The Unholy Goddess and Other Stories: Sweet Home Alabama?

The Unholy Goddess and Other Stories by Wyatt BlassingameThe Unholy Goddess and Other Stories by Wyatt Blassingame

The Unholy Goddess and Other Stories by Wyatt BlassingameIt would be hard to imagine anyone who experiences the first two Ramble House collections dedicated to the Alabama-born author Wyatt Blassingame – namely, The Tongueless Horror and Other Stories: The Weird Tales of Wyatt Blassingame, Volume One and Lady of the Yellow Death and Other Stories: The Weird Tales of Wyatt Blassingame, Volume Two – not being hugely impressed and wanting to read more. In that second volume alone, the reader had been treated to an ambulatory skeleton, a voodoo curse, the spirit of a vengeful leper, a ghostly pair of suicides, the spectre of a devil-worshipping plantation owner, rabid swamp men, a throat-ripping killer in 1802 New Orleans, a soul-sucking African woman, and an evil spiritualist who returns from the dead. Honestly, who could resist signing up for more? Not me, that’s for sure! Thus, The Unholy Goddess and Other Stories: The Weird Tales of Wyatt Blassingame, Volume Three, which was released by Ramble House in 2011. As in the first two volumes of this four-book series (as of this date, anyway), John Pelan here provides a marvelously informative introduction and Australia-based illustrator Gavin O’Keefe offers up the beautiful cover art. In his intro, Pelan tells us “With this, the third volume collecting the weird tales of Wyatt Blassingame, we feel that a substantial case has been made to call the author a “Lost Master of the Weird Tale.” And I doubt that the readers of Volumes One and Two could ever find reason to disagree with Pelan on that score.

As in the previous collections, the 10 tales gathered herein were culled from the top three pulp magazines specializing in “weird-menace” fiction back in the 1930s – Dime Mystery Magazine, Terror Tales and Horror Stories – and the selections span the period 1934 – 1940, the heyday of weird-menace fiction. And again, for those who are not yet familiar with this unique subgenre of horror literature, these tales all featured remarkably grisly and violent doings, in which all kinds of supernatural mishegas were usually – but not always – rationalized away in a disappointingly mundane manner. The fact that not all of these tales are mundane in nature makes for a wonderful guessing game for the reader, as we try to suss out which are actually supernatural and which are not. Happily (for this reader, anyway), this particular collection has a higher percentage of out-and-out supernatural stories than usual – actually, a nice 50-50 split – making for a more chilling experience, I feel. And besides, some of the mundane stories so far have featured unconvincing, rational explanations that were far less credible than any supernatural manifestations could ever be!

Okay, are you ready to hear some brief descriptions of the 10 doozies in this Volume Three? The collection kicks off in a big way with its title story, “The Unholy Goddess.” Here, our narrator, an aspiring architect named Nate, secludes himself in a mountain cabin to work on his design for a new bridge, accompanied only by his beloved terrier Lobo. But major-league trouble arises fairly quickly, when Nate sees a ghostly woman who seems to be composed mostly of moonlight and fog. And shortly after, Nate begins to grow more and more savage, developing a yen for raw and bloody steaks, as well as a lustful desire for the woman who appears to him nightly. In perhaps this collection’s most shocking single moment, Nate even has a fight with Lobo when the dog tries to prevent him from approaching “the beast-woman” (“The Beast Woman” would be a wholly different Blassingame tale the following year), actually biting out the poor animal’s throat! And matters are surely brought to a head when Nate’s girlfriend and her brother drop by for a visit, and the lunar lady instructs Nate to “get rid of her”! This tale, by the way, was the featured cover story for the December 1934 Terror Tales, on which artist John Howitt made Nate look like a horned devil, for some reason. And oh … bonus points for the line “Flames leaped through my body, a mingling of hate and scoriae desire”!

The Unholy Goddess and Other Stories by Wyatt BlassingameIn “The Horror at His Heels,” Blassingame, whose tales were usually of novelette and novella lengths, demonstrates how well he could perform in the short-story format. In this one, greedy archeologist Lynn Oakley decides to pull a fast one on his two fellow explorers at a dig in the Yucatan. Oakley had just discovered a manuscript leading to buried wealth in the temple complex they’d been excavating, and has now decided to use this guide for his sole profit … despite the warnings of an ancient Mayan who materializes in his room! What follows for Oakley is a fairly terrible experience, indeed, and one guaranteed to elicit shudders in those readers who suffer from claustrophobia. A concise little gem, this one.

