Saturday, June 15, 2024

The Dead Remember

The August, 1936 issue of Argosy featured a horror western short-story titled “The Dead Remember”. The author was Robert E. Howard, a veteran of both westerns and horror stories. Howard was closely linked with Weird Tales along side his contemporaries in H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. He made $17.50 for the submission. Since then, the story has circulated in collections like Horror Times Ten (Berkley 1967), Pigeons from Hell (Ace 1979), and The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard (Del Rey 2008). My version is in a paperback called Trails in Darkness, originally published in June 1996 by Baen. 

This 12-page story features a rough 'n ready cowhand named Jim Gordon. One night he visits an acquaintance, an African-American man named Joel and his wife Jezebel. Joel and Jim begin shooting craps and drinking tequila and Joel takes all of Jim's money. The obligatory accusation of cheating arises and Jim fatally shoots Joel twice in the belly. Jezebel runs out and attempts to fire an old musket, but it misfires and Jim fatally shoots Jezebel in the chest. In her dying words, she screams this curse at Jim:

“You've killed Joel and you've killed me, but by God, you won't live to brag about it. I curse you by the big snake and the black swamp and the white cock. Before this day rolls around again you'll be branding the devil's cows in Hell. You'll see, I'll come to you when the time's ripe and ready.”

It is these chilling final words that haunt Jim. Soon he becomes paranoid and begins having accidents that nearly kill him. In the story's finale, there is a hint of a supernatural entity that comes for him. Whether it was or wasn't is in the eye of the beholder. I'd like to think it was supernatural. 

These types of “curse you” horror stories are a dime-a-dozen, but Howard sure had a knack for reeling the reader into the macabre. What makes this story interesting is the fact that it is presented in a series of letters by the various characters that interact with Jim through the story. These are all presented in a detailed way that doesn't reveal everything at once. As the letters are presented from different points of view, it is up to the reader to ascertain what is really happening. 

If you like your horror westerns then don't let this one slip your memory. After all, the dead remember. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

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