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Literature / Nine Horrors and a Dream

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Nine Horrors and a Dream is a short story collection by Joseph Payne Brennan, arguably his most well-known aside from The Shapes of Midnight. First published in 1958 by Arkham House as simply Nine Horrors (although the full title appears inside) and again in 1960 by Ballatine with some pretty trippy cover art by Richard Powers, it collects ten stories from the very early part of Brennan's career, most of which were originally published in Weird Tales (and in fact is dedicated to that magazine, which ended publication in 1954), while a few other stories make their debut here.

Long out of print, it was republished by Dover on June 17th, 2019.


  • "Slime": A Blob Monster has taken up residence in Wharton's Swamp and begun eating people from the nearby town of Clinton Center. One of Brennan's most popular stories, originally appearing in Weird Tales in 1953, it went on to be republished in his later short story collection The Shapes of Midnight.
  • "Levitation": Frank, a heckler, gets more than he bargained for when he mocks a hypnotist at a sideshow in Morgan's Wonder Carnival. Filmed as an episode of Tales from the Darkside.
  • "The Calamander Chest": A wealthy antique collector, Ernest Maax, buys a beautifully ornate calamander chest at a discount price from dealer Jason Kinkle. Over the course of the next few nights, he starts to discover just why he got such a bargain on it. Originally published in Weird Tales in 1954.
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  • "Death in Peru": A man named Henderson tries to get to the bottom of why his friend Larrifer has suddenly taken ill. Originally published in Mystic Magazine in 1954.
  • "On the Elevator": A grisly murder is committed on the elevator at the Atlas Hotel by a mysterious man in a black raincoat. Originally published in Weird Tales in 1953.
  • "The Green Parrot": A writer has a strange encounter with an elderly woman named Ms. Meerchum, who is looking for her missing pet perrot, Toby. Originally published in Weird Tales in 1952.
  • "Canavan's Back Yard": A man named Frank befriends a rare book dealer, Canavan, only to discover that his new friend thinks there's something... "off" about his own back yard. Soon, Frank begins to share Canavan's eerie conviction that there is indeed something "wrong" with the back yard. Like "Slime," another popular story that was reprinted in The Shapes of Midnight.
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  • "I'm Murdering Mr. Massington": Interior decorator Henry Standish Massington, concerned that he will be forgotten after he is dead, comes to a writer in the hopes of telling his story so that he isn't forgotten. Originally published in Esquire in 1954.
  • "The Hunt": All Mr. Oricto wants to do is catch his train, but instead he finds himself relentlessly pursued by a murderous stranger.
  • "The Mail for Juniper Hill": Postman Ed "Big Ed" Hyerson takes delivering the mail in Juniper Hill very seriously. So seriously, in fact, he won't let a little thing like possibly freezing to death in a snowstorm interfere with his sworn duties.

Edward E. French adapted "Slime" in audio book form in three parts (here, here and here), while Vincent Price did the same for "The Calamander Chest" in two parts (here and here).

Nine Horrors and a Dream contains examples of:

  • Accidental Murder:
    • "Levitation": Well, more like Accidental Manslaughter brought on by the perpetrator's sudden death, rather like a bus driver dying at the wheel and crashing, or a train motorman dying at the controls and the train derailing. The Hypnotist never intended to do anything to Frank besides teach the annoying heckler a lesson, but his heart attack after commanding his hypnotized subject to "Rise!" ensures that Frank cannot be brought out of his somnambulant state and rises into the sky despite everyone's attempts to prevent it.
    • "The Calamander Chest": Possibly. We learn that the chest's original owner before Kinkle, Henry Stubberton, was found dead inside only after several days, having starved to death, apparently, whereas the guys Maax hired to dump the thing into the quarry do it the morning after he becomes trapped inside, meaning Maax may have still been alive in it, and they just dropped him in to sink and drown.
    • "Death in Peru": Definitely. Regardless of what Larrifer's rival intended with the voodoo doll, it is Henderson who accidentally kills his friend with a blow to the doll's head after discovering it.
  • Acquitted Too Late: The missing homeless man Henry in "Slime." Pegged by Underbeck as the murderer of Farmer Barnaby and Jason Bukmeist, he is eventually acquitted after one of Underbeck's own men survives an encounter with the blob to tell the truth, forcing Underbeck to admit that Henry, "far from being the murderer, was just one more victim."
