the next winter, fished for salmon on Cain's River, New Brunswick, and generally enjoyed the outdoors at all seasons.

They kept an apartment in Wilmette, near Chicago, yet, during the few spring and fall seasons they were “home,” both preferred to rent a suite at one of the country clubs to which Lee belonged. I suppose they spent thrice or five times the amount Lee actually earned, yet for my part I only honored that the two should find such great happiness in life and still accomplish artistic triumph.

They were honest, zestful young Americans, the type — and pretty nearly the only type — two million dollars cannot spoil. John Corliss Cranmer, father of Lee, though as different from his boy as a microscope is different from a painting by Remington, was even further from being dollar-conscious. He lived in a world bounded only by the widening horizon of biological science — and his love for the two who would carry on that Cranmer name.

Many a time I used to wonder how it could be that as gentle, clean-souled and lovable a gentleman as John Corliss Cranmer could have ventured so far into scientific research without attaining small-caliber atheism. Few do. He believed both in God and humankind. To accuse him of murdering his boy and the girl wife who had come to be loved as the mother of baby Elsie — as well as blood and flesh of his own family — was a gruesome, terrible absurdity! Yes, even when John Corliss Cranmer was declared unmistakably insane!

Lacking a relative in the world, baby Elsie was given to me — and the middle-aged couple who had accompanied the three as servants about half of the known world. Elsie would be Peggy over again. I worshiped her, knowing that if my stewardship of her interests could make of her a woman of Peggy's loveliness and worth I should not have lived in vain. And at four Elsie stretched out her arms to me after a vain attempt to jerk out the bobbed tail of Lord Dick, my tolerant old Airedale — and called me “papa.”

I felt a deep-down choking… yes, those strangely long black lashes some day might droop in fun or coquetry, but now baby Elsie held a wistful, trusting seriousness in depths of ultramarine eyes — that same seriousness which only Lee had brought to Peggy.

Responsibility in one instant become double. That she might come to love me as more than foster parent was my dearest wish. Still, through selfishness I could not rob her of rightful heritage; she must know in after years. And the tale that I would tell her must not be the horrible suspicion which had been bandied about in common talk!

I went to Alabama, leaving Elsie in the competent hands of Mrs. Daniels and her husband, who had helped care for her since birth.

In my possession, prior to the trip, were the scant facts known to authorities at the time of John Corliss Cranmer's escape and disappearance. They were incredible enough.

For conducting biological research upon forms of protozoan life, John Corliss Cranmer had hit upon this region of Alabama. Near a great swamp teeming with microscopic organisms, and situated in a semitropical belt where freezing weather rarely intruded to harden the bogs, the spot seemed ideal for his purpose.

Through Mobile he could secure supplies daily by truck. The isolation suited him. With only an octoroon man to act as chef, houseman and valet for the times he entertained visitors, he brought down scientific apparatus, occupying temporary quarters in the village of Burdett's Corners while his woods house was in process of construction.

By all accounts the Lodge, as he termed it, was a substantial affair of eight or nine rooms, built of logs and planed lumber bought at Oak Grove. Lee and Peggy were expected to spend a portion of each year with him; quail, wild turkey and deer abounded, which fact made such a vacation certain to please the pair. At other times all save four rooms were closed.

This was in 1907, the year of Lee's marriage. Six years later when I came down, no sign of a house remained except certain mangled and rotting timbers projecting from viscid soil — or what seemed like soil. And a twelve-foot wall of brick had been built to enclose the house completely! One partion of this had fallen inward!


I wasted weeks of time first, interviewing officials of the police department at Mobile, the town marshals and county sheriffs of Washington and Mobile counties, and officials of the psychopathic hospital from which Cranmer made his escape.

In substance the story was one of baseless homicidal mania. Cranmer the elder had been away until late fall, attending two scientific conferences in the North, and then going abroad to compare certain of his findings with those of a Dr. Gemmler of Prague University. Unfortunately, Gemmler was assassinated by a religious fanatic shortly afterward. The fanatic voiced virulent objection to all Mendelian research as blasphemous. This was his only defense. He was hanged.

Search of Gemmler's notes and effects revealed nothing save an immense amount of laboratory data on karyokinesis — the process of chromosome arrangement occurring in first growing cells of higher animal embryos. Apparently Cranmer had hoped to develop some similarities, or point out differences between hereditary factors occurring in lower forms of life and those half-demonstrated in the cat and monkey. The authorities had found nothing that helped me. Cranmer had gone crazy; was that not sufficient explanation?

Perhaps it was for them, but not for me — and Elsie.

But to the slim basis of fact I was able to unearth:

No one wondered when a fortnight passed without appearance of any person from the Lodge. Why should anyone worry? A provision salesman in Mobile called up twice, but tailed to complete the connection. He merely shrugged. The Cranmers had gone away somewhere on a trip. In a week, a month, a year they would be back. Meanwhile he lost commissions, but what of it? He had no responsibility for those queer nuts up there in the piney-woods. Crazy? Of course! Why should any guy with millions to spend shut himself up among the Cajans and draw microscope-enlarged notebook pictures of — what the salesman called — “germs”?

