Craig Herbertson’s The Heaven Maker and Other Gruesome Stories (2012)

Now, from Parallel Universe Publications, a publishing house owned by another of the original Pan authors, David A Riley, comes Craig Herbertson’s new collection The Heaven Maker and Other Gruesome Tales.

Craig Herbertson’s first story was published in The 29th Pan Book of Horror Stories. It’s now legend how Craig didn’t learn of the story’s publication for years because Editor Clarence Paget forgot to tell him, then in 1999 Craig discovered the story on the internet.

In his foreword, Craig writes “Horror is best sustained in quick bursts; it’s exciting but also tactile, visceral, disgusting, often amusing, mostly horrible and sometimes nauseating.”

New Teacher, Craig writes, is “based largely on my experiences of school in the 1970’s. Not so much a horror story but a grim depiction of the times.” This one introduces a ghastly group of teachers gathered in the smokers’ staff room, just around the corner from Room Three where new teacher Mr Nugent is attempting to teach music to a Year 1 class. The staff are discussing the likelihood of Nugent lasting the term, when Miss Hawthorne arrives to question the ghastly din emanating from the room, and asks who exactly is taking the class while Nugent is sick? The gruesome ending will gladden the hearts of any victims of political correctness who long for a return to simpler times.

Synchronicity is another story of Bellport High, set at a reunion at a restaurant which raises inevitable but better-forgotten memories and stories of sadistic bullying and generally thuggish behaviour. Two of the worst offenders, former maths teacher Weasel and orphaned student Gray “shared a table with us like camp commandants partying with their prisoners.”
Peters raises the subject of synchronicity. Time has healed most old wounds, with the notable exception of Mulholland’s eye, lost as a result of one of Grey’s nasty tricks. And possibly the evening might have passed into the murk of history if the tortured and humiliated Angel had not been present and had not provided his unforgettable illustration of synchronicity. This story received an honourable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year.

The torture of small boys with canes and leather belts is not unusual at Bellport High, but in The Art of Confiscation English teacher MacVicars, a man of considerable intellect, prefers to express himself more subtly; his chosen forms of torment are intended to warp a victim’s mind rather than his body. But when MacVicars decides to make a target of the thoroughly evil boy genius that is Farantino, he finds he’s biting off more than he can chew. So far this is my favourite of the Bellport High stories.

Farantino turns up a second time in Soup. By this time his genius and entrepreneurship has combined with criminal enterprise to build a financial empire worth millions, while a delight in culinary arts has gained him a worldwide reputation as a chef – with a fondness for soup. When a group of masters and former students from Bellport High is invited to Farantino’s chateau home they are given a tour which includes the dank subterranean chambers still furnished with ghastly instruments of torture.
“Look carefully on that instrument. Imagine the broken shambles of a human being strapped upon that wheel, writhing in the splintered chamber of its own bones; a huge rag doll, screaming, slimed with blood and gore. And there, the cauldrons with which the Percano cook their victims – a process lasting three days, three days of excruciating agony.”
Described by Demonik, administrator of Vault of Evil as “Quite possibly the most beautifully written example of cannibal torture porn I’ve ever read.” This one’s straight from the original Pan mother-lode.

The Janus Door
“…I am sure I saw through the ragged struts of my window a vision of blinding light from the doorway beyond.
“What I am less sure about is the figures: Strange, ethereal silhouettes like crucified saints crowding the door frame; tormented angels grasping outwards, begging me to enter.”

From the moment that the unnamed narrator first passes through the door into his new flat it is clear that this is no ordinary residence. The previous tenant had some weird obsession with architecture and evidence of this still clutters the spare room in the shape of scattered sheaves of papers and electrical components of obscure and strange device. Gates and doors, literal and abstract, were frequently the subject of the unknown researcher. Further research reveals that the apartment block was the work of an architect named Hosanna who committed suicide when funding for her project was withdrawn before its completion. Doorways to other dimensions are not unusual in tales of imagination, and this story seems to come somewhere between The Dreams in the Witch House and Our Lady of Darkness.

