The Frolic, a Unsettling Tale of Horror by Thomas Ligotti

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Cover of the Penguin edition of Ligotti’s collections Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe.

 

The Frolic

Thomas Ligotti, 1989

In a beautiful home in a beautiful part of town—the town of Nolgate, site of the state prison—Dr. Munck examined the evening newspaper while his young wife lounged on a sofa nearby, lazily flipping through the colorful parade of a fashion magazine. Their daughter Norleen was upstairs asleep, or perhaps she was illicitly enjoying an after-hours session with the new television she’d received on her birthday the week before. If so, her violation went undetected by her parents in the living room, where all was quiet. The neighborhood outside the house was quiet, too, as it was day and night. All of Nolgate was quiet, for it was not a place with much of a night life, save perhaps at the bar where the prison’s correctional officers congregated. Such persistent quiet made the doctor’s wife fidgety with her existence in a locale that seemed light-years from the nearest metropolis. But thus far Leslie did not complain of the lethargy of their lives. She knew her husband was quite dedicated to his new professional duties in this new place. Perhaps tonight, though, he would exhibit more of those symptoms of disenchantment with his work that she had been meticulously observing in him of late.

“How did it go today, David?” she asked, her radiant eyes peeking over the magazine cover, where another pair of eyes radiated a glossy gaze. “You were pretty quiet at dinner.”

“It went about the same,” said Dr. Munck without lowering the small-town newspaper to look at his wife.

“Does that mean you don’t want to talk about it?”

He folded the newspaper backwards and his upper body appeared. “That’s how it sounded, didn’t it?”

“Yes, it certainly did. Are you okay?” Leslie asked, laying aside the magazine on the coffee table and offering her complete attention.

“Severely doubting, that’s how I am.” He said this with a kind of far-off reflectiveness.

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Further Associates of Sherlock Holmes, ed., George Mann, TOC

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Table of Contents

  1. The Last Visitor by Stephen Henry
  2. The Docklands Murder by Dan Watters
  3. Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of Bodmin by Jonathan Green
  4. The Case of the Blind Man’s Spectacles by Marcia Wilson
  5. The Unfortunate Guest by Iain McLaughlin
  6. The Unexpected Death of the Martian Ambassador by Andrew Lane
  7. No Good Deed by David Marcum
  8. The Curious Case of Vanished Youth by Mark A. Latham
  9. The Curse of the Blue Diamond by Sam Stone
  10. The Pilot Fish by Stuart Douglas
  11. The Case of the Scented Lady by Nik Vincent
  12. Harlingdon’s Heir by Michelle Ruda
  13. The Noble Burglar by James Lovegrove
  14. The Second Mask by Philip Purser-Hallard

Gaslight Arcanum: Uncanny Tails of Sherlock Holmes, eds., J. R. Campbell & Charles Prepolec, TOC

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Table of Contents

  1. Sherlock Holmes and the Diving Bell by Simon Clark
  2. The Greatest Mystery by Paul Kane
  3. The Adventure of the Six Maledictions by Kim Newman
  4. The Comfort of the Seine by Stephen Volk
  5. The Adventure of Lucifer’s Footprints by Christopher Fowler
  6. The Deadly Sin of Sherlock Holmes by Tom English
  7. The Color That Came to Chiswick by William Meikle
  8. A Country Death by Simon Kurt Unsworth
  9. From the Tree of Time by Fred Saberhagen
  10. The Executioner by Lawrence C. Connolly
  11. Sherlock Holmes and the Great Game by Kevin Cockle
  12. The House of Blood by Tony Richards

On the Supenatural in Poetry by 18th-Century Gothic Author Ann Radcliffe

Pether, Sebastian, 1790-1844; Moonlit Lake with a Ruined Gothic Church, a Church and Boatmen

Painting by David Wright, Oil on Canvas, ca. 1892. (Public Domain)

On the Supernatural in Poetry*

Anne Radcliffe (The Mysteries of Udolpho)

[*First appeared in the New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, Vol. 16, no. 1, 1826 (pp. 145-152)]

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Credited as the first true Gothic novel, and the one which set the standard for those that would follow. (Dover)

One of our travellers began a grave dissertation on the illusions of the imagination. “And not only on frivolous occasions,” said he, “but in the most important pursuits of life, an object often flatters and charms at a distance, which vanishes into nothing as we approach it; and ’tis well if it leave only disappointment in our hearts. Sometimes a severer monitor is left there.”