A stir was aroused at the end of the fortnight, but the commotion confined itself to building circles. Twenty carloads of building brick, fifty bricklayers, and a quarter-acre of fine-meshed wire — the sort used for screening off pens of rodents and small marsupials in a zoological garden — were ordered, damn expense, hurry! by an unshaved, tattered man who identified himself with difficulty as John Corliss Cranmer.

He looked strange, even then. A certified check for the total amount, given in advance, and another check of absurd size slung toward a labor entrepreneur, silenced objection, however. These millionaires were apt to be flighty. When they wanted something they wanted it at tap of the bell. Well, why not drag down the big profits? A poorer man would have been jacked up in a day. Cranmer's fluid gold bathed him in immunity to criticism.

The encircling wall was built, and roofed with wire netting which drooped about the squat-pitch of the Lodge. Curious inquiries of workmen went unanswered until the final day.

Then Cranmer, a strange, intense apparition who showed himself more shabby than a quay derelict, assembled every man jack of the workmen. In one hand he grasped a wad of blue slips — fifty-six of them. In the other he held a Luger automatic.

“I offer each man a thousand dollars for silence!” he announced. “As an alternative — death! You know little. Will all of you consent to swear upon your honor that nothing which has occurred here will be mentioned elsewhere? By this I mean absolute silence! You will not come back here to investigate anything. You will not tell your wives. You will not open your mouths even upon the witness stand in case you are called! My price is one thousand apiece.

“In case one of you betrays me I give you my word that this man shall die! I am rich. I can hire men to do murder. Well, what do you say?” (4)

The men glanced apprehensively about. The threatening Luger decided them. To a man they accepted the blue slips — and, save for one witness who lost all sense of fear and morality in drink, none of the fifty-six has broken his pledge, as far as I know. That one bricklayer died later in delirium tremens.


They found him the first time, mouthing meaningless phrases concerning an amoeba — one of the tiny forms of protoplasmic life he was known to have studied. Also he leaped into a hysteria of self-accusation. He had murdered two innocent people! The tragedy was his crime. He had drowned them in ooze! Ah, God!

Unfortunately for all concerned, Cranmer, dazed and indubitably stark insane, chose to perform a strange travesty on fishing four miles to the west of his lodge — on the further border of Moccasin Swamp. His clothing had been torn to shreds, his hat was gone, and he was coated from head to foot with gluey mire. It was far from strange that the good folk of Shanksville, who never had glimpsed the eccentric millionaire, failed to associate him with Cranmer.

They took him in, searched his pockets — finding no sign save an inordinate sum of money — and then put him under medical care. Two precious weeks elapsed before Dr. Quirk reluctantly acknowledged that he could do nothing more for this patient, and notified the proper authorities.

Then much more time was wasted. Hot April and half of still hotter May passed by before the loose ends were connected. Then it did little good to know that this raving unfortunate was Cranmer, or that the two persons of whom he shouted in disconnected delirium actually had disappeared. Alienists absolved him of responsibility. He was confined in a cell reserved for the violent.

Meanwhile, strange things occurred back at the Lodge — which now, for good and sufficient reason, was becoming known to dwellers of the woods as Dead House. Until one of the walls fell in, however, there had been no chance to see — unless one possessed the temerity to climb either one of the tall live oaks, or mount the barrier itself. No doors or opening of any sort had been placed in that hastily contructed wall!

By the time the western side of the wall fell, not a native for miles around but feared the spot far more than even the bottomless, snake-infested bogs which lay to west and north.

The single statement was all John Corliss Cranmer ever gave to the world. It proved sufficient. An immediate search was instituted. It showed that less than three weeks before the day of initial reckoning, his son and Peggy had come to visit him for the second time that winter — leaving Elsie in company of the Daniels pair. They had rented a pair of Gordons for quail hunting, and had gone out. That was the last anyone had seen of them.

The backwoods Negro who glimpsed them stalking a covey behind their two pointing dogs had known no more — even when sweated through twelve hours of third degree. Certain suspicious circumstances (having to do only with his regular pursuit of “shinny” transportation) had caused him to fall under suspicion at first. He was dropped (5).

Two days later the scientist himself was apprehended — a gibbering idiot who sloughed his pole — holding on to the baited hook — into a marsh where nothing save moccasins, an errant alligator, or amphibian life could have been snared.

His mind was three-quarters dead. Cranmer then was in the state of the dope fiend who rouses to a sitting position to ask seriously how many Bolshevists were killed by Julius Caesar before he was stabbed by Brutus, or why it was that Roller canaries sang only on Wednesday evenings. He knew that tragedy of the most sinister sort had stalked through his life — but little more, at first.

Later the police obtained that one statement that he had murdered two human beings, but never could means or motive be established. Official guess as to the means was no more than wild conjecture; it mentioned enticing the victims to the noisome depths of Moccasin Swamp, there to let them flounder and sink.

The two were his son and daughter-in-law, Lee and Peggy! (6)


By feigning coma — then awakening with suddenness to assault three attendants with incredible ferocity and strength — John Corliss Cranmer escaped from Elizabeth Ritter Hospital.