It is not always wise to cheat on one’s crippled wife when there is still the remotest chance that modern surgery might restore her to full health. And when she has the inherited resources of the Spanish Inquisition at her disposal with an outlook on life probably a little less sunny than that of Lucrezia Borgia, when this is the case a man should seriously consider faithfulness as an option.

Fortunately for us, Eduardo doesn’t, so when he wakes in The Waiting Game it’s to find himself bound to his lover Maria by a fine chain, which has been passed through his septum and then hers, with only a gauzy curtain separating them. The two are imprisoned in a deep cell beneath the chateau, which frankly resembles Poe’s torture chamber in The Pit and the Pendulum.

“Taste and smell had always been so important. Now they were utterly subordinate to sound. Audition had told him that he was propped in some kind of high chair and that the wind blew through hidden recesses below. From this single lonely sense, his fevered mind constructed a vast sprawl of underground chambers leading into hopeless oblivion.
“It had taken him almost an hour to mentally construct the immediate scene. A large cell. Eduardo and Maria propped up on two facing chairs. The chairs raised on platforms above a pit. A walkway to allow access. Some of this was assumption but the iron chain piercing his septum was an unavoidable reality.”
Their jailer is Eduardo’s wife, the cheated Catherine; and the revenge she has planned is as vicious as anything dreamed by Poe.

Moving along, we get to a story which shows Craig at his meanest and funniest. Gertrude is a story of a schoolgirl who was a bit of a silly cow until the day she committed suicide in the Bellport High toilets and then is reincarnated as a… cow.

Another short one is Spanish Suite, concerning Paul Brown, a travelling rep for Cameron’s Sweets who’s been sent to tour the Continent with the intention of extending old man Cameron’s boiled sweet empire across Europe. Spain is proving a hard financial nut to crack, but when Paul breaks his journey in a small town one night, finds that his drinking companion is brother-in-law to the town’s mayor, whose health has been failing since his beautiful young wife ran away with her lover. Disowned and dishonoured it’s believed that she’s now joined the prostitutes who sell their bodies by the roadside. The men separate after getting very drunk, but next day Paul receives a letter which renders him almost ecstatic when he learns he’s about to make a sales breakthrough. But he has to wait for more details as the mayor has died in the night and his friend must attend the funeral. On the road out of town, near the grave yard, Paul encounters the girl. Ironic and ghoulish, the Spanish setting contrasts nicely with the horror here.

A Game of Billiards is a bit of a ripping yarn, but not one you ever found in Boys Annual, set in First World War India where the unpleasant Captain Petronius is cutting a ruthless path to the top. Real trouble starts when Captain Boyd and the repellent Petronius both fall in love with the same woman. The conclusion is quite brutal and grim.

In Not Waving Lotte reveals to Mulholland how she remembers her childhood holiday with a boy called Rin in a small French village in the perfect summer of 1973 in the house rented by her parents, Le Manoir, a rambling building perfect for children, cluttered with books (which her mother observes cynically were probably never read, being intended only for show) and the discovery of a case full of ‘real’ books, detective thrillers, which meet with her mother’s approval. The top floor of the house is uninhabited, and there is of course one door which is locked, no key to be found. This is a strikingly mature story; at risk of sounding too fey, it’s bewitching, full of colour and light, and brilliantly told. It’s also has quite a horrible conclusion which, as with many of these stories, will stay with you a long time after reading.

*“Couldn’t he see the navigator was full of electronic maps? Who could be lost in a virtual universe?”

The Navigator poses the question: If life is a journey then can a car trip be analogous to Dermott and Jane’s marriage? As the countryside gets less and less familiar, the smug feminine voice of the GPS begins to grate on Dermott’s nerves, and he’s convinced he knows a better route. Why do they design these systems with female voices anyway? It’s just asking for trouble when a bloke’s behind the wheel.

But Anne doesn’t need a GPS as she cycles home after her massage session, in Steel Works. The massage has left her feeling relaxed but with senses heightened and all a-tingle. Her surroundings take on an almost hallucinatory quality. But why does the familiar site of the old steel works, belching smoke and shattering the night with flickering light, fill her with such disquiet? And why does she seem compelled to approach it? This brilliant little gem of a story poses more questions than it answers. Are we reading about a mind shattered by abuse or does something even more monstrous lie in wait for her? This one reminded me by turns of the writing of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman and, days after reading, it remains disturbingly fresh in memory.

