The first featured a remote part of rural America being slowly corrupted by a blight that came from a meteorite. This blight took the form of a strange colour and caused plants and animals to grow in bizarre and horrifying ways. I remember the plight of the hapless farming family, unable to leave despite knowing the colour is slowly consuming them from the inside. The ending is unsettling as well. On one hand it seems like it’s over—having eaten its fill, the colour shoots back off into space—but on the other the narrator reports seeing a residue still present at the bottom of the well. Worse, the whole area is going to be flooded and turned into a reservoir, potentially spreading the contamination further. For a child used to ghost stories with nice neat endings, an ending that implies it might not be over, that it might, in fact, get much much worse, gave me shivers.
Most horror aficionados will immediately recognise that as HP Lovecraft’s classic: “The Colour out of Space.” I didn’t know who Lovecraft was at the time, but when I bumped into his work—and the Cthulhu mythos—again later, it was no great surprise to learn he was the writer responsible for a story that had left a mark on me.
The second story was about a group of sailors that found a queer abandoned boat. The boat is floating in a patch of scum and covered all over in strange fungal growth. As the sailors climb aboard, the sense of something being wrong deepens. Below the decks they think they hear what sounds like the pumping of a great heart. Then the fungus starts to move. One man is gruesomely consumed and the others barely escape with their lives. Worse, this is not a story that ends with the monster meeting a final and fiery end. The narrator ends his story and the reader is left with the knowledge that the fungal ship is still out there.
Trying to identify this story was more of a puzzle. Sadly, back then I was too young and stupid to actually pay attention to the names of the writers who provided me with these wondrous stories. Or in this case even the title. I knew it was a story about a creepy boat covered in man-eating fungus, but as I couldn’t remember either the writer or title, and had not come across it since, I figured this was going to be one of those pieces of nostalgia forever lost to the mists of time.
And so time passed...
Recently I watched the cult Japanese film “Matango.” Fans of Kenkou Cross’s Monster Girl Encyclopedia will recognise that name. It’s used for this entry:
|No, not that Matango...|
I don’t know if KC took the name from the film or both have the same roots in Japanese mythology. (On a tangential note, Alraune, another frequently appearing monster girl, comes from German myth, and the Hanns Heinz Ewers novel of the same name has also spawned a few films)
Matango is an odd 1963 Japanese film where a bunch of characters get ship-wrecked on an island. The interior of the island contains lots of strange mushrooms and they find the wreck of a research boat covered in strange fungal growth. They avoid eating the mushrooms at first, but then food supplies run low and the horror kicks in when they discover eating the mushrooms turns you into a mushroom person (with appropriately icky slow transformation)
So far so Japanese.
Except it isn’t. The plot is based on the short story “The Voice in the Night”, written by the English writer William Hope Hodgson.
“...boat covered in strange fungal growth.” Could this be the mystery author of the mystery story that scared the bejeebers out of me as a child?
And indeed it is. After a little digging through Hodgson’s bibliography and the wonders of out-of-copyright work being made available on the internet, I was able to rediscover “The Derelict.”
You can read it here.
“All about him the mould was in active movement. His feet had sunk out of sight. The stuff appeared to be lapping at his legs and abruptly his bare flesh showed. The hideous stuff had rent his trouser-leg away as if it were paper. He gave out a simply sickening scream, and, with a vast effort, wrenched one leg free. It was partly destroyed. The next instant he pitched face downward, and the stuff heaped itself upon him, as if it were actually alive, with a dreadful, severe life. It was simply infernal. The man had gone from sight. Where he had fallen was now a writhing, elongated mound, in constant and horrible increase, as the mould appeared to move towards it in strange ripples from all sides.”
Brrr. Yep, still as creepy as I remember.
Hodgson came before HP Lovecraft and while his work lacks the core cosmic bleakness saturating Lovecraft’s works, he’s worth checking out if you like old weird horror. His books can be found for free at the Gutenberg project here. He also created the supernatural detective Thomas Carnacki.
And that, through a rather convoluted path, is how I rediscovered the stories of William Hope Hodgson, a writer who scared the bejeebers out of me as a child.