Ghost Hunters And Psychic Detectives / Ghost Hunters and Psychic Detectives Part 1

GHOST HUNTERS AND PSYCHIC DETECTIVES.

9 Classic Tales of Sleuthing and the Supernatural.

Edited by JEAN MARIE STINE.

INTRODUCTION.

Here are nine fascinating, shuddery tales about those most overlooked of sleuths a” the ghost hunters and psychic detectives who spiced up the pages of turn-of-the century magazines. Equipped with a deep knowledge of things occult a” often with a pinch of paranormal power themselves a” these bloodhounds of the borderland pick up where more mundane detectives like the immortal Sherlock Holmes or Miss Jane Marple leave off. When the likes of Mason Bell, Dr. Munsing, Quinn’s Jules DeGrandon, Moris Klaw, Flaxman Low, or Carnacki are on the trail, you can be sure the explanation for eerie and ectoplasmic doings will never involve some mundane trick like painting a hound’s jaws with phosphorous. The ghost down the hall or the werewolf at the window, the awful demon seeking vengeance from another dimension, will all turn out to be very real indeed.

Just as real-life private detectives served as the inspiration for fictional ones, so real-life psychic detectives and ghost hunters served as the inspiration for the fictive ones. The newspapers of the 1920s were full of the exploits of Milwaukee’s Arthur P. Roberts, known as “the Great Welch Prophet” or “the Psychic Detective.” Famed for his ability to ferret out murders psychically while in a trance, one newspaper reproduces a letter from a J. D. Leroy of Chicago whose missing brother’s body was found murdered exactly where Roberts had said it would be. In more recent times, psychic investigator Hans Holzer has written of his own experiences in the noted bookGhost Hunter . In some instances, the late psychic Edgar Casey functioned as a kind of detective, gathering his clues on the astral plane, as recounted in a number of biographies.

This anthology brings together nine rare and vintage tales of ghost hunters and psychic sleuths. In it you will meet such legendary, and nearly forgotten fictive practitioners as Gordon Acreage’s Dr. Munsing in “The Exorcist”; Sea bury Quinn’s Jules DeGrandon in “Body and Soul”; Sax Rohmer’s Moris Klaw in “The Headless Mummies”; E. and H. Heron’s Flaxman Low in “The Grey House”; T. Meade and Robert Eustace’s Bell, Master of Mystery in “The Warder of the Door”; Conrad Richter’s Mason Bell in “The Toad Man”; William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki, Ghost Finder, in “The Whistling Room”; Victor Rousseau’s Ivan Brodsky, Surgeon of Souls, in “The Tenth Commandment”; and Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence in “A Victim of Higher Space.” Don’t be surprised if reading their cases proves addictive, and you find yourself finishing the book, yearning for more.

Jean Marie Stine.

9/04/2003.

THE TOAD MAN.

[Psychic sleuth: Mason Bell].

Conrad Richter.

It was late in the evening. For days the apartment had been almost unearthly quiet.

“This waiting for something to happen is getting on my nerves!” I declared.

Matson Bell yawned. Even in that mortal act he was still the imperturbable supernatural detective.

“It looks as though bad times had reached the shadow world. But I know better. It’s my experience that a dull stretch like this is nearly always followed by some of my most exciting cases,” he said.

I scoffed. Within five minutes the sound of feet came from the stairs. I glanced up and listened. The step sounded nervous, hesitant. A doubtful knock sounded on the door. As I opened it, a prosperously dressed but hollow-eyed man glanced nervously about as if fearful of seeing something over his shoulder. His voice stammered.

“You are Mr. Bell, the supernatural investigator?”

I waved to my employer, who laid down the report of some Scandinavian psychic research society he had been reading in the original.

“Come in. I am Matson Bell, sometimes called the Spook Cop. What can I do for you?” His voice sounded cheery and strong. The caller seized at it as if at a straw. He hurried into the apartment.