*The Heaven Maker first appeared in 1988 in The 29th Pan Book of Horror Stories. When I finally got to read the story I approached it with caution, knowing the reputation the series had for going off the boil towards the end. But I knew Craig’s writing. His story Strange Fruit, borrowing the title of Billy Holiday’s song about race hatred in America’s Deep South to head a tale of warped genetic engineering, slavery, bigotry and child murder, had appeared in Filthy Creations 2, and I’d read his novel The Seventh Silence, edited by Storm Constantine, about a school stranger by far than Bellport High – and in places nastier, too. The Heaven Maker gets off to a start which is grim even by the standards of the Pan horrors. Morden is in a hospital ward being interviewed by a doctor. His daughter Cathy’s corpse lies in a nearby bed, kept in a simulation of life by surrounding machines, for the sake, Doctor Baptiste explains, of the unborn baby which is still living in her womb. His son John’s body is being brought up from the morgue for Morden to identify. John had attempted to rescue Cathy after the car crash had plunged her into an icy river, but both had been swept under, and John had been clinically dead for three hours before their bodies were recovered. Morden identifies the body of his son and is about to leave the ward when, quite shockingly, the corpse returns to life, sits up and begins to scream. This of course is only the start of a story which is quite long but grips and compels the reader to the end.

The Anningley Sundial: “As he turned from the door a rather peculiar thing happened. He had left the mezzotint face up on his deal table during the transaction. Perhaps it was simply a trick of the lights but it seemed for a second that something ran swiftly across its surface. Nobody is really fond of insects on their table and Mulholland was hardly an exception; but his impression when he reflected on it was that the thing he had seen was not after all an insect but something that bore an uncanny resemblance to a tiny shambling figure; a figure of disturbing appearance that one might observe in a series of frames in a creaky old silent film.”

“M R James was always a favourite,”
writes Craig, “and I sent Mulholland scurrying after him in 2011…”  Now personally, I’ve quite a strong resistance to stories in the M R James style but this sequel to The Mezzotint isn’t half bad. Every time I decided I was going to pan it, I found I was stumbling into another passage like this one: “In the instant where the snow sprayed to left and right Norton’s moving hand gave an illusory movement to the carved surface of the podium. What he saw was a large Pholcus phalangioides, known by children the world over as the ‘daddy-long-legs spider’. As a child he had never been terribly frightened of this ungainly creature with its long fragile legs. As an adult he had become aware that this was the spider that ate other spiders. Not a pleasant thought; and in that second the grotesque thing had seemed to move. In the half shadow Mulholland leapt back and then almost in reaction, craned his head forward and saw how much he was mistaken. He saw before him, the surface of a sundial; the ‘spider’ merely the long radial lines and crabbed markings of the hours.”

The writing in this story is frequently so exquisite that it leaves me with my personal prejudices in a bit of an awkward place. So what would you say? Leave the writing to speak for itself, I guess.

Leibnitz’s Last Puzzle
This story expertly combines the traditional smoking-room horror tale with a mind-bending mathematical puzzle, which, if solved, could unleash a demonic force. Norton and Lubeker are two university pals who invite scandal when they abandon their work – a ‘significant’ mathematical treatise – and take off into the Yorkshire Wolds on a camping trip. For a time they seem to have disappeared off the face of the Earth; but then Mulholland receives a letter from Norton inviting him to join them.
He finds Norton amid a collection of esoteric books on subjects ranging from maths to occultism; and there is a strange device made of mirrors whose purpose he can’t divine. He also sees a letter which could only have been written by the scholar and alchemist Leibnitz. This letter alone could establish the students’ reputations.

It turns out that the two have found a curious structure, apparently a Masonic temple, situated on the two sides of a ravine. And this is where Mulholland finds Lubeker, with what appears to be a bizarrely incomplete human corpse. Somehow Leibnitz has stumbled on an equation that opens a door into another dimension, and passing through it has rendered him an exploded thing, horribly incomplete.

