Tuesday Terror! De Profundis by Coutts Brisbane

F. Horribilis!

Ghosties and ghoulies are terrifying of course, but some people simply refuse to believe in them. However, there are other terrors lurking in the hidden places of the world which can’t be so easily dismissed. Time to meet some of them in this week’s…

De Profundis
by Coutts Brisbane

It all begins with our narrator on a camping holiday in Cornwall. He drifts off to sleep next to a field where a horse is happily grazing. Next morning, he starts off to get the train back to London…

My direct route lay through the field in front and, climbing on the gate, I stood at gaze, seeing that close beside the walled shaft-mouth lay something which, I was absolutely certain, had not been there overnight – a large skeleton. I noticed, too, that my friendly horse was nowhere in view, though the boundaries of the field were all in sight and, exceedingly puzzled, approached the bones. They were fresh, raw, though not a particle of meat adhered to them, and unmistakably equine.

Unable to work out what has happened, he heads off to his home, where he is carrying out experiments on different types of petroleum to try to find a cheaper, more efficient fuel. His friend, Mayence, turns up with a barrel-full of paraffin for him to test. Mayence tells him of the strange fate that has befallen a policeman down in Surrey…

“Devilish rummy! Found the poor beggar behind a hedge, uniform on—helmet, too. Beastly! And I may have spoken to him – been held up thereabouts more than once. Poor chap!”
“What are you gibbering about? Was he murdered?” I demanded irritably.
Mayence shivered.
“Ghastly, I tell you! Nothing but his clothes, only bones left inside ’em. Ugh!”

Our narrator tells Mayence about the horse, and at that moment they hear a disturbance from outside…

Right opposite, building operations were in progress, and a great hole had been dug in the earth, from which, as we looked, the workmen came crowding and jostling, howling gigantically, in a frenzied hurry to reach the narrow door in the hoarding along the street front.
“Lord!” ejaculated Mayence. “What in thunder’s up! Look at that chap!”

Then they see, coming from the excavation…

A cloud of dust flew up and hid everything for an instant; then something which looked exactly like a wave of treacle – a brownish-black, shiny, wet-looking, lapping tide – flooded up over the edge of the hole, and flowed out towards the men jammed in the doorway.

As they wonder what it can be, suddenly another friend of the narrator, Vidal, bursts into the room in a panic…

“They’re coming up!” he screamed. “Shut that window! We’re done for! I saw ’em once before, but nothing like this!”
Mayence grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him roughly.
“What?” he shouted. “What the blazes is it?”
“Ants!” quavered Vidal. “Millions of trillions! They’re stinging everyone to death; keep ’em out!”

Suddenly the people of London are fleeing in all directions as ants pour from various excavations sites all over the city in what seems to be a co-ordinated attack. Quick-thinking Mayence realises that paraffin will keep them off, so the three men cover themselves in the contents of the barrel he’d brought, and start out to make their escape from the city, seeing innumerable horrors on their way…

We trudged on towards the river without a word; pity, horror, terror, all capacity for emotion seemed numbed to exhaustion, and we moved mechanically. Blackfriars Bridge was choked by another dreadful barricade, the approaches to the stations were impassable. The river was dotted with people swimming or clinging to lifebuoys or fragments of wood, the barges anchored on the further side were hidden by men clustering like swarming bees, the outermost continually dragged down by others who struggled up from the water…

* * * * *

Well, this one scared me alright! I hate ants with a passion – even the tiny little ones we get give me the creeps, much less ones that are an inch and a half long and out to annihilate humankind! Brisbane manages to develop the three characters quickly, making them likeable and injecting a touch of humour into the story in their interactions, which lightens the tone a little but without detracting from the drama or scariness. It’s very well written with a lot of action packed into a short space, and there’s a deliciously chilling little climax at the end.

I’ve never heard of this author before, but the author bio in the anthology tells me he is an Australian of Scottish descent, real name Robert Coutts Armour, and that he was a prolific contributor of short stories to sci-fi and adventure magazines in the first half of the twentieth century. I’d happily read more of his stuff, though it doesn’t seem to be easy to get hold of. This one is available online, though, at the rather wonderful Project Gutenberg Australia. If you’d like to read it, here’s a link…

It’s a fretful porpentine!

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😮 😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

NB I read this one in the anthology Menace of the Monster, provided for review by the British Library.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

37 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! De Profundis by Coutts Brisbane

  1. I can’t stand ants – hate them passionately. They came down the chimney in one house we lived in – flying ants – and I bashed them as they emerged. We had ants in the kitchen – in everything, even boxes that were supposedly air tight. I will not read about them.

    • Ugh, Margaret, that’s more horrifying than the horror story!! My worst experience was coming home from work one day to find my then cat had brought in a dead bird and left it on the kitchen floor, and there was a stream of ants coming and going through the catflap carrying little bits of it. Aargh! I still have nightmares… 😱

  2. Ugh, ants!! I can see how this one would have got the porpy so scared, FictionFan! The descriptions are so creepy, and the thought of it…..yikes! You really plunged into a dark one this time, and I give you credit for it.

    • Aargh, I gave all the doors an extra squirt of ant spray after reading this, I can tell you! Haha – isn’t it funny that we’re all more scared of ants than aliens? 😀

  3. “Ants!” quavered Vidal. “Millions of trillions! They’re stinging everyone to death; keep ’em out!”–This made me laugh and creeped me out at the same time.

  4. I’d be hiding along with Porpy!! 😱 Is that last pic really a close up of an ant? 😲 It definitely looks like something out of a horror movie…ugh.

  5. The last couple of Tuesday Terror stories seemed more on the comic side than anything else, but judging from the extracts you’ve shared, this one seems genuinely scary, plus anything featuring ants sounds awful.. I hope poor Porpy has time to recover before next week.

    • Haha – that’s what I like about these anthologies – you never know quite what the next story will hold! Odd that the scariest one should be in a sci-fi anthology rather than a horror one though. Clearly we’re all more scared of ants than ghouls… somebody should write a story about zombie ants… 😱 Porpy’s gone off to spend the weekend with his cousin, Ant-eater…

  6. I already have this anthology on my wishlist and it’s going right to the TBR now! (along with the anthology on end of the world scenarios) Thanks!

    • I’m loving these anthologies but I seem to have acquired so many again that I don’t know if I’ll be able to fit in the end of the world one. The poor porpy’s looking a bit shell-shocked already and it’s only October… 😀

  7. I’m absolutely with you about ants. To me they are as scary and terrifying as the nuclear submarines at Faslane. So I think I’ll give this one a miss.

  8. I’m not very easily horrified by unworldly horrors, but you got me with this one with not only the dreadful ants but the destruction that followed. I recently reread The Birds and I think these natural phenomena gone rogue are just too close to home and bridge the imagination gap I usually have with horror stories.

    • Ugh, yes, the movie of The Birds scared me silly when I was a kid, and the original is just as effective! I find natural horrors scarier too, especially ones that aren’t totally impossible… I shall be keeping a close eye out for swarming ants for a while…

  9. Of course the author is Australian! That country is full of small things that want to kill you! I will happily live with Canadian winters and avoid killer ants.

    • Hahaha! I know! I’m thankful every day I was born in a cold northern country – even our tiny ants are big enough for me! And yesterday I was chased by a spider that looked huge to me but which an Australian would have laughed at with scorn… 🕷

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