- What is PSYCHO THRILL?
- The Author
- Psycho Thrill — Tell-Tale Twins
What is PSYCHO THRILL?
PSYCHO THRILL is a series of horror novellas — from the classic ghost story to the modern psychological thriller and dark fantasy. Each of the novellas has been first published in German and has been translated into English for the first time. Among the writers are popular German authors, as well as newcomers to the scene. Each story is self-contained. PSYCHO THRILL is produced by Uwe Voehl.
Robert C. Marley (1971) is a writer, crime historian, master goldsmith, manufacturer of magicians’ props, and member of the Magic Circle. He has always loved Edgar Allan Poe and Sherlock Holmes; he even has his own crime museum. When not writing, inventing new magic tricks, or traveling in Great Britain, he teaches self-defense techniques to children and teenagers. He lives with his wife and their two sons in a very old town in eastern Westphalia.
Baltimore, October 8, 1849
On the night after his funeral, the man who had once been Edgar Allan Poe stood leaning on his walking stick at the wharf, looking out over the dark water toward the ships anchored in the port of Baltimore, under an overcast sky.
If someone had told him a week before that within seven days he’d have to fight against a horde of black, worm-like demons and attend his own grim funeral, he would probably have died laughing. But he didn’t feel at all like laughing anymore. Because that’s exactly what had happened: his struggle with the demons and hasty burial, no love lost. He felt empty and depressed, not unlike a figure from one of his own stories. It defied common sense. The worms were bad enough, but the funeral had shaken him to the core.
The day had been dreary, wet, and cold, and hidden among the large numbers of onlookers, he himself had watched as his own plain oak coffin was lowered into the ground. There weren’t many mourners among the crowd. His cousin Neilson Poe was the only relative who had made his way to the Westminster Presbyterian Cemetery. Henry Herring had come along with his daughter, Elizabeth. Also Collins Lee, a former classmate from his university days in Virginia, and Thomas Adams, president of the New York Insurance Society; the latter probably just to ensure that Edgar Poe really was dead and that the insurance payment was truly inevitable. A few doctors and a handful of students from the Washington Hospital had shown up as well.
The only one who seemed truly saddened by Edgar Poe’s early demise was his old friend Doctor Snodgrass, whose eyes brimmed with tears.
One Reverend Clemm delivered a short and impassive graveside eulogy. He had barely concluded when the small group of mourners began to disperse quite hurriedly and the gravediggers began their vigorous shoveling. The entire ceremony hadn’t lasted more than a few minutes and was strangely surreal.
Poe — his face disguised behind a full, red beard, a top hat pulled low over his forehead — turned away, his hands deep in his pockets. Then suddenly he saw it — a black shadow on the edge of the gravesite — and his heart leapt to his throat.
At first glance, he still thought it could be the shadow of a passing bird. But then he looked more closely. And drew back in horror. It was a thing of the darkest black, long and shiny like a giant worm, whose head appeared from the shadow of the grave, and sought the light.
What in God’s name are you? Why are you tormenting me?
No, it was in fact no worm. Poe observed how this thing, thin and dark as an eel or snake, crawled directly out of the grave, slithered between the legs of the clergyman, and disappeared with its twitching tail behind a gravestone.
No, it didn’t creep. Rather, it seemed to flow. Like a thin rivulet of ink accidentally spilled. Only it did not flow downhill, but appeared rather to flow upward from the dark, earthen walls of the tomb. Its strange consistency reminded him of the black, mercury-like creature that had appeared to follow him a few days earlier and that had attacked him several times already. It looked exactly like the thing he’d seen crawling from the dead cat’s mouth, in Barnham Street.
But what most astonished him, even threatened to overwhelm him with horror, was the fact that no one else present seemed to notice this creature at all.
In fact, the thing had appeared and disappeared so quickly that he suspected it might have all been a figment of his overwrought senses. But he remained uneasy.
Still, there was no time to dwell on such matters. He had work to do. He felt for the papers in his coat pocket, lest they too were a figment of his imagination. And then he turned to leave.
Europe would be his destination; he simply had to solve a few puzzles. Something he’d always been good at.
Baltimore, 44 East Lombard Street, five days earlier
When he opened his eyes, he realized his head was throbbing. He was lying between stacks of hay. A stump of candle cast a small circle of light.
