[Warning: Spoilers Ahead!]
It's no surprise to find among H. P. Lovecraft's work some of the best tales of life-death-reanimation. “Cool Air” is one tale that follows a man through his brief acquaintance with one Dr. Munoz.
It's a first-person narrative, and reads, of course, like a journal. Despite being a pretty short short story, it weaves an intricate environment of interesting people, sights, sounds and discoveries.
Dr. Munoz is a man inhumanly obsessed with the cold. One day, after having a heart attack, the man living below Dr. Munoz's apartment seeks his expertise. The doctor is able to help him and, surviving the heart attack, they become fast friends. But the longer he knows Munoz, the more wary he becomes of him. The strange chemical smells. The cold air. The insistence on maintaining an “even temper.”
As time passes, Munoz needs his living space to be colder and colder, until one day the inevitable happens. The cooling system breaks. There is panic.
The narrator attempts to keep Munoz supplied with ice until he can find someone to fix the cooling system. But when he returns to the apartment it is too late, being that it was a day hotter than most.
He discovers, along with other building residents, a horrific sludge, a stench unlike any other, and a sight fit for the worst nightmares. Terrified by his discoveries, the narrator burns all of Munoz notes on the reanimation process. But in one letter left to the narrator, the doctor reveals that he died – eighteen years prior.
This story sets up pretty obviously, but I think that's because the reveal by itself isn't the point. Despite knowing what is going to happen, no matter how many times it's read, the thrill in “Cool Air” is the creepy tension that builds. The use of language and the pacing in the story makes it seem like there's something sinister around ever turn of a page, in every paragraph. And, despite not revealing everything, it is visually imaginative. The apartment complex, the apartments themselves, the machinery, the people and the final gruesome display – all come to life in stunning and not overbearing detail. It was adapted to screen by Rod Sterling for Night Gallery, and the story has also been adapted for several movies and other projects over the years.
“Cool Air” was first published in the March 1928 issue of Tales of Magic and Mystery.
Nancy O. Greene started writing at the age of nine. Her short story collection, Portraits in the Dark, received a brief mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007. Other works have appeared or will appear in ChiZine; Lovecraft eZine; Cemetery Dance; Tales of Blood and Roses; Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror; Shroud Publishing's The Terror at Miskatonic Falls; Dark Recesses; Flames Rising; Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore! and others. She has a BA in Cinema (Critical Studies) and a minor in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Southern California, and is a Fellow of Film Independent's Project:Involve.