One of the perils of finding a new author is over-indulging.
Chetwynd-Hayes is a case in point for me. After being delighted by "Don't Go Up Them Stairs" in The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories Volume Three and further encouraged by Matt Cowan's own enthusiasm I purchased Looking for Something to Suck: The Vampire Stories of R. Chetwynd-Hayes.
(These tales are best read one-per-day. I knew better than to read more than that - but I did it anyway.)
Chetwynd-Hayes is an inventive writer: stories on traditional themes begin with an extra half-spin of perspective that renews subject-matter long sunk in cliche.
(Vampires as a subject are buried under 200 years of cliches. And in the last four decades they have been accumulating at a furious pace. Each time a cliche is shattered, it is quickly metastasized into a new cliche.)
Chetwynd-Hayes is an uneven stylist. Anyone who writes 200 short stories in a career is not cutting flawless diamonds. But his style is generous: setting and atmosphere are always meticulously conveyed. Brevity of character sketches, the way social class is delineated through piquant dialogue, are gracefully and economically handled.
NEVER BEASTLY TO VAMPIRES
(Foreword by Stephen Jones)
'The Count was apparently very versatile too. He was obviously a cook – those three women didn't do it! He could also make beds, because Harker saw him doing it. So when you think of him doing little jobs like that, he loses some of his terror.'
MY MOTHER MARRIED A VAMPIRE
'Your father is really a count,' she said proudly, 'which means of course that I am a countess and you – well – you must be a viscount.'
Naturally I couldn't keep information like this to myself and passed it on to a crowd of my contemporaries on the way home from school.
'I'm a viscount,' I said.
They chucked me in the local canal and most of them were for leaving me there, maintaining that such a white-faced, bulging-eyed little brat was of no account and should have been drowned at birth. Fortunately a passing clergyman grabbed my hair as I was going down for the third time, then did the necessary arm-pumping-belly-pushing business, which brought me back to gasping life.
A FAMILY WELCOME
A wonderful Upstairs-Downstairs Victorian vampire story. At the reception after the funeral the host goes so far as to tell the undertaker ''Fraid we can't offer you a drink. We have no beer.'
'My wants are simple. Breakfast – black pudding on toast. Lunch – pig's blood mixed with lightly done mince. Dinner – the same. Nightcap – a glass of pig's blood.' He looked at me intently. 'How does that strike you?'
I spoke boldly – it always pays in the long run: 'Well, sir, it wouldn't suit me, but if that's what you want – I'll try to make it as tasty as possible.'
'I would certainly like to meet the builder,' Brian said caustically. 'He must have been a remarkable chap'
'Builder!' Mrs Brown chuckled. 'When did I mention a builder? My dear young man, the house was not built. It grew.'
THE SAD VAMPIRE
'You aren't going to wave a cross at me?'
John shook his head. 'No. I haven't got a cross.'
The vampire seemed a little happier, for he ceased to tremble, though he continued to watch John with a wary eye.
'You're sure? Everyone I've met in the past hundred and fifty years has either waved a cross at me, or smothered me with garlic flowers, or – worst of all – tried to drive a stake through my heart. Everyone is rotten and mean – all because I have the misfortune to be a vampire.'
To be seated beside her was an exciting, and – for some inexplicable reason – a rather fearsome experience. Her hand which slid so naturally into his, was soft and warm, but she gave out – Anthony struggled for the right definition – a subtle suggestion of perpetual coldness. Rather as though she were nothing more than an animated doll, heated by a faulty mechanism, that might at any time break down.
ACQUIRING A FAMILY
A powerful horror story: loneliness, social isolation, a personality and its body both collapsing under the onslaught of phantoms and weird atmosphere. Chetwynd-Hayes does women characters with a great sense of solidarity: admiring their hopes, depicting their shortcomings, the way the patriarchal world pushes them around and rationalizes its bullying with names like duty, family, and motherhood.
A wonderful example of ellipses, indirection, and the narrator being stingy with clues. It begins with a young male vampire's temptations to dally with a young female "meat-eater" and then turns to something much stranger and more intriguing.
KEEP THE GASLIGHT BURNING
Simply magnificent. Chetwynd-Hayes takes a plot Susan Hill would turn into a novel and does it in 20 pages. The characters live and breathe, fully rounded and moving to the brittle last extremity of their encounter with a retributive horror.
Like a newly-born colt he quickly learnt how to move from one place to another. He thought 'bedroom' and was there, poised over the large double bed, peering into the long wardrobe mirror that denied his existence.
THE GREAT INDESTRUCTIBLE
A journalist for the Ghoul Gazette comes for an interview with Count Dracula. Hilarious.
....'Fortunately, the world is full of long-nosed idiots who can't mind their own business. There's always someone who will pull a stake out of a grinning skeleton; pour virgin blood over my ashes; hold midnight orgies and gabble unpronounceable words, then scream
their fool heads off when I put in an appearance. On one occasion I was revived by a priest's blood. Can you beat that?'
....'I was encased in ice at the time. You know, the usual thing – some rotten swine had lured me over a frozen river – thin ice – running water beneath – in I go – become as stiff as a fish finger – and that was that. Then along comes this knee-basher waving a wooden unmentionable – slips on the ice – cuts his text-croaking throat – and I get a mouthful of the red stuff. I was up and about in no time at all.'
Simply wonderful. The self-assurance of Chetwynd-Hayes gives the reader an epistolary short story. Two superb women characters. Read this tale first.
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO SUCK
'No, don't interrupt. Please. Some people have a gift for music, others have an aptitude for acting. I have a gift, a curse, call it what you like for psychic phenomena.'
GREAT-GRANDAD WALKS AGAIN
....No, me mind's made up, I won't have him buried in no churchyard. I want him where I can see him, where he's been these ninety years.' She banged her stick on the floor. Right here in this house. So if you wants what yer thinks should come to you after I'm gone, put yer thinking caps on.'
THE FUNDAMENTAL ELEMENTAL
A "psychic detective" story. Happily Chetwynd-Hayes did not waste too much time and typewriter ribbon on this misbegotten subgenre.
THE WEREWOLF AND THE VAMPIRE
I read this one in the collection Monster Club. Funny? I should cocoa!
13 October 2018