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AugustHeat

Cover for an audiobook version of "August Heat"

"August Heat" is a short story by the English author W. F. Harvey. It was first published in the collection Midnight House and Other Tales in 1910.

In the story, an artist has a sudden inspiration and draws a sketch of a criminal in court. Later that day, he meets a monumental mason who bears a striking resemblance to the criminal in his drawing. His apprehension grows when the mason shows him the inscription he has carved.

"August Heat" was adapted as an episodes of the CBS television series Danger in 1950 and also as an episode of Great Ghost Tales on NBC in 1961. It was also adapted for the Canadian television series On Camera (1955) and The Unforeseen (1959).

Plot

James Clarence Withencroft, an artist, is at home on a hot August morning when an idea for a drawing comes to him. Several hours later, he has completed a rather inspired pencil sketch. It shows a criminal in court who has just been sentenced. The man is obese, clean shaven with a mostly bald head, and his expression is that of utter collapse. Satisfied with the work, James rolls up the sketch, places it in his pocket, and goes out for a walk in the oppressive heat.

After aimlessly walking about, James comes to a gate with a sign for a monumental mason named Atkinson. Hearing a cheerful whistle and chisling noises, James decides to go into the yard. The mason hears his steps and turns around. James is surprised to see it is the man in his sketch; except he is smiling and appears to be very friendly. They begin to talk.

Atkinson is working on a headstone for an exhibition. He proudly shows James his beautiful work. The inscription reads "SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF JAMES CLARENCE WITHENCROFT." James feels a chill seeing not only his own name but also his birth date correctly inscribed on the headstone. The date of death is listed as today. Atkinson says the name simply came to him. James tells Atkinson his name and confirms the date of his birth. He then shows him the sketch.

The two men reason out that Atkinson must have seen James' name and James must have seen Atkinson somewhere. Atkinson invites James to supper and introduces him as a friend to his wife. After supper, the two men go back outside and continue the conversation. Fearing James may get into a fatal accident on his way home, Atkinson invites him to stay till midnight. They go upstairs to smoke, hoping it may be cooler inside.

James sits writing down the extraordinary events of the day. Atkinson has sent his wife to bed and is smoking and sharpening some tools. It is after eleven, and James is just biding his time. He notes that the heat is stifling — enough to drive a man mad.

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