“You might have seen those anatomical drawings in the medical books or perhaps that dreadful body sculpture that was paraded around Europe. Try to imagine that. Add what you see under a very good microscope, an eclipse and lots of moving mayflies trapped in a glass. Laugh if you like, I can get no closer to an explanation of that dreadful thing.”

Working from Leibnitz’s letters, Lubeker has now become completely obsessed with solving the puzzle, even though solving it might lead to disaster. Herbertson’s piecing together of history with whole cloth is brilliant. How much was imagination, how much based on fact, I’m still unsure. The mood of the traditional smoking room tale is perfectly judged here and this is an excellent story.

The Glowing Goblins inhabit the cupboard under the stairs where young Colin is locked in by his parents as punishment. Slightly surreal and with a suggestion of a remembered childhood nightmare, this one appeared over twenty years ago in Nik Morton’s Auguries #16. Gifts appeared last year in the Big Vault Advent Calendar. Craig says that he took eight minutes to write this short piece about a sinister Santa and his disturbing cargo of presents.

Big Cup, Wee Cup: Milne cannot understand why Mulholland has not attended the Graal symposium, “the single most important meeting in the last century of the Order.” What could be more important? He’s even more astonished when Mulholland says the sacred relic has been melted down, and what’s more, he seems quite happy about it!

Farantino does turn up one more time in this book but not in any active role as a guest at The Tasting, which gets my own vote as one of the best stories in this book. The Tasting is a revenge story which combines a love of the Highlands and Scotch whisky. An old grudge once existed between two of the diners, Campbell and Macdonald, at Bannerman’s restaurant.. Years before, Macdonald had been engaged to the magnificent red-headed Jeanie Brown who had jilted him to run off with the best man – and Macdonald’s best friend – Campbell. Friendship between the two men had changed overnight to almost murderous rivalry. A year later, Campbell had announced his forthcoming wedding to Jeanie, but once again the wedding had to be abandoned when it’s learned that Jeanie has wandered off and become lost in the snow. Campbell and Macdonald become reunited through their search for the missing bride, but Jeanie Brown’s body is never found.

Now, once a year, the two men meet and share a bottle of Macdonald’s own privately distilled whisky, a whisky believed to be of unsurpassed quality though never tasted by any others, in a toast to the memory of the fiery red-head. This year, thirty years after Jeanie’s death, Macdonald announces that finally he is ready to reveal the location of his secret distillery. There is of course a catch. Those who want to see the distillery must climb the Craich Falls with him the next day, a climb which had almost resulted in Campbell’s death thirty years before. This is a lengthy and sprawling story but as it moves along it gathers momentum and continues to build suspense towards the end – which, after a tense climbing sequence, is unpleasant enough to disappoint no-one.

The book is introduced by Award-winning children’s author Janis Mackay, who admits to once paying Craig thruppence (at the age of five) for a glimpse of him in his vest (or so Craig tells her)!

The cover photo shows an acrylic, collage and mixed media sculpture by Brian Keeley BA (Hons), MA. Sure as hell looks like someone I know, anyway!

Rog Pile


The Heaven Maker and Other Gruesome Tales by Craig Herbertson

The first book published by Parallel Universe Publications is The Heaven Maker & Other Gruesome Tales by Craig Herbertson.

I don’t think it will do any harm to mention that Craig Herbertson was one of the contributors to the original and legendary Pan Books of Horror, and so was David A Riley who, with Linden Riley, own Parallel Universe Publications.

Within the UK you can buy a copy by either writing direct to Riley Books, 130 Union Road, Oswaldtwistle, Accrington, Lancashire, BB5 3DR), by email ( or by sending a Paypal payment to It is also available on (direct link).

Cover art by Brian Keeley

Price is £20.00 plus 2.95 p&p.

Overseas rates will be added soon.

Buyers can also contact Craig’s brother, Scott, in particular for signed copies. Scott’s email address is His address is Scott Herbertson, 12 Avenue South, Surbiton, Surrey, KT5 8PJ.

The book has a foreword by Janis Mackay and an introduction by Craig.

