WHH Short Fiction: “The Promise”

Review: “The Promise”, William Hope Hodgson, 1996.

Cover by Jason Van Hollander

This story, unpublished in Hodgson’s lifetime, is an effective weird story.

The narrator keeps a watch, as he promised he would, over the body of his dead younger brother. The brother died on January 9th, so the ground is frozen, and it takes a while for the funeral to take place. The narrator is 20, the brother 16.

The narrator kneels beside his brother’s body for three days and nights without food, water, or sleep. He passes out then and is guilt ridden about breaking his promise.

He is put to bed by the family. His room is right next door to his brother’s room where body lays. He tries to enter the latter room but can’t open the door. There is a scratching on the wall, the signal his brother used when he wanted his older brother to come to his room.

The narrator knows it’s his dead brother communicating with him. He looks through a hole in the wall. His brother is still dead.

He looks about the room and then looks at the bed again. His brother isn’t there.

Then he senses something touching the wall, something darkens the hole. He smells death and feels coldness.

He shouts out, demands to see his brother, and he is taken to the other bedroom to assure himself his brother is still dead.

This story has one of those endings where a physical bit of evidence confirms the supernatural. Here the narrator notices the rose he placed on his brother’s body is now under the hole in the wall.

The story seems to imply some dark force was about to take his brother’s soul and his faithfulness prevented that.

This, incidentally, is another Hodgson exercise in antique prose since the narration is from 1733.

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