  • Agent Mulder: "On the Elevator": "One of the young doctors" performing Traverson's autopsy concludes the wounds were caused by claws or exceptionally sharp fingernails. Then there's the night clerk, who insists, at the end, "somethin' dead" came out of the sea and killed Traverson.
  • Agent Scully: "On the Elevator": The young doctor's conclusions regarding Traverson's autopsy are dismissed as "melodramatic" by his colleagues, and they instead suggest sharp knives were used in the murder.
  • And I Must Scream: Frank in "Levitation." After succuessfully hypnotizing him and commanding him to "Rise!", the Hypnotist dies of a fatal heart attack onstage. Frank just continues rising up in his somnambulant, likely to die upon hitting the upper atmosphere. It's also possible that Maax was still alive in "The Calamander Chest" when the mover and his assistant dump the cursed chest into the quarry on his own orders without looking inside it first.
  • Animal Motifs: Throughout "The Hunt," Oricto is compared to a rabbit with his large ears, somewhat pudgy cheeks, slight build and nervous personality, while his pursuer is compared to a weasel, being extremely neatly groomed, slender of build with extremely angular features and neatly-combed hair (and, at the end, it's even revealed he has filed his teeth down to points). Lampshaded twice: first by Oricto, who is reminded of a weasel he once saw, and then at the end by the stranger, who flat out calls his victim "a rabbit" before biting him.
  • Antagonist Title: "The Calamander Chest" and "Slime."
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Frank in "Levitation." He's a jerkish heckler who throws things the Hypnotist who's just trying to put on a show.
    • Rupert Barnaby in "Slime," although he probably wasn't intended this way. It's just that modern readers might take his treatment of Jibbe the dog as a particularly jerkish moment.
  • Ate His Gun: "I'm Murdering Mr. Massington." Massington shoots himself at the end.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: "On the Elevator" and "The Hunt" both end with the murderers successfully committing their crimes and escaping. Even the later "Who Was He?", which also ends with the killer escaping, but being prevented from killing any more wasn't as nihilistic as these two stories.
  • Baleful Polymorph: In "Canavan's Back Yard," Canavan is transformed into a dog as part of Goodie Larkins' ancient Curse upon the land. Larkins was also accused of having transformed a child into a dog.
  • Blob Monster: "Slime."
  • Buried Alive: A "watery grave" variant in "The Calamander Chest," assuming Maax is still alive inside the chest when the mover and his assistant dump the accursed thing into the quarry.
  • Catapult Nightmare: In "The Calamander Chest," Maax awakens from dreaming about his own demise in the chest but sitting bolt upright in bed, screaming.
  • Curse: Placed upon the land Canavan's property occupies in "Canavan's Back Yard." In the 1800s, a woman named Goodie Larkins was accused of witchcraft, specifically of having turned a child into a dog. Instead of being burned, she was condemned to be Eaten Alive by starved dogs in the area where Canavan's house would later be built. As she died, she cursed the land to be a portal to hell, and turn all who entered it into wild dogs.
  • Da Chief: "Slime" gives us the gruff but intelligent Chief Underbeck.
  • Dead All Along: Ms. Meerchum in "The Green Parrot" and "Big Ed" Hyerson in "The Mail for Juniper Hill."
  • Detect Evil:
    • "Slime": The slime's victims can sense its presence for a variety of reasons, from its slithering noise to the awful smell which precedes it, to the sense of Primal Fear it arouses.
    • "The Hunt": Mr. Oricto knows pretty much instantly that the strange man on the train station platform is bad news, even though there's nothing outwardly unusual about him.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • "Levitation." Frank was a jerk, but did the poor schmoe deserve to rise all the way up into the atmosphere where he'll likely die? To be fair, this isn't the Hypnotist's fault.
    • "Death in Peru." Yeah, it's annoying when a guy beats you to the woman you love, but making a voodoo doll of him and placing it on top of a mountain where he'll alternately burn in the hot sun and freeze at night until he dies seems like overkill, there, buddy.