Queries about buying copies of the book should be sent either to or to Riley Books, 130 Union Road, Oswaldtwistle, Accrington, Lancashire, BB5 3DR, UK.

Or click the book cover shown to visit Parallel Universe Publications.
The full list of contents is:

Timeless Love (originally published in Big Vault Advent Calendar 2011)
Synchronicity (originally published in Filthy Creations #2)
The Glowing Goblins, (originally published in Auguries #16)
New Teacher (originally published in The Seventh Black Book of Horror)
The Janus Door,
The Heaven Maker (originally published in The 29th Pan Book of Horror Stories)
The Waiting Game (originally published in Back from the Dead: The Legacy of the Pan Book of Horror Stories)
The Art of Confiscation, Gertrude, Not Waving, Spanish Suite (originally published in The Sixth Black Book of Horror)
The Anninglay Sundial, Soup (originally published in The Fourth Black Book of Horror)
A Game of Billiards (originally published in Tales from the Smoking Room)
The Navigator
(originally published in Big Vault Advent Calendar 2011)
The Tasting, Steel Works, Liebniz’s Last Puzzle
(originally published in The Fifth Black Book of Horror)
Big Cup, Wee Cup, Gifts (originally published in Big Vault Advent Calendar 2011)

Hand in Glove by Robert Aikman

This one found in The Best of Modern Horror: 24 Tales from The Magazine of Fantasy & SF ed. By Edward L Ferman and Anne Jordan (1988):

Millicent breaks off her engagement with Nigel, so to cheer her up Winifred suggests a picnic combined with a visit to Great House.

The two follow a country footpath through a churchyard, past a strangely silent herd of cattle, and they emerge on the bank of a river. During the picnic, Millicent realises that they’re surrounded by thousands of mushrooms, which she dislikes intensely and is sure weren’t there when they arrived – though Winifred insists they were.

When they return through the churchyard, she sees something else: a pile of wreaths and sprays close by the path – and they certainly weren’t there before.

A sense of wrongness affects the place; and then Millicent finds the black leather glove on the path, and decides to hand it in at the vicarage. A dumb housekeeper leads them into the presence of the lady of the house, Miss Pansy Stock – who seems oddly reluctant to accept the glove. She says that the spirits of jilted women often leaves things in the churchyard there.

Millicent asks her how a broken heart can be mended, and Mrs Stock replies that the only way is to kill the man who broke it.

When Millicent leaves the house, Nigel is waiting for her and insists on taking her home. But unfortunately he meets a gruesome end before they get there.

This isn’t the end of the story.

This one is quite satisfying and fairly straightforward Aickman (apparently), though it’s one of the most dreamlike of his stories that I’ve read. It’s rich in typically dreamlike imagery – the masculine and feminine dream symbolism of the mushrooms and the abandoned glove; the abandoned objects in the churchyard and the rather sinister church and herd of cattle. And, typically of Aickman, before the end, the quality of dream turns to nightmare.

Second Sight by Sally Emerson

Making an unplanned visit to her mother’s restaurant late one night, fifteen year-old Jennifer Hamilton is shocked to surprise her mother with a lover. Jennifer lives in a very rich and private world of literary fantasy. She has little interest in boys as she regularly holds conversations with the poet Shelley, while another of her friends is the 17th century playwright and spy Mrs Aphra Behn, the subject of her father’s recently published biography.

The fact that Jennifer has the gift of ‘second sight’ lends a pleasing ambiguity to her communications with these historical figures. Less easy for Jennifer to reach is her friend Rebecca who was killed much more recently in a road accident, suggesting that Jennifer’s fantasies serve as an emotional ‘bandage’ insulating her from reality and feelings which she’s unable to deal with.

Second Sight by Sally Emerson

Second Sight (1980)
First novel by
Sally Emerson
Reprinted Abacus 1992

Jennifer’s greatest ambition is to hold a séance with Mr Davidson, the clairvoyant who lives across the square, so that he can cause the ghosts of all three of her dead friends to materialise so that others can see them.

