Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Trio of Twisted Terrors from the Pre-Code Era

A trio of shorts from Weird Terrors, more notable for their very twisted humor than for any genuine fights.  The first "Needle Work" is the longest and least fantastic, the other two are flash fiction science fiction / horror and flash fiction horror.

Needle Work
by Ed Green

One day at the club we were discussing narcotics and their terrifying effects on the human mind.

Everyone had something to say about it, and the talk had been going on for about twenty minutes when I said that I supposed most criminals took dope and eventually killed themselves by taking too much of the stuff.

The others nodded or said, "yes, I suppose so," except for old Thompson, who is about fifteen years my senior and an ex-detective of the city police force. He shook his head and then said "No" in a voice loud enough to catch everyone's attention.

"You're wrong," he said, looking at me. "Most of those characters never touch the stuff. Occasionally, however, Fate does let some poor devil dig his grave with a hypodermic needle, and it's usually a case of perfect justice."

Then Bob, who knows Thompson quite well, suddenly realized that the old detective probably had a story to support his statement—so he asked Thompson if he could remember any case in which Fate had spooned-out justice along with the drugs.

"Yes," Thompson said, lighting a cigar and giving us time to settle back into a listening attitude, "I can remember one very well. Do any of you recall the Dolly Sarte affair?"

We all said no, though I think some of us did remember.

"Well," Thompson continued, "Dolly Sarte was a fashion model who lived in an apartment up on Lexington Place at the expense of some rich gentleman-friend. He was a manufacturer of jewelry who specialized in necklaces and earrings. By using Dolly to model his wares he was the first advertiser to call attention to her face and neck. The rest of her didn't need an ad to attract attention. Anyway, her facial features sold his jewelry. The columnists said that every time he brought out a new design, he gave her the original, and she was supposed to be just what they called her, a real, live Queen of Diamonds."

"One morning Dolly was found with her famous throat slit open in her bed, and all of her jewelry was missing. It appeared to be a plain case of murder for the purpose of robbery.

"The newspapers gave the crime a big writeup. Big black headlines: 'Diamond Dolly Slain,' 'Prowler Slays Nude Model,' 'Girl Beauty Victim of Cutthroat,' 'Thief Kills Wealthy Model,' and so on and so forth.

"Even the police got worked-up about it. Headquarters sent a special crew out to search the apartment for clues, and two fellows started hunting for Dolly's gentleman-friend. Then a little later I was told to go out and do some clue chasing by myself.

"Well, when I arrived at the apartment, the gang there had already discovered all the clues that were to be found, and were sitting around in the front room questioning another model-type girl who said she used to live with Dolly.

"I spoke to the lieutenant in charge and then I asked one of the others to take me to the scene of the crime and trot out the evidence.

"He took me in the bathroom and showed me where the murderer had evidently pried open a little window that opened out onto a fire escape; then we went into the bedroom, and he showed me the drawers where the jewelry had been kept.

"'Well,' I said, 'have you solved the mystery?'

"He said: 'Yeah, we figure that the guy must have come in through the bathroom window and then walked in here and opened the drawers. About that time, I guess, the girl must have waked up and seen what was going on, because when we found the body, she had her hand on a little automatic under the pillow. The guy probably slashed her head off when she reached for the gun.'

"I asked him if that was all.

"'No,' he said, 'we've discovered that there's something besides the jewelry that's missing.' And then he told me that the young woman in the front room had said that a peculiar custom-made piece of luggage which belonged to Dolly had also been stolen.

"He said the girl had described it as a sort of special hatbox about a foot square, very distinctive, and covered with tooled leather. This girl also said that the case had been given to Dolly by an executive of some company that was going to do a new kind of promotion campaign tied-in with the jewelry ads that had made her famous.

"Well. I took note of all these things, and then I went in and talked to the young woman in the front room, but she wasn't very specific about anything, so I left.

"When I got back to headquarters the chief told me that it was all,over, a suicide had jumped off a train into the river and that among his baggage was a tooled-leather case containing Dolly Sarte's jewelry.

