"Joseph Payne Brennan is one of the most effective writers in the horror genre, and he is certainly one of the writers I have patterned my own career upon," declared Stephen King. "In fact," he added, "The Shapes of Midnight could serve as an exercise-book for the young writer who aspires to pen and publish his or her own weird tales."
A poet as well as a writer of horror fiction, Brennan worked at Yale's Sterling Memorial Library as an acquisitions assistant for over 40 years. He wrote hundreds of stories for Weird Tales and other pulp magazines. This new edition of his increasingly rare compilation, The Shapes of Midnight, presents 10 of his best stories.
Selections include "Diary of a Werewolf," a first-person account of bloody sprees; "The Corpse of Charlie Rull," recounting the rampage of a radioactive zombie; "The Pavilion," which unfolds at an abandoned seaside haunt with something ghastly beneath its pilings; "House of Memory," a wistful look at the past's imaginative grip; "The Willow Platform," featuring the machinations of a self-styled warlock; and other chillingly memorable tales.
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About the Author
A poet as well as a writer of horror fiction, Connecticut native Joseph Payne Brennan (1918–90) worked at Yale's Sterling Memorial Library as an acquisitions assistant for over 40 years. He wrote hundreds of stories for Weird Tales and other pulp magazines and published his own periodical, Macabre, from 1957 to 1976.
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Diary of a Werewolf
The following appalling document is herewith exposed to public scrutiny, not with any idea of cheap sensationalism, but simply to serve as a warning for those who may at times find themselves subjected to perverse and atavistic impulses — impulses, we are convinced, originating in the Pit of Hell. All such fiendish impulses should be instantly dismissed from mind. The unspeakable creature whose diary follows entertained himself with such an impulse, toyed with it as it were, and finally yielded to it. No words of ours could fittingly describe the subsequent horror. The diary of this savage monster himself is more than adequate.
April 4, 1958: I am now well settled in Hemlock House. The area suits me admirably. The old stone farm house, surrounded by a grove of towering hemlocks, is located in a wild and desolate region not far from the village of Juniper Hill. Three hundred acres of deep woods, pathless swamps, and overgrown fields go with the house. I will have plenty of room to roam around in without trespassing on my neighbors' land. I can scarcely wait to get out and tramp through these lonely forests. It will be so restful!
April 6, 1958: The house is now in order and very shortly I shall begin to explore my holdings. But I must rest first for a day or two. I came here on the advice of my doctor. He warned me that my many "dissipations" would inevitably lead to physical and mental ruin unless I slowed my pace and got more rest. I disregarded his advice until I began to have horrible nightmares, and then actual blackouts. At that point I became thoroughly alarmed and decided my dear doddering old doctor might be right after all. It was not easy to leave my little harem in New York, and I do miss the heroin sessions — one has such visions! — but I'm sure I shall adjust. There is something about this region which intrigues me already — it has primitive, stark, savage aspects which unaccountably attract me. What a change from "the neon jungle"!
April 8, 1958: I spent nearly a whole day prowling the deep woods. I feel rested, and yet strangely excited also. I like the cold light in these woods, the shadows, the silence, the realization that they shelter not a few four-footed hunters on the track of their prey! I can imagine that in a different guise I stalked through just such a wilderness thousands of years ago. The thought of it somehow thrills me. What bizarre fancies I find myself indulging in!
April 11, 1958: I have been out for two days in cold, rainy weather. These great gloomy stretches of forest are like a magnet which irresistibly draws me — to what I know not. I do not even carry a gun, and yet I feel that I am one of the hunters. How absurd!
April 13, 1958: Yesterday I drove into Juniper Hill for supplies. A typical dull, sleepy little village, lost in this wilderness. I was oddly ill at ease in the presence of these country folk. I felt an animosity toward them, almost a hatred. What stupid lives they must lead. And why do they stare at me as if I had two heads? Idiot yokels, nothing more. I am a fool to let them annoy me. And yet I have a perverse impulse to explode their tedious little treadmill into a nightmare.