These truisms, delivered with an air of discovery by Mr. S––, who seldom troubled himself to think upon any subject, except that of a good dinner, were lost upon his companion, who, pursuing the airy conjectures which the present scene, however humbled, had called up, was following Shakspeare into unknown regions. “Where is now the undying spirit,” said he, “that could so exquisitely perceive and feel?–that could inspire itself with the va,rious characters of this world, and create worlds of its own; to which the grand and the beautiful, the gloomy and the sublime of visible Nature, up-called not only corresponding feelings, but passions ; which seemed to perceive a soul in every thing: and thus, in the secret workings of its own characters, and in the combinations of its incidents, kept the elements and local scenery always in unison with them, heightening their effect. So the conspirators at Rome pass under the fiery showers and sheeted lightning of the thunder-storm, to meet, at midnight, in the porch of Pompey’s theatre. The streets being then deserted by the affrighted multitude, that place, open as it was, was convenient for their council; and, as to the storm, they felt it not; it was not more terrible to them than their own passions, nor so terrible to others as the dauntless spirit that makes them, almost unconsciously, brave its fury. These appalling circumstances, with others of supernatural import, attended the fall of the conqueror of the world–a man, whose power Cassius represents to be dreadful as this night, when the sheeted dead were seen in the lightning to glide along the streets of Rome. How much does the sublimity of these attendant circumstances heighten our idea of the power of Caesar, of the terrific grandeur of his character, and prepare and interest us for his fate. The whole soul is roused and fixed, in the full energy of attention, upon the progress of the conspiracy against him; and, had not Shakespeare wisely withdrawn him from our view, there would have been no balance of our passions.”–” Caesar was a tyrant,” said Mr. S––. W–– looked at him for a moment, and smiled, and then silently resumed the course of his own thoughts. No master ever knew how to touch the accordant springs of sympathy by small circumstances like our own Shakspeare. In Cymbeline, for instance, how finely such circumstances are made use of, to awaken, at once, solemn expectation and tenderness, and, by recalling the softened remembrance of a sorrow long past, to prepare the mind to melt at one that was approaching, mingling at the same time, by means of a mysterious occurrence, a slight tremour of awe with our pity. Thus, when Belarius and Arviragus return to the cave where they had left the unhappy and worn-out Imogen to repose, while they are yet standing before it, and Arviragus, speaking of her with tenderest pity, as “the poor sick Fidele,” goes out to enquire for her,–solernn music is heard from the cave, sounded by that harp of which Guiderius says, “Since the death of my dearest mother, it did not speak before. All solemn things should answer solemn accidents.” Immediately Arviragus enters with Fidele senseless in his arms…

“The bird is dead, that we have made so much of.
–How found you him?
Stark, as you see, thus smiling.
–I thought he slept, and put
My clouted brogues from off my feet, whose rudeness
Answered my steps too loud.”–”Why he but sleeps!”

* * * * *

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Sherlock Holmes & “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual” by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1896

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Art by David Lupton for a book edition of “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual” by Arthur Conan Doyle. (David Lupton website)

 

—The Sherlock Holmes Files—

The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual

by Arthur Conan Doyle

(The Strand Magazine, xxxx)

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Facsimile of Oregonian newspaper reprint of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual”.

 

An anomaly which often struck me in the character of my friend Sherlock Holmes was that, although in his methods of thought he was the neatest and most methodical of mankind, and although also he affected a certain quiet primness of dress, he was none the less in his personal habits one of the most untidy men that ever drove a fellow-lodger to distraction. Not that I am in the least conventional in that respect myself. The rough-and-tumble work in Afghanistan, coming on the top of a natural Bohemianism of disposition, has made me rather more lax than befits a medical man. But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs. I have always held, too, that pistol practice should be distinctly an open-air pastime; and when Holmes, in one of his queer humours, would sit in an arm-chair with his hair-trigger and a hundred Boxer cartridges, and proceed to adorn the opposite wall with a patriotic V. R. done in bullet-pocks, I felt strongly that neither the atmosphere nor the appearance of our room was improved by it.

