Boomerang by Oscar Cook
First of all, this story was requested by Peter Denyer. To be fair he merely suggested it and I went and hunted it down, so I accept all responsiblity for the gruesomeness of it.
Richard Martin Oscar Cook was born in London in 1888 and died also in London in 1952. His father owned an athletic goods company and they were fairly well-off. He seems to have been brought up in Broxbourne just outside London and his first job was a clerk there but very shortly afterwards he went to make his fortune in a rubber planation in Borneo. Unfortunately he did not get on well and was sacked, but remained in Borneo and got another job in the British Colonial Service.
He was an administrator of the British Empire and worked in North Borneo from 1911 until 1918 and then had District Officer posts. This was a position in the British Colonial Service and these administrators and often magistrate was at the heart of colonial administration in the British colonies.
He was married in 1924 to Christine Campbell Thomson but got divorced in 1938.
When he returned to England he wrote an autobiography of his time in Borneo and thereafter wrote supernatural stories, many of which appeared in various anthologies. This story appeared in the 2nd Pan Book of Horror. I used to read those books when I was a kid, which may explain a lot.
Cook bought a controlling interest in a publishing company which produced a series of horror anthologies called Not at Night which ran to twelve books.
Boomerang is usually used to refer to a weapon of wood made by the native people of Australia which reputedly returns to the person who throws it.
This story Boomerang first appeared in an antholog in 1931 and was later dramatised for television as The Caterpillar broadcast in March 1972. Cook’s most famous story is His Beautiful Hands which I may read at some point in the future.
There are several mysteries about this story.
- Why is it called Boomerang?
- Why was it called The Caterpillar when filmed, because it’s about an earwing, not a caterpillar.
The story pushes the gruesome in a fairly predictable way. It’s very linear and we have Warwick the narrator pausing to ramp up the tension and adding horrid detail after horrid detail. Firstly, there’s an earwig that’s really big. Then it eats wax, but best of all it likes human earwax. Then it goes in the ear, and it is going to eat its way right through to the other ear (a fearsome feat of navigation for the earwig, and why would it bother coming out?) And then ha ha! It’s a female so it’s going to lay eggs!!!! What horror.
The other elements seem to come from the Boy’s Own Stories of the later British Empire, but also seen in stories of the American West where men wrestle for hunting knives to fight over women who stand and watch, terrified but fascinated. They had some funny ideas about men and women in those days.
There are clear traces of its time and period in the casual sexism towards women who always fall to flirting and never know the consequences of the games they play. They can be stolen by other men (presumably not by other women…) and they are prone to irrational actions.
At least the narrator gains the moral high ground over Warwick in that he insists that Rhona must have a point of view.
When I was a young man I had a girlfriend who’s mother had been brought up on a tea plantation in Ceylon (as it was then). It gave me a glimpse into a vanished world of the British Empire and reading this story brough back whiffs of that world as told to me by my girlfriend’s mum.
You can watch The Caterpillar on Daily Motion here
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Beginning music ‘Some Come Back’ is by the marvellous Heartwood Institute
Because I had a little more time, I included the full track of The Heartwood Institute’s Powers of Darkness just to chill your bones.