This week’s bit of weird fiction being discussed over at library thing is from M. P. Dare, a writer I’m so unfamiliar with I didn’t even recognize his name.
Dare wrote one collection of weird fiction: Unholy Relics and Other Uncanny Tales. This story combines his interests and experiences as a journalist, antiquarian, and occultist. It doesn’t make use of his history of stealing books.
Review: “The Demoniac Goat”, M. P. Dare,
Unholdy Relics and Other Uncanny Tales appears to be the adventures of our narrator and is friend and associate Wayne.
They are scholars and the story opens with them working on a history of the fall of Mercia, a follow up to their successful The Rise and Fall of Wessex. As part of their research, they’ve commissioned a clipping service to provide relevant newspaper stories for them. It actually provides a useful item about a Derbyshire clergyman finding a trove of Saxon coins. (There is some ridiculing of know-nothing journalists).
The two men are a little puzzled that the only record they can find for the clergyman, one Reverend Ashley Tudor, is an obituary from last year. However, given the story is less than a week old, they think the records are in error. Off they go to Cademan Tor to talk to Tudor about his find in the cave.
They take along the two Apostles, former batmen who serve as servants (much better than women we are told) and gather equipment together for the two men’s expeditions. They go to a local shop in Castleton, Derbyshire, and they are told the very unsociable Tudor is still alive. He has groceries delivered regularly, and the narrator and company follow the delivery man on his next trip.
They find a strange house put together from surplus army huts and log cabins and piles of various paleontological and archeological finds about it. Alan and the narrator, having scoped out the land with maps, know where the cave is that Tudor’s been digging in and set off for it leaving the Apostles behind.
Meeting Tudor, they see a strange looking man of large head, soiled dog collar, and thin, sinew arms and eyes that can be “pale and watery” and then a queer “fiery-green”. The narrator dislikes him from the beginning.
Tudor isn’t happy to see them, first thinking they are reporters. But he warms to them considerably after discovering who they are since he’s familiar with their work, and he takes them on a tour of the cave. He thinks the coins he discovered were probably buried just after King Offa’s death.
There is a strange and not pleasant odor in the cave. Tudor explains it’s a goat, “the pet companion of my labours”. And its name is Asmodeus. It’s rather odd choice a clergyman named his pet after a demon. And Asmodeus is a creepy goat. He nods at being introduced and seems to bleat in response to questions.
The three men go back to Tudor’s house where the Apostles are a bit frightened by the clergyman’s looks.
Tudor invites the narrator and Wayne into his house. It smells of goat. The narrator thinks the goat must hang around inside. Tudor remarks, as if reading the narrator’s mind, that the goat lives with him. It won’t be the first time Tudor can seem to read minds.
Tudor seems quite learned as the three discuss the area’s history between the retreat of the Romans and arrival of the Angles. Around lunchtime, the goat demands his usual feeding by tapping his hoof on the floor to note the hour. The Apostles are invited to lunch with their employers and Tudor, but they stay outside to play chess. They want nothing to do with Tudor or his goat.
After lunch, Tudor displays his most curious find: a Roman altar taken out of the cave, with the help of a wheelbarrow, and dedicated to Apollo Lugutus – an unknown god that seems some mixture of Roman and “Keltic” gods. Asmodeus is credited with finding it. The narrator and Wagner think the piece should be in a museum, but Tudor doesn’t want to part with it.
Tudor insists his four guests stay the night. He wants to show them the “result of a unique experiment” the next day which is, coincidentally, Midsummer Day.
There is some antiquarian talk about the hill where the cave is being called Cademan Tor. Is that a corruption of a Celtic term for “Holy Hill”?
That night the narrator sleeps poorly, his dreams filled with Tudor dancing to Greek pipes around the altar. He wakes up worried and with good reason. The Apostles are gone. So is Tudor. So is the altar and the wheelbarrow Tudor used to haul it from the cave.
Intuitively, the narrator knows what’s going on.
The two men rush to the cave.
There they find the Apostles bound up. Asmodeus is squatting on the altar, and Tudor, naked except for his “ecclesiastical cope” and “clerical collar”, is kissing Asmodeus’s butt, “giving it the notorious occulume infame, or Kiss of Shame”.
It’s pretty clear what’s going on. The Apostles are about to be sacrificed to “hellish powers”.
The narrator pulls out a gun and shoots Tudor as he’s about to slit the throat of one of the Apostles. There is the sound of thunder and Tudor and Asmodeus vanish.
We then get the explanation.
Tudor did die a year ago, went to Hell, and returned.
The narrator then points out an inscription on the altar: “to Apollos, Lugh of the Shadows”. Tudor’s ritual was interrupted at just the right time to cause “that evil thought-form of the Satanist priest to dissolve for ever”. When Tudor vanished, his dog collar remained – and it’s made of human skin.
The four men tell their story to the local coroner. He takes the easy route and doesn’t make the story public, and Tudor’s altar eventually goes to a museum.
It’s an ok story, skillful in its telling, but it has a couple of weak points. The title undercuts the suspense. We know, even before we get his name, Asmodeus is no good. The only question is if he is somehow controlling Tudor which, it turns out, he isn’t. Second, the dream and sudden intuition the narrator shows at the climax are a bit hard to swallow. Still, the idea of a clergyman returning from Hell with a demonic goat is interesting.
Maybe I have a dubious taste, but it’s hard for me not to find an evocative title like “Demoniac Goat” appealing. However, I think “Asmodeus” would also have been a good title.
I’ve also just read the article about Dare’s peculiar habit of stealing books and other things and so easily getting caught. As the article says, he was certainly no criminal mastermind. And since he was a rather strange person, it’s only natural that his defence attorney came up with a strange defence at one of his trials:
“The defence argued that Dare’s illness had brought about hysteria, which had caused a ‘dissociation of personality.’ “
It is a good title. It’s just that, like some other titles, telegraphs things a bit too much — unless you’re going to structure the story to mention the demoniac goat right up front.
Yes, Dare sounds like quite a character. I am kind of curious about his book though.