Artist: Lou Rogers

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The World of S.J. Pereman

The World of SJ Perelman: The Marx Brother's Greatest Scriptwriter

Perelman's prose is mirthful and completely confident.

Whether writing about the Broadway fiasco Cherry Flip, or the sorrows and miseries of getting a barn painted, he is in command and delighted to recount something to delight the reader.

Just a taste:

“To the Editor:—My students tell me that surgeons have been able to transplant the stomach from an animal, as a calf or a goat, into man. Is this possible?— N.B.Z., Kansas.”

I can sympathize with the poor fellow for I, too, get the same sensation when I drink black velvet. Actually, it only feels as if you had changed stomachs with a goat. One morning I even woke up convinced that I had swallowed a marble the night before. To make it worse, a man named Mr. Coffee-Nerves was standing over my bed in a white Prince Albert, helping me to hate myself. I got up and went right through him to the bathroom where I had a long look at my chest. At first I couldn’t tell whether it was a steelie or a bull’s-eye, but it turned out to be a clear glass agate with a little lamb inside. I managed to dissolve my marble with two aspirins in a glass of hot water. But thank God I’m no hypochondriac; you don’t catch me writing letters to the American Medical Association....

--The Body Beautiful

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A perfect book: The Country of the Pointed Firs [1896] By Sarah Orne Jewett, 1849-1909

Sarah Orne Jewett, 1849-1909

Simply superb, an almost essay-like consideration of near-utopian pleasures of friendship, work, and self-forgetting.

My favorite chapters detail the trip made by the narrator and her host Almira Todd to Green Island, just off the Maine Coast from Dunnet Landing. There they visit Mrs. Blackett, Almira's mother, and Almira's brother William.

At the end of a perfect daylong visit:

11. The Old Singers

WILLIAM WAS sitting on the side door step, and the old mother was busy making her tea; she gave into my hand an old flowered-glass tea-caddy.

“William thought you’d like to see this, when he was settin’ the table. My father brought it to my mother from the island of Tobago; an’ here’s a pair of beautiful mugs that came with it.” She opened the glass door of a little cupboard beside the chimney. “These I call my best things, dear,” she said. “You’d laugh to see how we enjoy ’em Sunday nights in winter: we have a real company tea ‘stead o’ livin’ right along just the same, an’ I make somethin’ good for a s’prise an’ put on some o’ my preserves, an’ we get a’talkin’ together an’ have real pleasant times.”

Mrs. Todd laughed indulgently, and looked to see what I thought of such childishness.

“I wish I could be here some Sunday evening,” said I.

“William an’ me’ll be talkin’ about you an’ thinkin’ o’ this nice day,” said Mrs. Blackett affectionately, and she glanced at William, and he looked up bravely and nodded. I began to discover that he and his sister could not speak their deeper feelings before each other.

“Now I want you an’ mother to sing,” said Mrs. Todd abruptly, with an air of command, and I gave William much sympathy in his evident distress.

“After I’ve had my cup o’ tea, dear,” answered the old hostess cheerfully; and so we sat down and took our cups and made merry while they lasted. It was impossible not to wish to stay on forever at Green Island, and I could not help saying so.

“I’m very happy here, both winter an’ summer,” said old Mrs. Blackett. “William an’ I never wish for any other home, do we, William? I’m glad you find it pleasant; I wish you’d come an’ stay, dear, whenever you feel inclined. But here’s Almiry; I always think Providence was kind to plot an’ have her husband leave her a good house where she really belonged. She’d been very restless if she’d had to continue here on Green Island. You wanted more scope, didn’t you, Almiry, an’ to live in a large place where more things grew? Sometimes folks wonders that we don’t live together; perhaps we shall some time,” and a shadow of sadness and apprehension flitted across her face. “The time o’ sickness an’ failin’ has got to come to all. But Almiry’s got an herb that’s good for everything.” She smiled as she spoke, and looked bright again.

“There’s some herb that’s good for everybody, except for them that thinks they’re sick when they ain’t,” announced Mrs. Todd, with a truly professional air of finality. “Come, William, let’s have Sweet Home, an’ then mother’ll sing Cupid an’ the Bee for us.”

