As is the way with many of my generation, I’m an unapologetic fan of the classic tv series The Twilight Zone. I’ve even written about or referenced it a couple times on this blog (here, here, and here). One of the short stories in my roster for this year was Charles Beaumont’s “The Howling Man” which was also adapted into a screenplay for Rod Serling’s program.
(below: Rod Serling, the host of “The Twilight Zone”)
“A fever dream of forests full of two-headed beasts came, then the sound of screaming. I awoke, but the scream shrilled on – Klaxon-loud, high, cutting, like a cry for help.”
Beaumont takes a character, David Ellington, places him alone in an unfamiliar setting, heaps on a helping of fevered delirium, and only then allows him to tell us a story. The story of The Howling Man.
Ellington becomes ill on a “walking trip” through Europe and seeks refuge from a harsh storm at the Abbey of St. Wulfram’s. Expecting to be greeted with charitable hospitality, he is instead surprised to be seemingly unwelcome and discouraged from lingering. His physical condition does not permit them to deny him succor, however.
Days of delirium follow, extending into a fortnight, interspersed with his hearing the terrifying screams. “They were totally unlike any sounds in my experience. Impossible to believe they could be uttered and sustained by a human, yet they did not seem to be animal.”
Though he can hear the screams clearly, the monks of the abbey and their leader, Father Jerome, do not seem to hear them. Later we learn that “Sound had, in these years, reversed for (them): the screams had become silence, the sudden cessation of them, noise.”
When Ellington recovers a bit, he discovers the source of the screams, a man locked in another cell of the Abbey. As more is revealed by Father Jerome, the reader begins to suspect what a special prisoner this “man” really is. Ellington himself, however, is a bit slow on the uptake, demanding to know who the man is, and an exasperated Father Jerome finally asks him, “Are you such a fool, Mr. Ellington? That you must be told?” The prisoner is the antagonist in the most ancient of struggles.
I couldn’t find a free online copy of the story, but you tube has a video of the Twilight Zone episode if you’d like to watch
One other note: I found this story interesting, too, in that it contained a hint of American isolationism, personified by Ellington’s father, who warns him about the potential perils of visiting Europe: “…Describing in detail, and with immense effect, the hideous consequences of profligacy, telling of men he knew who’d gone to Europe, innocently, and fallen into dissolution so profound they had not been heard from since…” Written after World War II, I found this opinion somewhat telling.
(below: author Charles Beaumont)