Where the devil was he?
He could recall only bits and pieces. The last images that came to mind were blurred and disjointed; three men had approached him as sought a place to dine near his hotel. They were stocky and strong, typical thugs — the type one hired to convince a debtor that it made more sense to pay off his loans quickly. But they’d kept their distance when he cast a sharp, warning glance their way.
Anyway, he — Edgar Poe — had no debts to speak of. On the contrary, his last lecture tour had been extremely lucrative. Never before in his life had he carried as much money on him as today.
Now he sat bolt upright. Maybe that was the reason for his current predicament.
The last thing he remembered doing was ordering tea to ward against the cold. And renting a room. Slowly, wisps of memory drifted back into his mind like a fine mist. Yes, there was this hotel. A decent hotel; not one of those seedy dives that he sometimes visited to make character studies for his stories.
Tea? He remembered quite well how the bartender raised his eyebrows at this request, regarding him with a mix of skepticism and amusement.
He was no stranger to this kind of reaction. Real men ordered gin or whiskey; not even an Englishman would order tea at such an ungodly hour. Especially not an Englishman. But he could not tolerate alcohol. Even a tiny amount was enough to send him into a drunken stupor. It had always been like that. He simply could not understand how others his age could down such quantities of liquor and beer. Just a few drops were enough to make him as dizzy and nauseous as if it were poison.
During his military service he had tried it several times, and later in Baltimore, where he had been invited to literary meetings — and the result was always the same: one sip of alcohol and he was no longer himself. His classmates at West Point had often teased him about it, and being young and stupid, would spike the lemonade with gin, or the punch with some rum, just to make him look foolish in front of the whole company. And it was such pranks that ultimately cost him his military career and led to his dishonorable discharge.
Perhaps — well, actually he was now quite sure — this is what had happened this very night. Who knew whether it was the bartender himself or someone else who had spiked his tea with alcohol? But it was simply the only explanation for his throbbing headache and blackout. Someone clearly had exploited his intolerance for alcohol and deliberately poisoned him.
Poe closed his eyes and shook his head to clear his mind. Where was he?
The floor was completely covered in straw. Rising above him were the damp walls of a cellar vault, flecked with gray-green lichen. Against the back wall were several barrels — perhaps wine or beer. He drew himself up to lean on his elbows.
By all appearances, he was in the basement of a pub. But how did he get here? And why? If someone had intentionally made him drunk, then that person must have had a specific reason.
Poe forced himself to ignore his stabbing headache. It was urgent that he figure out how he got here.
About four yards in front of him was a low wooden door. It looked quite strong and secure. Was he being held prisoner?
He was still musing over how he could have ended up here when he heard the sound of someone moaning nearby.
“Hello?” Poe sat up and lightning bolts of pain pierced his head. For the first time, he noticed the man lying in a heap on the hay at a distance of some two yards.
This man seemed in even worse shape. He slowly raised his head to look toward Poe. His face was contorted in pain, and he moaned softly.
Poe was suddenly wide-awake. He crawled to the man and leaned over him. “What has happened? Where are we?”
“We have to hurry,” the man blurted out. “Get away from here as long as they still give you the chance.”
The man was wearing strange, foreign-looking clothes that Poe could not associate with any particular fashion. The man’s low, somewhat tattered hat that resembled a shortened stove pipe — woven of straw or narrow strips of palm fronds — was the oddest and shabbiest headgear he had ever seen. His clothing consisted of a kind of thin, black, and extremely poor quality alpaca fabric. The seams were more or less separated and torn — shot through with holes, and dirty. He wore steel-gray pants of an odd cut, with an indefinable weave. They fit poorly and appeared nearly worn through. His shirt was wrinkled and caked with dirt. He wore neither vest nor scarf. On his feet were shoes of a coarse material, which, it seemed, had never seen a brush or polish.
“You're in terrible danger.” Clearly, speaking was growing more difficult by the minute. “I want you to listen very carefully. Your life depends on it. Go to Barnham Street. Number 304. The attic apartment. I left a message for you there that will explain everything.”
“A message for me?” Poe was shocked. “You know who I am?”
“Of course, Mr. Poe,” said the man. “Take off your clothes. You don’t have much time. The three men will return in exactly four minutes.”