THE TOP BEST MAN (1832) – Halloween Month continues! Published anonymously in 1832 this long-ish short story centers around a man found on a long-lost ship called the Top Best. This vessel was a ship out of Maine that is found trapped in ice in far northern waters.
The ship that has found it, the Dartmouth Lady, has likewise become trapped in ice and its crew has spotted another ice-bound craft off in the distance when it finally stops snowing. An away team travels to the other craft hoping to find survivors or at least equipment which can help cut a way out of the ice for both ships.
Despite the size of the vessel only one man is found on board and he seems to be frozen to death. The away team manage to get a fire started from some of the Top Best‘s own wood and resolve to warm up just a bit before heading back to the Dartmouth Lady with the equipment taken from the derelict.
The fire has warmed the surroundings sufficiently for the sole survivor’s cold body to be taken along as well, including the ship’s log he apparently died clutching to his chest. The crew of the Dartmouth Lady succeed in cutting their way through the ice and return to Maine. By the time they reach their home port it turns out the body has thawed and the Top Best man is miraculously still alive. Continue reading
Halloween Month continues here at Balladeer’s Blog. This time around I take a look at Algernon Blackwood’s occult physician Doctor John Silence.
JOHN SILENCE, PHYSICIAN EXTRAORDINARY (1908) – A selection of short stories about Blackwood’s fictional neurologist Doctor Silence and his encounters with the supernatural.
THE PSYCHICAL INVASION – A professional writer who specializes in humorous stories becomes a patient of Doctor Silence when he suddenly finds himself unable to write anything except grotesque horror tales. Silence discovers that on an occasion when the author’s psychic defenses were neutralized during a hashish jag the spirit of a 19th Century sorceress possessed him. The vile entity ended its life being hanged at Newgate. Doctor Silence must do psychic battle with the spirit to save his patient. Continue reading
THE BLACK ABBOT (1897) – Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with another neglected work of horror – this one penned by Robert W Chambers, author of The King in Yellow, which I reviewed HERE
The story – also known as The Black Priest or The Messenger – is set in 1896 in the mysterious Brittany region of northwest France. Richard Darrel, a wealthy American knickerbocker (upstate New York gentry) has bought a Breton estate with assorted household staff. He lives there with his beautiful (of course) wife Lys, a native of Brittany.
Landscaping work near Richard’s estate has uncovered thirty-eight skeletons: men killed in a battle between English invaders and Breton defenders back in 1760. A bronze cylinder in the mass grave holds a delicate parchment with a message written in human blood at the time of the burial. The writing is in the ancient language of Brittany, which only the clergy of the 1760 time period were literate in.
Our American hero senses that the local authorities are withholding vital information from him. He is also intrigued by the revelation that there were thirty-nine men buried in the pit but only thirty-eight skeletons have been found.
The story gets even more intriguing from there, in typical R.W. Chambers style. The skull of the missing dead man is found. It belonged to Abbe Sorgue, a Breton priest who supposedly betrayed the nearby fort to the British attackers. Legend held that for his treachery the priest was branded on the forehead all the way through to his skull. A skull has been found with an arrow-shaped burn on the forehead, obviously the dead traitor.
That skull keeps mysteriously showing up, no matter how many times it seems to have been disposed of. Eventually the Mayor of Saint Gildas confides in Richard that part of the scroll made reference to a link between the Black Abbot and the American’s wife.
Very soon the workmen involved in disturbing the Black Abbot’s remains start turning up dead and Richard finds a superabundance of coincidences tying his wife’s Breton family to the Black Abbot. When that undead villain begins terrorizing the American’s now-pregnant wife he researches what history can be learned about Abbe Sorgue, the Black Abbot himself. Continue reading
It’s another October 1st and as all readers of Balladeer’s Blog know that means 31 days of obscure and/or forgotten horror films and stories mixed in with all of my usual topics.
THE SCARLET GOSPELS (2015) – Written by Clive Barker, or I guess I should make that “Written by Clive Barker” (wink). I notice from other reviews of this disappointing novel that I’m far from alone in thinking Barker wrote only the Prologue and a ghost writer completed the work. Probably Damon Lindelöf. (I’m kidding!)
How do you go wrong with a novel featuring Barker’s recurring Occult Detective Harry D’Amour taking on the Hell Priest aka Pinhead (or “Lead Cenobite” as he was known to the ancients. Hellraiser fans will get it.)? How do you do it? With horrific writing that is worse than most fan fiction, that’s how.
Let’s start with the good: the Prologue. This prologue is so tantalizingly good that the jarring plunge in quality the rest of the way makes reading The Scarlet Gospels feel like some exquisitely refined brand of torture being pioneered by the Cenobites and their Order of the Gash. Continue reading
ALL HALLOWS (1926) – Written by Walter de la Mare. In recent decades Walter de la Mare’s horror stories have begun to get as much attention as his poetry. This particular tale is about a haunted cathedral but there is also a blatant subtext.
Our narrator has walked for several miles to reach remote All Hallows Cathedral. The once-prominent place has fallen into disrepair and has become so rarely used for religious services that it has become more of a curious tourist attraction than “holy” site.
Appropriately for a horror story our protagonist has arrived as the sun is going down. The odd, perhaps half-crazed Verger (Anglican Church Caretaker) impatiently leads the new arrival on a tour of the degenerating interior. Almost like a Halloween Funhouse host the Verger emphasizes the creepy lore about All Hallows.
Nightfall is well along by the time he tells the narrator about the temporary disappearance of the previous chief clergyman, who was later found in a dark corner. The Holy Man was weeping and crazed and never recovered his sanity. Continue reading
ROSAURA (1817) – Written by Friedrich Fouque. Halloween Month 2017 is dying quickly. Here is another neglected story from the late Gothic Horror period. Rosaura has a fairly unique supernatural premise so that alone should have earned it a wider following by now.
No vampires or ghosts or werewolves feature in this tale, but instead a more offbeat kind of supernatural horror. Count von Wildeck packs up his guns and wears his finest clothing for a visit to the castle of Colonel von Haldenbach, whose niece Rosaura he wants to romance.
After an amiable first day of the visit, Count von Wildeck is warned by his host the Colonel to lock himself very securely in his bedroom. The Colonel seems tempted to explain things more clearly to Von Wildeck but is too frightened. Continue reading