Sunday, August 7, 2016

"Maybe I'd Better Call the Morgue and See If They're Missing You"

Not many readers remember "Tarleton Fiske," but it's a safe bet most of them (and that includes you) have heard of Robert Bloch, universally famous for being the author of Psycho, the sensational basis of an even more sensational Hitchcock film. Here are a couple of Bloch's droll forays into fantasy (with a criminous tinge) from his years as a busy pulp writer before he made the Big Time.

"The Skeleton in the Closet."
By Tarleton Fiske (Robert Bloch, 1917-94).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, May 1943.
Reprinted in Horror Times Ten (1967) and Skeleton in the Closet and Other Stories (2008).
Short story (13 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
(Note: Text is messed up in a few places but still readable.)
(Parental caution: Some strong language.)
"At that maybe the old guy's skeleton was the only 'living' person who could solve his own murder. You'll admit the killer would hardly expect such a thing."
Tarleton Fiske has just inherited his Uncle Magnus's estate, which includes a house with a closet that, to his surprise and dismay, comes equipped with a human skeleton . . . a talking human skeleton . . . a talking human skeleton with a bullet hole in the back of his skull . . . a talking human skeleton with a bullet hole in the back of his skull who, after a momentary fit of amnesia, insists that he's not only Uncle Magnus but also that he's been, wait for it, murdered . . . and he makes no bones about what he plans to do about it:
"I think I'm going to do a little sleuthing. A little amateur detective work to find out who murdered me." He stabbed a bony finger in my direction. "And you're going to help me, nephew. . . ."
Typo: "the sksleton insisted"

~ ~ ~

"Mystery of the Creeping Underwear."
By Tarleton Fiske (Robert Bloch, 1917-94).
First appearance: Fantastic Adventures, October 1943.
Reprinted in The Fear Planet and Other Unusual Destinations (2005).
Short story (15 pages).
Online at UNZ HERE.
"It was the most potent formula Mr. Fooze had ever mixed — the elixir of life itself!"
A regular Caspar Milquetoast is Sidney Fooze, a henpecked schmo obsequiously tolerating his radio soap opera-addicted wife Dora's inertia. Sidney never asked for it, but he's about to become embroiled in a situation that could cost him his life—if only he can just keep his clothes on:
. . .  the tall, gaunt scientific figure suddenly pulled a pistol from his hip pocket and levelled it at Mr. Fooze's falling waistline.
"Let's try the attic, first," suggested the Doctor, pleasantly. "By the way—not a word to your wife. Or I'll have to use two bullets."
Mr. Fooze couldn't have said a word if he wanted to. His throat was dry—parch-ed. And he couldn't very well move his tongue anyway, for his heart was in his mouth.
Typo: "he had a horried dream"

- You can acquire basic info about Robert Bloch (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE); as we noted (HERE), he also produced a nicely executed Star Trek TV series murder mystery.
- Thorne Smith's Skin and Bones (1933) gets a mention in "The Skeleton in the Closet"; a short summary might help:
A photographer's freak accident in the dark room produces a chemical concoc-tion causing him (and his dog) to randomly switch back and forth between nor-mal and X-ray (skeleton) versions of themselves. Predictably, much drinking and cavorting ensues, as he finds people able to see beyond his appearance and appreciate him for who he is, while inadvertently terrifying those who can not. Unusually, his wife Lorna is an attractive personality. — "Thorne Smith" (HERE), Wikipedia
And there's also a reference to a popular radio program called Doctor I.Q.; see Wikipedia (HERE).
- In "Mystery of the Creeping Underwear," Mr. Fooze not only mentions Rinso but also attempts to sing its slogan:
Rinso was one of the first mass-marketed soap powders. It was advertised wide-ly on United States radio, being the sponsor of many radio programs such as the popular daytime soap opera Big Sister from 1936 to 1946 . . . During this time the product's advertisements happily chanted the slogan "Rinso white, Rinso bright" and boasted that Rinso contained "Solium, the sunlight ingredi-ent". — "Rinso" (HERE), Wikipedia

The bottom line: "Everyone knows Newton as the great scientist. Few remember that he spent half his life muddling with alchemy, looking for the philosopher's stone. That was the pebble by the seashore he really wanted to find."
Fritz Leiber

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