A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Stephen King’s The Mist meets John Carpenter’s The Fog by way of a classic horror trope in this wonderful reading of this classic Weird Tale from 1926.
“THERE is something ungodly about these night wire jobs. You sit up here on the top floor of a skyscraper and listen in to the whispers of a civilization. New York, London, Calcutta, Bombay, Singapore—they’re your next-door neighbors after the streetlights go dim and the world has gone to sleep.
Alone in the quiet hours between two and four, the receiving operators doze over their sounders and the news comes in. Fires and disasters and suicides. Murders, crowds, catastrophes. Sometimes an earthquake with a casualty list as long as your arm. The night wire man takes it down almost in his sleep, picking it off on his typewriter with one finger.
Once in a long time you prick up your ears and listen. You’ve heard of some one you knew in Singapore, Halifax or Paris, long ago. Maybe they’ve been promoted, but more probably they’ve been murdered or drowned. Perhaps they just decided to quit and took some bizarre way out. Made it interesting enough to get in the news.
But that doesn’t happen often. Most of the time you sit and doze and tap, tap on your typewriter and wish you were home in bed.
Sometimes, though, queer things happen. One did the other night, and I haven’t got over it yet. I wish I could.”
Thus begins The Night Wire by H. F. Arnold, one of the most famous entries from Weird Tales despite being from a nearly unknown author. It’s a claustrophobic short story with an infinitesimally small cast of two (or maybe one) newspapermen working the night shift on the thirteenth floor of a skyscraper. The story begins when the wire operator, John Morgan, picks up a story from the newswire from an unknown town called Xebico. The story reports the city being swallowed by a strange mist. It quickly becomes apparent that there’s something more than meteorology at work, here, particularly when it becomes known that no one had used that particular wire throughout that entire night.
The Night Wire by H. F. Arnold feels particularly ghostly and haunted with its setting in an old timey newsroom in the dead of night. It’s hard to say for certain, but it seems likely the position of the “wire operator” has probably become extinct; someone with John Morgan’s unique talent of being able to transcribe two wires at the same time would probably go unappreciated and his unique talents would likely go unheralded.
It’s also especially thrilling and chilling with its blending of a classic ghost story and pulp weird fiction of the 1920s. The strange, surreal, unsettling potentially science fiction element gives a wonderful “wtf?” feeling to this short, lovely story.
This short story is brought to you by the absolutely essential Classic Ghost Stories Podcast, whose host Tony Walker brings you an audiobook-style short story, novella, or even a full-on novel each week. He brings you unknown gems like The Night Wire alongside stone-cold classics like The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James or Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier. He even brings you some of his own stories, in the mix.
After each story, Walker proceeds to talk about the story, discussing some of its history and providing some context, and then includes some personal anecdotes and details to flesh things out. Knowing that he used to work midnights at a mental health center, in a setting much like the one in this story, and that he used to want to be a late-night DJ playing old blues and dub, makes this short, eerie story extra delightful, in my opinion.
The Classic Ghost Stories Podcast has quickly become one of my absolute faves, as someone obsessed with, well, classic ghost stories and weird fiction of all kinds. It’s so exciting to find a new podcast with a wide berth of material to dig into and unearth, especially when they lead to weird, wonderful rabbitholes like The Night Wire.
For this entry of Ghost Week, i’m introducing two new sections i’ve been meaning to get around to forever – the Story of the Week as well as Podcast of the Week, in an attempt to bring you some of the best of what’s out there. Am getting closer and closer to realizing Forestpunk’s final form – one part archive, one part gallery, one part magazine and newspaper.
So make sure to come back often and subscribe to our new newsletter, Hauntology Now!, for even more happenings, both supernatural and not.
Do you have any stories you’d like to see featured on future editions of the Story of the Week? It doesn’t have to be horror, although preference will be given to works of horror, the supernatural, the weird, the fantastic, and speculative as that’s mostly what we’re about here at Forestpunk. Feel free to recommend your own works, as well, as I’d love to see/read/share some of what some of y’all are up to!
And what about podcasts? Recommend your favourite podcasts, too, (incuding your own!) Doesn’t have to be horror, either. Music podcasts, cultural analysis, whatever you think’s good and that Forestpunk readers would like. Let us know in the comments or get in touch at email@example.com!