"Well, the case and the jewelry were properly identified and we searched the rest of the suicide's baggage. Then the police fished the body of the suicide out of the river, and discovered that it was the corpse of a familiar character known as 'Top' Dugan, an addict with a record as a pusher and housebreaker.

"After the body had been found and identified the chief considered the matter closed. He figured that Dugan had entered Dolly's apartment and' Dolly had attempted to shoot him. And that Dugan, who was full of dope, had knifed her, stuffed the jewelry into the empty hatbox, and left town on the train. Then, while he was safely on his way, his dope-ridden conscience had driven him to suicide.

"Well, in a way the chief was right. Dugan's conscience had caused him to die alright, but it wouldn't have if Fate had not arranged matters beforehand, because I found a couple of witnesses to prove it. They turned up when we went to search the baggage.

"One of them was walking through the observation car of the train, so he said, when he noticed a man, later identified as Dugan, standing in the passageway between the coaches. Dugan, so the witness said, was fumbling with the lock of the case that came out of the river along with the corpse.

"Just as the train started to cross the bridge, the witness saw Dugan open the case, scream, and as the witness and other passengers started toward him, claw open the door, drop still screaming onto the bridge, and bounce off into the river.

"The second witness was the fellow who owned the case that went into the river with Dugan. He said that he was a representative for a millinery house. His case was an exact copy of the one that had been given to Dally Sarte and it must have really shocked Dugan to see it beside a chair in the observation car. It had contained a model head to be used as a hat display, and some red bunting."

Bob straightened up and laughed. "What of it?" he asked Thompson. "Where does Fate come in?"

Thompson arose and tossed his cigar in the ash tray. "Well," he said to Bob and to the rest of us, "there are times when habitual users of morphine can't tell the difference between illusion and reality. When Dugan opened that duplicate case, he saw the disembodied head of Dolly Sarte lying on a blood-soaked pillow!

"Good day, gentlemen."

First published in Weird Terror #7 September 1953.

Couple of Fishes
by Anonymous

"What did you say, pal?" said the bartender as he set a beer before the bleary-eyed drunk in the nearly deserted bar.

"I said, there are more things in heaven and earth—" answered the drunk.

"—and under the sea," said another drunk, a few feet away down the bar.

The first drunk glared. "Whaddya mean by that?" he growled.

The bartender grinned, shook his head, and went back to his racing sheet at the end of the bar. The first drunk edged his way down the bar until he was face to face with the second.

"I mean," said the second drunk, "that people are always thinking about what strange things there might be in heaven and earth. But I'll bet there are even stranger ones under the sea."

The first drunk stared at the second for a long moment, then turned to stare into his beer, and two big tears slipped down his cheeks. "I'm glad you brought it up," he said, "because it helped me make up my mind. I'm gonna tell the President."

"Tell him what?" said the second drunk, peering owlishly.

"Tell him about the people under the sea," said the first drunk. "I'm one of them. I'm a Spy. I come from there. First Piscatorial Man ever to come to the surface," he added proudly.

"Now look, pal—" The second drunk patted the first on the shoulder gently.

"No, it's true." said the first. "I even got gills I can show you, right behind my ears. But lemme tell you about it first."

The second drunk shrugged. "Sure. Go ahead. I got no place to go, anyhow."

The first drunk took a deep breath, and sighed. "Well, you see, there's a whole race of people who live under water," he began. "And these people, they're cold blooded and cruel, and all they think about is the time when they're gonna be smart enough and have weapons enough to come up and conquer the people who live on land."

The second drunk finished his beer, waved to the bartender for two more, and settled down patiently on his elbow.

"But they're way behind when it comes to civilization and stuff, so they haven't tried it yet," said the first drunk. "But they sent me up here to spy, see, to steal weapons and all. Funny part is, I like it here. People are warm and friendly, not cold and silent like down there. So I been here a year now, drinkin' and trying to forget where I came from, and drinkin' and trying to make up my mind if I should warn these nice people about what's under the ocean. It's kinda tough to turn against your own kind, though."

The second drunk stared. "I'll tell you something, friend," he said. "You're the biggest liar in the whole world, over and under the ocean!"

