River of Fire – Ken Cooper (1937)

sascoverA Spicy Adventure story set largely in the bayou which goes a whole five lines before mentioning “barbaric voodoo!”

Dr. Bob Carson is asked if he is willing to be assigned by the government to Okochee Bayou, said to be “a fester of filth and disease.”  The doctor thinks of “Pasteur . . . Lister . . . Walter Reed.”  Although he might have actually been thinking of Reed’s namesake when he heard about the filth and disease.  Dr. Carson not only accepts the assignment, he intends to take his wife Enid with him.

As their guide rows the Carsons across the bayou, they are chilled by the eerie calls of owls and bullfrogs.  “Some folks say dey’s duh spirits ub duh dead,” he says, channeling Buckwheat.  With those comforting words, he drops them at their new shack.  He leaves, but says he’ll be back in a week . . . if they are still there.  Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

They are surprised to be welcomed by Boll Eddinger.  Maybe surprised because he is described as a giant; or maybe because he is inexplicably wearing a sombrero in the Louisiana swamp.  He says he is happy to have a local doctor again.  A lot of the local “white trash” have been dying lately.  The local custom is to burn the bodies and eat the ashes so that the deceased’s soul stays alive in them, and on the carpet.

He says the locals don’t much cotton to that big-city medicine.  “Last week a girl ran a sliver through her hand.  They didn’t wait to see what come of it.  They just chopped the hand off.”  After Boll leaves, Bob assures his wife, “In a month, we’ll have them eating out of our hand.”  You know, if they don’t get a sliver.

Unbeknownst to the Carsons, after Boll leaves they are still not alone.  “Neither of them saw the face at the window.  It was thin, sallow and heavily bearded.  Dark malevolent eyes peered out from under scraggly unkempt brows.  The yellow green tusks of root rotted teeth hung viciously over a twisted lower lip.  It was the face of a maniac.”  But not so maniacal that he didn’t check out Enid’s boobs as she fooled around with Bob.

The next night, “a barefoot girl in a filthy rag of a cotton dress” knocks at the door.  She is nonetheless beautiful and seems to be wearing nothing else.  Bob goes with her to check on her sick father.  After Bob is gone, the hideous face is again checking Enid out.  This time she sees it and screams.  He opens the door and tells her, white-coated tongue a-wagging, that folks in these parts don’t like strangers and they’d best be shipping back to where they came from.  Enid replies with the punchline from an old Ronald Reagan joke:  But we’re from the government, and we’re to help!

He snaps that they don’t want no help and that they have ways making people leave.  He is joined by a “shuffling, gray-haired hag.”  She begins chanting a curse that terrorizes Enid to the point she imagines a devilish beast attacking her and ripping her clothes off.

Meanwhile, Bob is following the girl.  “A twig had caught in the girl’s dress bodice, ripped it down the front.  It had fallen from her shoulders.  Her youthfully firm breasts were bare.”  Being a doctor, Bob’s first concern is for the bruises revealed on the girl’s bare back.  She says her father beat her.  Bob realizes that she was sent to lure him from the shack, leaving Enid alone.

He races back to the shack and kills his wife’s attackers, but the real action comes when he and Enid try to escape by boat.  The locals begin attacking them.  They throw cans of oil into the water, setting the swamp on fire.  As the old boat is beginning to burn, Bob and Enid dive out and swim under water to the shore.  Not familiar with the old going-under-water trick, or bathing in general, the locals suddenly hail them as heroes.

Points for the setting and going the extra nautical mile for the ending.  But these stories are getting to be a bit of a slog.


  • First published:  March 1937.
  • I fell into a burning river of fire.

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