“If you could only help me! If you fail me, I’m lost a” completely lost! You’re my last hope. Everybody thinks I’m crazy. Maybe I ama””

Matson Bell pushed forward a chair. “Sit down,” he said kindly. “Tell me what’s bothering you.”

The caller swallowed and took the edge of the offered chair. He looked pitiful sitting there a” his clothing well tailored and pressed a” his face so worn and fearful.

“It’s something after me!” he said in terror. “Whether it’s in my imagination or not, I don’t know. It looks like some hideous man a” short and squat and with horrible frog eyes. I call it ‘the toad man.’ Nobody believes me. I have only one hope that I’m still sane, and that’s the ether.”

“The ether?” puzzled Matson Bell.

“When this toad man comes, I notice the strong smell of ether. He fairly reeks of it. Ether nauseates me like most people. Sometimes I pass out. But usually I’m not so fortunate. It just paralyzes me like the first stage of ether before an operation. You know how you lie there seeing and knowing everything, but unable to move. This horrible toad thing comes close and leers in my face. I struggle, but I can’t stir. It’s horrible beyond description. Nobody will ever know what I’ve gone through!” Heavy beads of sweat stood out on the speaker’s forehead.

“I believe you,” said Matson Bell quietly, “Thank God!” breathed the caller. He wiped his forehead. “Everybody else treats me as if I were mad.”

“They’ve never seen such things,” said Matson Bell gently. “I have. Go on. Tell me about it.”

The visitor wet his lips.

“This hideous thing has been dogging me for nearly two weeks. I can’t sleep. I’ve lost twenty pounds. I’m a nervous wreck.”

“What does it say to you?”

“It never speaks.”

Matson Bell nodded. His glance to me said, “Things are starting to happen.” He took out a clean white handkerchief and slowly pleated and repleated it.

“Think for a minute!” Matson Bell said to our overwrought guest. “What were you doing or about to do the first time this specter came to you?”

The caller settled himself on the chair. “The first time I didn’t see it,” he said. “I only smelled it, and a strange thing happened. My name is Wilder. I am an attorney. I handle the Horrow estate. No one has been living in the old Horrow house for several years. I was arranging to have the house torn down to make way for an apartment building when I noticed the first trouble.”

“Yes,” encouraged Matson Bell.

“I was signing a contract with the Miller Construction Company. For some time I noticed a peculiar smell. Mr. Miller was in the, office with me. I asked him if he carried ether with him. He said, ‘Of course not.'”

“A little later when I began to sign the contract, the pen left my hand,” Mr. Miller said. “I threw it away, but I swear that some force struck my hand and knocked it aside!” Our visitor shuddered.

“Extraordinarily interesting!” murmured Matson Bell. “Miller and I had been arguing for some time over the price, and when the pen flew out of my hand, be got up angrily and left. I called him on the telephone afterward and apologized. I told him I would come to his office in a few days. That night the toad man appeared in my room. Since that I’ve been too distracted to go ahead with the plan.”

Matson Bell had been listening intently. Now he reached to a shelf behind him and took down a heavy book. He paged rapidly, and then read in silence. Presently he said, “This house you wished to pull down is the old Judson Horrow house, built by Judson Horrow, head of the engraving firm of Horrow and Company? He made a fortune in Wall Street, and built the house shortly afterward?”

“It was before my time,” said Mr. Wilder. “But that must be the man. I’ve handled the estate for only a little over eight years. I’m from the Middle West, myself. I know Mr. Horrow has been dead for a long time.”

Matson Bell closed the book with sudden resolve, saying: “Mr. Wilder, I want you to get us into the Horrow house tonight!”

The caller stared. “But there’s never been the slightest trouble with the Horrow house!” he declared. “Doctor Horrow a” that’s the son a” occupied it himself until several years ago when he rented an apartment next door in the new building put up by the estate.”

Matson Bell rose and picked up his hat, “You may be right, but I want to see that, house on general principles,” he said.

