The Year's Best Horror Stories: Series VI
Edited by Gerald W. Page
[Stories I overlooked on first, second, third passes through the anthology over the years.]
At the Bottom of the Garden by David Campton
"You don't understand, Mummy. That's the way her teeth are. Fur all over them. She let me feel it before she put them back. It was quite soft—like a kitten's back."
We are deep inside the suburban weird here, where parents and young daughter talk at each other at cross-purposes and the end comes as an appalling horror to.all concerned. A slick, Mathesonian tale.
....Once she saw them playing together by the hedge at the bottom of the garden. It was a thick hedge and had originally formed the boundary to the field on which this part of the housing estate had been built. With rare sensitivity, the builders had left it undisturbed. The two children were sitting together in the shadow of the hedge. The other child seemed smaller than Geraldine, dark-haired and very thin. At that distance Mrs. Williams could not quite make out what the children were doing. It seemed almost as though the dark one had unscrewed one of her hands and passed it to Geraldine for inspection. Although Mrs. Williams knew that her eyesight was at fault—she must have her eyes tested again when she could find the time—she felt vaguely uneasy, and rapped on the window. The children scurried out of sight, making Mrs. Williams feel guilty. She had blundered again.
Moral: don't buy a house in a new development called Long Barrow.
Screaming to Get Out by Janet Fox
It would take a great writer to live up to this first sentence:
The city shone with a gauzy sleazy phosphorescence as things do in the later stages of decay.
"Screaming to Get Out" does live up to it. I have never heard of Janet Fox before, and according to ISFDB she died in 2009. "Screaming to Get Out" is a gruesome and unsettling piece of non-supernatural body horror, and makes the reader realize they have been missing something good.
"The city's funny," he said. "You think of it as civilized, and maybe some parts of it are nice and safe, but there are back alleys, deserted buildings, cellars, perfect hiding places for—" He stopped himself, his imagination straining but not quite able to conclude something that had been clear at the beginning. He slipped his arm around her, hoping to offer reassurance, but she only looked at him in an odd way, so he removed his arm, and was glad of it. The wet raincoat had a clinging, yeasty quality. Perhaps she was one of the ugly ones who had come to terms with herself as she was. These were not vulnerable to him, but (his hunger prompted him) this one did not really have that feel.
Ever the Faith Endures by Manly Wade Wellman
Wofford Belson travels to the country of his ancestors. He finds the old place, named Belstone, meets his cousin Anne Belstone, and listens as she tells him about the standing stone in the driveway. The stone is also called Belstone.
He had a sense of movement at the window, but did not look. "We were talking about the name Belstone," he reminded her.
"And I said the stone was always there where you see it. The Romans invaded and wanted to take it away, but some sort of disaster happened to anyone who tried, so they left it. When Saxon missionaries came along, they learned to let it alone, too."
"Was it that bad?" asked Belson, gazing at the rock.
"Bad enough that someone was told off, about a thousand years ago, to live here and guard it; and he took the name Belstone on account of his job."
Manly Wade Wellman's late style is easy and mellow, deceptively so. When the turn comes, the reader is breathless.
"Now," she said gently. "Now you know why I didn't want to invite you into the house."
"That in there," he mouthed. "A man or an animal or what?"
"Not man or animal." She was precise, informative. "I told you that the Belstones were ordered to look after him."
"A god, is that thing a god?"
"He used to be. Now he's what he is. Always hungry."
Without Manly Wade Wellman, our sensibility about U.S. folk horror would be woefully retarded.
The Horse Lord by Lisa Tuttle
A subtle but vehement tale about accursed farm with a haunted horse barn.
This barn had been used as a stable, Marilyn thought, and could be again. Why not get Kelly a horse? And why not one for herself as well? As a girl, Marilyn had ridden in Central Park. She stared down the length of the barn: for some reason, the door to each stall had been tightly boarded shut.
A woman novelist navigates the impossible terrain of step-parenthood and the cursed terrain of rural house and horse barn in a forsaken corner of New York state. She has married into parenthood and an ancient curse. Tuttle handles the story with gravity and real sympathy.
"You got a problem I can help you with?"
"Not a literary one," she said, crossing the room to his side. Derek put an arm around her. "I was just wondering if we couldn't get a horse for Kelly. I was out to look at the barn. It's all boarded and locked up, but I'm sure we could get in and fix it up. And I don't think it could cost that much to keep a horse or two."
"Or two," he echoed. He cocked his head and gave her a sly look. "You sure you want to start using a barn with a rather grim history?"
"What do you mean?"
"Didn't I ever tell you the story of how my, hmmm, great-uncle, I guess he must have been—my great-uncle Martin, how he died?"
Marilyn shook her head, her expression suspicious.
"It's a pretty gruesome story."
"Derek . . ."
"It's true, I promise you. Well . . . remember my first slave novel?"
"How could I forget? It paid for our honeymoon."
"Remember the part where the evil boss-man who tortures his slaves and horses alike is finally killed by a crazed stallion?"
Marilyn grimaced. "Yeah. A bit much, I thought. Horses aren't carnivorous."
"I got the idea from that scene from my great-uncle Martin's death. His horses—and he kept a whole stable—went crazy, apparently. I don't know if they actually ate him, but be was pretty chewed up when someone found his body." Derek shifted in his chair. "Martin wasn't known to be a cruel man. He didn't abuse his horses; he loved them. He didn't love Indians, though, and the story was that the stables were built on ground sacred to the Indians, who put a curse on Martin or his horses in retaliation."
Marilyn shook her head. "Some story. When did all this happen?"
"And the barn has been boarded up ever since?"
"I guess so. I remember the few times Anna and I came out here as kids we could never find a way to get inside. We made up stories about the ghosts of the mad horses still being inside the barn. But because they were ghosts, they couldn't be held by normal walls, and roamed around at night. I can remember nights when we'd huddle together, certain we heard their ghosts neighing . . ." His eyes looked faraway....
A Cobweb of Pulsing Veins by William Scott Home
ISFDB says William Scott Home's publishing career went from 1971 to around 1986. Have you heard of William Scott Home, much less read him? I have not.
"A Cobweb of Pulsing Veins" is about the struggles of a resurrection man, and begins:
Leaving the horses mulched in the Cimmerian shadow of a bloated yew, I eased pick and shovel out of the wagon and waded through the sodden yellow banks of weeds to a breach in the corpse kingdom's crumbling stone barricade. A quarter-moon smeared a feverish glow on the marble slabs and dappled the trodden weeds that beleaguered them with a pale dewy leprosy; only the massy shadows which clustered around the trunks of the ancient oaks and beeches escaped its infection, and I crept into them. But there, where the fallen leaves had not received a dayful of cold rain, cracklings like the meshing of brittle teeth followed my steps....
I suppose some might read this as pastiche or a joke not aborted soon enough. The whole story goes on in that sustained pitch of high intensity, and no line or word woke me from my suspension of disbelief.
Best of Luck by David Drake
There are so few good horror stories set in wartime. David Drake has written several of the best and is giving Ambrose Bierce a run for his money. "Chickamauga" has nothing on the brief, macabre "Best of Luck."
3 June 2020