How he hid, how he managed to traverse sixty-odd intervening miles and still balk detection, remains a minor mystery to be explained only by the assumption that maniacal cunning sufficed to outwit saner intellects.

Traverse those miles he did, though until I was fortunate enough to uncover evidence to this effect, it was supposed generally that he had made his escape as stowaway on one of the banana boats, or had buried himself in some portion of the nearer woods where he was unknown. The truth ought to be welcome to householders of Shanksville, Burdett's Corners and vicinage — those excusably prudent ones who to this day keep loaded shotguns handy and barricade their doors at nightfall.

The first ten days of my investigation may be touched upon in brief. I made headquarters in Burdett's Corners, and drove out each morning, carrying lunch and returning for my grits and piney-woods pork or mutton before nightfall. My first plan had been to camp out at the edge of the swamp, for opportunity to enjoy the outdoors comes rarely in my direction. Yet after one cursory examination of the premises, I abandoned the idea. I did not want to camp alone there. And I am less superstitious than a real estate agent.

It was, perhaps, psychic warning: more probably the queer, faint, salt odor as of fish left to decay, which hung about the ruin, made too unpleasant an impression upon my olfactory sense (7). I experienced a distinct chill every time the lengthening shadows caught me near Dead House.

The smell impressed me. In newspaper reports of the case one ingenious explanation had been worked out. To the rear of the spot where Dead House had stood — inside the wall — was a swampy hollow circular in shape. Only a little real mud lay in the bottom of the bowl-like depression now, but one reporter on the staff of The Mobile Register guessed that during the tenancy of the lodge it had been a fishpool. Drying up of the water had killed the fish, who now permeated the remnant of mud with this foul odor.

The possibility that Cranmer had needed to keep fresh fish at hand for some of his experiments silenced the natural objection that in a country where every stream holds gar, pike, bass, catfish and many other edible varieties, no one would dream of stocking a stagnant puddle.

After tramping about the enclosure, testing the queerly brittle, desiccated top stratum of earth within and speculating concerning the possible purpose of the wall, I cut off a long limb of chinaberry and probed the mud. One fragment of fish spine would confirm the guess of that imaginative reporter.

I found nothing resembling a piscal skeleton, but established several facts. First, this mud crater had definite bottom only three or four feet below the surface of remaining ooze. Second, the fishy stench become stronger as I stirred. Third, at one time the mud, water, or whatever had comprised the balance of content, had reached the rim of the bowl. The last showed by certain marks plain enough when the crusty, two-inch stratum of upper coating was broken away. It was puzzling.

The nature of that thin, desiccated effluvium which seemed to cover everything even to the lower foot or two of brick, came in for next inspection. It was strange stuff, unlike any earth I ever had seen, though undoubtedly some form of scum drained in from the swamp at the time of river floods or cloudbursts (which in this section are common enough in spring and fall). It crumbled beneath the fingers. When I walked over it, the stuff crunched hollowly. In fainter degree it possesed the fishy odor also.

I took some samples where it lay thickest upon the ground, and also a few where there seemed to be no more than a depth of a sheet of paper. Later I would have a laboratory analysis made.

Apart from any possible bearing the stuff might have upon the disappearance of my three friends, I felt the tug of article interest — that wonder over anything strange or seemingly inexplicable which lends the hunt for fact a certain glamor and romance all its own. To myself I was going to have to explain sooner or later just why this lay er covered the entire space within the walls and was not perceptible anywhere outside! The enigma could wait, however — or so I decided.

Far more interesting were the traces of violence apparent on wall and what once had been a house. The latter seemed to have been ripped from its foundations by a giant hand, crushed out of semblance to a dwelling, and then cast in fragments about the base of wall — mainly on the south side, where heaps of twisted, broken timbers lay in profusion. On the opposite side there had been such heaps once, but now only charred sticks, coated with that gray-black, omnipresent coat of desiccation, remained. These piles of charcoal had been sifted and examined most carefully by the authorities, as one theory had been advanced that Cranmer had burned the bodies of his victims. Yet no sign whatever of human remains was discovered.

The fire, however, pointed out one odd fact which controverted the reconstructions made by detectives months before. The latter, suggesting the dried scum to have drained in from the swamp, believed that the house timbers had floated out to the sides of the wall—there to arrange themselves in a series of piles! The absurdity of such a theory showed even more plainly in the fact that if the scum had filtered through in such a flood, the timbers most certainly had been dragged into piles previously! Some had burned — and the scum coated their charred surfaces! What had been the force which had torn the lodge to bits as if in spiteful fury? Why had the parts of the wreckage been burned, the rest to escape?

Right here I felt was the keynote to the mystery, yet I could imagine no explanation. That John Corliss Cranmer himself — physically sound, yet a man who for decades had led a sedentary life — could have accomplished such a destruction, unaided, was difficult to believe.


I turned my attention to the wall, hoping for evidence which might suggest another theory.

That wall had been an example of the worst snide construction. Though little more than a year old, the parts left standing showed evidence that they had begun to decay the day the last brick was laid. The mortar had fallen from the interstices. Here and there a brick had cracked and dropped out. Fibrils of the climbing vines had penetrated crevices, working for early destruction.

