There is another world, but it is in this one.

Paul Eluard. Œuvres complètes, vol. 1, Gallimard, 1968.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

A real pussy-cat: Final Reckonings: The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch, Volume 1


Final Reckonings features outstanding examples of Robert Bloch's weird/crime underworld stories, as well as more domestic tales of the supernatural and giallo.


Below are indicative excerpts and a few "liner notes." (I skipped stories already covered in previous posts.)




Final Reckonings: The Complete Stories of Robert Bloch, Volume 1

Citadel 1990

Mannikins of Horror • (1939) • short story

….One afternoon he came in and saw Colin bending over three little lumps of clay with his tiny knives, a book open before him.


"What are you doing there?" he asked.


"Making the brains for my men," Colin answered.


"Brains? Good God!" Starr stooped.


Yes, they were brains! Tiny, perfect reproductions of the human brain, perfect in every detail, built up layer on layer with unconnected nerve endings, blood vessels to attach them in craniums of clay!


"What—" Starr exclaimed.


"Don't interrupt. I'm putting in the thoughts," Colin said.




Almost Human • (1943) • short story

….Now Junior wrote upon the blackboard in his hidden nursery chamber, and the inscrutable mechanism of his chemical, mechanically-controlled brain guided his steel fingers as he traced the awkward scrawls.


"My name is Junior," he wrote. "I can shoot a gun. The gun will kill. I like to kill. I hate the Professor. I will kill the Professor."


"What is the meaning of this?"


Junior's head turned abruptly as the sound of the voice set up the necessary vibrations in his shiny cranium.


Professor Blasserman stood in the doorway.





The Beasts of Barsac • (1944) • novelette

…."I shall only permit you to gaze upon the last experiments," Barsac whispered. "I could show you dogs with human legs, mice with human skulls and no tails, monkeys that are hairless and possessed of human faces. But you would mock at me and say they were freaks, hybrids — or tell me I could produce monstrosities by using infrared or gamma rays.



The Skull of the Marquis de Sade (1945)


"Of course I laughed at his notions, just as you are probably laughing at mine now. But during the six months that the skull has remained in my hands, I've suffered.


"I've had queer dreams. Just staring at the unnatural, unsmiling grimace is enough to provoke nightmares. Didn't you sense an emanation from the thing? They said de Sade wasn't mad — and I believe them. He was far worse — he was possessed. There's something unhuman about that skull. Something that attracts others, living men whose skulls hide a bestial quality that is also unhuman or inhuman.


"And I've had more than my dreams to deal with. Phone calls came, and mysterious letters. Some of the servants have reported lurkers on the grounds at dusk."


"Probably ordinary thieves, like Marco, after a valuable object," Maitiand commented.


"No," Sir Fitzhugh sighed. "Those unknown seekers did more than attempt to steal the skull. They came into my house at night and adored it!


"Oh, I'm quite positive about the matter, I assure you! I keep the skull in a glass case in the library. Often, when I came to see it in the mornings, I found that it had been moved during the night.


"Yes, moved. Sometimes the case was smashed and the skull placed on the table. Once it was on the floor.


"Of course I checked up on the servants. Their alibis were perfect. It was the work of outsiders — outsiders who probably feared to possess the skull completely, yet needed access to it from time to time in order to practice some abominable and perverted rite.


"They came into my house, I tell you, and worshipped that filthy skull! And when it was stolen, I was glad — very glad.



The Bogey Man Will Get You • (1946) • short story

After all, she could have made a mistake. There were lots of bats flying around at sunset. A man doesn't have to keep house for himself—he can always eat in restaurants. Maybe he did work all day on his thesis. You don't have to be a vampire to write about demonology. Many people have gleaming white teeth. And nobody had been bitten in the throat, or killed, or stuff like that. . . .



Frozen Fear • (1946) • short story

Chop everything into little bits. That was the way!



Tell Your Fortune • (1950) • novelette

Outstanding weird/crime tale. Not to be missed.

….It was a plain white card with plain lettering on it — but it wasn't regular printing, more like a mimeograph in black ink that was still damp. I read it twice.


WHEN THE BLACK CAT CROSSES YOUR PATH YOU DIE


That's all it said. The old superstition. Kid stuff.


"Kid stuff!" Don sneered. "Tell you what. This faker musta gummed up the machinery in this scale and put a lot of phony new fortunetelling cards of his own. He's crazy."


Tarelli shook his head. "Please," he said. "You no like me. Well, I no like you, much. But even so, I geev you the warning—watch out for black cats. Scales say black cat going to breeng you death. Watch out."


Don shrugged. "You handle this deal, Mosko," he said. "I got no more time to waste. Heavy date this afternoon."


Mosko nodded at him. "Just make sure you don't get loaded. I need you at the tables tonight."


Til be here," Don said, from the doorway. "Unless some mangy alley cat sneaks up and conks me over the head with a club."


For a little while nobody said anything. Tarelli tried to smile at me, but it didn't go over. He tugged at Mosko's sleeve but Mosko ignored him. He stared at Don. We all stared at Don.


