Thursday, May 15, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: The Dead Who Walk - Ray Cummings

Nobody could accuse Ray Cummings' "The Dead Who Walk", the next story in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!, of being sedate. Just the opposite, in fact. This story from the first issue of STRANGE STORIES OF MYSTERY AND TERROR (usually referred to simply as STRANGE STORIES) in September 1931 is pure, straight-ahead, over-the-top, lurid pulp action. Needless to say, I really enjoyed it.

This tale opens with a young couple, newly engaged and enjoying a moonlit evening near a cemetery, witnessing a corpse breaking out of its grave and shambling around. With the animated corpse pursuing them, they flee to the caretaker's cottage and barricade themselves there. The walking dead man eventually wanders off.

This is the first of several such incidents in the valley where our young hero and heroine's wealthy families have resort homes. Terror grips the valley as the sheriff and his deputies seem powerless to find the walking corpses, let alone discover what strange power enables them to burst free of their graves.

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to reveal that ultimately there's a somewhat reasonable explanation for all the grisly goings-on, in true Weird Menace fashion. It's not exactly a fair-play mystery, as Cummings' hero, the young man who saw the first corpse emerge from its grave, suddenly remembers things which have never been mentioned before that give him the answer to the mystery. But nobody reads a story like this for the puzzle. It's nearly all galloping action carried out in breathless, melodramatic prose. Cummings was there for the beginnings of science fiction, and his writing sometimes reads a little like a dime novel. He was a good storyteller, though, and knew how to keep the reader turning the pages. I had an excellent time with this one.


Keith West said...

Of the ones I've read in this volume so far, this has been one of the stories I've particularly liked. I need to get back to this volume. You're catching up to where I was when I stopped reading.

And I appreciate you putting the covers of the original pulps up.

Walker Martin said...

STRANGE TALES, which lasted only 7 issues, must be in the running for best short lived pulp, at least those with only 10 issues or less. MAGIC CARPET and ORIENTAL STORIES were also outstanding. I'm not sure I would include STRANGE STORIES but it also was of interest.