Happy Boxing Day! My folklore-themed winter tales series continues until Epiphany, so I have at least one more story to share with you this round.
Admittedly, this one is a bit of a stretch, both in terms of its winteriness and its folklore connections, but I like it. It’s an occult detection/haunted house tale that touches on a certain infamous real-life incident. The sort of incident that is so notorious that it often finds itself moving into the realm of legend. I won’t spoil it for you.
Poor Mr. Chadwick buys a house as an investment upon his retirement. He’s a careful buyer who researches before purchasing: whether it’s a respectable, healthy neighborhood; whether the house is watertight, with good drainage and in good repair. But no matter how careful you are, you always forget something.
‘It was really nobody’s affair,’ the next-door neighbour protested. ‘How could anybody warn you? Of course you might,’ he added, as the aggrieved Chadwick breathed threats relating to the ex-landlord of his new demesne and the house agent. ‘Still, I must remind you it’s a penal offence to kill people, even if they have landed you with one of the most notorious haunted houses in England.’
But you guessed that already, because you read my blog.
After a bit of investigation of his own, Chadwick turns to his old schoolfriend Lester Stukeley. Stukeley’s day job is Civil Servant, but on the side he’s a psychic investigator who seems to follow the Carnacki school of investigation (William Hope Hodgeson’s Carnacki stories were originally published over the period 1910-1912; Jessie Douglas Kerruish’s “The Swaying Vision” appeared in 1915, in the The Weekly Tale-Teller). What could possibly haunt this ordinary, and quite newly-built house? Chadwick and Stukeley mean to find out.
Jessie Douglas Kerruish is best known for her occult detective/werewolf novel The Undying Monster (1922), featuring psychic investigator Luna Bartendale. 20th Century Fox made a film from the novel in 1942, probably in response to Universal’s The Wolfman. Apparently, once they made it, they didn’t publicize it, so the movie flopped. However, it seems to be well-regarded today; Kino Lorber recently reissued it in Blu-ray. Ash Tree Press reissued the novel in 2006, and it’s been put out again more inexpensively by a few publishers in the 2011-2012 timeframe. I plan to check out both the book and the film.
I actually found another short story by Ms. Kerruish that would have worked nicely with my theme this year: “The Badger,” published in 20-Story Magazine in 1932. The “badger” in question is actually the tanuki, or Japanese raccoon dog, which, like the fox, is prominent in Japanese folklore as a shape-shifting animal spirit. Unfortunately, with such a late publication date, I couldn’t be sure that the story is in the public domain, so I went with the earlier “The Swaying Vision” — also a fun choice.
Though Ms. Kerruish published quite a bit of short fiction in the early part of the twentieth century, by the 1930s her output began to drop, and she fell into obscurity before her death in 1949.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
Blog post about Jessie Douglas Kerruish and the film version of The Undying Monster from Bill Ectric’s Place. Additional helpful information about Ms. Kerruish in the comments of the post.
Another brief article about Ms. Kerruish from Wormwoodiana.
Featured Image: No title, because spoilers, but this is the painting mentioned in the story. Source: Wikipedia
Eliphas Levi’s Pentagram (1855). Source: Wikipedia.