Against his instincts, her father has been asked to write a book about the recent murder of a young woman. The young man accused of the murder can only offer as a defense some vague and unconvincing story about a burglar, while the situation is complicated by his glamorous and hysterical sister Lucinda writing letters to the prosecuting attorney, declaring her brother’s innocence while claiming an incestuous relationship with him.

The plot thickens when Jennifer’s mother takes a new lover, Paul, who had previously had relationships with both Lucinda and the murdered girl.

There are some first novels so accomplished that you know you’ll have to find more by that author: Rosalind Ashe’s Moths, Yaba Badoe’s True Murder, and Sally Emerson’s Second Sight are three such novels.

The Legion of Evil by Warden Ledge

This story was first published in 1933, then remained out of print for forty-three years until its appearance in Hugh Lamb’s Return From the Grave.  And that’s a real shame. Lamb doesn’t mention where he found this story but a little web-surfing got a result at the wonderfully retro Gruesome Cargoes, where it’s revealed that this one first appeared in Keep On The Light, the ninth volume in Christine Campbell Thomson’s famous Not At Night series. Furthermore, the administrator of Gruesome Cargoes (and also the even more astonishing Vault of Evil) has listed this story as one of his ten favourites from the Not At Night series. 

Christine Campbell Thomson

Editor of the famous
Not At Night series
of horror anthologies.

The story is slight, but boy is it written with energy! Old Madge is suspected of witchcraft and evicted from her hovel in the woods, but soon after this, Jack Bairdsley and his brother Paul are walking through the frost-white woods to establish a right of way, when:

‘Down the centre of the ride, a small white object was rapidly approaching. About twenty to thirty yards ahead of the two men was the junction of the foot-path that led to the old woman’s abode – an evil tumble-down cottage. At this junction, the creature, for such it was, stopped.

‘It was a stoat in its winter disguise – a veritable ermine.’

Before long old Madge is wreaking bloody havok as a pack of stoats attack the stables then the farm.

‘Within, the scene was appalling. Three horses were down and still; from the remaining two, whose necks were covered in living fur, came feeble squeals and kicks as they, too, lay in their stalls.’
If you’ve had enough of bluff heroic types battling to overcome evil, you’ll love the end of this one.

Sadly, this is the only story I can find from this author.

My thanks as always go to the energy and enthusiasm – and horrific taste – of the administrator of Vault of Evil and Gruesome Cargoes for his research and apparently tireless posting.

Death in the Well by Frederick Cowles

Something horrible follows Professor Rutter home one night, but fortunately student John Evans is there to save him from harm.  Rutter, known for his peculiar interests in obscure and arcane subjects, tells Evans that the thing was an elemental being, and promptly offers the student a job as his assistant.

Frederick Cowles

Frederick Cowles (1900-1948)

Rutter believes he has located the infamous ‘Pearl of Zello’, a fabulous jewel said to reward its keeper with unearthly – possibly Satanic – power.  The Pearl’s last known owner was a twelfth century monk, who was beheaded because suspected of trafficking with the Devil. Since then the ghost of a headless monk has haunted the grounds of a Tyrolean castle in the area of a well where Professor Rutter now believes the unholy jewel is hidden.

Of the many horror novels and short stories that I’ve read over the years, I think this is the first to feature the ghost of a headless monk! Become more an object of amusement than horror now, a comedy cliché, finding a Headless Monk feels a bit like setting out in pursuit of the Abominable Snowman, then realising you’ve netted a pantomime horse.

It should be added here that at his best Frederick Cowles could write a brilliant story; for instance the very memorable Punch and Judy which appeared in another of Hugh Lamb‘s anthologies, The Star Book of Horror vol. 1.

As it is, Death in the Well is enjoyable enough, with more than one horror awaiting the Professor and his assistant at the bottom of the well.

File under entertaining hokum.
There is a very informative page about Frederick Cowles by the late – and legendary – Rbadac, here: Rbadac on Frederick Cowles at the Weird Review

The Crimson Weaver by R Murray Gilchrist

The Crimson Weaver first appeared in Aubrey Beardsley‘s The Yellow Book Quarterly(Volume VI, July 1895). A servant and his master have wandered from their path and find themselves in the Domain of the Crimson Weaver.

