Saturday, December 9, 2023

Spawn of Blackness

Carl Jacobi (1908-1997) authored short stories for the pulps like Doc Savage, Weird Tales, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Top-Notch. Many of his tales were compiled into short story collections published by Arkham House including Revelations in Black (1947), Portraits in Moonlight (1964), and Disclosures in Scarlet (1972). My first experience with the author was his short story “Spawn of Blackness”, which was originally published in the October, 1939 issue of Strange Stories

The story begins with a ferocious pace as Dr. James Haxton, the story's protagonist, is introduced as racing through the city streets at midnight to answer a disturbing call from his old friend Stephen Fay. Haxton had received a call from his friend that something terrible had happened to him and that he needed urgent medical help. 

Arriving at Fay's home, Haxton and readers are brought up to speed on the astonishing events that have led to Fay lying in a bloody heap. From his bed, Fay explains that he had taken a trip to a South African village. While there he purchased a small wooden statue of a large rat. Upon returning to the US, he showed the statue to an anthropology expert that recognized it as a religious fixture used by a tribe in New Guinea. Learning of its history, Fay dropped an old piece of black cloth over it. But, sometime in the night, the rat came alive and burrowed through the wall. Fay describes it as “...a gray shape and a head with red eyes and white gleaming teeth.” The rat creature threw itself at Fay ripping and tearing.

“Spawn of Blackness” wasn't particularly scary, but it was a real pleasure to read. Jacobi's approach is more of the arm-chair detective style as the hero Haxton tries to solve the mystery behind the savage rat attacks. Is the rat real or some figment of the overworked scientist? The author also included some great usage of colors, particularly the scientific approach of black absorbing all of the primary colors. There's some use of the concept that is crucial to the story's ending. Overall, a very entertaining story. 

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