April 16, 1958: There is one deep stretch of pine forest which particularly attracts me. It is so dark and quiet under those trees. The fallen pine needles of many decades muffle all sound. I spend hours there; it is so restful. At times I sprawl hidden behind a tree and watch to see if anything goes by. I, too, I tell myself, am one of the hunters!
April 20, 1958: I must keep away from the pine forest. Two days ago, while prowling about in that shadowy place, I was suddenly all but overwhelmed by the weirdest impulse. I wanted to get down on all fours and run through the woods like an animal! Of course I did not. I came quickly home and got out the brandy bottle. I finally went to bed a bit tipsy.
April 22, 1958: Last night I dreamed that I was running through the pine forest like a wolf, hunting for prey. I shuddered when I woke and remembered, but what really frightens me is that I experienced no fear or revulsion during the dream itself. I experienced, rather, a sense of exhilaration!
April 26, 1958: Today, after three days of tension and fretfulness, I returned to the pine forest. As I stole about under the trees, my dream seemed more vivid than ever. After much hesitation, I decided it might be amusing — and certainly not harmful — to enact the dream, at least the general idea of it. Hunting out the most shadowy and secluded spot available, I actually got down on all fours and began ambling along over the mounds of pine needles. In the very beginning it seemed absurd and awkward; I was about to stand up. But very quickly my feelings changed. As in the dream, I felt a sudden sense of exhilaration, of release from all sorts of restraints. I seemed to become a different entity. I loped ahead faster, while sudden savage impulses flamed in my brain. I knew at last the ruthless pure joy of the hunter! I longed for the sight of some smaller, cowering creature which I could chase, overtake, and rend apart. I bounded along until exhaustion overcame me; then I staggered home and spent the remainder of the day drinking brandy. I write this with trembling hand. My experience in the pine forest must not be repeated. I swear that I shall stay away.
April 28, 1958: I am exhausted as I pen this, but I must try to keep a record of what is happening to me. In spite of my resolution to the contrary, I went back to the accursed pine forest and ran about under those black trees like a wild beast — on all fours, growling, snapping, and snarling at I know not what! My own identity seemed merged in that of some demon thing — a thing that sought its joy in the hunt, in the rending of throats, in the gush of fresh blood! I feel terror-stricken, yet helpless. O God — is it possible that the heroin has damaged my brain? — inflamed, perhaps, certain cerebral cells which have in turn triggered buried but still smouldering atavistic impulses? Or is it a hereditary curse which has finally crept upon me? I have always known that I had abnormally long arms — it is this which permits me to run so well on all fours! What can I do? I must get away. Yes, tomorrow I shall leave.
April 30, 1958: I write this in terror! The thing has a hold on me which I cannot break. I was packed this morning, ready to leave — and then I glanced out of the window toward the silhouette of pine forest, green-black on the near horizon. I left my suitcases standing in the hall; a half hour later I was racing along on all fours under those great silent trees. I shambled back, hours later, and collapsed on my bed.
May 3, 1958: I have now got a hold on myself. I don't mean that I have conquered my impulse to run about on all fours in the pine forest. But I have decided to make the best of the situation — to be philosophical about it. If I am unable to suppress the impulse, I have decided I might as well enjoy it. Perhaps it is merely a temporary derangement which will run its course.
May 9, 1958: The trouble with the pine forest is that it does not actually shelter much prey. It is perhaps too isolated. I may venture into the more lightly timbered areas closer to the open fields. My palms are now quite thoroughly calloused, and I can bound along at a great rate. I am no longer shocked. I feel a sense of release, of soaring exhilaration, of pure, savage, pristine joy which nothing else has ever given me. As I run along, a wild animal (which all of us essentially are), worries and cares become nonexistent. I live completely and fully in the moment. I feel that I have thoroughly adapted myself. Now I must begin to hunt....
May 11, 1958: My first attempt at serious hunting ended in a ludicrous episode. As I was stalking along through a patch of great forest ferns which flourish in the rich soil under these evergreens, I ran straight onto a half-grown black bear. The bear stopped in surprise, stared at me for a moment (head to head; I was on all fours the same as he), and then backed away. I squatted down and roared with wild laughter. This seemed to absolutely terrify the bear; he went crashing away like a thunderbolt.
