ULRIC DAUBENY “The Sumach.” First appeared in The Elemental: Tales of the Supernormal and the Inexplicable (George Routledge & Sons, 1919; Ash-Tree Press, August 2006, out of print). Story online here.

   Ulric Daubeny (1888-1922), a British scholar of church architecture, published one original volume of supernatural fiction. Entitled The Elemental (1919), the volume isn’t particularly easy to come by these days. After reading “The Sumach,” I can attest that that’s probably something that should be rectified. I had an opportunity to read this particular Daubeny short story in the recently published anthology, The Rivals of Dracula (No Exit Press, 2015).

   Although this work of weird fiction isn’t in the same league as say Arthur Conan Doyle or H.P. Lovecraft’s output, it’s certainly on par with the short fiction penned by other somewhat contemporaneous writers in the supernatural genre, authors such as Frank Belknap Long and E. Hoffmann Price, both of whom wrote for Weird Tales.

   “The Sumach” is notable for two reasons. First, it is the tale’s reliance on two female protagonists and the concomitant lack of a male character central to the outcome of the story that makes it a bit unique. Second, and more importantly, Daubeny’s “The Sumach” successfully merges the weird biological/plant story with that of the vampire tale. Indeed, the eponymous sumach, as presented in the story, is both an artifact of nature and an agent of the supernatural. It is, for the lack of a better term, a vampire plant.

   With a premise as uncanny such as this, it’s notable that Daubeny is able to weave a tale that never descends into camp or parody. “The Sumach” remains a story in which a woman, in her quest to solve the mystery of her cousin’s tragic demise, comes face to face with a plant that has taken on the characteristics of a vampire that once haunted the English countryside.