Aubrey Beardsley's Yellow Book Quarterly

Aubrey Beardsley’s Yellow Book Quarterly

Warned by an old woman that they are entering a land ruled by a fiend, the master insists that he is strong enough to pass through. That night, the servant has strange dreams, and when he wakes finds his master is missing. “The mists gathered together and passed sunward in one long many-coloured veil. When the last shred had been drawn into the great light, I gazed along the avenue, and saw the topmost bartizan of the Crimson Weaver’s palace.” 

He sets out for the palace, and when he gets there: “On the terrace strange beasts – dogs and pigs with human limbs – tore ravenously at something that lay beside the balustrade. At sight of me they paused and lifted their snouts and bayed.”

The Crimson Weaver comes to meet the servant and tells him that his master no longer has any memory of him; she has drugged him and now he lies asleep. Too late he realises that the Weaver wears men’s lives, drawing them from their bodies and weaving them on her loom, and now there will be no escape for either of them.

The story may be found here The Crimson Weaver at Project Gutenberg

Some Words With a Mummy by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe’s nerves are playing him up so he takes to bed early with a headache, but when the note arrives, he dresses and hurries to Ponnonner’s house where an eager company is assembled for the unwrapping of an Egyptian Mummy.

Soon it becomes apparent that this occasion is to be notable for much more than the mere unswathing of a dead Egyptian when someone suggests applying electricity to the corpse.

The result is that the Mummy returns to life.

Mummies of more recent stories, once returned to life, usually embark on a wild orgy of violence, frequently kidnapping some hapless female on the way.




Poe’s Mummy is of more civilized stuff and, once recovered from the indignity of having a live wire inserted between its toes, soon settles to discussing politics and engineering with the company. Long before this, most readers will have concluded that Poe was writing with tongue firmly lodged in cheek.

Hugh Lamb notes that although most of Poe’s stories have been repeatedly anthologized this one had not seen print for twenty-five years until he included it in his anthology Return from the Dead in 1976. Not for the first time I’ve been surprised by the readability of Poe’s fiction which usually bears favourable comparison with much more contemporary stuff.

Ingredient X by H R Wakefield

H Russell Wakefield (1890 – 1964)

Philip Camley is an artist who has lost his private fortune on the stock exchange.  Forced to leave his apartment for cheaper lodgings he takes a room in a run-down boarding house. During his first night there he wakes feeling weirdly disorientated; the room seems to have been rearranged and he’s been disturbed by a sound of a dog brushing up outside his door. And there’s a curious smell in the room, quite different from the usual boarding-house smells. He promptly names the smell ‘Ingredient X’.  It’s unnecessary to write more to indicate where this one’s going and right from the start Algernon Blackwood’s influence is obvious. Both Blackwood and Wakefield crafted some fine and unusual supernatural stories; unfortunately I don’t think this is one of them.

From Wakefield’s last collection to be published in Britain before his move to America, The Clock Strikes Twelve (1939).

Waxworks by W L George

Henry has forgotten to book seats at the music hall so in an attempt to pacify his disappointed wife suggests they visit a nearby wax museum.  There is no one to take their admission fee but they go in anyway. The inevitable chamber of horrors with its vignettes of serial killers and their victims is impressively executed, but it doesn’t appeal to Ivy. ‘It was not only the sight of the blood coagulated on the white hair, it was something else, something unnameable. The art of the sculptor had gone too far; here was mere and abominable reality.’

The plot is too familiar to bear further elaboration and for sheer first-reading fright A M Burrage’s Waxwork is the definitive version. But W L George’s story contains some powerful descriptive writing which makes it well-worth reading.

From the posthumously published collection by Walter Lionel George (1882 – 1926), Selected Stories (1927); reprinted in Hugh Lamb’s Return From The Grave.

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DF LEWIS: Clacton-on-Sea editor, publisher, writer and reviewer of fiction. First novel published at the age of 63 (2011). Creator of ‘Nemonymous’ (from 2001). Author of many fiction works from ‘Weirdmonger’ (1988) to ‘The Last Balcony’ (2012). Inventor of gestalt real-time reviewing (from 2008). Publisher of other authors.

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