Then followed a most charming surprise. William mastered his timidity and began to sing. His voice was a little faint and frail, like the family daguerreotypes, but it was a tenor voice, and perfectly true and sweet. I have never heard Home, Sweet Home sung as touchingly and seriously as he sang it; he seemed to make it quite new; and when he paused for a moment at the end of the first line and began the next, the old mother joined him and they sang together, she missing only the higher notes, where he seemed to lend his voice to hers for the moment and carry on her very note and air. It was the silent man’s real and only means of expression, and one could have listened forever, and have asked for more and more songs of old Scotch and English inheritance and the best that have lived from the ballad music of the war. Mrs. Todd kept time visibly, and sometimes audibly, with her ample foot. I saw the tears in her eyes sometimes, when I could see beyond the tears in mine. But at last the songs ended and the time came to say good-by; it was the end of a great pleasure.

Mrs. Blackett, the dear old lady, opened the door of her bedroom while Mrs. Todd was tying up the herb bag, and William had gone down to get the boat ready and to blow the horn for Johnny Bowden, who had joined a roving boat party who were off the shore lobstering.

I went to the door of the bedroom, and thought how pleasant it looked, with its pink-and-white patchwork quilt and the brown unpainted paneling of its woodwork.

“Come right in, dear,” she said. “I want you to set down in my old quilted rockin’-chair there by the window; you’ll say it’s the prettiest view in the house. I set there a good deal to rest me and when I want to read.”

There was a worn red Bible on the lightstand, and Mrs. Blackett’s heavy silver-bowed glasses; her thimble was on the narrow window-ledge, and folded carefully on the table was a thick striped-cotton shirt that she was making for her son. Those dear old fingers and their loving stitches, that heart which had made the most of everything that needed love! Here was the real home, the heart of the old house on Green Island! I sat in the rocking-chair, and felt that it was a place of peace, the little brown bedroom, and the quiet outlook upon field and sea and sky.

I looked up, and we understood each other without speaking. “I shall like to think o’ your settin’ here today,” said Mrs. Blackett. “I want you to come again. It has been so pleasant for William.”

The wind served us all the way home, and did not fall or let the sail slacken until we were close to the shore. We had a generous freight of lobsters in the boat, and new potatoes which William had put aboard, and what Mrs. Todd proudly called a full “kag” of prime number one salted mackerel; and when we landed we had to make business arrangements to have these conveyed to her house in a wheelbarrow.

I never shall forget the day at Green Island. The town of Dunnet Landing seemed large and noisy and oppressive as we came ashore. Such is the power of contrast; for the village was so still that I could hear the shy whippoorwills singing that night as I lay awake in my downstairs bedroom, and the scent of Mrs. Todd’s herb garden under the window blew in again and again with every gentle rising of the seabreeze.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ghost Stories of an enthusiast: They Might Be Ghosts by David G. Rowlands

They Might Be Ghosts: Ghost Stories of an Artisan by David G. Rowlands
First published by Ghost Story Press 2003
Ash-Tree Press ebook 2012.

I read They Might Be Ghosts: Ghost Stories of an Artisan two weeks ago and found the stories uneven and bloodless. Today, after work, I reread the stories (it is a short book.)

On second reading, I found the stories much more satisfying and sharply focused.

Most could be called "hobbyist" stories. In some, phantoms intrude on the routines car and railroad hobbyists. In another, a certain haunted whistle makes a reappearance as a "steel" used by a guitar player in a Hawaii-themed cabaret act.

The strongest stories appear in the section about "pest control" workers, perhaps because this is work and not a pastime. The tales are unnerving and ghastly in many different ways, both natural and supernatural.

Below are a few underlinings I made while reading and re-reading.


11 November 2017

                                 *      *      *      *

Long Service
....He began the fifty turns for the chimes, stopping after ten, and looking apprehensively at the gantry. Yes! There it was! Beginning to appear, damn it! He gave the handle a few more turns, muttering to himself, then stopped. No doubt about it—there was a figure, faint in outline, but growing denser, perched atop the weights chute on the gantry.
     ‘Thirty-two, thirty-three, thirty-four’. . . the figure growing clearer with each turn. No imagination . . . by ‘forty-two’ it was distinctly the simulacrum of an old man, grinning maliciously at him!