“It’s very latea””

“Great Glory, man!” exclaimed Matson Bell. “Harper and I have slept so much the past ten days we’d sooner stay up in the Horrow house tonight than sleep in the guest room at the White House!”

“I meant,” protested Wilder, “it’s very late to get in touch with Dr. Horrow!”

“I don’t want you to get in touch with Dr. Horrow. You have the keys, haven’t you?”

Wilder drew a deep breath. “I may lose the estate for this,” he said nervously, “but if you think you can help me, I’ll do it!”

We took a taxi within a square of our destination.

“That’s the house across the street,” said Wilder in a low tone as we approached on foot.

We saw a ponderous stone residence, built in the imposing style of the 19th century. It stood slanted, facing the exact corner, and well apart from the buildings on either side.

“They don’t build those houses any more,” said Wilder. “Fifty years ago they were considered great style.”

We crossed the street. By the corner light I noticed that the shades were heavily pulled. The windows had been unbranded. Wilder swiftly inserted a key in the ponderous lock, and we were in the musty vestibule. The inner door opened easily, we passed into intense darkness.

“I forgot to tell you,” whispered Wilder. “The house has been disconnected from service.”

“We have our electric torches,” assured Matson Bell. “And I’ve got a pocket full of candles.” He threw on the beam of his light. It disclosed a huge black hall with a massive walnut staircase.

“Hsst!” suddenly breathed Wilder.

We listened. Somewhere in the depths of the house upstairs we heard a door close. Footsteps pattered on a thick carpet. Something was coming down the upstairs hall. Now it approached the staircase. The three of us stood rigid in the darkness as the single eye of a flashlight appeared at the head of the stairs and illuminated us.

“Wilder!” a sharp, voice exclaimed.

“Dr. Horrow!” answered our companion in mingled astonishment, dismay and relief.

The doctor rapidly descended the stairs. Bell turned on his electric torch again. By its light we saw a short thick man with a puffy face. I thought I detected about the staring eyes a slight resemblance to a frog or toad, but dismissed it as mere imagination.

“What does this mean?” demanded the doctor.

“I am showing these gentlemen over the house,” stammered the attorney. “Mr. Bell said he might be interested in it.”

“Isn’t it a rather late hour for such an errand?”

“Indeed it is, Doctor,” volunteered Matson Bell blandly. “Late for all of us, what!”

The doctor flushed and bristled. “I have no room in my apartment for the bulk of my library. I am often obliged to come over here after certain books.”

“I see,” said Matson Bell politely.

The physician’s tone was acid. “How long do you expect to remain?” he asked.

Matson Bell looked grave. “I am a trifle hard to interest in an ordinary house, Doctor,” he confessed. “But in such a fascinating place as this, I think I could spend most of the night.”

The physician stared at him from those slightly protruding eyes, gurgled for a moment, almost blurted something to the attorney, then left, slamming the door.

“The doctor, I take it, isn’t very amiable to your selling the house?” remarked Bell when the physician had gone.

Wilder made a wry face. “Amiable? He’s fought it tooth and nail. The other heirs overrule him. They get no income from the property, but must pay their share of the taxes.”

I saw some mental prospect rise behind the supernatural detective’s eyes. “By the way,” he began carelessly, “you don’t happen to live in the apartment house next door?”

“Why, yes. It’s part of the Horrow estate. Naturally, I should patronize an apartment building whose rents pass through my hands.”

“Naturally,” agreed Matson Bell, but there was a curious note in his voice. “Then Dr. Horrow is naturally your physician?”

“He is.”

“Has he, or any other physician,” went on Bell casually, “ever warned you against ether?

Wilder’s face became very sober. He said quietly, “I was gassed in France. Both the army doctors and Dr. Horrow have warned me never to take either again unless I wanted pneumonia.” He suddenly stared at the detective. You don’t meana””

“I don’t mean anything, yet,” assured Matson Bell calmly. “Let’s get going over this house.”