  • Driven to Madness:
    • "Slime": Dolores Rell turns into a hysterical Screaming Woman after seeing her boyfriend eaten by the slime. Later, Officer Fred Storr similarly goes mad after witnessing the gruesome demise of his partner, suffering a Heroic BSoD and refusing to give up his flashlight.
    • "On the Elevator": The woman in Room 311, after realizing the murderer is The Faceless.
    • "Canavan's Back Yard": Canavan turns into a feral madman after a little while lost in the titular back yard and attacks Frank. Frank barely gets away. Frank later almost suffers the same fate searching for his friend, but manages to resist the back yard's allure and runs away.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The title creature in "Slime," which was "old when the oceans were young," and whatever's inside the chest in "The Calamander Chest."
  • Eldritch Location:
    • "Slime": The bottom of the abyss and, later, Wharton's Swamp after the title creature takes up residence there
    • Canavan's overgrown, dimensionally impossible back yard in "Canavan's Back Yard." It turns out it's apparently a portal to hell.
  • Evil Smells Bad: Invoked with "Slime."
  • The Faceless: The killer in "On the Elevator," if the woman from Room 311 is to be believed.
  • Foreseeing My Death: In "The Calamander Chest," Ernest Maax has a nightmare in which a finger beckons him to get inside the chest, trapping him inside. He calls a mover to come dump it into a quarry. The night before the mover arrives, however, Maax's nightmare comes true, and he is indeed trapped inside. The mover and his assistant then dump the chest into the quarry the next day, with the possibly still alive Maax inside.
  • Food Porn:
    • Henry's (unknown to him at the time) final meal in "Slime" - a sumptuous $2 breakfast - sounds like the most delicious thing ever.
    • Brennan also describes in great detail all the various goodies eaten by the people attending Morgan's Wonder Carnival in "Levitation." Popcorn balls, candy apples, taffy, pink lemonade, the works. One of the popcorn balls even figures into the plot.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Old Man Gowse in "Slime" is described as "queer."
  • The Heckler: Frank in "Levitation."
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: The Hypnotist keels over dead suddenly onstage from heart failure in "Levitation." It's sudden and without any warning.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: "Death in Peru."
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: "Slime" begins with a storm and "On the Elevator" is set entirely during one.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • Jason Kinkle in "The Calamander Chest." He only sold the chest to Maax to avoid sharing Stubberton's fate and doesn't tell his customer about the chest's gruesome history, or Stubberton's death as a result of it, making him pretty much responsible for Maax's death. But he gets away scot free.
    • The man in the black raincoat in "On the Elevator" and the stranger chasing Oricto in "The Hunt" as well.
  • Kill It with Fire: In "Slime," the monster, being a Blob Monster and therefore Immune to Bullets, is ultimately slain in a pretty spectacular fashion by a soldier with a flamethrower.
  • Lean and Mean: The stranger in "The Hunt."
  • Man Bites Man: The end of "The Hunt."
  • Meaningful Name: In "The Hunt," which relies heavily on Animal Motifs, the very rabbit-like victim is named "Oricto." The scientific name for common European rabbits is Oryctolagus cuniculus.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: The main characters in "The Green Parrot," "Canavan's Back Yard" and "I'm Murdering Mr. Massington" are all writers.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: This may have been Larrifer's Indian rival's intention in "Death in Peru," since we're given every indication he intended to leave the voodoo doll on the mountaintop and let Larrifer either die by a combination of burning up from the hot day and freezing from the cold each night. We'll never know, though, because while recovering the doll, Henderson accidentally hits it in the head, killing Larrifer miles away.
  • Nameless Narrative:
    • "Levitation." The Hypnotist, his barker, his initial subject and even the heckler (Frank) are not directly named. We in fact only learn Frank's name because his friends in the audience yell it out after the Hypnotist dies and Frank won't stop levitating.
    • "On the Elevator": Except for the victim on the elevator, Mr. Traverson, no one is identified by name. Not the night clerk, not the man in the black raincoat, any of the hotel guests or even the investigating policemen.
    • "Canavan's Back Yard": Similarly, Canavan is the only character directly named in the story about his creepy back yard. We only learn the protagonist's name (Frank again) because Canavan identifies him in dialogue at one point.
  • No Name Given:
    • "Slime": The driver who saves Dolores Rell from the slime and the soldiers who fight the slime at the end.
