Weird #57: “The Brood” by Ramsay Campbell (1980)

Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

Ramsay Campbell’s “The Brood” (1980) is a vampire story told in a working class, English setting, the kind for which the editors say Campbell is renowned.

A man arrives home after a bad day at work, with his “self-control” weighing on him “like rusty armour.” This strikingly effective image introduces the character of Blackhand and sets the mood for the scenes that follow, which mostly involve him brooding while looking out the window at the scenes he witnesses.

It’s one of the creative writing “rules” that a character should never be passive, but for the first roughly two-thirds of this story, he is precisely this, at least physically. It’s his mind that is active, his body still exhausted from work.

He acts like an uninvested detective, speculating about why he has never seen one of two elderly women who live nearby step out of their home. He also has a dislike of the pets kept in the house below and a curiosity as to why many of the local characters he’s used to seeing on the street have disappeared.

As the days pass, Blackhand’s mind shifts in stream-of-consciousness as he observes his neighbour closely, realizing the old toothless woman he lives near only emerges at night, and then only to lure people into her home. She must be a vampire.

He continues to observe, hearing cries and other signs of distress. He decides not to do anything about it, for the same reason people refuse to make stray dogs and cats their personal problem. Let someone else sort it out.

However, when the crying prevents him from sleeping, he reluctantly drags himself out to investigate, encountering translucent creatures that emerge from the ground: vampire moths, or calyptra eustrigata. The implications of this discovery “terrifie[s] him.”

Blackhand dowses the area in petrol and burns it, making this the second story in almost as many weeks to involve dowsing predatory insects (or insect-like beings) with fire, after George R. R. Martin’s “Sandkings.” The creatures shriek. Finally, he is attacked by the vampire moth, which he mistakes at first for a ripped bag with a symmetrical stain on it.

I’m not sure I have much else to say about this story, except to note that it continues the tradition of urban weird tale treated earlier in “Mimic” by Donald A. Wollheim. The vampire moth reminds me somewhat of the slake moths from China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station. I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if Miéville admitted to being partly inspired by these moths, though his own slake moths are less about blending in unobserved and more about dazzling its victims with hypnotizing displays of colour in their wings.

Next week, it’s about the third autopsy story of this collection, with Michael Shea’s “The Autopsy” (1980).

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