And one side already had fallen.

It was here that the first glimmering suspicion of the terrible truth was forced upon me. The scattered bricks, even those which had rolled inward toward the gaping foundation ledge, had not been coated with scum! This was curious, yet it could be explained by surmise that the flood itself had undermined this weakest portion of the wall. I cleared away a mass of brick from the spot on which the structure had stood; to my surprise I found it exceptionally firm! Hard red clay lay beneath! The flood conception was faulty; only some great force, exerted from inside or outside, could have wreaked such destruction.

When careful measurement, analysis and deduction convinced me — mainly from the fact that the lowermost layers of brick all had fallen outward, while the upper portions toppled in — I began to link up this mysterious and horrific force with the one which had rent the Lodge asunder. It looked as though a typhoon or gigantic centrifuge had needed elbow room in ripping down the wooden structure.

But I got nowhere with the theory, though in ordinary affairs I am called a man of too great imaginative tendencies. No less than three editors have cautioned me on this point. Perhaps it was the narrowing influence of great personal sympathy — yes, and love. I make no excuses, though beyond a dim understanding that some terrific, implacable force must have made spot his playground, I ended my ninth day of note-taking and investigation almost as much in the dark as I had been while a thousand miles away in Chicago.

Then I started among the darkies and Cajans. A whole day I listened to yarns of the days which preceded Cranmer's escape from Elizabeth Ritter Hospital — days in which furtive men sniffed poisoned air for miles around Dead House, finding the odor intolerable. Days in which it seemed none possessed nerve enough to approach close. Days when the most fanciful tales of medieval superstitions were spun. These tales I shall not give; the truth is incredible enough.

At noon upon the eleventh day I chanced upon Rori Pailleron, a Cajan — and one of the least prepossessing of all with whom I had come in contact. “Chanced” perhaps is a bad word. I had listed every dweller of the woods within a five-mile radius. Rori was sixteenth on my list. I went to him only after interviewing all four of the Crabiers and two whole families of Pichons. And Rori regarded me with the utmost suspicion until I made him a present of the two quarts of “shinny” purchased of the Pichons.

Because long practice has perfected me in the technique of seeming to drink another man's awful liquor — no, I'm not an absolute prohibitionist; fine wine or twelve-year-in-cask Bourbon whiskey arouses my definite interest — I fooled Pailleron from the start. I shall omit preliminaries, and leap to the first admission from him that he knew more concerning Dead House and its former inmates than any of the other darkies or Cajans roundabout.

“…But I ain't talkin'. Sacre! If I should open my gab, what might fly out? It is for keeping silent, y'r damn right!…”

I agreed. He was a wise man — educated to some extent in the queer schools and churches maintained exclusively by Cajans in the depths of the woods, yet naive withal.

We drank. And I never had to ask another leading question. The made him want to interest me; and the only extraordinary in this whole neck of the woods was the Dead House.

Three-quarters of a pint of acrid, nauseous fluid, and he hinted darkly.

A pint, and he told me something I scarcely could believe. Another half-pint… But I shall give his confession in condensed form (8).

He had known Joe Sibley, the octoroon chef, houseman and valet who served Cranmer. Through Joe, Rori had furnished certain indispensables in way of food to the Cranmer household. At first, these salable articles had been exclusively vegetable — white and yellow turnip, sweet potatoes, corn and beans — but later, meat!

Yes, meat especially — whole lambs, slaughtered and quartered, the coarsest variety of piney-woods pork and beef, all in immense quantity!


In December of the fatal winter, Lee and his wife stopped down at the Lodge for ten days or thereabouts.

They were en route to Cuba at the time, intending to be away five or six weeks. Their original plan had been only to wait over a day or so in the piney-woods, but something caused an amendment to the scheme.

The two dallied. Lee seemed to have become vastly absorbed in something — so much absorbed that it was only when Peggy insisted upon continuing their trip that he could tear himself away.

It was during those ten days that he began buying meat. Meager bits of it at first — a rabbit, a pair of squirrels, or perhaps a few quail beyond the number he and Peggy shot. Rori furnished the game, thinking nothing of it except that Lee paid double prices — and insisted upon keeping the purchases secret from other members of the household.

“I'm putting it across on the Governor, Rori!” he said once with a wink. "Going to give him the shock of his life. So you mustn't let on, even to Joe, about what I want you to do. Maybe it won't work out, but if it does…! Dad'll have the scientific world at his feet! He doesn't blow his own horn anywhere near enough, you know.”

Rori didn't know. Hadn't a suspicion what Lee was talking about. Still, if this rich, young idiot wanted to pay him a half dollar in good silver coin for a quail that anyone — himself included — could knock down with a five-cent shell, Rori was well satisfied to keep his mouth shut. Each evening he brought some of the small game. And each day Lee Cranmer seemed to have use for an additional quail or so...

When he was ready to leave for Cuba (9), Lee came forward with the strangest of propositions. He fairly whispered his vehemence and desire for secrecy! He would tell Rori, and would pay the Cajan five hundred dollars — half in advance, and half at the end of five weeks when Lee himself would return from Cuba — provided Rori agreed to adhere absolutely to a certain secret program! The money was more than a fortune to Rori; it was undreamt of affluence. The Cajan acceded.

