The Story of Herr Hackenschmidt

by Benjamin Welton

Read in Lovecraftiana: The Magazine of Eldritch Horror (2016-17)

(This review contains spoilers)

Stellman, a reporter, gets a new task. An old man claims to know what happened to a missing submarine, and he is being sent to speak with this man.

This is a strange assignment as the missing submarine is surrounded by all sorts of odd rumors and has been given to Stellman because he has a past with these sorts of jobs… He once came across a bizarre cult in his past work.

Here the story has Stellman give the reader a recounting of what happened, and I found it kind of annoying it was told this way. To me, it was like we were getting two half-told stories instead of one good, fully told one, and it was a little frustrating.

Anyway, Stellman came across these cultists by chance while looking for two missing girls and followed them to their secret meeting. He sees them slice a dog’s throat, and everyone there drinks the blood of this dog. The one who seems to be the leader rips out this dog’s heart and places it on a statue of a strange-looking frog. Stellman has seen enough and returns to the newspaper and writes his article on this. Reportings of strange sightings in the area seemed to go up, but nothing really happens, and no arrests were made. The missing girls were never found either.

Stellman is so shaken by this that he asks to be taken off stories like this entirely, which his editor allows for a while, but sure enough, he eventually sends him after Franz Hackenschmidt, the weird old man who apparently knows about this missing submarine.

This finally gets the story back to its point, and off we go. Whew! Stellman has no problem at all tracking him down; he’s basically just outside the area he works in and goes to his residence. He remarks on how Hackenschmidt seems like he was once rich but now has fallen on hard times.

While being guided through his home to a place to have their chat, Stellman sees books. Books everywhere, in the kitchen, in the hallways, everywhere. We are spared the usual mentions of the book names and the person calling out all the typical references there are to be made, thankfully. (For now, anyway.)

Once the chat is, at last, started, Hackenschmidt is quite an arrogant and crazy man going on about how he read the Necronomicon and has acquired all its magic. Yeah, we knew we were getting here from the beginning, and we’ve arrived at last. He’s a wizard. Surprise? Probably not.

He speaks of a vision these acquired powers have given him of a German officer named Karl Heinrich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein, the commander of the missing submarine, of course. A strange idol appeared on deck, and the crew became obsessed with it and started dying off one by one. He refuses to believe this is anything supernatural until the submarine makes its way to a strange underwater city… This is from Lovecraft’s story “The Temple,” which is a great story, and I love it. Definitely read that if you haven’t.

Hackenschmidt adds more and claims this underwater city is what is often believed to be Atlantis, even though that’s not entirely correct either. He just loves being smug with his knowledge. He goes on to talk about Tsathoggua and Cthulhu and gives the usual Humanity will end, and other beings will reclaim Earth stuff.

Stellman doesn’t believe any of this, of course, which causes Hackenschmidt to laugh maniacally and scratch at his own face. Stellman is horrified by this and gets up from his seat and runs off, giving one glance back to see Hackenschmidt remove his jaw and realizing there is no blood…

Back at the newspaper, Stellman asks for time off and, to his surprise, is granted it. His editor tells him that they did some digging and discovered Franz Hackenschmidt is the name of a man who was burned at the stake during the Thirty Years’ War for supposedly being a wizard. So obviously, the man he met was just a con man. Obviously.

That took a lot more writing than I wanted to do to get through because of the story in the middle thing the author decided to do. I just was not into the way it was all framed, and too much was crammed in there but somehow felt too little as well. I don’t know. The references to “The Temple” were excellent, though, and the highlight of the story. I didn’t mind this one too much when it’s all said and done, but only really cause I love the subject matter.

*** Three out of Five Stars (Average)

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