The Crawling Death

The Crawling Death by Cora Buhlert1966: Freelance troubleshooter Todd Donovan is hired to locate Dr. Pat Turner, a biologist who has gone missing in the South American jungle. It seems like an easy job at first, but then Todd finds himself staring into the barrel of a gun.

Captured and taken to the jungle compound of the drug lord Durango, Todd finally meets up with Dr. Turner, who turns out to be not just a beautiful woman, but also Durango’s prisoner.

Durango is not the sort of man to leave potential witnesses alive. And so Todd and Dr. Pat Turner are soon facing a painful end in Durango’s pit of crawling death…

This is a short adventure story of approx. 5500 words or 20 pages in the style of the men’s adventure pulps of the 1960s.

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Some background information:

  • The Crawling Death is a short story of 5500 words or approximately 20 print pages. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
  • This story was written as part of the 2017 July short story challenge. The idea was to write a short story per day in July 2017.
  • The inspiration for this story was an art book, which collects the covers of men’s adventure magazines of the 1950s and 1960s. The covers usually feature rugged men and scantily clad women in all sorts of peril. That book is a treasure trove of inspiration, not just because of the over the top covers of rugged heroes and damsels in distress being menaced by any kind of animal life from squirrels and weasels to tigers and bears or being tortured by Nazis, Communists, biker gangs, yellow peril stereotypes and other lowlives, but also because of ridiculous headlines such as the infamous “Weasels Ripped My Flesh”. I like to use the book for inspiration to see if an image or a headline sparks an idea. This time, the image that caught my eye, a man and a woman tied up, while scorpions were crawling all over them, was actually on the cover. So I decided to write a story to match that image.
  • Of course, a 1960s style men’s adventure story also needed a suitably rugged hero. And this is how freelance troubleshooter Todd Donovan a.k.a. Two-Fisted Todd was born.
  • The story also required a beautiful woman in peril and a reason she was in peril in the first place. This is how Dr. Patricia “Pat” Turner was born, a biologist who has gone missing on a research trip to South America, causing her bosses to hire Todd to find her. And yes, I totally played with keeping Dr. Pat Turner’s gender ambiguous until the big reveal.
  • The last ingredient such a story needed was a fiendish villain, preferably without resorting to the blatant racism that is often found in the original stories from the 1950s and 1960s. And so my villain is not a Nazi, Communist, yellow peril stereotype or a cannibalistic savage stereotype, but a drug lord. As common in the 1960s as today and uncontroversially villainous. Okay, so Durango is Hispanic, but then the story is set in Latin America.
  • I deliberately decided to keep the story in the 1960s to both maintain that men’s adventure vibe and also to avoid having to deal with things like cellphones which would derail such story in the 21st century.
  • Normally, I try to keep research to a minimum, while doing the July short story challenge. However, The Crawling Death required research into venomous scorpions and coca plants among other things. I finally decided upon Tityus serrulatus a.k.a. the Brazilian yellow scorpion, one of the most toxic creatures in Latin America, which really does kill up to three thousand people every year.
  • Treatment of scorpion stings with anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen is really recommended BTW and can save lives. However, since ibuprofen was only developed in 1961, Pat still knows it by its original trade name, Brufen, rather than the one by which it became widely known.
  • Will we see more of two-fisted Todd Donovan and Dr. Pat Turner? Probably, since I had fun writing about their adventures. What is more, I still have a very big book full of vintage men’s adventure magazine covers to serve as inspiration for further adventures.
  • Unfortunately, the covers of 1960s men’s adventure magazines and 1970s men’s adventure paperbacks are nigh impossible to recreate without access to custom art. However, I tried my best and I think I succeeded. The main cover image is a stock photo by Logan Ban, by the way, with scorpions pasted in and altered to better achieve the look I was after.
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