The Free Radical
....Several people saw him—including myself. Indeed there were hysterics once or twice. Particularly since his appearance was changing considerably as the days and weeks and months went by. I suppose cremation might have finished him rapidly, but he had been buried in a coffin and we seemed to be witnessing the decay processes, quite horridly. As they ravaged his body, presumably, so we saw them reflected in this simulacrum of our former colleague.

A Room with a View
....As one will, I stared at parts of the scene rather intently, and my gaze rested on a dark spot far down the hillside. As I looked, it grew larger until resolving into someone climbing the hillside. I was not entirely surprised to recognise my father, though I stretched out my hand to the stiff body on the bed beside me.

The Tour
....‘I could use the help,’ he said. ‘But how’s your nerves? Can you keep a secret?’
     I felt a creep of strangeness . . . Was there a ghost after all?
     ‘I’m okay,’ I said, ‘what is it?’
     He said almost shamefacedly, ‘It’s nothing to worry about, but sometime in the next half hour or so, you may see an oldish man walk down these gangways.’

The Galilean
....There was something ghostly about the pianola, Imogen had always thought: replaying the exact notation, timing and touch of long-dead masters. If you chose to sit at the machine and ‘drive’ with your feet, it was like playing a duet with the dead performer. Quite uncanny in a way, but also quite a pleasant sort of grue. The piano could also be played in the normal way as a conventional pianoforte and you could, if you so wished, cut rolls of your own performances and replay them, or even play a duet with yourself.

The Last Reel
....It was not until the Monday that the caretaker found George’s body in the canteen, slumped over the stage. From the condition of his trouser knees he had crawled along the canteen floor to the stage and collapsed in crawling up the steps.

Tales of the Big Four Club

....The particular engine we revered was the Riley ‘Big Four’, a large four-cylinder, two-and-a-half-litre job (2443 cc actually) that was first produced in 1937 for the Riley ‘Blue Streak’ chassis of the Adelphi, Kestrel, and Continental models. It was developed after the war for the 2.5 litre cars and had its apotheosis in the Pathfinder of 1953–7.

The Dog’s Whisker
....Was it her wraith that I heard? Was her signal to me amplified by the other dogs’ hysteria, like when the Professor was killed by intense thought in Sloane’s To Walk the Night?

Sidney’s Club
....In the introduction to that book, he wrote of the ‘Club Riley’ as a real fraternity and exhorted us always to be of service to other Riley owners, or in his words again: ‘never to pass another Riley in trouble on the road.’
     In truth it is rare for a Riley to break down, but it is surprising that if you do, even today, an ex-Riley owner seems to materialise within a few minutes.

Not Worth a Hum?
....‘If you’ve ever kept terriers, you’ll know that letting them off the lead is a bit fraught—they dive for the nearest rabbit holes, and you travel with a spade or shovel to dig them out. This doesn’t endear you to keepers or forest wardens, who often wait around to check that it is a dog you are digging out!

From the Pastures of the Tin-Worm
....Connecting the heavy-duty battery must have induced a magnetic field, and memories and images, stored in that steel chassis as if on wire or magnetic recording tape, must have been activated by the polarity.
     There was one further bit of evidence that these ‘ghosts’ were a playback. During restoration of the chassis itself, I had left on the old tyres, as they still held enough air to help move the thing around. But after welding, making good and red-oxiding after rubbing down, I removed the wheels and tyres and put the chassis on the ground, resting on its wheel hubs.
     Never again, after that, could I get any impressions or reminders of past trips or enjoyment . . . I had stupidly let my own personal ghosts drain away into the ground by removing the insulating tyres.

Tales of a Pest Control Operative

The Grain Goblin
‘What is all this?’ asked the farmer, impatiently.
     ‘I’m sorry,’ I said, ‘this is going to be an awful shock. I’m convinced that your lost boy is buried under all the grain at the bottom of that bin. We need lorries and—yes, the Police.’
     ....The lad must have entered the empty bin, seeking a good hiding place perhaps, the previous summer when everyone on the farm was frantically busy. Lorry loads of warm grain would be coming in from the combine harvester, passing through the cooler and being augered into the bin. Even had there been someone up by the auger spout, the bottom of the bin would probably have been in darkness. If the lad had closed the door behind him, he would have succumbed almost instantly to the carbon dioxide collected there from the previous lot of grain. He would have passed out quickly and been unable to move or to cry for help as the incoming grain, ton upon ton of it, cascaded on top of his inert form.