Our chambers were always full of chemicals and of criminal relics which had a way of wandering into unlikely positions, and of turning up in the butter-dish or in even less desirable places. But his papers were my great crux. He had a horror of destroying documents, especially those which were connected with his past cases, and yet it was only once in every year or two that he would muster energy to docket and arrange them; for, as I have mentioned somewhere in these incoherent memoirs, the outbursts of passionate energy when he performed the remarkable feats with which his name is associated were followed by reactions of lethargy during which he would lie about with his violin and his books, hardly moving save from the sofa to the table. Thus month after month his papers accumulated, until every corner of the room was stacked with bundles of manuscript which were on no account to be burned, and which could not be put away save by their owner. One winter’s night, as we sat together by the fire, I ventured to suggest to him that, as he had finished pasting extracts into his common-place book, he might employ the next two hours in making our room a little more habitable. He could not deny the justice of my request, so with a rather rueful face he went off to his bedroom, from which he returned presently pulling a large tin box behind him. This he placed in the middle of the floor and, squatting down upon a stool in front of it, he threw back the lid. I could see that it was already a third full of bundles of paper tied up with red tape into separate packages.

“There are cases enough here, Watson,” said he, looking at me with mischievous eyes. “I think that if you knew all that I had in this box you would ask me to pull some out instead of putting others in.”

“These are the records of your early work, then?” I asked. “I have often wished that I had notes of those cases.”

“Yes, my boy, these were all done prematurely before my biographer had come to glorify me.” He lifted bundle after bundle in a tender, caressing sort of way. “They are not all successes, Watson,” said he. “But there are some pretty little problems among them. Here’s the record of the Tarleton murders, and the case of Vamberry, the wine merchant, and the adventure of the old Russian woman, and the singular affair of the aluminium crutch, as well as a full account of Ricoletti of the club-foot, and his abominable wife. And here—ah, now, this really is something a little recherché.”

He dived his arm down to the bottom of the chest, and brought up a small wooden box with a sliding lid, such as children’s toys are kept in. From within he produced a crumpled piece of paper, and old-fashioned brass key, a peg of wood with a ball of string attached to it, and three rusty old disks of metal.

“Well, my boy, what do you make of this lot?” he asked, smiling at my expression.

“It is a curious collection.”

“Very curious, and the story that hangs round it will strike you as being more curious still.”

“These relics have a history then?”

“So much so that they are history.”

“What do you mean by that?”

Sherlock Holmes picked them up one by one, and laid them along the edge of the table. Then he reseated himself in his chair and looked them over with a gleam of satisfaction in his eyes.

“These,” said he, “are all that I have left to remind me of the adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.”

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Sherlock Holmes & “The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot” by Arthur Conan Doyle, 1910

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“Sherlock, Science & Ratiocination” by Elia Mervi (SignumUniversity.org).

 

—The Sherlock Holmes Files—

The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

by Arthur Conan Doyle

(The Strand Magazine, 1910*)

***

In recording from time to time some of the curious experiences and interesting recollections which I associate with my long and intimate friendship with Mr Sherlock Holmes, I have continually been faced by difficulties caused by his own aversion to publicity. To his sombre and cynical spirit all popular applause was always abhorrent, and nothing amused him more at the end of a successful case than to hand over the actual exposure to some orthodox official, and to listen with a mocking smile to the general chorus of misplaced congratulation. It was indeed this attitude upon the part of my friend, and certainly not any lack of interesting material, which has caused me of late years to lay very few of my records before the public. My participation in some of his adventures was always a privilege which entailed discretion and reticence upon me.

It was, then, with considerable surprise that I received a telegram from Holmes last Tuesday – he has never been known to write where a telegram would serve – in the following terms: ‘Why not tell them of the Cornish horror-strangest case I have handled.’ I have no idea what backward sweep of memory had brought the matter fresh to his mind, or what freak had caused him to desire that I should recount it, but I hasten, before another cancelling telegram may arrive, to hunt out the notes which give me the exact details of the case, and to lay the narrative before my readers.

