Monday, May 24, 2021

Favorite Short Stories: Something for the Dark By Edward D. Hoch

Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories that Go Bump in the Night
To identify one sub-category of Edward D. Hoch's fiction is to spoil a bit, I suppose. Hoch excelled at
all varieties of mystery from the locked room to the procedural to the cozy and more. His cadre of sleuths included a cowboy, a spy, a country doctor and the representative of a bureau devoted to apprehensions of fugitives. 

The collection Ellery Queen's Grand Slam (Popular Library 1970) includes a Hoch trifecta divided by mystery technique, whodunit, howdunit, whydunit. 

But there's also a significant portion of Hoch's work that falls in the realm of the fantastic uncanny alongside The Hound of the Baskervilles or the the more recent Scooby Doo. The supernatural is seemingly present in the mystery, but the solution is rational with clues neatly placed along the way to look like phenomena.

Clearly Hoch read widely in probably scientific and technical journals, mining for tidbits to serve his ongoing, incredible output. Thumbprint scanners in their infancy might provide a reason for one of thief Nick Velvet's unique pilfers, for example, and all manner of devices or small details might serve Simon Ark tales and many others.

Ark, alleged to be a coptic priest thousands of years old, tended to be called in when high strangeness seemed at hand. Even with a bit of mysticism sometimes mixed in, Ark's cases always proved to have a logical explanation.

That same style is on display in what's maybe a bit of an obscure Hoch tale, "Something for the Dark." From what I can tell it appeared only in the Alfred Hitchcock Presents collection Stories that Go Bump in the Night (Random House1977), though its roots seem to be the 1960s. That hints it may have been in a magazine earlier. 

The collection's one of a long series of anthologies spawned by the Alfred Hitchcock Presents TV series, offering tales in a similar vein. 

Double-Action Detective Magazine
The hero's not Ark nor one of Hoch's many series characters but magazine writer Steve Foley, though he works for Neptune Magazine, which bears the same name as the publishing house for which Ark's unnamed friend and case-narrator works.

Maybe it started out as an Ark tale. (Occasional signs of Hoch's experimentation turn up in mining his cannon. The September, 1959 Double-Action Detective features a more traditional hardboiled private eye named Simon Ark narrating and solving "The Case of the Naked Niece.")

In "Dark," the human-interest angle on reports of a man's encounter with what might be called a strange cryptid piques Foley's interest. While on a camping trip with his wife, the man spied a winged creature sounding a lot like Mothman though described as similar to Lewis Carroll's Jabberwock.

Circulation's lagging at Neptune, and an October issue is coming up, so his editor dispatches Foley to Pennsylvania for details from Walter Wangard and his wife Lynn. 

Sounds maybe a little like Woodrow Derenberger, noted for encounters with alleged alien Indrid Cold in proximity to Mothman sights.

Turns out the creature may have winged away with the couple's dog.

Foley's skeptical, but a trip back to the woods and the spot of the initial sighting gets spooky, and Walt's overcome by something unseen not far from where their dog's found buried. 

For a magazine feature writer, Foley's as attuned to detail as any classic sleuth. As events seem to overwhelm Walt Wangard, Foley pieces together a different interpretation of events, drawing on a bit of science and an inconsistency or two that Sherlock himself might have noted.

It's not a terrifying tale, but it has a creepy factor and a satisfying solution. It shouldn't be overlooked by Hoch fans nor those who enjoy a tale with a few clever twists. 

Poking around a bit, I see that "Something for the Dark" appeared in the June, 1968 issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Mothman sightings and related incidents occurred in 1966 and 1967. See illustrations from that publication here

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