May 14, 1958: I have finally begun hunting in the more open woodland adjacent to the dark pine forest, but even here I have met only with frustration. I have roused out nothing but rabbits, and these I am totally unable to catch — lunge after them as I will! They are too small, and I lose sight of them in the brush. Nevertheless, I thrill to the role of predator!
May 17, 1958: O God — it has happened — as I feared it would, as I knew it would! Yesterday — a dark, overcast day, threatening rain — I was prowling in a small birch wood quite some distance from the deep pine forest. A fringe of this birch wood, a thin finger of trees, thrusts out almost to the edge of a dirt road which skirts the area. To amuse myself I crept through this fringe of trees, keeping well hidden, and peered down into the road. A scant ten yards up this sparsely-traveled trace, an old woman hurried along, carrying a sack of something. She kept glancing up at the sky, as if fearing she might get caught in the rain.
My eyes fastened on her, and a trembling seized my whole body. As I stared at her, she looked once over her shoulder, nervously, and hustled on. I can say honestly, in my own defense, that at first I meant only to frighten her. I swear it! As she came abreast, I deliberately cracked some dry twigs on which my palms were resting, and I began to growl. She looked toward the trees, startled, and as I went on growling — louder — she was seized with fear. She dropped the sack and began to run. A red mist seemed to move before my eyes. With no conscious volition of my own I burst out of the trees on all fours, leaped into the road, and bounded after her. She turned once, and terror changed her face to gray putty. Paralyzed with fright, she stood motionless, her mouth open, unable even to scream.
With one flying lunge I crashed upon her, bearing her to earth. An instant later my teeth had fastened in her throat. I bit savagely. Blood spurted into my face. I can remember little more. The blood drove me into an absolute frenzy. I was aware of a vicious snarling, snapping sound which seemed to have its source in the air around me. I can scarcely believe it came from my own throat. Finally the red mist dissolved.
Masked with blood, I found myself crouching on all fours over the body of the old woman. Her head had been very nearly severed. Her face was so slashed and torn that she was unrecognizable.
Slipping into the birch wood, I sought out a nearby pool where I washed the blood from my face. Keeping to the brush and fields, I made my way back to Hemlock House, burned my clothes and collapsed in bed. I lay for hours in a state of exhaustion, with scarcely the energy to move a limb. I was utterly drained of all emotions and impulses. I felt no remorse, no horror — nothing at all.
Only now, as I write these words, can I see the hideous business in its proper perspective. I must either confess to the authorities — or destroy myself.
May 19, 1958: This morning I drove into Juniper Hill. The natives still look stricken when mention is made of the old woman — Alberta Bates. I expressed sympathy. Not a shred of suspicion attaches to me. They are blaming some wild beast of the forest. Some mention a bear — I reported having seen one — others a wolf. Last winter, they tell me, was unusually severe. It is believed that starving wolves may have come down from Canada and that some are still here. Well, now the idiot yokels have something to talk about. The tedium of their days has at last been interrupted! I feel absolutely secure. The road, though dirt, was so hard-packed that no tracks of any kind could be found. They tried dogs on the trail but got nowhere because a heavy rain had set in several hours before anyone found the poor old woman's body.
I have decided neither to surrender nor to destroy myself. After all, it was not even murder, in the truest sense. There was really no premeditation. It was done on impulse, a horrible but an unthinking, unplanned act. My own destruction could be of no help to the old woman now.
I shall stay out of the woods and the whole business will soon be forgotten. I must remain calm and dispassionate.
May 25, 1958: I have been out again, running on all fours, but I have become wary now. I remain in the darkest part of the pine forest. Local hunting parties are still out, scouring the woods for the "beast" which killed poor old Alberta Bates. I wish them luck!
May 26, 1958: This morning a group of hunters called, asking permission to conduct a search on my own premises. Of course I consented eagerly. I chuckled to myself as I watched them trudge away through the rain.
June 3, 1958: The hunters have given up. Since Alberta Bates had no relatives, she will not long be missed. I am aware of a sense of accomplishment because I have outwitted the village idiots.
