Tuesday Terror! August Heat by WF Harvey

Carved in stone…

It’s been varying between ridiculously rainy and flippin’ freezin’ here for the last couple of weeks, so it seems like a good idea to get away from it all back to some summer sunshine. Though this little story is quite likely to leave you feeling as chilled as an ice-lolly at the North Pole…

August Heat
by WF Harvey

WF Harvey

I have had what I believe to be the most remarkable day in my life, and while the events are still fresh in my mind, I wish to put them down on paper as clearly as possible.

Our narrator is James Clarence Withencroft…

By profession I am an artist, not a very successful one, but I earn enough money by my black-and-white work to satisfy my necessary wants.

On this day, the heat is oppressive and Withencroft is thinking about going for a swim when he is suddenly struck by an idea for a picture, so he sits down and gets to work…

The final result, for a hurried sketch, was, I felt sure, the best thing I had done. It showed a criminal in the dock immediately after the judge had pronounced sentence. The man was fat – enormously fat. The flesh hung in rolls about his chin; it creased his huge, stumpy neck. He was clean shaven (perhaps I should say a few days before he must have been clean shaven) and almost bald. He stood in the dock, his short, clumsy fingers clasping the rail, looking straight in front of him. The feeling that his expression conveyed was not so much one of horror as of utter, absolute collapse.

Satisfied, he decides to go for a walk, wandering the streets randomly till he loses track of where he is. Evening is beginning to fall when…

I found myself standing before a gate that led into a yard bordered by a strip of thirsty earth, where there were flowers, purple stock and scarlet geranium. Above the entrance was a board with the inscription –

On an impulse, Withencroft enters the yard, and comes across the mason working on a piece of marble. When the man turns, Withencroft is startled…

It was the man I had been drawing, whose portrait lay in my pocket. He sat there, huge and elephantine, the sweat pouring from his scalp, which he wiped with a red silk handkerchief. But though the face was the same, the expression was absolutely different.

The mason is friendly and invites Withencroft to take a seat and have a cooling drink. Withencroft complies, and asks Athinson what he’s working on. Atkinson tells him this particular stone isn’t strong enough to be a real headstone so he’s using it as a sample for an exhibition. He stands back to let Withencroft see the inscription…

SACRED TO THE MEMORY
OF
JAMES CLARENCE WITHENCROFT.
BORN JAN. 18TH, 1860.
HE PASSED AWAY VERY SUDDENLY
ON AUGUST 20TH, 190—
“In the midst of life we are in death.”

Withencroft is silent for a long moment, then…

…a cold shudder ran down my spine. I asked him where he had seen the name.
“Oh, I didn’t see it anywhere,” replied Mr. Atkinson. “I wanted some name, and I put down the first that came into my head. Why do you want to know?”
“It’s a strange coincidence, but it happens to be mine.”

And the date just happens to be August 20th…

* * * * *

This is a miniature gem of a story! No ghost nor obvious supernatural happenings, but that these two men who had never met before should have each drawn or named the other, and then come together as if by coincidence… spooky! Tombstones always add that special touch of creepiness. And the end is deliciously twisted and chilling. It’s excellently done and very short – well worth reading! And totally suitable for scaredy-cats…

I read it in the Oxford World’s Classic anthology, Horror Stories, but if you’d like to read it online, here’s a link…

The porpy found this one enjoyably shivery…

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀

25 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! August Heat by WF Harvey

  1. Oh, that does sound delightfully creepy, FictionFan! I have to say, I wonder, too, about the confluence of events where each of these men has a connection with the other. And, although I’m no scaredy-cat, it’s nice to have a suspenseful story that doesn’t depend on gore…

    • I thought after the truly horror-filled ones of the last couple of weeks, we all needed something a bit more on the pleasantly spine-tingling side! I love that this one just leaves your own imagination to fill in the blanks… 😀

  2. Clever! You sort of knew where it was going but from your quotes it’s all accomplished beautifully and paces really well.

    Incidentally, I love job titles like MONUMENTAL MASON — I’m conjuring up some four-metre-high workman striking heroic poses — and of course FAMILY BUTCHERS (that would be a Halloween story, wouldn’t it?).

    • Hahaha! Yes, modern job titles don’t have the same ring – Deputy Assistant Director of Procedural Development and Time Management… 😉 You must write the Family Butchers one – the porpy and I can’t wait to read it… 😱😂

  3. “Enjoyably shivery” is about my personal maximum for scary stories, so I might give this one a go, especially since I won’t have to buy a whole book of horror in order to read it. This sounds really good!

    • There are so many vintage horror stories available online now – a treasure trove! This one is just spooky enough to tingle the spine without causing nightmares later – if you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it. 😀

    • It’s a fun one – nicely spooky without being too scary! No, I’d never heard of him before, which is why I love these mixed anthologies – they’ve introduced me to loads of writers I’ve gone on to read more of. This seems to be one of his two most famous stories – the other one is The Beast with Five Fingers which sounds like it should be a hoot… 😀

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