The collected nightmare worlds of a master of the bizarre
American author Edward Lucas White was born in Bergen, New Jersey in 1866 and was an academic who, after attending John Hopkins University, taught at the University School for Boys in Baltimore. He wrote several notable historical fiction novels, and laboured for years on a massive work of utopian science fiction, ‘Plus Ultra’ which remains unpublished and is estimated to be 500,000 words in length. However, White’s most noteworthy literary legacy is his outstanding shorter fiction of horror and the bizarre, much of which was apparently inspired by his own nightmares. Readers familiar with the author’s name will probably be aware of his renowned story ‘Lukundoo’. based on one of White’s own darkly troubled dreams. It tells of an explorer who, following a witch doctor’s curse, develops pustules all over his body from which emerge, head first, tiny men! This is the story which most regularly appears in anthologies and, of course, it also appears here in this comprehensive Leonaur collection of Edward Lucas White’s fiction of the fantastical and strange. White died by his own hand in 1934, a week after the death of his wife, by gassing himself in his bathroom.
This collection comprises twenty-five marvellous tales including ‘The Picture Puzzle’, ‘The Snout’, ‘The Message on the Slate’, ‘The House of the Nightmare’, ‘Sorcery Island’ and ‘The Death Rattle’, among many others.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Sometime in the pitch dark I found myself awake listening. I could hear two voices, one Stone’s, other sibilant and wheezy. I knew Stone’s voice after all the years that had passed since I heard it last. The other was like nothing I remembered. It had less volume than the wail of a new-born baby, yet there was an insistent carrying power to it, like the shrilling of an insect. As I listened I heard Van Rieten breathing near me in the dark, then he heard me and realized that I was listening, too. Like Etcham I knew little Balunda, but I could make out a word or two. The voices alternated with intervals of silence between.
Then suddenly both sounded at once and fast, Stone’s baritone basso, full as if he were in perfect health, and that incredibly stridulous falsetto, both jabbering at once like the voices of two people quarrelling and trying to talk each other down.
“I can’t stand this,” said Van Rieten. “Let’s have a look at him.” He had one of those cylindrical electric night-candles. He fumbled about for it, touched the button and beckoned me to come with him. Outside of the hut he motioned me to stand still, and instinctively turned off the light, as if seeing made listening difficult.
Except for a faint glow from the embers of the bearer’s fire we were in complete darkness, little star-light struggled through the trees, the river made but a faint murmur. We could hear the two voices together and then suddenly the creaking voice changed into a razor-edged, slicing whistle, indescribably cutting, continuing right through Stone’s grumbling torrent of croaking words.
“Good God!” exclaimed Van Rieten.
Abruptly he turned on the light.
We found Etcham utterly asleep, exhausted by his long anxiety and the exertions of his phenomenal march and relaxed completely now that the load was in a sense shifted from his shoulders to Van Rieten’s. Even the light on his face did not wake him.
The whistle had ceased and the two voices now sounded together. Both came from Stone’s cot, where the concentrated white ray showed him lying just as we had left him, except that he had tossed his arms above his head and had torn the coverings and bandages from his chest.
The swelling on his right breast had broken. Van Rieten aimed the centre line of the light at it and we saw it plainly. From his flesh, grown out of it, there protruded a head, such a head as the dried specimens Etcham had shown us, as if it were a miniature of the head of a Balunda fetishman.
It was black, shining black as the blackest African skin; it rolled the whites of its wicked, wee eyes and showed its microscopic teeth between lips repulsively negroid in their red fullness, even in so diminutive a face. It had crisp, fuzzy wool on its minikin skull, it turned malignantly from side to side and chittered incessantly in that inconceivable falsetto. Stone babbled brokenly against its patter.
Van Rieten turned from Stone and waked Etcham, with some difficulty. When he was awake and saw it all, Etcham stared and said not one word.
“You saw him slice off two swellings?” Van Rieten asked. Etcham nodded, chokingly.
“Did he bleed much?” Van Rieten demanded.
“Ve’y little,” Etcham replied.
“You hold his arms,” said Ven Rieten to Etcham.
He took up Stone’s razor and handed me the light. Stone showed no sign of seeing the light or of knowing we were there. But the little head mewled and screeched at us.
Van Rieten’s hand was steady, and the sweep of the razor even and true. Stone bled amazingly little and Van Rieten dressed the wound as if it had been a bruise or scrape.
Stone had stopped talking the instant the excrescent head was severed. Van Rieten did all that could be done for Stone and then fairly grabbed the light from me. Snatching up a gun he scanned the ground by the cot and brought the butt down once and twice, viciously.
We went back to our hut, but I doubt if I slept.