THE DEATH-TRAP (1908) – Written by George Daulton, this story was published in the March, 1908 issue of Pearson’s Magazine. It’s once again Ancient Creature Feature time with this story about a monster from Lake Michigan which sometimes enters the Chicago sewer system to prey on unsuspecting denizens of the Windy City.
The tale’s unnamed main character leaves his Chicago gentleman’s club at 2 in the morning after a night of drinking, card-playing and cigar smoking. He refrains from taking a horse-drawn cab since he feels that walking will do him good.
He comes to regret that decision when, on a poorly-lit street, he sees a drunken sailor get dragged down into the sewer and devoured by a slimy, half-glimpsed creature. Our hero flees for his life and doesn’t stop running until he’s reached one of Chicago’s bridges.
It is there that he encounters Hood, an eccentric but courageous Chicagoan who had his own encounter with the sewer monster weeks earlier and has been looking for it every night since. Hood spotted our main character’s headlong flight and figured he had just found another witness to the creature’s existence.
The pair decide against trying to convince the authorities about what they saw and plan to kill the beast themselves. Kolchak should have been so sensible.
Hood is a sadly neglected fictional figure who steals the show in this short story. His bizarre personality at first makes the narrator fear that he’s a madman until he gets used to Hood’s various eccentricities.
The oddball hero has a ghoulish preoccupation with grisly, unwholesome jobs that deal in gore and death. He lovingly describes his past work in the Chicago slaughterhouses and his new career in the mortician’s trade, embalming corpses.
Hood’s matter-of-fact demeanor toward all manner of grotesqueries makes him the perfect ally in a monster hunt. In fact I could have gone for at least one more short story featuring Hood taking on some sort of deadly creature.
At any rate, after the pair of adventurers locate the exact sewage outlet that the monster uses as its entranceway from Lake Michigan, they plan their attack.
The following evening around Midnight our main character and Hood descend into the vast, labyrinthine Chicago sewer system. The narrator sports a pair of Colt 44 revolvers, while Hood wields a butcher’s knife and a large, walking-stick sized syringe full of acid. (Think of the big water-shooting syringes used by firefighters of the era.)
Hood has brought along a pair of turn-of-the-century flashlights, one for each of the monster hunters, and they set off along the sewer. If H.P. Lovecraft ever read The Death-Trap he must have loved George Daulton’s stylishly grotesque description of the filthy, stench-ridden hunting ground and the slithering, scaly beast which haunted it.
At length our dynamic duo encounter Officer Kindelon, a mountain of a man who has had his own run-in with the creature when it preyed on another unfortunate victim. He’s been trailing it since fearlessly charging after it immediately upon seeing it in action.
Some reviews claim Kindelon is a former boxer, but actually I believe he is a former wrestler instead. The fighting terminology he uses seems more fitting for a grappler than a pugilist. The policeman has lost his own weapons in his hurried pursuit of the monster but trudges onward with Hood and our narrator, heedless of the danger.
SPOILERS: Ultimately, after a tense proto-Alien search through narrow tunnels, the trio corner the creature and a final battle is waged. The main character speculates that the lake beast is a leftover from the Mesozoic Era and is hopefully the last of its kind.
In the course of the fight Hood exhausts all his acid and plunges his butcher knife into the monster over and over, the narrator empties his pistols into the beast and the foolhardy Kindelon loses his life tackling the creature with his bare hands.
In the aftermath Hood and our main character form a lifelong friendship based on this adventure which they know would never be believed if they tried sharing it with anyone else.
The Death-Trap is a lot of ghoulish fun and must have really played with the minds of 1908 readers. I’ll say again that I wish the macabre but colorful Hood had gotten to appear in at least one more short story. +++
FOR MY ORIGINAL LIST OF TEN DIFFERENT WORKS OF “ANCIENT” SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE *** FOR THE FOLLOWUP LIST OF EIGHT DIFFERENT WORKS OF “ANCIENT” SCI FI CLICK HERE *** AND FOR TWENTY MORE CLICK HERE
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
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