“Passion Flower” gives us the story of young Tom Blaine, another would-be architect, who inherits his Uncle Henry’s largish home, with attached greenhouse, in Montgomery, AL. Henry had disappeared after suffering from a disease that was literally causing him to dry up and shrivel, and before long, the reader learns the precise cause of that infirmity. Tom is stunned to find, living in his new home, a young woman who calls herself Lycaste, and who, strangely enough, reminds him of a gigantic orchid in the nearby hothouse. After repeated nights of, uh, intimate relations with Lycaste (the story is, surprisingly, sexually frank), Tom’s own skin begins to turn a roughened, barklike brown, while he rapidly grows more and more enervated. Unfortunately, even while he recognizes that Lycaste is quite literally drawing the life juices out of him (and if you are still wondering as to the young beauty’s exact nature, yes, that is her on O’Keefe’s fanciful cover here), he somehow cannot resist her. A wonderfully downbeat ending brings this highly suspenseful wringer to a close.

“The Moon Drips Blood” tells of another greedy archeologist in the Yucatan, Philip Madison, who insists on bringing his new bride, the beautiful Marcia Allen, along with him on his next expedition. Marcia, he is told by the woman’s father, is too weak to survive the hazardous trek through the steaming Mexican jungle, but Madison, ever desirous of publicity, opts to bring her nevertheless. And the result is one hellacious time for not only the Madisons, but for their entire camp, as they explore the buried ruins of T-Ho Itzal. Living (?) Mayans, a mystic well containing waters with a most unusual power, a black bag holding a smokelike and amorphous something, shrunken bodies and jungle adventure are all subsumed into this most captivating tale.

Despite its short-story length, “The Art That Is Learned in Hell” turns out to be one of the most frightening pieces in this very solid collection. Here, a small-time magician, Frank Wylie, decides to put a little pizzazz into his act by learning the arts of voodoo. His wife Marion, who had been raised in Louisiana, exhorts him not to, knowing full well the possible dangers in store for any meddlesome white man. Nevertheless, Wylie, having walnut stained his skin brown, works his way up the voodoo ranks, from Harlem to New Orleans, finally studying under the most formidable voodoo master of them all, Pere Le Blanc. But Wylie, on the night of his initiation, is forced to undergo a nightmarish experience when his true identity is revealed! This story boasts the typically well-researched attention to detail that Blassingame was known for (such as his mentions of Goofer Dust, Four Thieves Vinegar, and Has-no-hann), as well as an air of escalating suspense and menace. A marvelously ambiguous closer is the icing on this deliciously creepy cake.

In “Slaves of the Tomb-Maidens,” Bill Bonner marries into a family in the Deep South. His wife, Judy, has two adopted siblings, and when one of them, Ethel, is accidentally electrocuted, the other sibling, Charles, is devastated. Soon, Charles begins to warn the others that they are in danger from himself; that the spirit of Ethel is goading him on to murder! And when Judy’s father is found dead in his bed, stabbed in the throat, and when Bonner sees the ghostly and translucent spectre of Ethel standing below Charles’ bedroom window in the moonlight, it begins to appear that Charles’ warnings had indeed been valid! A premature mausoleum burial, decapitation by shovel, a knife fight, a shooting, drugs and hypnosis all figure in this fiendishly plotted story, somewhat undermined by another Blassingame finale that doesn’t quite manage to convincingly explain all that had come before. And once again, claustrophobes should be forewarned before venturing into this one!