We watched him climb into his convertible and back out of the driveway. We watched him give it the gun and he hit the road. We watched him race by toward town. We watched the black cat come out of nowhere and scoot across the highway, watched Don yank the wheel to swerve out of its path, watched the car zoom off to one side toward the ditch, watched it crash into the culvert, then turn a somersault and go rolling over and over and over into the gully.



The Shadow from the Steeple • [Cthulhu Mythos] • (1950) • novelette

Small-bore sub-Lovecraft story.



The Thinking Cap • (1953) • novelette

Bloch is always on solid ground portraying the hysterias of creative artists.

"Save me," he whispered to himself in the mirror. "Save me!" But the face staring back was impassive. The face knew all there was to know about him.


Barnaby Codd, aged thirty. Occupation, writer. Status, single. Future, dubious. Or all too certain.


And the face knew the facts behind the facts. Knew about the seven years of work, the stories rejected, the stories sold, the brave beginnings and the bitter end. It knew about Peggy and the broken engagement — about the furnished apartment with its five rooms when the writing came easily. It knew about the cases of bonded whiskey when the stuff was selling to the better markets, and it knew about the empty bottle of the cheapest gin (going crazy, how can there be an empty bottle of cheapest anything?) when he hit the slump. When the slump hit him, which was now, now, now. When he couldn't rest, couldn't keep from drinking, couldn't start the writing. When he got into this horrible habit of talking to himself and his brain ran away with the words and the thoughts and left nothing but a morass of maudlin self-pity.


Barnaby Codd stared at himself in the mirror and himself stared back with the impassivity of death. He was calm now. Calm as if in a coma. Coma, comma, Lake Como, Lake Perry Como, comme cj, comme ca, come wind, come rain, come hell or high water, come Dunder and Blitzen and Prancer and Rudolph the Rednosed Can Opener. Damn it to hell, where was the can opener, where was the magic key that opened the silver portals that led to the regal banquet of beans for His Majesty's pleasure?




Constant Reader • (1953) • short story

"Thinking planets! Now I've heard everything!" This from Swanson. "Dale, you read too many books."


"Perhaps. But consider what's happened! We can't locate any life form here. Nevertheless, we black out. And something creates, out of reading and imagination, a duplicate of GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. Think in terms of a combined number of intelligences, fused into a single unit housed in the body of this world itself. Think of its potential power, and then think of its motives. We're outsiders, we may be hostile, we must be controlled or destroyed. And that's what the planet is trying to do. It can't read our minds, but it can read my books. And its combined force is enough to materialize imaginative concepts in an effort to destroy us. First came little Lilliputians with bows and arrows and tiny spears. The intelligence realized these wouldn't be effective, so it may try something else. Something like — "


Penner cut me off with a gesture. "All right, Dale. You don't have to come with us if you don't want to." It was like a slap in the face. I stared around the circle. The men had their suits on. Nobody looked at me.


Then, surprisingly enough, Levy spoke up. "Maybe he's right," he said. "Somebody else has to stay behind, too. Think I'll keep Dale company here."



The Goddess of Wisdom • (1954) • short story

….She gave me her eyes, and all that lay behind them. And the first gift was loneliness. All the loneliness of endless space, all the loneliness of endless time. It surged into me, surged through me, until I was filled with all that is empty. Now I understood why she held my hands — in some way, that was all she could do to keep my being from losing itself in the frozen void. As it was, I remained, retained my identity, and took the loneliness from her. It was her gift, and it became part of me.



Where the Buffalo Roam • (1955) • short story

"When the educated men took the world into war, they died. The strays, the outcasts, the remnants of atavistic social orders proved their fitness then. They lived in harmony with nature. We've encouraged that since then. If a man like Iron Head wants to read, we let him read. If a man like Jake prefers illiteracy, that's his business. The important thing is that Iron Head and Jake and I, and all those like us or unlike us, have managed to exist in peace together. To me that's true progress."


Buckton stood up. "Then I take it you're not in sympathy with our plans? You have no intention of collaborating in reclaiming the world?"


"Nobody reclaims the world," Doc said. "Because nobody had a right to claim it in the first place. Not governments or priests or moneylenders or scientists or engineers. It belongs to everyone. That's the way I think, and Iron Head and Jake and all of us. And so do the others in our settlement and all the settlements. You'll find that out."


"We intend to." Buckton nodded at Lieutenant Thorne and the others. "Tomorrow we'll cross the river and talk to your people. Then we'll head on and visit elsewhere. We'll survey the cities, go east. Maybe we'll find sentiment as you say it is. But it doesn't matter. Because we'll come back. We'll come back with the right men and the right weapons.


"You can't turn back the clock, you know. Once before this was a wild frontier until progress came. You know what happened then."


"Yes." Iron Head stood up too. "Buffler died. My people died. Everything died but white men. So they ended up killing each other. Progress stinks!"


