Listening to “The Thing That Cries in the Night”; (Chapter Eleven): Promise Is a Name Remembered

Well, I am on my way to New York City, the town I once called home. It has been a year since I left, and I am looking forward to catching up with friends, revisiting old haunts, and walking through streets that are so much part of the landscape of my soul that I never thought I would be able to find myself elsewhere. I did, eventually; but I would not be the man I am today, for better or worse, were it not for my New York education—and I don’t just mean earning my PhD. Technology permitting, I will continue my blog from there; it is the first time I am travelling with my laptop and I wonder whether or to what extent being back in town is going to influence the way I am writing here, even though my mind’s eye will remain fixed, for a few days longer, on a certain mansion in Los Angeles—the house of the doomed Martin family.

For two weeks now I have been listening to the old-time radio thriller “The Thing That Cries in the Night,” a serial in fifteen chapters that aired as part of Carlton E. Morse’s I Love a Mystery program back in 1939 and (in its New York revival) in 1949. The eleventh chapter was broadcast in the US on this day, 14 November, in 1949.

So, what’s been going on? The troubled Charity Martin has been carried to her quarters, a room she claims to have “always hated.” During her childhood, it was wallpapered with less-than comforting nursery rhyme figures, creatures that seemed to spring to life in the darkness. When asked to return to the events of the night—a night during which the young woman was found bound and gagged next to the basement furnace, Charity tremulously relates being abducted by a faceless figure in a blood-red hood carrying out the horrors which, she insists, have “got to go on and on and on until there isn’t any of [her family] left.”

Having encouraged this outburst, Jack surprises Charity, his partners, and us listeners with a seemingly unrelated question: “Do you know a girl named Pauline West?” Charity (or Cherry, as she prefers to be called) hesitates, acknowledging little more than a vague recollection. Jack explains that he read the name on a casting sheet he found next to Cherry’s body, and that Pauline West appears to be a radio actress.

What else is down there in that basement: transcription disks? The 1949 transcribed run of Morse’s serial was produced during the early days of tape recording; but the script for “The Thing” is a decade older and dates from the time when radio was live.  Is the titular “Thing” live? Or is it a recording, like Morse’s remake?

Before the chapter closes, another shot is fired—right in our presence. Charity and her sister Hope are struggling for the possession of the gun that killed the family chauffeur. Hope is shot. For once, the “thing” has not cried. Was the shooting accidental? Or did one sister try to do away with the other? And was it all part of the scheme to bring about the fall of the house of Martin?

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got a plane to catch . . .

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