     ‘“Well,” he continued exuberantly, unlocking the cupboard. “We can now, at last, get rid of old Duddon. I think I’ve just about sucked him dry.”
     ‘He shone his torch into the cupboard and I could just see a “mummy” similar to how I must have looked, but it had collapsed in upon itself, with bones and dried sinews and flesh sticking out of the enclosing coils of celluloid film: a ghastly sight, and I felt quite sickened by it.
     ‘However, just as Mr White reached into his darkroom to remove the corpse ready for my incarceration, those revolting, sinewy arm bones reached up and took him by the throat.

The Waiting Game
....We had some problems in the tunnels. A few of our staff proved to suffer from hitherto unsuspected claustrophobia. The ducts were supposed to have electric lights and switches every 50 yards or so, but in practice the switches were often so wet with condensation or leaks, that we found, after blowing a number of fuses, it was easier and safer to use torches. Obviously our operatives are not squeamish about insects or rodents, but it isn’t that pleasant to encounter rats at close range in a dark, foetid duct, or to have ants, roaches and other animals running over you and inside your clothing—boiler suit or not!

Lord of the Flies
....We were horrified to discover that the manure in the deep-pit house was a writhing mass of fly and beetle larvae of many different kinds. There was an automatic pesticide dispensing system operating in the atmosphere above that was supposed to control the houseflies, but clearly had failed to do so. We knew in any case that flies very rapidly developed resistance to such pesticides and the sample larvae we removed proved to be resistant to that pesticide.

Coconut Tales

Serenade to a Pagan Moon
     ....‘You see it’s an unlucky guitar—it’s got a sort of jinx on it, and I’m not sure if you should have it.’
     ‘Oh, please do!’ I cried in amazement. What a gift! He shrugged doubtfully . . .
     ‘Well, as soon as Barry took it over from Haili Koe things went wrong for him—broke his arm, got his fingers caught in a car door—he was off playing
for months. Then he reckoned it would never stay in tune (I can confirm that), blamed it for the break up of his marriage and all sorts of things. It had really got on his nerves. In fact he died, you know, by throwing himself in front of a tube train just after leaving it here. I’d just got all my doubts out of my system, when your picking that tune re-awoke all my dislike of it.’ He shuddered a little.

Fire Goddess
     ‘There was a terrific flash as the huge current built up in the chassis of his amplifier earthed itself via his body through the microphone stand. All the lights went out, and Tony fell like a log to the floor.
     ‘To my amazement I had the presence of mind to shout not to touch him until his amplifier was unplugged . . . in case. For clearly he had plugged it in wrong way round, making the chassis and his guitar strings and pick-ups live....'

Pua Mana (Sea Breeze)
     It was early Autumn and there was a relatively calm spell, so I wasn’t expecting to find much on my routine visit. I dragged above the tide mark a plastic milk crate . . . then, in moving a pile of wrack, sea holly and thong weed, I stubbed my finger on a rusty bolt of some kind, sticking out of the damp sand. To my amusement it looked rather like a guitar steel that had lost its plating after years of immersion in sea-water and begun to corrode slowly.
     My find was very similar to the Speedy West steel, being about four inches long and the same diameter as the latter. It was clearly quite old, probably unalloyed bronze, and was hollowed out like a section of pipe. There was a sort of neck or mouthpiece at one end, so it might have been a pitch pipe or something of that nature.

Low Moon at Waikiki
     ....From that huddled mass of artistes I saw Sonny’s face and features suddenly rush upward and toward me—it stopped when—seemingly—only inches from my own visage. He seemed to be looking steadily at me, and he nodded just as the scene collapsed and I was back with the old familiar ‘thought pattern’ of the original group playing ‘Low Moon at Waikiki’.
     I got the message and gave up working at my own version of the piece. I would play it as a carbon copy of Sonny’s, whatever Mitch thought.

Tales of Boiling Pots

Returned to Steam Again
....The amazing thing was, I was no engineer myself, yet I understood thoroughly what needed to be done in terms of re-metalling bearings, brazing up the firebox and renewing the fire-tube through the boiler. Everything I needed either came to hand, as if by magic . . . or else I knew (how did I know?) exactly where it was; and what’s more, I put it back there.

