Tuesday Terror! The Valley of the Veils of Death by Bertram Atkey

Evil under the sun…

Much though the porpy and I love a good old London fog or a mirky moor, we equally enjoy being transported to foreign climes, where even the blinding sun over the Australian desert can’t bleach out the evil men leave behind them. This story is taken from The Ghost Slayers – a British Library collection themed around psychic investigators, edited by Mike Ashley. The investigator in this one is Mesmer Milann, a man who calls himself a “mediator” between this world and the unseen…

The Valley of the Veils of Death
by Bertram Atkey

Save for the deep purple curtains which were hung round the room so that they shrouded the walls and windows completely, the number and odd placing of the electric bulbs – only one of which was burning – and a huge centaur, savagely sculptured in shining, slate-hued marble, there was nothing in the room to suggest that this was a temple of the occult.

Hmm, well, sounds pretty occultish to me! This is the office of Mesmer Milann, to whom the famous explorer Mr George Tarronhall has come seeking advice about a strange adventure that befell him while he was crossing the Australian desert…

“I had camped early in the afternoon by an unexpected water hole. There were ten people, all but Rivers, the scientist of the expedition, and myself being blacks.”

(The few mentions of the indigenous Australians are stereotyped but not derogatory, and are typical of the colonial time – the story dates from 1914.)

(Some stereotypes are more fun…)

Rivers and Tarronhall wander off to explore the surrounding area and come to a valley, which looks like any other valley of the region, all sand and rocky outcrops…

“…and yet of all the strange places I have passed through, of all the odd corners of the world I have seen, that little insignificant valley is the one place that remains, and will remain always, in my mind… It was haunted – if ever any place in the world is haunted.”

The two men come across a sinister sight…

“There were two of them at the foot of the miniature cliff on which we stood. I leaned over to see them better, and found that they were skeletons, lying on their sides, with the skulls half turned upwards, so that we looked down straight into the empty eye sockets. It may have been my fancy – probably it was – but it seemed to me that there was a queer craning look about the poise of the skulls, exactly as though they were watching us.”

Near the skeletons the men find a small canvas bag and, despite the air of menace in the valley, they open it…

“I heard Rivers say, to himself rather than to me, ‘I could have sworn the thing moved.’ And he was looking at one of the skeletons behind him.
….“I affected not to hear, and turned up the bag, pouring out on the sand such a collection of precious stones as Australia, or any other country, has never before produced. Sapphires, emeralds and rubies, for the most part, with a slab of wonderful opal, dirty and uncut, of course, but magnificent.”

Naturally they take the stones – who wouldn’t? But that night, as they lie asleep in their tent, something enters…

“And, if you can imagine it, the darkness became charged as it were with warning – most horrible. Warning; it poured down on me, into me, like an electric current, enveloped me like water, paralysed me momentarily. I was frightened too – terror-stricken.”

When the feeling passes, the men discover the jewels have gone. Next morning they go back to the valley and find the bag lying again next to the skeletons. Now Tarronhall wants Milann to explain the experience but also to advise whether it would be safe to try again to take the jewels. Milann agrees to take on the case, and Tarronhall asks how he will proceed. Milann says he will visit the valley that night…

“But I shall not need my body. I shall go in the spirit!”

And he invites Tarronhall to accompany him…

“You and your fellow explorers have exhausted the globe; soon enough, now, the arc-lights of civilization will illuminate the darkest corners of this world. Come with me tonight to another – to the Sub-World. There are sights to test the courage of the bolder spirit. I will free you from the gross flesh, and we will traverse together the dim Tracts of the Elementals, enter the Red Fogs of the Tentacle-Spirits, pass over the Place of the Were-Wolves, look upon the Craters of the Unicorns, the Plains of the Centaurs, the Morass of Minotaurs!” His eyes glittered and flamed like jewels, and his voice rolled like distant thunder. “We will adventure through the Haunts of the Vampires together—”

Gosh, I wonder how many stars that little holiday would get on Trip Advisor!