June 10, 1958: I must leave Hemlock House at once. This area of dark woods and dismal deserted pasturelands has exerted a malign influence on me — an influence so powerful I cannot combat it. Last night — God help me! — I killed again.
I had been restless all day, but I managed to control my impulses. With the coming of night, however, and the appearance of a great full moon, the tensions tearing at my nerves became too strong to resist. I decided, finally, that I would merely take a walk along the lonely dirt road which skirts much of my own property. I can say in all honesty that was my only intention. I reasoned that the night air and exercise would gradually dissipate the inward fretfulness which I felt was reaching a dangerous stage.
It was a beautiful night. The road was silver-gray under the moon. Everything seemed touched with a soft radiance. It was a landscape of lovely lethal dreams. I became aware of a growing excitement. I kept turning to look up at the moon.
Even then nothing might have happened had not the derelict, Freddy Camberwell, come stumbling into sight. Freddy is the village drunk, a chronically besotted but good-natured fool who sleeps in farmers' barns and occasionally does odd jobs for drink money.
He came reeling along, talking to himself, singing snatches of song. There was no thinking, no deliberation, on my part. The chance meeting seemed predestined, fixed inexorably by that strange silver moon.
Dropping to all fours, I raced up the road, straight toward him.
He didn't see me till I was scant yards away. He stared, rubbed his eyes, not sure whether I was real or only a phantom born of the bottle. An instant before I sprang, his eyes widened and he opened his blubbery mouth to scream. Then he was down on the road, and I was tearing at his throat. His scream came out like a rabbit's bleat. The red mist moved over my eyes; there was a humming sound in my ears and a mad, deep-throated growling which I seemed to be hearing from a far distance.
Later — seconds, minutes, I have no idea — the mist cleared, and I found myself hunched there in the silver moonlight, drenched with blood — but calm, so wonderfully, peacefully calm! I glanced at the thing beneath me without interest. He was even more horribly torn than the old woman, but I had no doubt the overpowering reek of alcohol would identify him quickly enough.
No one else had moved into sight on the road. Dodging quickly into the brush, I came cross-lots back toward Hemlock House. On the way I waded for yards along a small stream, pausing long enough to plunge my head into the water and rinse off most of the blood. After tying my clothes into a small bundle which I buried in the garden, I went to bed and slept without waking for nearly ten hours.
June 12, 1958: Juniper Hill has become an armed camp; hunting parties are ranging the hills all over the township. As I expected, the blundering dogs soon lost the trail. They got as far as the stream and then simply milled about in confusion. The body was not found till mid-morning, and by then the trail was pretty cold in any case. Sheriff Macelin called to warn me that "the thing" might be hiding somewhere in my own woods. I have promised to stay in or to venture out only with a loaded shotgun.
Of course I would be a fool to leave Hemlock House now. Suspicion would attach itself to me immediately. I must remain for a time; there can be no alternative.
June 14, 1958: It is going hard on the black bears. They have already killed three. I feel a sense of remorse about this. Generally speaking, they are such comical, good-natured beasts.
June 16, 1958: If anyone ever reads this — God forbid! — I suppose they will expect a report on the growth of long hair on my legs, a sudden increase in the length of my canine teeth, etc. All this of course is only nonsense dreamed up by hack fictioneers — melodramatic trappings, nothing more. But I am convinced that werewolves like myself have existed for centuries. Harassed peasants may have invented the trappings, but I can clearly see now that there is a solid basis in fact for the many legends which have come down through the ages. There must have been many like me. External trappings invented for effect are nothing compared to the hidden horrors which exist in unseen convolutions of our brains — brains subjected to who knows what monstrous pressures, derangements, diseases, hereditary taints!(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Shapes of Midnight"
Copyright © 1980 Joseph Payne Brennan.
Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Includes: "Diary of a Werewolf" "The Corpse of Charlie Rull" "The Pavilion" "House of Memory" "The Willow Platform" "Who Was He?" "Disappearance" "The Horror at Chilton Castle" "The Impulse to Kill" "The House on Hazel Street"