“He wuz tellin' me then how the ol' man had raised some kind of pet,” Rori confided, “an' wanted to get shet of it. So he give it to Lee, tellin' him to kill it, but Lee was sot on foolin' him. W'at I ask yer is, w'at kind of a pet is it w'at lives down in a mud sink an' eats a couple hawgs every night?(10)

I couldn't imagine, so I pressed him for further details. Here at last was something which sounded like a clue!
He really knew too little. The agreement with Lee provided that if Rori carried out the provisions exactly, he should be paid extra and at his exorbitant scale of all additional outlay, when Lee returned.

The young man gave him a daily schedule which Rori showed. Each evening he was to procure, slaughter and cut up a definite — and growing — amount of meat. Every item was checked, and I saw that they ran from five pounds up to forty!

“What in heaven's name did you do with it?” I demanded, excited now and pouring him an additional drink for fear caution might return to him.

“Took it through the bushes in back an' slung it in the mud sink there! An' suthin' come up an' drug it down!”

“A gator?”

Diable! How should I know? It was dark. I wouldn't go close.” He shuddered, and the fingers which lifted his glass shook as with sudden chill. “Mebbe you'd of done it, huh? Not me, though! The young fellah tole me to sling it in, an' I slung it.

“A couple times I come around in the light, but there wasn't nuthin' there you could see. Jes' mud, an' some water. Mebbe the thing didn't come out in daytimes…”

“Perhaps not,” I agreed, straining every mental resource to imagine what Lee's sinister pet could have been. “But you said something about two hogs a day? What did you mean by that? This paper, proof enough that you're telling the truth so far, states that on the thirty-fifth day you were to throw forty pounds of meat — any kind — into the sink. Two hogs, even the piney-woods variety, weigh a lot more than forty pounds!”

“Them was after — after he come back!”

From this point onward, Rori's tale became more and more enmeshed in the vagaries induced by bad liquor. His tongue thickened. I shall give his story without attempt to reproduce further verbal barbarities, or the occasional prodding I had to give in order to keep him from maundering into foolish jargon.

Lee had paid munificently. His only objection to the manner in which Rori had carried out his orders was that the orders themselves had been deficient. The pet, he said, had grown enormously. It was hungry; ravenous. Lee himself had supplemented the fare with huge pails of scraps from the kitchen.

From that day Lee purchased from Rori whole sheep and hogs! The Cajan continued to bring the carcasses at nightfall, but no longer did Lee permit him to approach the pool. The young man appeared chronically excited. He had a tremendous secret — one the extent of which even his father did not guess, and one which would astonish the world! Only a week or two more and he would spring it. First he would have to arrange certain data.

Then came the day when everyone disappeared from Dead House. Rori came around several times, but concluded that all of the occupants had folded tents and departed — doubtless taking their mysterious “pet” along. Only when he saw from a distance Joe, the octoroon servant, returning along the road on foot toward the Lodge, did his slow mental processes begin to ferment. That afternoon Rori visited the strange place for the next to last time.

He did not go to the Lodge himself — and there were reasons. While still some hundreds of yards away from the place a terrible, sustained screaming reached his ears! It was faint, yet unmistakably the voice of Joe! Throwing a pair of number two shells into the breech of his shotgun, Rori hurried on, taking his usual path through the brush at the back.

He saw — and as he told me, even “shinny” drunkenness fled his chattering tones — Joe, the octoroon. Aye, he stood in the yard, far from the pool into which Rori had thrown the carcasses — and Joe could not move!

Rori failed to explain in full, but something, a slimy, amorphous something, which glistened in the sunlight, already engulfed the man to his shoulders! Breath was cut off. Joe's contorted face writhed with horror and beginning suffocation. One hand — all that was free of the rest of him! — beat feebly upon the rubbery, translucent thing that was engulfing his body!

Then Joe sank from sight…


Five days of liquored indulgence passed before Rori, along in his shaky cabin, convinced himself that he had seen a phantasy born of alcohol. He came back the last time — to find a high wall of brick surrounding the Lodge, and including the pool of mud into which he had thrown the meat!

While he hesitated, circling the place without discovering an opening — which he would not have dared to use, even had he found it — a crashing, tearing of timbers, and persistent sound of awesome destruction came from within. He swung himself into one of the oaks near the wall. And he was just in time to see the last supporting stanchions of the Lodge give way outward!

The whole structure came apart. The roof fell in — yet seemed to move after it had fallen! Logs of wall deserted layers of plywood in the grasp of the shearing machine!

That was all. Soddenly intoxicated now, Rori mumbled more phrases, giving me the idea that on another day when he became sober once more, he might add to his statements, but I — numbed to the soul — scarcely cared. If that which he related was true, what nightmare of madness must have been consummated here!

I could vision some things now which concerned Lee and Peggy, horrible things. Only remembrance of Elsie kept me faced forward in the search — for now it seemed almost that the handiwork of a madman must be preferred to what Rori claimed to have seen! What had been that sinister translucent thing? That glistening thing which jumped upward about a man, smothering, engulfing?