Do Your Best
     ‘Now I heard the “grand howl” done as it would be done by wolves—and a very frightening sound it was too. Very convincing and menacing . . . I felt my spine tingle with apprehension. I knew I ought to cut away back to the house, but there was a horrid fascination about this moonlight vigil.
     ‘The “howl” was not readily interpretable as “Do your best” nor was the response “We’ll do our best!”: but it suddenly occurred to me that their best might be the worst for me! I was aware of mental pressure and panic—the atmosphere charged with oppression.
     Akela suddenly rose and cried out in human tones: ‘“Hear the call! Good hunting all that keep the jungle law!!” and he swept his arm towards where I was hiding. . . .

The Abomination of Desolation
.....‘I sat on a wooden seat, and applied myself to bottle of pop and paper of sandwiches, while watching the panorama of passing goods trains. After a couple of hours, the first “ghost” train passed through from Kensington on its way to Clapham, just as the dusk began to fall. And just as the dusk began to fall, so the temperature began to fall also, and a mist began to rise from the embankment to roll across the platforms. It was momentarily dispersed by a passing goods train on my side, but began to thicken again, and as I stared into it, began to congeal—I can’t think of a better term—into groups of people, or what seemed to be people. They made quite a dense crowd and seemed to be greyish in accoutrement, but were uncannily silent—though I sensed, and indeed began to feel myself, considerable distress—misery even.

Some Old Friends

Plural (M. R. James)
     ....He stepped over to a big chest and unlocked it. Turning over a number of mezzotints, he then approached and put one in my hand.
     ‘People have been wondering for years if this existed,’ he remarked impishly. ‘Look!’ He pointed at the picture.
     It showed a considerable expanse of lawn, and beyond that a not very large house, with three rows of plain sashed windows with rusticated masonry about them, a parapet with balls or vases at the angles, and a small portico in the centre. There was a black blob on the edge of the engraving—the head of a man (or woman), a good deal muffled up, the back turned to the spectator, and looking towards the house. As I held the picture, the blot began to emerge from the foreground rim and became a figure crawling houseward....

A Gift of Tonges (Fr O’Connor)
     ‘“I am worried about Roger,” she wrote, “this bell thing is becoming an obsession. He was bad enough before, but now the metal is cast, he seems a different person. He keeps striking the bell with a wooden hammer and muttering about the quality of the note. He potters off to the chapel (where the bell is) all hours and is there half the night. The housemaid Rebecca told me she heard him chiming the bell and talking to himself late last night. (She meets the Agent’s son down by the lake I think!) I’m rather afraid of Roger in his present mood and I wish you were here for both our sakes!”

A Job Not Done (Mr Batchel)
     '....I imagine it’s been going on for hundreds of years. It’s quite harmless, just a vision of something from the past that is permanently or temporarily fixed in this place. I doubt that even Groves could capture it on film: I expect it’s something that produces an image in our brains. . . .’

The Sleeping Partner

Blood and Thunder
     '....Well, you see, Art here can only get hold of what I know by writin’ it down. It’s a mess and he writes across what he wrote before and from all angles. I can only get what’s floatin’ in his mind; and by the way he thinks quite a lot of you at the moment! Anyways, I have a hard time gettin’ him to write it down accurate. Now, with you in between us I can talk it over with you and get the rights of it.’

The Show Must Not Go On
     ‘That’s right, Mr Fortune. The sexton of the church phoned me—in a rare taking he was—said it was real spooky up there: dogs howlin’ and all, and the master asleep among the tombs and he not able to wake him. I took the car and sure enough, there he was, lyin’ across a mound, dead drunk and all a-twitch. As I carried him off, there was a biggish bat a-flappin’ round me, for all it’s winter time and freezin’ cold.’

     ‘You are still collecting tin trains then?’ I pursued.
     ‘Yes, indeed,’ he said with satisfaction. ‘My long term hobby—which you all thought so peculiar—has become respectable. As soon as an eccentricity “catches on” or makes money, it becomes the cult of thousands.’
     ‘You’ve certainly been doing it long enough,’ I said. ‘Since we were lads, eh?’ (He nodded.) ‘Well,’ I continued, ‘it’s not going to put your sanity at risk collecting tin trains.’
     He looked at me peculiarly.
     ‘Funny you should say that. It nearly did once.’ He smiled bleakly....