It was, then, in the spring of the year 1897 that Holmes’s iron constitution showed some symptoms of giving way in the face of constant hard work of a most exacting kind, aggravated, perhaps, by occasional indiscretions of his own. In March of that year Dr Moore Agar, of Harley Street, whose dramatic introduction to Holmes I may some day recount, gave positive injunctions that the famous private agent would lay aside all his cases and surrender himself to complete rest if he wished to avert an absolute breakdown. The state of his health was not a matter in which he himself took the faintest interest, for his mental detachment was absolute, but he was induced at last, on the threat of being permanently disqualified from work, to give himself a complete change of scene and air. Thus it was that in the early spring of that year we found ourselves together in a small cottage near Poldhu Bay, at the further extremity of the Cornish peninsula.

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“THOSE STARING EYES AND GNASHING TEETH FLASHED PAST US LIKE A DREADUL VISION.” One of seven illustrations by artist Gilbert Holiday for the original December 1910 publication of the story in The Strand Magazine, UK.

It was a singular spot, and one peculiarly well suited to the grim humour of my patient. From the windows of our little whitewashed house, which stood high upon a grassy headland, we looked down upon the whole sinister semicircle of Mounts Bay, that old death-trap of sailing vessels, with its fringe of black cliffs and surge-swept reefs on which innumerable seamen have met their end. With a northerly breeze it lies placid and sheltered, inviting the storm-tossed craft to tack into it for rest and protection.

Then comes the sudden swirl round of the wind, the blustering gale from the south-west, the dragging anchor, the lee shore, and the last battle in the creaming breakers. The wise mariner stands far out from that evil place.

On the land side our surroundings were as sombre as on the sea. It was a country of rolling moors, lonely and dun-coloured, with an occasional church tower to mark the site of some old-world village. In every direction upon these moors there were traces of some vanished race which had passed utterly away, and left as its sole record strange monuments of stone, irregular mounds which contained the burned ashes of the dead, and curious earth-works which hinted at prehistoric strife. The glamour and mystery of the place, with its sinister atmosphere of forgotten nations, appealed to the imagination of my friend, and he spent much of his time in long walks and solitary meditations upon the moor. The ancient Cornish language had also arrested his attention, and he had, I remember, conceived the idea that it was akin to the Chaldean, and had been largely derived from the Phoenician traders in tin. He had received a consignment of books upon philology and was settling down to develop this thesis, when suddenly, to my sorrow and to his unfeigned delight, we found ourselves, even in that land of dreams, plunged into a problem at our very doors which was more intense, more engrossing, and infinitely more mysterious than any of those which had driven us from London. Our simple life and peaceful, healthy routine were violently interrupted, and we were precipitated into the midst of a series of events which caused the utmost excitement not only in Cornwall, but throughout the whole West of England. Many of my readers may retain some recollection of what was called at the time ‘The Cornish Horror’, though a most imperfect account of the matter reached the London Press. Now, after thirteen years, I will give the true details of this inconceivable affair to the public.

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The Mummy in Literature, A Bibliography of Fiction & Nonfiction Sources (Work in Progress)

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Two-Penny Press Edition (2017) of Jane C. Webb Loudon’s Novel, The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century. London (then Webb) published the novel anonymously in three volumes when she was just seventeen years of age. It is now considered one of the earliest science-fiction novels written by a woman author. After reading something she had written, George Loudon sought Jane Webb out, helped her get published, and married her as well. (Amazon.com)


Sources: International Science Fiction Database (ISFDB); Wikipedia; Brian J. Frost’s The Essential Guide to Mummy Literature (Scarecrow Press, 2007); Bill Pronzini’s Tales Of The Dead; and the anthologies and collections listed in parentheses below.

If you are aware of a story or novel or nonfiction work not on this list, in which a mummy/mummies figure(s) as a character/villain or subject, please let me know at thesanguinewoods@gmail.com and I will add it to the bibliography.

This bibliography is current up through the most recent publications of The Book of the Dead, mummy stories ed. Jared Shulin, Jurassic London, 2014; and The Mammoth Book of the Mummy, ed. Paula Guran, Prime Books, 2017.


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Mummy Short Stories

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