Only two more stories left, and I appear to have decided to draw them out for as long as possible.
One thing that’s been interesting reading this book is seeing how these stories shifted style and tone over the decades. The earlier ones owed more to 19th century lit like Pushkin, Hoffman, and Gogol, but by now in the middle of the second decade of the 20th century the style’s as indebted to modernity and advertising as the usual fare in Weird Tales.
Still, something of that old world horror remains even if the resemblance is superficial.
“The Woman With No Nose” by Georgy Peskov/Yelena Deisha (1927)
Our narrator is a scared man. There is typhus in the city and he needs to get away. So he’s at the train station trying to leave on one of the few remaining trains. Meanwhile there’s this horrible woman with no nose he keeps seeing wherever he goes. And then the story splits and we get the two threads of the narrator’s life presented almost simultaneously.
There’s the over-story of the man taking his seat on the train while he keeps seeing the woman with no nose: his thoughts and actions and fears. Then there’s the other story that’s taking place back at the hospital. There the man is being evacuated as the typhus outbreak emerges and of course he has the disease. So the delirium of the over-story is the manifestation of his fevered state, and as the train takes off the other passengers realize he is sick, but the man doesn’t care because the woman with no nose is with him now:
“And the woman with no nose hides in the dark corner under the seats and, from there, keeps watch over all of us.”
This one’s good. I know I harp on which of these stories would have sat alongside anything in Weird Tales, but I think there’s some value in framing them that way. A lot of these stories aren’t part of any genre tradition in the Anglosphere and that’s a shame. This story would sit comfortably alongside Poe and Everil Worrell. Plus, I’m a sucker for that fevered narrator whispering hot and heavy in your ear while the plot drives like a freight train to its inevitable conclusion.
Next week, the other kind of Weird Tale… that’s right. It’s time to bust out the soul juicer!
Only this time… Soviet style!
Welcome back! This week’s story is “The Messenger” by Georgy Peskov, the pen name for emigre journalist Yelena Deisha. A cursory google search doesn’t reveal much about her, which is a shame because her stories are quite good in so much as they sit comfortably alongside The Women of Weird Tales and any of the better than mid-tier stories from Alberto Manguel’s Black Water.
“The Messenger” by Georgy Peskov (1925)
A much reduced husband and wife worry over their son’s fate. He’s away fighting in the Russian Civil War. The son is their parent’s last surviving child, and everyday the parents wish for some word from the him. Grasping at straws, the mother has taken to spiritualism (via automatic writing) and spends much of her time talking with the spirits. She figures that if the son’s dead she would receive some communication from him. The father goes along with this, reluctantly. And the village priest harangues, calling spiritualism blasphemy.
The mother persists, and one winter night while a storm rages outside, she and the father sit down to make a another attempt to learn information about their son. Their efforts have mixed results and the only decipherable words are “The Messenger. A blessing.”
Quite soon after that there’s a knock at the door. The father is suspicious. There’s a storm outside and anyone out at this time can’t be up to any good. But the mother at last opens the door and finds a stranger there. This is a soldier claiming to know her son. He tells her their son lives, having managed to leave the country. He also tells an odd story about two sick friends and the nurse who cared for them. She and the son had a relationship but when it came time to flee the nurse refused to abandon the hospital while a sick patient was there. The soldier gives the nurse’s address, and refuses all hints of help from the couple before going back out into the storm.
The next day the couple writes the nurse and days later she writes back. She does admit to knowing her son. But the soldier they say visited them can’t be alive, because he died when the hospital was taken. The implication for the reader being that the visiting soldier was the ghost come to the couple in order to ease their mind and as a way to pay off his debt to the nurse who stayed behind to care for him despite the likelihood of very awful things happening to her when the Bolsheviks took over the hospital
And here the husband and wife’s opinions of events diverge. The husband is inclined to believe the whole story nonsense and the soldier was a spy. He complains to the priest about his wife’s spiritualist practices, and the priest once again harangues the wife to give it all up as blasphemous. The wife however believes the soldier was a spirit and their son is still alive, yet when she tries to write the nurse again she gets no reply. The End.
This story didn’t so much remind me of the Bulgakov seance story from earlier in the book, as it did WW Jacobs’s “The Monkey’s Paw.” Except Peskov’s story lacks the (somewhat corny if singular) ironic slant. It’s more unsettling. What gets me is that Peskov is writing her supernatural stories not straight from her imagination, but taking scenes from events that impacted her life and that of her associates. It puts a very different spin on things.
Next time, a date with Miss Muerte!
I’ve put together another issue of “Mysthead” my RPG fanzine. You can get it and the first issue by supporting me on patreon. CLICK THIS TO GO THERE. In this issue you’ll find lore about Mysthead’s elf and goblin populations, a playable gossiping spider race-class (“The Rumormonger Spider”) for Old School Essentials, and tables to generate whispering skulls, hot spider gossip, and elf-goblin political structures. So as not to make this post a complete advertisement, I’ve included the elf-goblin political structure generator below.
Take care for now!
Elves and goblins often have peculiar ways of governing themselves. While all manner of geases may determine what actions may or may not be taken when within either ones domain, there is usually some higher authority consulted in times of great peril or confusion. Often these have a clear criteria they follow: the most cunning, the eldest, those who achieve some renown. Other times the criteria is more obscure.
Below you will find an assortment of odd sovereigns to rule over your goblins and elves. Roll, choose, and/or mix and match:
- A class of astronomers who seek advice from the stars. Their wisdom is renowned.
- An ancient tree at the center of the Arkenwyld and served by an order of life-bound guardians.
- A sacred book that rewrites itself every day.
- A great elder abstracted with age and lingering on the brink of stupor.
- A young sovereign wrestling with their first bout of nostalgia.
- Your mom. My mom. Every body’s mom. The literal All-Mother
- An ancient ethernaut stranded in this world by the vortex shoals.
- A squabbling court of siblings intriguing against each other and eager to find allies.
- A council of ancients, so old they resemble cicadas. Time has no meaning to them.
- A singing harp, whoever can master its song rules for a decade.
- A council of white-coated priests who read the movements of rats in a maze.
- A set of bone dice kept locked in a vault. They bear no numbers or glyphs and can only be read by a trained seer.
- A human child, obnoxious and utterly spoiled. The child’s about eleven.
- Three gnomes in a trench coat. It started as a gag but now they’re in too deep.
- A spider of epic proportions that feeds on secrets and makes its lair in a darkness beyond reason.
- The movements of some infernal or divine beast like a hen or a pig. It is attended by priests and kept within a heavily guarded enclosure.
- The winner of an extreme athletic event done without assistance and far from sober. Not all who attempt it return.
- An odd stone that weeps a slurry that induces visions. It’s not from this world, nor even this reality. The hangovers are abysmal, but it works.
- An elf sovereign exiled from another land. They are keen to get their revenge and regain their kingdom.
- An intelligent monster like an ogre magi, dragon, or sphinx kept as a prisoner. They are treated with reverence but know they live in a gilded cage and long for their freedom.