Queerly enough, though such a theory as came most easily to mind now would have outraged reason in me if suggested concerning total strangers, I asked myself only what details of Rori's revelation had been exaggerated by fright and fumes of liquor. And as I sat on the creaking bench in his cabin, staring unseeing as he lurched down to the floor, fumbling with a lock box of green tin which lay under his cot, and muttering, the answer to all my questions lay within reach!

It was not until next day, however, that I made the discovery. Heavy of heart I had reexamined the spot where the Lodge had stood, then made my way to the Cajan's cabin again, seeking sober confirmation of what he had told me during intoxication.

In imagining that such a spree for Rori would be ended by a single night, however, I was mistaken. He lay sprawled almost as I had left him. Only two factors were changed. No “shinny” was left — and lying open, with its miscellaneous contents strewed about, was the tin box. Rori somehow had managed to open it with the tiny key still clutched in his hand.

Concern for his safety alone was what made me notice the box. It was a receptacle for small fishing tackle of the sort carried here and there by any sportsman. Tangles of Dowagiac minnows, spool hooks ranging in size to silver-backed number eights; three reels still carrying line of different weights, spinners, casting plus, wobblers, floating baits, were spilled out upon the rough plank flooring where they might snag Rori badly if he rolled. I gathered them, intending to save him an accident.

With the miscellaneous assortment in my hands, however, I stopped dead. Something had caught my eye — something lying flush with the bottom of the lock box! I stared, and then swiftly tossed the hooks and other impediments upon the table. What I had glimpsed there in the box was a loose-leaf notebook of the sort used for recording laboratory data! And Rori scarcely could read, let alone write!

Feverishly, a riot of recognition, surmise, hope and fear bubbling in my brain, I grabbed the book and threw it open. At once I knew that this was the end. The pages were scribbled in pencil, but the handwriting was that precise chirography I knew as belonging to John Corliss Cranmer, the scientist!

Could he not have obeyed my instructions! Oh, God! This…

These were the words at top of the first page which met my eye.

Because knowledge of the circumstances, the relation of which I pried out of the reluctant Rori only some days later when I had him in Mobile as a police witness for the sake of my friend's vindication, is necessary to understanding, I shall interpolate.

Rori had not told me everything. On his late visit to the vicinage of Dead House he saw more. A crouching figure, seated Turk fashion on top of the wall, appeared to be writing industriously. Rori recognized the man as Cranmer, yet did not hail him. He had no opportunity.

Just as the Cajan came near, Cranmer rose, thrust the notebook, which had rested across his knees, into the box. Then he turned, tossed outside the wall both the locked box and a ribbon to which was attached the key.

Then his arms raised toward heavens. For five seconds he seemed to invoke the mercy of Power beyond all of man's scientific prying. And finally he leaped, inside…!

Rori did not climb to investigate. He knew that directly below this portion of wall lay the mud sink into which he had thrown the chunks of meat!


This is a true transcription of the statement I inscribed, telling the sequence of actual events at Dead House. The original of the statement now lies in the archives of the detective department.

Cranmer's notebook, though written in a precise hand, yet betrayed the man's insanity by incoherence and frequent repetitions. My statement has been accepted now, both by alienists and by detectives who had entertained different theories in respect to the case. It quashes the noisome hints and suspicions regarding three of the finest Americans who ever lived – and also one queer supposition dealing with supposed criminal tendencies in poor Joe, the octoroon.

John Corliss Cranmer went insane for sufficient cause!

As readers of popular fiction know well, Lee Cranmer's forte was the writing of what is called — among fellows in the craft — pseudo-scientific story. In plain words, this means a yarn, based upon solid fact in the field of astronomy, chemistry, anthropology or what-not, which carries to logical conclusion improved theories of men who devote their lives to searching out further nadirs of fact (11).

In certain fashion these men are allies of science. Often they visualize something which has not been imagined even by the best of men from whom they secure data, thus opening new horizons of possibility. In a large way Jules Verne was one of these men in his day; Lee Cranmer bade fair to carry on the work in worthy fashion — work taken up for a period by an Englishman named Wells, but abandoned for stories of a different — and, in my humble opinion, less absorbing — type (12).

Lee wrote three novels, all published, which dealt with such subjects — two of the three secured from his own father's labors, and the other speculating upon the discovery and possible uses of inter-atomic energy. Upon John Corliss Cranmer's return from Prague that fatal winter, the father informed Lee that a greater subject than any with which the young man had dealt now could be tapped.

Cranmer, senior, had devised a way in which the limiting factors in protozoic life and growth, could be nullified; in time, and with cooperation of biologists who specialized upon karyokinesis and embryology of higher forms, he hoped — to put the theory in pragmatic terms — to be able to grow swine the size of elephants, quail or woodcock with breasts from which a hundredweight of white meat could be cut away, and steers whose dehorned heads might butt at the third story of a skyscraper!

Such result would revolutionize the methods of food supply, of course. It also would hold out hope for all undersized specimens of humanity — provided only that if factors inhibiting growth could be deleted, some methods of stopping gianthood also could be developed.