Joe Cardinal tells us his remarkable and tragic story in “The Monster Seeks a Mate.” Joe had realized at an early age, while working in a circus, that the one thing that excited him more than anything else was the sight and smell of blood. We learn how Joe had caught a rat in that Sarasota circus and ripped it apart with his bare teeth; how he’d later chewed the throat out of a prostitute in Montgomery; how he’d been chased into a swamp by the law and subsisted on raw birds and more rats; how the hair on his body would grow at a supernormal rate; and of how he’d fallen in love with a neighboring woman in his dingy apartment building in Greenwich Village … a woman who he was afraid to be with, for fear of harming her. Joe, it would seem, if not a werewolf, came very close to being the genuine article! Improbably, Blassingame provides his readers with both a rational explanation for Joe’s condition and a happy ending in this wonderful tale. This story, incidentally, appeared in the April 1937 issue of Dime Mystery Magazine … as did Blassingame’s wonderful story “Flesh for the Swamp Men” (to be found in Volume Two). That’s how very prolific the author was at this point!

In “Her Lover – Death!,” Mark Waverly, the owner of a mill in Tallassee (Alabama, natch), who is subject to episodes of amnesia after being in an accident two years earlier, awakens one night in an empty field with blood on his hands. Although he has no memory of how he came to be there, close by lies the body of his foreman, John O’Hara (!), with a knife protruding from his throat! Mark soon suffers other blackout incidents; during the first, his wife is almost knifed in her bed, and during the second, another mill worker is gruesomely beaten and stabbed to death. A nightmarish incarceration and trial for Mark soon follow, but many surprises remain in store in this highly satisfying tale. Bonus points for the wonderful lines “death was only an allegretto prelude to the full, thundering symphony of terror,” “My body seemed to move slowly, sluggishly as a thick syrup in which fear was a million crawling maggots,” and “The crowd was as silent as the moon-cast shadows of tombstones”! I love it!

In “The Dead Walk,” to my mind the weakest selection in this volume, assistant Attorney General Andy Carson is called to the Kentucky mountains by his old friend, schoolteacher Madelaine Blaine. Stories of human sacrifice in the area had recently been circulating, and schoolchildren had been abducted and returned in a zombified state. Carson investigates and runs smack into a Druidic cult headed by an 8’-tall giant named Woulfgard, whose eyes glow redly and who is able to stop Andy’s car by dint of some unknown power. The story is highlighted by a grisly torture that Carson is forced to undergo, one involving burning gunpowder on his chest, and by his mano-a-mano dukeouts with Woulfgard and another giant, but the ultimate resolution of the tale is, quite frankly, preposterous, and again, does not explain all the mysterious events that had come before. A fun enough – yet ultimately disappointing – effort here.

But the collection rebounds in a big way with its final offering, the third “death/dead” title in a row; namely, “Death Blisters.” Here, Dept. of Justice official Kenneth Edmund returns to his childhood home in Baldwin County, on the Gulf Coast of (you guessed it!) Alabama, to investigate reports of smuggling centered around the area’s virtually impenetrable Dismal Swamp. And once inside the swamp, Edmund encounters far worse menaces than the occasional water moccasin and quicksand patch. A shadowy something in the sky that drops a flesh-eating substance onto the Fed’s arm, a lurching leper (Blassingame really did have a thing for lepers, apparently!), an abandoned mansion complete with torture chamber, a crazy old gold prospector, gunplay, a beautiful Chinese woman, death by tickling (!) and by acid, kidnapping and other assorted mayhem all figure in this doozy of a tale that brings the collection to a close.

So there you have it … 10 more exemplars of the weird-menace genre by a man who quite evidently was one of its ablest practitioners. All of which leaves the reader with one question: Do I proceed on now to the final installment in this Ramble House series, namely Mistress of Terror and Other Stories: The Weird Tales of Wyatt Blassingame, Volume Four? Well, what would you expect of me? Stay tuned…

Published in 2012. John Pelan introduces this third volume of the strange and violent tales of Wyatt Blassingame, one of the most prolific of the pulpsters. The stories in this volume are: The Unholy Goddess, Terror Tales, December 1934 The Horror at his Heels, Horror Stories, August/September 1936 Passion Flower, Terror Tales, September/October 1936 The Moon Drips Blood, Terror Tales, November 1940 The Art That is Learned in Hell, Dime Mystery, March 1937 Slaves of the Tomb Maidens, Dime Mystery, February 1936 The Monster Seeks a Mate, Dime Mystery, April 1937 Her Lover – Death, Horror Stories, January 1935 The Dead Walk, Dime Mystery Magazine, January 1934 Death Blisters, Dime Mystery Magazine, June 1934

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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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