Twice A Fortnight
    ‘You once wrote that for you places are prolific in suggestion. Did you, then, think of a place or setting first and put a ghostly happening into it; or a ghost first and then pick the setting?’
     He chuckled. ‘Oh, that’s easy. I always had a place in mind first and I thought of the normal events in that place and how they might be made to go wrong, or be disturbed. For instance, the tale I gave you tonight. It was set here as you all realised. The chapel and cemetery are on the site of Eddington wood and in the middle of the wood there was once an older chapel, like that of the story. I thought of the wood and the chapel and the story just wrote itself.’

THEY MIGHT BE GHOSTS: Ghost Stories of an Artisan

Ash-Tree Press eBooks

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The dead might look in: Halloween III: Season of the Witch by Jack Martin

Happy Halloween.

From Chapter 12 of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Jack Martin's 1982 novelization of the film. [Martin dedicated the novel to Dennis Etchison ;-) ].

….“Are you sure about this?” said Betty Kupfer. “There’s nobody here!”

She took Little Buddy by the hand and followed her husband across the office.

One of the graysuits held another door open for her.


“Where’s Mr. Cochran?” she asked.

“He said eight o’clock,” Buddy reminded her.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” said Little Buddy.

She let go of her son’s hand and accosted the graysuit. “Hey, where is everybody?”

The graysuit said nothing.

The door opened not into a laboratory but into a spacious living room. Wordlessly the Kupfers were ushered inside.

Betty relaxed a notch.

The room was a gaily-decorated version of the living quarters found in any typical mail-order catalogue of home furnishings in America. Shag carpeting. A plush sofa upholstered in an extravagant floral design of distinctive taste. An overstuffed chair to match. Color-coordinated drapes of a complementary tropical fruit print. And lemon-yellow walls to boost the spirits of any family gathering.

And, of course, the reassuring eye of a console television set, positioned conveniently for communal after-dinner viewing pleasure.

Both adults were handed pencils, paper and clipboards.

Betty flounced down on the sofa.

Buddy took up the position most familiar to him, which was the easy chair.

Little Buddy explored the room with blasé restlessness, tweaking the lampshade, testing the legs of the end table with a playful kick, handling the plastic knickknacks and kitsch figurines set out to complete the decor.

None of them noticed the graysuit outside, his emotionless eyes noting their responses with perfect impartiality through the chickenwire-glass observation inset in the heavy door.

Buddy was grateful for the momentary comfort. He loosened his ventilated shoes and took a load off.

“Well, I guess Mr. Cochran will be along,” he said resignedly, as he said most everything when no one else was around to hear.

Betty plumped up a decorator pillow and leaned across the virgules of the upholstery. “I don’t like those guys,” she confided. “They give me the creeps.”

She tucked her legs up under her full skirt and draped herself as gracefully as possible against the armrest.

“I have to go to the bathroom!” whined Little Buddy.

He gave up on the model locomotive atop the TV set. He scampered to the door, all the while playing at stamping down the pile of the carpet. It was the latest synthetic blend and bounced back fresh and erect with hardly any lag time. He gave the doorknob an impatient yank.

It would not open.


“Relax a minute, willya?” Here in this reassuring setting, Buddy Senior reverted to the role he had practiced to perfection, that of the put-upon breadwinner who is seldom granted a moment’s peace. “Mr. Cochran’s gonna come and everything will be just fine!”

His hand opened and closed on the floral print armrest as his autonomic nervous system sought a cold one to go with his after-dinner TV.

Betty unsnagged the bra strap under her Butterick blouse. “You think he’s going to give you some more money?” She sounded hopeful and dubious in the same breath, not an insignificant feat.

“Naw. He just wants my opinion about some commericals or something.”

“I’m bored,” declared Little Buddy. He slithered behind the sofa and drew back the curtains.

There was no exit through the mock window, only a ribbed backdrop of gray steel plating.

Buddy sank into reflection. “I still can’t figure out why they won’t take my orders for next year.”

