A Touch of the Creature

by Charles Beaumont

Satan sipped at his liquor and scrooged up his face. “This here is a highly unusual conversation,” says he. “Hmm. You want ta know what I do with souls, hey? Let’s see now: give me a minute ta study . . . Hmm. You mean, what do I do with—Well, I—That is—Hellfire, what’s in this corn anyways? Danged if I can recomember; though I know well they is some reason.”

Here it is, a perfect companion book to Centipede’s unstoppable Mass for Mixed Voices.

Both uncollected and unpublished, the second word especially is a bit of a scare card. Unpublished? Why? Was there something wrong with the stories? Were they unfinished? People sometimes pass because of questions like these. But Mass for Mixed Voices was a collection of the century, and none of these stories are in there. Bottom line is, they’re Charles Beaumont, and that should be enough. The fact that the collection is introduced by Richard Matheson, with nothing but kind words, cements the deal.

These stories are a bit different that the Beaumont you’re familiar with, though they’re remarkable tales. While not as much Twilight Zone, there’s plenty of recognizable daily life here, often very dark. There’s some weird, too, and most stories exhibit the mastery he was known for: intelligent, lean, dark, sometimes hitting hard or touching deeply—all Beaumont.

There’s a full, hidden list of the stories for those who want a brief summary of each, but in a brilliant overall collection, here are some highlights:

“Adam’s Off Ox” – A honky-tonk of a story about Billy the traveling salesman hawking his miracle cure-all and a deal with the Devil for him to tell the truth once in his life.

Joe Lansdale may have risen from the ashes of stories such as these. Fast-paced, fantastically told in the vernacular, and in a somewhat rip-roaring style that Mr. Lansdale goes on to perfect.

“The Rival” – Tim suspects his wife is having an affair and one day returns home hours earlier than expected. He finds a strange coat in the apartment and confronts his wife, who admits to the affair and that she’s seeing the new beau tonight. Convinced the manly thing to do is to meet his rival, Tim agrees to travel with his wife to the rendezvous in order for him to bring his own relationship with her to a close.

Though this one does require some additional suspension of disbelief, it’s surprising “The Rival” was never published. A very strong story, it’s got a lot of heart and is one of the best here.

“A Friend of the Family” – Reynolds is on a date with a co-worker when a man from the office invites himself to sit down and attempts to ruin the relationship by speaking at length of Reynolds’ recently deceased wife.

This is a beautiful story of life and death, and the best in the collection. With stories like this it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re fiction. They are true, and you are defied not to be moved. If you can get your hands on this book or this story, read it, and then advise your friends and family to do the same. You will have made the world a little bit better if you do.

“Moon in Gemini” – Jodi is pregnant, and as she goes about a few daily errands her inner monologue gets her increasingly upset as her worries compound.

This one doesn’t quite have the sparkle of some of the other stories contained here, but it contains something else: a ridiculously strong character study.

“Resurrection Island” – To get a scoop, a Hollywood magazine writer smuggles himself as an extra into the filming of the top director’s newest mega-blockbuster, where thousands of extras are shipped to the director’s private island for filming, not knowing what to expect.

Another fantastic entry, this one’s packed with lean muscle and stark imagery and is an epic showing despite being a short story.

full story list

Richard Matheson has the introduction and Christopher Beaumont the forward, and it’s probably best to skip over both until you’ve read the stories. Christopher Beaumont’s piece doesn’t discuss the stories at all (Matheson’s does), but is particularly moving after you’ve seen what all the hullabaloo with this writer is about. And you’ll see it, because it’s here. Not so much in horror or even speculative fiction this time, but in perception and humanity, and in the skill with which we’re examined.

High marks again, some stories being the highest, to you, Mr. Charles Beaumont. Finishing the book comes with an accompanying sadness, as with your retrospective collection. You died far too young and the world was deprived of a truly special writer.We all miss you, even those of us who don’t yet know it.

“It’s like winning twenty hands of poker and then losing fifteen. I don’t know why, but you’re never happy about the twenty you won.”

4 stars

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