    • "Levitation": The Hypnotist and his barker, as well as the man he initially intended to hypnotize.
    • "The Calamander Chest": Maax's landlady and the two men hired to dispose of the chest. The latter two are just called "the mover" and "his assistant" or "the assistant mover," respectively.
    • "Death in Peru": Larrifer's Indian girlfriend as well as the young man who also loves her are not given names, nor are the elderly woman hired by Henderson to care for Larrifer while he's sick, or the man Henderson seeks advice from.
    • "The Hunt": The killer pursuing Oricto. He's simply "the stranger."
  • Never Found the Body: "The Calamander Chest." As described on here elsewhere, Maax is in the chest when the mover and his assistant dump it. When he's reported missing, the police assume he got into some kind of trouble, moved away and changed his name.
    • This may also apply to the killer in "On the Elevator." After killing Traverson, he ditches his Paper-Thin Disguise and vanishes forever into the storm.
    • Canavan himself in "Canavan's Back Yard," but only account of his back yard being an Eldritch Location serving as a portal into hell and he got turned into a dog.
  • No Body Left Behind: "Slime." Everyone the slime kills is completely absorbed.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Ernest Maax's last name in "The Calamander Chest." Is it "Mah-x" or "May-ax" (like in The Beastmaster)? Vincent Price went with the former in his reading of the story here: [1]
  • Nothing Is Scarier: "On the Elevator." We do not learn the identity of the main in the raincoat or his motive for the murder of Mr. Traverson. Or even whether he was human or not. As to his physical appearance, the one person who gets a good look at him insists he had no face.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The possibly inhuman killer's big raincoat in "On the Elevator." If not for the hotel's night clerk being too absorbed in reading a book, he probably wouldn't have made it past the front desk. Predictably, the disguise only works from a distance. Those who actually get a good look at him quickly realize he might not even be human, such as the woman from Room 311, who is Driven to Madness, and Traverson, who becomes his victim.
  • Primal Fear: Used to great effect in "Slime" and "The Hunt." In fact, it is explicitly one of the themes of the latter.
  • Scary Teeth: The killer in "The Hunt." His teeth are filed down to sharp points.
  • The Strongman: One appears at Morgan's Wonder Carnival in "Levitation."
  • Surveillance Station Slacker: This is apparently not only the reason that the killer in "On the Elevator" gets into the lobby of the Atlas Hotel without the clerk noticing, but that his Paper-Thin Disguise works; the clerk is too busy reading a book to notice him enter, or even notice him at all until he's already waiting for the elevator, and thus doesn't get a good look at him.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Wharton's Swamp in "Slime" is a pretty creepy place. It also turns out in "Canavan's Back Yard" that said backyard used to be a swamp in the 1800s, where accused witch Goodie Larkins was condemned to die by being torn apart by starved dogs. She cursed the swamp to turn into a portal to Hell and turn everyone who entered it into dogs.
  • The Unreveal:
    • "On the Elevator": A man in a black raincoat commits a grisly murder in the Atlas Hotel's elevator. Although we learn the identity of the victim, we do not learn who the killer was, or even whether he was human. A woman who gets a good look at him insists he has no face, and the authorities can't even agree on how the victim was killed; one expert suggests the wounds were caused by claws or sharp fingernails, while others insist a knife or other sharp weapon was used. All that is found of the murderer is his coat, which, it turns out, is old, having been submerged in the ocean for a long time. It is mentioned that the storm dredged up an ancient shipwreck, and the night clerk suggests "something dead" came up out of the sea and killed Traverson, but this is merely speculation on his part. "On the Elevator" really banks on the "Nothing Is Scarier" trope.
    • "The Hunt": When asked why he is pursuing Oricto, the stranger simply says "Because you're a rabbit. And I was born to hunt rabbits" before biting out his throat. Taking this at face value (and ignoring the story's frequent descriptions of how rabbit-like Oricto is and how weasel-like the killer is), it seems the killer is nothing more than a maniac with filed teeth who picked Oricto out because he was nervous.
  • Witch Hunt: As part of the backstory for "Canavan's Back Yard".
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Several characters in "Slime." The police are skeptical at first, but eventually they do start listening, especially after one of their own officers, Luke Matson ends up on the slime's menu.