First published in Eldritch Tales No. 5, Half Cat was the first professional sale of fiction for John Tibbetts. In his intro to the story, Wagner mentions that he thought after reading it the author must be “one of that group of disciples of M.R. James, whose work, generally appearing in obscure prewar British editions, remains virtually unknown to most fans today.” Little did he know, Tibbetts was an American completing his Ph.D. in film and theater at the University of Kansas.
Sharing Wagner’s love of the gothic, Tibbetts sets his story in an old run down Inn in the English countryside. A young man, Frank Vincy, is starting a new chapter in his life and decides to renovate and operate the rundown Inn formerly known as the Half Cat. During the renovation Frank pries up the old boards covering the well. Shortly after, a mysterious couple arrives to stay in the half finished Inn. Normally Frank would tell them it wasn’t ready for lodgers yet, but something compels him to let them stay. As he falls more and more under the spell of his guests we learn they have a history with the establishment that involves that well.
There is an ambiguity to the two lodger characters at the beginning, and an implied power, the woman in particular, holds over Frank. There was something about it that really reminded me of Wagner’s own writing, especially his later work that dealt with power dynamics and power play. One drawback to the story for me was the point of view. In one moment we are outside with Frank and as he walks back in the narrator glides up to a balcony with the couple who are mid conversation. We can see the influence of film on Tibbetts, which is cool, but a couple times I was disoriented.
Speaking of film, this story was early on in Tibbetts career and he went on to be a prolific intellectual writing a multitude of articles on film, theater, and music. He has a ton of academic work on horror literature as well. If that wasn’t impressive enough he is also an accomplished artist and supplied art to genre magazines, and books. The picture attached to this entry is the cover he did for the magazine that Half Cat was originally featured in. Did I mention he was also a poet? Color me impressed Mr. Tibbetts.