The first drunk glared. "I'll tell you something. I don't like your face! And he raised his glass and poured his beer over the second drunk's head. And as the liquid rained down behind the second drunk's ears, there was a sudden spasmodic movement, and behind those ears a pair of large gills gaped for a moment, and then disappeared.

The bartender, attracted by the splash of the spilled beer, came over to scowl at them. "Alright, boys, I think you've both had enough," he said.

The first drunk's knees began to give way. "My God," he said, "you're one of us—one of them—like me!"

The second drunk reached out to support him, grasping his coat front. ''That's right. They sent me to look for you. I've been following you in and out of bars for a year."

"Alright, take me back," gasped the first drunk. "I knew I couldn't get away with it!"

"Wait a minute," said the second drunk, turning the first and piloting him toward the door, arm around his shoulders. "You don't get it. I like it here, too. Let's both stay!"

"Hey, you guys," called the bartender, "you better watch out where you're goin', or you'll be in trouble."

The first drunk turned to call back over his shoulder, grinning from ear to ear. "We know where we're going. We're going to see the President—after we stop in for a couple of drinks at some good joint! Aren't we, pal?" he said, as the two stumbled out the front door.

"The President!" muttered the bartender, wiping up the spilled beer. "Well, good riddance to 'em, anyway. They drink like a couple of fishes!"

First published in Weird Terror #10 March 1954.

Death is My Racket
by Anonymous

It's a racket, all right, and one of the sweetest. They come to me, stricken with grief, unwilling to accept reality, unwilling to believe the inevitable. They want to about their loved ones. Some ask about husbands, some their sons or daughters, their parents, sisters, brothers. i give them what they want and they pay well and go home satisfied. And naturally I'm happy about it.

My place is deluxe, with rich draperies of purple and black, with black soft upholstery. The lighting is indirect and soft, so that when the lights are turned out the shock is not great, the contrast small.

Black mirrors match the black of the draperies and are indistinguishable. They reflect the vaporous, odorless clouds that float slowly past them, making the appearance of ectoplasm. A highly sensitive, vacuum-tube-equipped phonograph stands in the basement below, where my assistant daubs in sound effects to my directions, which I affect by light buttons set beneath the arms of my chair.

Women, of course, are my most gullible patients, my best patrons. I classify them, because some cases work more effectively than others. If a client wants merely the return of a loved one who has been gone for many years, I use the ordinary routine, say the proper things and collect my fee.

But it is the newly grief-stricken, for whom I really do my lest work. And of those, I make a careful selection. Those who are bereaved in the ordinary manner I treat in an ordinary way. But there are others, those whose loved ones entombed in family mausoleums, especially during the cold winter months, when the body decomposes slowly. For those people I have a highly specialized manner of treating their dead. It is very effective. I have them leave the vault door unlocked, telling them that the spirit remains near the body for a short time, and if the door is open a crack that spirit may even leave the mausoleum and visit them when called. It makes for a much closer association.

There was the case of Mrs. John Richard. That was, I think, my finest piece of work. Her husband had died and was entombed the very day before she came to me. I played the record in which her husband instructed her to open the vault, so that he could reach her more easily. She went there at once. She was lovely. Quite beautiful, plump, shapely. Luscious!

I made my usual inspection of the tomb that very night. I did not expect the outcome to be quite as exciting as it was. I had pulled out the coffin marked John Richard, 1925-1953, and had opened it as it lay with one end on the floor of the vault and another end on the rack where it had been stored. It was then I heard the creaking of the rusty vault door. A flashlight shone suddenly in my face; a woman screamed. It was Mrs. Richards, who had for some reason changed her mind, had come to lock up the vault again. When she saw me she fainted.

It was a simple matter to kill her arid stuff her into the coffin beside her husband. She looked delicious there beside him. My needs would be filled for some time time! After all, a ghoul must look out for his future. Food supplies are sometimes hard to find!

First published in Weird Terror #11 May 1954

Thorough research did not uncover any evidence that the copyrights on these publications were renewed.  The art comes from the copy at Digital Comics Museum, uploaded and presumably scanned by "Tigger." I have modified it from the original four-color scan, but do not claim any copyright for these modifications.

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