Little Buddy slouched over to the TV set. He twisted the ON control.

It didn’t work.

“You know how I like to plan ahead,” said Buddy. “It just seems like they’re not interested at all.”

“Maybe they’re not gonna have Halloween next year,” suggested Betty.

“Haw haw haw,” said Buddy sarcastically. “Very funny.” He checked his watch, re-centered his buttocks with some discomfort on the cushion. “Where is he?”

Outside the door, the graysuit received a signal.

He exposed a control panel in the wall and touched a switch.

The TV set popped on.

Little Buddy homed in to a spot on the shag carpet.

The screen snowed over with static, then rolled through a blizzard before locking on a close-up of three ecstatic, apple-cheeked children.


Buddy picked up his pencil without enthusiasm. He winced. “Aw, this is the same old stuff . . .”


Betty sat forward. “No, this one’s different.”

“No, it’s not, it’s not . . .”

He rolled his eyes melodramatically as the same Silver Shamrock version of “London Bridge” played out a second chorus. Thus diverted, his eyes were snared by something high in the corner, mounted against the ceiling.

“Look at that,” he said. “A TV camera, by gosh. They don’t leave you alone for a minute, do they?”

“They probably want to get our reactions,” said Betty, primping self-consciously.

“Shh!” said Little Buddy. “I’m listening!”

“Watched a lot of TV in my time,” said Buddy. “But this’ll be the first time it ever watched me . . .”


“Don’t get too close,” Betty said to her son. “You’ll ruin your eyes, honey.”

But the boy was shaking out his Silver Shamrock pumpkin and dragging it on over his head. He stretched the nose and found the eye holes.

The announcer’s Irish brogue chanted on.


The screen was taken up corner-to-corner by a vivid two-dimensional pumpkin graphic. Electric orange against a neutral background. Extreme close-up, with broad sawtooth mouth and triangular eyes.

There was a high-voltage crackle in the back of the set as the screen went black.

Not blank. Black.

“Now what is this?” said Buddy. “They screwed up the commercial.”

The pumpkin flashed back on the screen.

Then black.

Then the pumpkin.

“I think this whole thing is a big joke,” said Betty.

The flashing alternated faster and faster so that the pumpkin’s afterimage remained while the background changed. Black through the eye holes, then white. Black, white. The pumpkin shimmered and seemed to lift off the screen.

As the room strobed with bright and dark frames, Little Buddy’s hands crept up to his mask.

“Little Buddy?” said Betty.

The stroboscopic effect speeded up until the room was blazing under a machine-gun assault of orange phosphor.

The shamrock button on the back of Little Buddy’s mask became activated.

It glowed red-hot.

The boy lurched back from the set, clutching the mask. A strangled moan came from beneath the mouth holes as he attempted to remove it.

“Little Buddy!”

Betty stood up in shock as the boy pitched forward headfirst onto the carpet.

Little Buddy kicked and tried to raise himself.

His pumpkin head melted.

The orange rubber wrinkled and ran like dissolving flesh, uncovering his eyes. They were two blood-red orbs.

His parents were both on their feet.

But it was too late.

The mask hole which was his mouth tore open in a rictus.

A wiry appendage poked forth. Covered with bristles. It hooked to the carpet and pulled another appendage out after it.

Another. And another.

It was a spider the size of a black hand.

Betty released a half-scream, half-whimper and fell upon her son.

The spider sprang to her face.

She shrieked in horror as it stung her again and again.

Buddy had to do something. He dove down onto his wife, covering her. But already she was twitching into paralysis.

Then, out of Little Buddy’s throat came the writhing extension of something long and impossibly thick, sheathed in slime, like a swollen, blackened tongue.

A snake.

As it forked the air and unveiled its dripping fangs, Buddy inserted his arms under his son in an attempt to turn him over, to lift him away. But the fangs sank deep into his leg, cutting through his trousers and burying their needle-sharp injections to the bone.

His legs numbed and collapsed under him.

Little Buddy fell back, mask and face crumbling as one into the discoloring carpet.

Like a cripple Buddy tried to stand. He could not. He confronted the camera in the corner, tears streaming down his face.

“Damn you, Cochran! Liar! Murderer! Damn you to hell! Damn you . . .!”

