By Cornell Woolrich (Cornell George Hopley-Woolrich, 1903-68).
Novelette (29 pages).
Found in Argosy Weekly, March 2, 1940.
Reprinted in EQMM, November 1951.
Adapted to film as The Return of the Whistler (1948).
"He stepped out of the warm sunlight into a dark, empty room; he groped in terror, and his hands met only the constricting black void. And no one would believe what he said—about the little girl who wasn't there."Embarking on a lifetime of wedded bliss should be a joyful event; for our first person narrator, however, it's just the beginning of a nightmare . . . but, so that you first time
readers of this story can engage the full Woolrich experience, we'll say no more except
to offer a few excerpts:
. . . "I just thought of something. There's a little bit of a dinky room on the top floor." . . .
. . . I held the page up toward the light and tried to squint through it, to see whether it showed thinner there, either from rubbing or some other means of eradication. It was all of the same even opacity. . . .
. . . something was already trying to make me feel a little cut off from them, a little set apart. As if a shadowy finger had drawn a ring around me where I stood, and mystic vapors were already beginning to rise from it, walling me off from my fellowmen. . . .
. . ."What're you doing this for? What're you trying to do to me? All of you?". . .
. . . There was a pause, while I fought against this other, lesser kind of death that was creeping over me—this death called strangeness, this snapping of all the customary little threads of cause and effect that are our moorings at other times. Slowly they all drew back from me step by step, until I was left there alone, cut off. . . .
. . . Suddenly I was very passive, unresistant. Because suddenly I had a dread of arrest, confinement. I wanted to preserve my freedom of movement more than all else, to try to find her again. If they threw me in a cell, or put me in a strait-jacket, how could I look for her, how could I ever hope to get at the bottom of this mystery? . . .
. . . He looked as if he'd seen every rotten thing there was in the world. He looked as if he'd once expected to see other things beside that, but didn't any more. . . .
. . . Ainslie filled a paper cup with water at the cooler in the corner, strewed it deftly across my face, once each way, as if I were some kind of a potted plant, and one of the other guys picked me up from the floor and put me back on the chair again. . . .
. . . "What you're doing to me is worse than if you were to kill me. You're locking me up in shadows for the rest of my life. You're taking my mind away from me." . . .
. . . he stopped and looked me over from head to foot as if I was some kind of a microbe. . . .
. . . "Those four square inches of linen handkerchief will be wearing pretty thin, if this keeps up . . ."
. . . "This is where I was married to a ghost." . . .
. . . "If we can get the reason behind it all, the source, we don't have to bother with any of these small fry." . . .
. . . I went cold all over, but I put down the camp chair I was fiddling with and edged over toward it on arched feet. The taper-flames bent down flat as I approached them, and sort of hissed. Sweat needled out under the roots of my hair. . . .
. . . Then he turned and I never felt my shoulder grabbed so hard before, or since. His fingers felt like steel claws that went in, and met in the middle. For a minute I didn't know whether he was attacking me or not; and I was too dazed to care. . . .
. . . he dropped on my curved back like a dead weight and I went down flat under him, pushing my face into the parquet flooring. . . .
. . . a door opened surreptitiously somewhere close at hand; and a stealthy, frightened tread began to descend toward us . . .
. . . She gave a scream like the noon whistle of a factory. . . .
- Wikipedia HERE, the IMDb HERE, and FictionMags HERE.
HERE for more about the film version; we briefly touched on another movie adapted from a Cornell Woolrich story HERE.
Category: One of us is crazy