Fritz Leiber (1910-1992) was a prolific writer who won multiple prestigious awards during his long career. He was also an actor, poet and champion chess player. His work has been adapted to film (The Girl with the Hungry Eyes 1949, 1967, 1995 as well as a classic Night Gallery television episode in 1972) and radio programs such as X MINUS ONE (“A Pail of Air” and “Appointment in Tomorrow” both in 1956). His fantasy duo, Fafrhd and The Gray Mouser are favorites of mine and have been adapted for both comic book and role playing games multiple times. He’s had several other adaptations over the years as well, but now it’s time to delve into a few of his great horror stories.
1- “Smoke Ghost” (1941) – A man begins to notice a dark, shapeless thing on the rooftops of buildings during his ride into work. It starts moving closer, increasing his fear. This isn’t your average ghost, however, as the protagonist describes it: “I don’t mean that traditional kind of ghost. I mean a ghost from the world today. With the soot of the factories in its face and the pounding of machinery in its soul. The kind that would haunt coal yards and slip around at night through deserted office buildings like this one. A real ghost. Not something out of books.” This fantastic tale is credited with reinventing the classic ghost story for an urban setting.
2- “Alice and the Allergy” (1946) – A man tries to help his wife find the cause of severe allergies she’s suffered since being attacked by a serial rapist. There seems to be some connection between the two.
3- “Mr. Bauer and the Atoms” (1947) – A man, concerned about the danger of unlocking the secrets of the atom, worries people could become walking nuclear bombs. Once the idea takes root, it overwhelms him.
4- “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” (1949) – A photographer is approached by a model who asks him to take pictures of her. He does so without believing much will come of it. When his clients see her picture, they insist she be used for their project. Gradually, people who see her image become obsessed. She refuses to allow any of them to see her in person other than the photographer and tells him she will leave him forever if he follows her. This is a unique, well-written vampire story.
5- “In the X-Ray” (1949) – A woman goes to her doctor after her ankle begins to swell. He’s astounded by what he sees in her X-rays. She tells him about her vindictive identical twin sister who recently died. This is a fantastic, creepy little story.
6- “A Pail of Air” (1951) – This science fiction tale is set in a future where a cosmic cataclysm has frozen Earth’s atmosphere into a sort of snow. A family has to bring in pails of it to heat over a fire for breathable air in their shelter.
7- “Mariana” (1960) – A woman discovers a hidden panel inside the breaker box of her house. It has a set of switches. One is labeled “Trees”. When she flips the switch, she learns her world is not what she thought it was.
8- “The Glove” (1975) – When a rape occurs in an apartment house, the surrounding neighbors pull together to try and solve the mystery. The lone piece of evidence left behind is a glove. It’s given to the protagonist for safe-keeping until the police come to collect it. The glove isn’t content to wait during the night, however.
9- “Belsen Express” (1975) – A man has a deep seated fear of Nazi’s despite the war having ended years earlier. He receives a package of books about the holocaust, reigniting his fears. This story won a World Fantasy Award.
10- “The Terror from the Depths” (1976) – A crippled man from California sends his book of poetry to Miskatonic University, where he spent time as a student. He receives a response from an old English professor he had there who has taken interest in his work, even pointing out things about the strange creatures and lands that insinuates they may be real. The two correspond about strange dreams of underground tunnels and winged worms among other oddities. They decide to partake in an experiment designed to uncover these mysteries. Lovecraft and several characters and creatures from his stories are mentioned in the story.
Article by Matt Cowan