“Graveyard Rats” by Robert E. Howard is a chilling tale that intertwines themes of familial conflict, supernatural horror, and grisly mystery, set against the backdrop of an isolated rural town plagued by dark secrets and even darker vendettas.

Published in the February 1936 issue of Thrilling Mystery. Featuring Steve Harrison. It’s not known how much Howard sold the story for. See also “Graveyard Rats (draft)“.


The story begins with Saul Wilkinson waking up in the middle of the night, disturbed by the presence of a rat and the feeling that someone has entered his room. His fears are compounded by the recent murder of his brother John by a rival, Joel Middleton, who is still at large. In the darkness, Saul discovers a human head on his mantelpiece, identified as his brother John’s, leading to his descent into madness.

As the household awakens to Saul’s screams, Steve Harrison, a detective hired to find Joel, steps in to handle the situation. He discovers Saul grappling with another brother, Peter, near the ghastly display. After subduing Saul, Harrison investigates the scene, suspecting Joel of the macabre act but finding the circumstances suspicious.

Harrison’s investigation leads him to the family graveyard, where he plans to uncover whether John’s grave had been tampered with. Accompanied by Peter, they find the grave undisturbed, which confounds their expectations and deepens the mystery. The night grows more terrifying when they encounter an old man, Joash Sullivan, who is fatally wounded and mutters about an Indian ghost, suggesting supernatural forces at work.

Further complicating matters, Peter disappears after a panic, and Harrison must fend for himself against what seems to be supernatural entities and human enemies intertwined. The graveyard setting becomes a nightmarish scene with rats swarming as Harrison uncovers not only the untouched state of John’s grave but also signs of other foul play.

The climax unfolds as Harrison and the others confront the reality of their situation, involving family betrayals and cursed legacies. The story concludes with Harrison barely escaping with his life, surrounded by the fiery destruction of property and the grim resolution of the Wilkinson family’s tragic saga.


  • Saul Wilkinson: The central figure whose discovery of his brother’s severed head triggers his descent into madness.
  • John Wilkinson: The murdered brother, whose head appears in Saul’s room, setting off the events of the story.
  • Peter Wilkinson: Another brother, involved in deeper family conflicts and ultimately meets a tragic end.
  • Richard Wilkinson: The youngest brother, whose motivations and actions are pivotal in the unfolding horror.
  • Steve Harrison: The detective brought to solve the mystery, who finds himself deep within supernatural and human horrors.
  • Joel Middleton: Initially suspected of gruesomely decapitating John, his role and presence catalyze the tensions within the story.
  • Joash Sullivan: An old man with connections to the supernatural elements of the story, providing cryptic clues before his death.

Comparison of the draft and the full story

Here’s a detailed comparison:

1. Introduction and Setting

  • Draft: The introduction in the draft jumps directly into the middle of the action with Saul waking up and immediately feeling the tension in the house, but lacks a clear set-up of the house’s layout and the immediate precursors to the event.
  • Full Story: Opens with a more detailed setting that sets the eerie atmosphere effectively, explaining Saul’s initial fear from a nightmare, which transitions into real fear from the sounds in his room.

2. Character Details and Development

  • Draft: Character motivations and backgrounds are somewhat abbreviated. Saul’s fear and actions are described succinctly.
  • Full Story: Each character, especially Saul, is given a more profound psychological depth. His fear is linked to a nightmare, providing a psychological layer that blends his inner turmoil with the external conflict.

3. Plot and Structure

  • Draft: The story seems to revolve mainly around Saul’s immediate reaction to the intruder and the unfolding events in the house. The subplot involving the detective is less developed.
  • Full Story: The plot is significantly more developed, integrating several subplots involving other characters like Peter, Richard, and the detective Steve Harrison. It also introduces more complex interactions and a layered narrative that connects past events to the current horror.

4. Supernatural Elements

  • Draft: While supernatural hints are present, they are not as explicitly tied to the characters’ actions or the story’s resolution.
  • Full Story: There is a greater emphasis on the supernatural, especially with the involvement of the Indian ghost and graveyard rats, which are tied into the family’s curse and the story’s climax.

5. Resolution and Climax

  • Draft: The resolution is more straightforward, focusing primarily on the immediate danger Saul faces and his mental breakdown.
  • Full Story: The climax is more dramatic and intricate, involving multiple characters and supernatural elements. The resolution ties back to the family feud, the curse, and incorporates a twist with the Indian ghost and the graveyard rats playing crucial roles in the ultimate demise of the characters.

6. Dialogue and Interactions

  • Draft: Contains less dialogue and fewer interactions among characters. Most of the story is told from Saul’s perspective with limited input from other characters.
  • Full Story: Features richer dialogue that enhances both the plot and character development. Interactions are pivotal in revealing family secrets, personal motives, and the broader history of the Wilkinson family.

7. Horror and Descriptive Elements

  • Draft: Focuses on the internal horror experienced by Saul.
  • Full Story: Expands on the grotesque and horror elements, providing vivid descriptions of the surroundings, the actions of the graveyard rats, and the head on the mantelpiece, which heightens the eerie and macabre atmosphere of the story.

8. Thematic Depth

  • Draft: Themes are present but not deeply explored.
  • Full Story: Explores themes of family betrayal, curses, the impact of past sins on the present, and the thin line between sanity and madness in more depth.

The full story of “Graveyard Rats” contains expanded elements that offer a more rounded and intense horror experience compared to the draft. These elements contribute to a richer narrative that is more engaging and complex, providing deeper insights into the characters’ psyches and the supernatural influences that shape the story’s world.

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Source: Howard Works. Teaser art by: Guillaume Sorel