He was pulled down with the rest of his family.

As the defiled head of his only son opened like the doorway to another dimension and spewed forth darkness and decay.

Buddy Kupfer wept impotently, pounding his fist into the carpet which now crawled with the unspeakable malformations of nature’s underside. His fist rose in a last spastic gesture of defiance as his physical body and the family he had created, the substance of his life and the world of his choice, all he had lived and worked for and the only dream he had ever known degenerated before his eyes into a churning, formless mass of unleashed chaos.

Then there was only the sound of two long, pale hands clapping.

Conal Cochran clasped his manicured hands to his breast and said with quavering voice, “Lovely! Lovely! Doesn’t it simply surpass one’s wildest dreams?”

Challis could no longer look at the screen. His eyes blurred and a terrible agony clutched his heart.

“Children,” said Challis, his words slurring. “All the children . . .”

“Yes,” hissed Cochran, “the children! A plague is on them. Now think of that—in fifty million homes!”

“Sacrifices,” said Challis. His cheeks were burning and his body quaked. Strong black-gloved hands restrained him. “To what pagan god, Cochran? For what purpose?”

“God? What a quaint word! I am speaking to you of our way, the one way, the old way, as it was done long before your unshorn carpenter from Galilee chose to destroy himself on that rude cross. Do you know anything about Halloween, Doctor?”

“I do now,” said Challis. His arms nearly broke as he strained forward.

“Tsk, tsk, my good man! Ignorance is such a convenient excuse for self-righteousness. No, of course you don’t know. How could you? You’ve thought no further than that strange custom of letting your children dress themselves in morbid costumes and go begging for handouts.”

He extended his arms to give audience to the entire chamber. As if the technicians and graysuits could hear and understand his words. But he had not bothered to program them for such a function. He was himself his own best audience.

Now he spoke to the far reaches of the hall, to the prehistoric stone monolith rather than to its custodial minions, who continued their chipping, multiplying the icon to spread its body across the land.

“It was the start of the new year in our old Celtic lands. We would wait in our houses made of turf. The barriers were down, you see, between the real and the unreal. The dead might look in, sit by our bit of fire. It was our glorious festival of Samhain. The last great one was three thousand years ago . . .”

His eyes glazed with rapture, mirroring some previously unspoken memory. He continued in a faraway voice.

“The hills ran with the blood of countless animals . . . and countless children . . .”

“I don’t want to hear this,” said Challis.

“Oh, but you really should. It was part of our world, our craft.”


“Your term. To us it was a way of controlling our world. The only way. As it is once again.”

Cochran glowered at the television equipment, the high-tech products which surrounded him.

“All this has failed you and your kind, hasn’t it, Doctor? You can’t predict with certainty any event in your world, not even the rudimentary workings of your own bodies. Isn’t that so?”

“We try,” said Challis. “We’re getting better at it all the time.”

“But will time wait for you? I think not. Even my ancestors were left behind by the machinations of history. They had the power. But they lacked one ingredient: the harnessing and storing of that power. Which, ironically, is what you and yours have now provided.

“Times have not really changed, my friend. The quest for control remains a constant. And now it’s time again. In the end, we don’t decide these things, you know. We are but a part of the great plan. Today the planets are in alignment, the moon is in syzygy, and it’s time. That’s all.”

Cochran snapped his fingers. A gray suit held out three masks.

“Which one? Ah, I think this one will suit you perfectly. It becomes you. It will become you, you know.”

He selected the painted skull and pulled it over Challis’s head like a hood.

“Tell me one thing first,” said Challis. “Why children?”

“Do I need a reason? Oh, I could tell you that they are the easiest prey—and they are, you know. People nowadays no longer listen to them. They provide the easiest entry, the path of least resistance. What better reason, from a purely pragmatic view? But they are such irritating little creatures, don’t you agree? You know that you do, deep down. They are as noisy as wretched sheep and twice as dirty, given to us from out of the filthiest part of woman. And you know what happens to dirty little lambs, don’t you, Doctor? They are invariably given over to the slaughter.”

“I want to see Ellie.”

Cochran jerked the mask down. He laughed crookedly. “Oh, you will, Doctor, I promise you, you will!”

He lowered the mask all the way and snapped his fingers again.

“Take him away."