eah, I gotta love Project Gutenberg. Now that I have a Brompton bike, I can commute by train and bus pretty much every day of the week. And this means I get a lot more reading done. So, sure, sometimes I slip a paperback into my bag. But sometimes I’m between books without a clear desire for anything. Happened this time. So I downloaded The Doom of London, which was part of three-short-story set.
So this short story (set in Victorian London) follows a man and his weather. The man, our narrator, is a clerk for a gentleman of business. And the weather, well, it’s London. All that coal burned for heat and energy, resulting in those heavy London fogs. And these aren’t too bad, the storyteller tells us, except for the foreshadowing hints that sometimes moisture can weigh down the fog, compressing it, squeezing the air out. And I’m sure you can see where this is going.
At one point in the story, an abrasive Yankee salesman tries to get past our brave and stalwart clerk to get to his master, attempting to sell him the rights to some sort of breathing machine (a steampunk, cogwheel CPAP machine, perhaps?). Of course, hoping that the storyteller will change his mind, he leaves it on the shelf (for reconsideration). And this proves very fortuitous, of course.
So the fog comes and spreads. The clerk in his building-central office doesn’t notice anything until he pops in on his employer to find him sprawled out dead on the floor before an open window filled with the gray-bellied blankness of fog. Then the gasses nearly get him and he falls back into his central room, gasping, head swimming. But his air is running out. What do to? Of course, that infernal Yank’s device!
For those who don’t think the Victorians could rival us for horror, you need to check this out. Imagine smothered London, virtually all of its inhabitants dead. The storyteller makes his way along quiet streets, stepping over fallen horses, men and women, alone in this gray charnal house. Eventually he reaches the underground (with it’s idling steam engine) where the final desperate commuters are fighting for seating in a train packed with bodies. Yes, that was certainly nightmare fuel. Pluckily, he manages to revive the driver and get the train moving (though there is an animalistic struggle for the device on the running boards of the locomotive as it hurtles through the last of the tunnel-gloom, desperate for fresh air and sunlight.
So, yes, a good little story that ends abruptly (what happens after all this?). Anyway, here’s the novel it was contained in – you’ll find it midway through (Chapter VII). Well worth a read if you like your macabre cut bitesized. You’ll choke in delight over this one.