Buckton got riled then. "All right. I guess we know where we stand then. And under the circumstances you'll realize it will be necessary for me to detain you here until we've investigated your settlement. . . ."


Doc shrugged. "I expected as much."


"What does he mean, Doc?" I asked.


"He means we're prisoners," Doc told me.


Then I got the drift of it. Buckton gave a signal and the men eased around behind us, two to each. They all had these pesky little guns out.


Doc looked at me and I looked at Iron Head, and he said, "Let's raise hair."



You Got to Have Brains • (1956) • short story

He says, "So long I have worked, but soon they will not laugh at me any more. Soon the smart Americans, the men over here who call themselves Professors, will take note of my work. They did not believe me when I offered to show them my plans. They would not accept my basic theory. But I knew I was right. I knew I could do it. Part of it must be mechanical, yes. But the most important part is the mind itself. You know what I told them? To do this, and to do it right, you've got to have brains."



A Good Imagination • (1956) • short story

...She must realize the cleverness that brought everything to perfection. She must come to appreciate that I'm the better man after all. And of course I am.


It would have been stupid to confront them both with their guilt; what could I possibly have gained? And it would have been equally stupid for me to kill George and run the risk of discovery. As things worked out, as I planned them to work out, George is disposed of forever. I've sealed him up behind the walls of a madhouse for life. He'll live on and suffer, thinking Louise is dead and that he killed her. And of course the sheriff and the folks around here know differently. They know she's alive, and that there's nothing behind the cement wall. They'll remember talking to her and to me, and that she was to go away with me. Neither the new owners nor anyone else will ever tear down that wall.


I'm going to make all this very plain to Louise. I'm going to tell her exactly what happened. In fact, that's why I'm writing this. I don't trust myself to find the exact word to convey the meaning of the moment.


I'll let her read what I've written. Have you read this far, Louise?


Do you understand now? Do you understand what I've done?


And do you understand what I'm going to do, in just another moment?



Dead-End Doctor • (1956) • short story

THE LAST PSYCHIATRIST ON EARTH sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...

….In less than a minute, Anson faced the girl in privacy. "You shouldn't have done that," he said severely.


"But darling, I wanted to. After all, what are a few tokens more or less?"


"A few tokens?" Anson scowled. "In the past year, I've borrowed over two thousand from you. This can't go on."


"Of course not," the girl agreed. "That's what I've been telling you. Let's get a Permanent and then Daddy will give you a nice fat job and — "


"There you go again! How often must I warn you about the Elektra situation? This unnatural dependency on the father image is dangerous. If only you'd let me get you down on the couch — "


"Why, of course, darling!"


"No, no!" Anson cried. "I want to analyze you!"



Terror in the Night • (1956) • short story

What is there was an asylum whose director made a mint keeping wives locked-up for their husbands? What if his warders were thugs and rapists?


"Poor Marjorie," Barbara said. "I felt so sorry for her."


"Me, too."


"You know, for a while she almost had me believing her. Sometimes those crazy stories turn out to be true after all."


I grunted. "I know. But all that medieval stuff about killing patients in asylums — that's just delusions of persecution."


"Are you sure, Bob?"


"Of course I'm sure. I admit I had my doubts for a while, too. But you know what tipped the scales?"


"What?"


"When she got to that part about the bloodhounds. That did it for me. Only a nut would dream up an idea like that."


"It bothers me, though. Don't you think we ought to call the sheriff after all? Or this Doctor Corbel, or Freddie?"


"Why get mixed up in it?" I asked. "I mean, look at the mess we'd get into."


"But the poor girl, running around out there all alone . . ."


"Don't worry, they'll get her. And she'll be taken care of."


"I can't help thinking about what she said, though. Do you think the part about this Leo was true?"





Founding Fathers • (1956) • short story

A clever idea that gets buried under a Monogram Studios retelling of a Runyunland tall tale.


EARLY ON THE MORNING of July 4th, 1776, Thomas Jefferson poked his peruked head into the deserted chamber of what was to be known as Independence Hall and yelled, "Come on, you guys, the coast is clear!"


As he stepped into the big room he was followed by John Hancock, who puffed nervously on a cigarette.


"All right," Jefferson said. "Ditch the butt, will ya? You wanna louse us up, creep?"


"Sorry, boss." Hancock glanced around the place, then addressed a third man who entered behind him. "Dig this," he murmured. "Not an ashtray in the joint. What kind of a setup we got here anyway, Nunzio?"


The third man scowled. "Don't call me Nunzio," he growled. "The name's Charles Thomson, remember?"


"Okay, Chuck."





String of Pearls • (1956) • short story

One of the best stories in the collection, and high on the list of Bloch's beat weird underworld stories about crooks coming athwart the uncanny.


I wonder if Simon Raven read it prior to writing The Roses of Picardy?


And she smiled too, and said, "Kali is the goddess of the Thugs, you know. Each skull represents one of her victims."


Jerry stood up. She didn't try to hold him.






Jay

17 February 201i

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