Cranmer the elder, through use of an undescribed (in the notebook) growth medium of which one constituent was agar-agar, and the use of radium emanations, had succeeded in bringing about apparently unrestricted growth in the paramoecium protozoan, certain of the vegetable growths (among which were bacteria), and in the amorphous cell of protoplasm known as the amoeba — the last a single cell containing only nucleolus, nucleus, and a space known as the contractile vacuole which somehow aided in throwing off particles impossible to assimilate directly. This point may be remembered in respect to the piles of lumber left near the outside walls surrounding Dead House!

When Lee Cranmer and his wife came south to visit, John Corliss Cranmer showed his son an amoeba — normally an organism visible under low-power microscope — which he had absolved from natural growth inhibitions. This amoeba, a rubbery, amorphous mass of protoplasm, was of the size then of a large beef liver. It could have been held in two cupped hands, placed side by side.

“How large could it grow?” asked Lee, wide-eyed and interested.

“So far as I know,” answered his father, “there is no limit now! It might, if it got food enough, grow to be as big as the Masonic Temple!

“But take it out and kill it. Destroy the organism utterly — burning the fragments — else there is no telling what might happen. The amoeba, as I have explained, reproduces by simple division. Any fragment remaining might be dangerous.”

Lee took the rubbery, translucent giant cell — but he did not obey orders. Instead of destroying it as his father had directed, Lee thought out a plan. Suppose he should grow this organism to tremendous size? Suppose, when the tale of his father's accomplishment were spread, an amoeba of many tons weight could be shown in evidence? Lee, of somewhat sensational cast of mind, determined instantly to keep secret the fact that he was not destroying the organism, but encouraging its further growth. Thought of possible peril never crossed his mind (13).

He arranged to have the thing fed — allowing for normal increase of size in an abnormal thing. It fooled him only by growing much more rapidly. When he came back from Cuba the amoeba practically filled the whole of the mud sink hollow. He had to give it much greater supplies…

The giant cell came to absorb as much as two hogs in a single day. During daylight, while hunger still was appeased, it never emerged, however. That remained for the time that it could secure no more food near at hand to satisfy its ravenous and increasing appetite.

Only instinct for the sensational kept Lee from telling Peggy, his wife, all about the matter. Lee hoped to spring a coup which would immortalize his father, and surprise his wife terrifically. Therefore, he kept his own counsel — and made bargains with the Cajan, Rori, who supplied food daily for the shapeless monster of the pool.

The tragedy itself came suddenly and unexpectedly. Peggy, feeding the two Gordon setters that Lee and she used for quail hunting, was in the Lodge yard before sunset. She romped alone, as Lee himself was dressing.
Of a sudden her screams cut the still air! Without her knowledge, ten foot pseudopods — those flowing tentacles of protoplasm sent forth by the sinister occupant of the pool — slid out and around her putteed ankles.

For a moment at first she did not understand. Then, the horrid suspicion of truth, her cries rent the air. Lee, at that time struggling to lace a pair of high shoes, straightened, paled, and grabbed a revolver as he dashed out.

In another room a scientist, absorbed in his note-taking, glanced up, frowned, and then — recognizing the voice — shed his white gown and came out. He was too late to do aught but gasp with horror.

In the yard Peggy was half engulfed in a squamous, rubbery something which at first he could not analyze.

Lee, his boy, was fighting with the sticky folds, and slowly, surely, losing his own grip upon the earth!


John Corliss Cranmer was by no means a coward; he stared, cried aloud, then ran indoors, seizing the first two weapons which came to hand — a shotgun and hunting knife which lay in sheath in a cartridged belt across hook of the hall-tree. The knife was ten inches in length and razor-keen.

Cranmer rushed out again. He saw an indecent fluid something which as yet he had not had time to classify — lumped into a six-foot-high center before his very eyes! It looked like one of the micro-organisms he had studied! One grown to frightful dimensions. An amoeba!

There, some minutes suffocated in the rubbery folds — yet still apparent beneath the glistening ooze of this monster — were two bodies.

They were dead. He knew it. Nevertheless he attacked the flowing, senseless monster with his knife. Shot would do no good. And he found that even the deep, terrific slashes made by his knife closed together in a moment and healed. The monster was invulnerable to ordinary attack!

A pair of pseudopods sought out his ankles, attempting to bring him low. Both of these he severed — and escaped. Why did he try? He did not know. The two whom he had sought to rescue were dead, buried under folds of this horrid thing he knew to be his own discovery and fabrication.

Then it was that revulsion and insanity came upon him.

There ended the story of John Corliss Cranmer, save for one hastily scribbled paragraph — evidently written at the time Rori had seen him atop the wall.

May we not supply with assurance the intervening steps?

Cranmer was known to have purchased a whole pen of hogs a day or two following the tragedy. These animals were never seen again. During the time the wall was being constructed is it not reasonable to assume that he fed the giant organism within — to keep it quiet? His scientist brain must have visualized clearly the havoc and horror which could be wrought by the loathsome thing if it ever were driven by hunger to flow away from the Lodge and prey upon the country-side!