* * * * *

Perhaps the actual trip they take back to the valley doesn’t have minotaurs, centaurs nor even, to my great disappointment, tentacle-spirits, but it’s still an enjoyable adventure with some lovely scary elements to it. Overall I found this very well written in that slightly high melodramatic style that works perfectly for horror, and I share Mike Ashley’s puzzlement, mentioned in his introduction to the story, as to why Atkey’s Mesmer Milann stories have been allowed to sink into obscurity. I’d happily read more, if anyone from BL-world is listening! Unfortunately its obscurity means I can’t find an online version to link to, but the anthology is well worth acquiring – full review soon! The porpy and I, meantime, have decided to remove the Australian desert from our travel bucket-list…

(After all that Australian sun, the porpy has decided that
haunted Gothic castles aren’t so bad after all!)

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:            😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link

* * * * *

NB For the benefit of new readers since it’s the porpy’s first appearance for the season, the fretful porpentine reference comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine.

So the Fretful Porpentine rating is for the scariness factor, whereas the Overall story rating is for the story’s quality.

31 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! The Valley of the Veils of Death by Bertram Atkey

  1. You know, even though I almost never read the Tuesday Terror stories because I can’t manage horror at all, I do love seeing the Fretful Porpentine come out every year! Autumn is my favourite time of year and seeing him pop up on your blog has become one of the signs that it’s here, along with the changing leaves and cold evenings. Good to see the porpy back!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, the porpy has become a marker of the change of season for me too! I like autumn and winter myself and am always glad to see them arrive. Vintage horror is generally so mild that it’s fine for me, but I’ve been sent a modern collection for review this year and I’m kinda dreading it – modern horror tends to rely more on gore and gruesomeness than pleasantly spooky chills! But we’ll see – maybe it will surprise me!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah welcome back, Porpy! It’s always been a mystery to me how one can have Christmas in a warm climate. (I’ve tried it – once was enough.) And it’s equally a mystery how one can have gothic chills in a desert. But you’ve gone some way here in convincing me. I was frightened just reading the review 😱

    (Rose can have the Kangaroo gif; I’ll take the creeping skeleton please.)

    ((It’s good to have you back too, FF 😉))

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I can’t imagine Christmas in summer either. In fact when I was a kid I got asked in an exam once when Christmas Day was in Australia and carefully calculated it must be the 25th June… 😂 I find the idea of deserts and vast empty spaces quite spooky by themselves, so add in a couple of skeletons and I’m ready to shiver! I love the skeleton gif – I may have to seek out more skeletal stories just so I can use it again…!

      Thanks – it’s good to be back! I didn’t mean to be away so long but I got caught up in watching endless hours of the Royal coverage.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Why, oh why, did they pick up that bag!?!?! Don’t they know that picking up and opening bags, and going down into basements, or out alone onto the moor is dangerous, FictionFan? Seriously, though, this does sound interesting, and I do like the Australian desert setting. That in itself would get my interest. You’re right about the writing style, too: a bit melodramatic, but it works for that sort of story.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love all your GIFs today, especially the creeping skeleton! Maybe I’m not PC enough, but I’ve never found saying someone was white, black (or whatever skin tone) as anything but descriptive. It only becomes racist in my mind if linked to stereotypes or derogatory language. (so feel free to refer to me as that overweight, older, white woman with the southern accent)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the skeleton too – I may have to seek out more skeletal stories just so I can use it again! 😉 Totally agree – we’ve become so over-sensitive now that it’s becoming awkward even to review books without maybe using a word that was suitable last month but is suddenly racist today! Here the black characters were given the kinds of stereotyped characteristics like being great trackers and so on, but they probably were, and he didn’t use any words that stood out as derogatory – to me, anyway!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, indeed! Vast empty spaces always feel spooky to me just as much as Gothic castles! Add in a couple of skeletons and the porpy and I are ready to hide behind the settee… 😱

      Like

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.