It is hard to explain, but certain houses, places and people affect me. Matson Bell himself feels nothing of this. He is all keen mind and reason, and to this detached power he owes his tremendous success. He says I am psychic a” sensitive to waves and vibrations retained by objects and atmosphere and which are hidden from the conscious senses. My psychic gifts have frequently been of aid to him. This particular house impressed me vividly. There was a chill about its high ceilings and long dark shadows that was not to be measured by humidity or temperature. I felt the pressure of unknown evil, something morbid and malignant.

My feelings were not helped any by the uneasy behavior of our client. He let the lean form of Matson Bell take the lead, and allowed me to bring up the rear. Constantly he kept between us, and as if that were not enough, he kept glancing over his shoulder to see if I were close behind, or into a passing shadow as if it might be an abyss holding some unnamable monster. This did not help my own emotions, and I was glad when we had completed the circuit downstairs and returned to the front hall.

“It looks very natural and innocent,” remarked Matson Bell. “But, if you don’t mind, Wilder, I’d like to stay here in this living room till morning. I have an idea it isn’t as innocent as it looks.”

As he spoke he opened the heavy door and passed into the huge parlor. A dozen pieces of draped furniture gave a ghostly air to the great room.

Each of us settled himself on a big chair or sofa. Our lights were turned out. A sort of ghoulish hush fell on the place. Occasionally I could hear Wilder whisper to Bell, but for the most part the silence was like the tomb. The room had the moldy chill of the vault, and the faint light that drifted in through the margins of the drawn blinds was like some pale haunting mist.

Presently somewhere in the recesses of the house we heard a stirring. It is difficult for the psychic researcher to put into ordinary words a description of certain supernatural experiences, and this was one of them. It was a furtive sound so strange and elusive that I wondered if it were really in the house or only a product of my brain. It appeared to come and go, at one time quite close, at another extremely distant. Once I thought it passed up the stairs. It sounded like a great moth brushing the walls with its wings, and yet there was a certain repulsive horror in it.

“I’m going into the hall,” Bell whispered at length. “You boys stay here.”

I felt the tension in his tone. I could scarcely see his form in the unearthly light. But I could follow his movement by a dim red glow which I knew was the nose of his electric torch buried in one hand. I heard him step in the hall, then the creak of the stairs and a long silence. Once I thought I heard the snap of his heel somewhere, but I could not be sure. All I knew was that I felt horribly alone and deserted with only the haunted Wilder as a companion, and I strained my ears to catch a sound of Bell’s return.

Abruptly I heard a gasp from the chair where Wilder had been waiting. In another moment he had sprung toward me, clutching for my limbs in the darkness. One hand touched my shoulder, and instantly he clung to me with rigid fingers.

“It’s coming!” he screamed in a sort of agonized whisper. “Don’t you smell the ether?”

For the moment I had been too startled by his sudden rush and the mad clutch of his frightened hands to notice anything. Now my nostrils caught a faint, sickening odor that had not been there before. It grew more penetrating and unwholesome. Out of the misty darkness at the far side of the room I saw with horror that a face was emerging. It was a hideous face, fat and puffy, and from it a pair of great eyes protruded like the eyes of a frog.

“Oh, my ‘God, it’s the toad man!” moaned Wilder. I felt the convulsive shudders of his body. Then he fell across my knees in a dead faint.

Like some incredible creature of nightmare, the forbidding face came toward me. I saw a dwarfish form beneath it. The legs seemed to skate as they moved. Face and figure were lit by a sort of moonlit ghastliness, and as the thing came nearer I felt an awful nausea creeping over me. A moment more and that misshapen face was leering into mine.

When I came to, Matson Bell was shaking me. I looked down stupidly and saw Wilder stirring on the floor.

“What’s happened?” Bell demanded.

“The toad man!” I told him weakly. “The ether knocked me out.”

“Ether? Why, there isn’t a trace of ether in the room!”

I sat up and sniffed. It was true. All traces of the odor had vanished, and yet I felt as if still partly under the effect of an anesthetic a” there was no mistaking it.

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