With the wall once in place, he evidently figured that starvation or some other means which he could supply would kill the thing. One of the means had been made by setting fire to several piles of the disgorged timbers; probably this had no effect whatever.

The amoeba was to accomplish still more destruction. In the throes of hunger it threw its gigantic, formless strength against the walls from the inside; then every edible morsel within was house assimilated, the logs, rafters and other fragments being worked out through the contractile vacuole.

During some of its last struggles, undoubtedly, the side wall of brick was weakened — not to collapse, however, until the giant amoeba no longer could take advantage of the breach. In final death lassitude, the amoeba stretched itself out in a thin layer over the ground. There it succumbed, though there is no means of estimating how long a time intervened.

The last paragph in Cramer's notebook, scrawled so badly that it is possible some words I have not deciphered correctly, reads as follows:

In my work I have found the means of creating a monster. The unnatural thing, in turn, has destroyed my work and those whom I held dear. It is in vain that I assure myself of innocence of spirit. Mine is the crime of presumption. Now, as expedition — worthless though that may be — I give myself…

It is better not to think of that last leap, and the struggle of an insane man in the grip of the dying monster.



(1) - Variant spelling of "Cajuns," whose derivation is indeed as Mr. Rud explains. H. P. Lovecraft would famously use this same setting in part of The Call of Cthulhu (written 1926, published 1928).  It is fairly likely that Lovecraft read "Ooze," so this may have been one of his inspirations.

(2) - A reminder that this story was written during Prohibition, though of course the avoidance of taxes by moonshine-makers happened before and continued to happen after Prohibition — it continues into the present day.  However, there was a lot more money in it during the Prohibition Era.

(3) - The Cajun ethnic culture is actually more common in Louisiana than in Alabama, though there's no particular reason why some Cajuns couldn't have migrated to Alabama at some point in history.

(4) - This is seriously insane behavior even by the standards of over a century ago, though at that time rich eccentrics really could reasonably expect to get away with murder, in back-country areas such as the one described.  Remember, this was also the time when labor disputes not infrequently led to pitched battles with dozens of casualties on a side.

(5) - This is pretty brutal treatment meted out to the black man — and, sadly, all too plausible for a black suspect with known criminal tendencies in the South c. 1910.  The police were in general brutal by modern standards, a century ago, and the South extremely racist.  He was actually fortunate not to be lynched.

(6) - In comparison, Corliss is rich, obviously crazy, and confessing — brutality to him would be totally counter-productive.  The problem is that his confession is so incoherent that the police can't figure out what actually happened; if they presented it as given he could not be convicted upon it, and any competent defense attorney (which his friends and relatives would provide for him) could throw the complete confession back at them and tear it full of holes as the obvious rantings of a lunatic.

(7) - This would have stuck in Lovecraft's mind if he ever read this; he hated seafood, a dislike we see expressed in The Call of Cthulhu and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

(8) - This may have been the scene that inspired Lovecraft to write the similar liquor-based interrogation of Zadok Allen by Robert Olmstead in The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

(9) - This was, of course, when Cuba was still relatively free and prosperous, having recently (1898) been liberated from Spanish rule by the United States of America.  Fidel Castro would not afflict that unfortunate island nation for over half a century.

(10) - The sequence with the growing demand for raw meat may have inspired Lovecraft to plant the similar clue regarding the growth of Wilbur Whateley's Twin in The Dunwich Horror.  In fact this story -- especially its use of layered revelation and interviews with persons speaking in fully-rendered rural dialects -- strikes me as very Lovecraftian in tone.  So Lovecraftian, in fact, that it makes me wonder if this wasn't actually an early example of Lovecraft doing a ghost-rewrite, as he frequently did in his later career.

(11) - This story was written before the term "science fiction" had been coined to describe this sort of tale.

(12) - H. G. Wells stopped writing much science fiction after the early 1900's, preferring instead to write science fact, speculative essays, and social novels.  By the late 1910's and 1920's he had pretty much abandoned science fiction, though he was to return to it in the 1930's with The Shape of Things To Come -- both the book and the (more famous) movie.

(13) - To be fair to Lee, this was before the concept of attacks by scientifically-created, artificially-enlarged creatures was common.  Indeed, this story may have been the first, or one of the first, uses of this trope.


This is a remarkably-powerful, creepy and well-presented science fiction horror tale.  It contains numerous Lovecraftian touches, at a time before H. P. Lovecraft was a well-known horror writer, including the celibate hero, the revelation of the horror one layer at a time, the rustic informants with dialogue rendered in phonetic dialect, the revulsion against anything smelling of the sea, and the amorphous creature.  In fact it is so Lovecraftian that I strongly suspect, having finished it, that Lovecraft either helped Rud write this, or was inspired to parts of some of his later works, notably The Call of Cthulhu, The Dunwich Horror, The Shadow Over Innsmouth and At the Mountains of Madness, by elements of this fiction.

I have never seen this story reprinted anywhere, even though it is very obviously ancestral to later several amorphous-horror stories, including one I've reprinted here, Charles Willard Diffin's Spawn of the Stars.  This story deserves much wider distribution -- I'm honored to have had the chance to run it on my zine.  I hope you all enjoyed it as much as did I.