A first person narration by an eleven-year old girl living on an estate in Liverpool. There’s an awful familiarity to the feel of this – unremarkable places that take on a sinister resonance as you’re told never, ever to go near them, or else to run through and not stop until you get home. A murky underpass that forms part of the walk to school manifests a piece of graffiti that resembles ancient Aztec art – specifically a depiction of Quetzalcoatl, or “Pop a cat a petal”, as the girls come to know him. It feels slightly exploitative to be honest, and makes for disturbing reading, but it also feels very on the nose for its time – like a ‘stranger danger’-style public service film warning about the malign influence of Aztec deities.
This one feels a bit throwaway, and probably deserved to be adapted into the second or third segment of one of the less celebrated Amicus portmanteaus, where relatively minor transgressions and human failings were routinely met with terminal awfulness. It’s also one of Campbell’s occasional attempts to insert sly humour into his stories, very self-aware and self-deprecating, but often to the extent where if you’re not familiar with his work, it might well go right past you. Essentially, if this were written today, it would almost certainly be about file sharers having their souls snuffed out by infernal .pdfs or something.
As the oldest thing in Dark Companions (it’s from 1967), ‘Napier’s Court’ isn’t quite as polished as the tales either side of it. A fragile young woman flits about her empty house, blighted by a cold, and left on her own by holidaying parents. She reflects on her sheltered, sanitised existence and this naturally leaves her vulnerable to a supernatural presence that infests the house. It’s set in Brichester – Campbell Country – like many of his Cthulhu Mythos tales, but otherwise doesn’t have much in common with them, and its easy to see why this got printed here, instead of, say Cold Print, dealing as it does with irrationality, fear and insecurity, with the supernatural manifestations largely incidental. Also, if any of these characters come from experience, its abundantly clear that Campbell met a large number of pretentious dicks in the 1960s.