"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Saturday, June 6, 2020

8 stories from Year's Best Horror Stories 1982

The Year's Best Horror Stories X

Edited by Karl Edward Wagner

(1982, DAW Books)

For once I can say: I was there. Well, I bought every monthly and bi-monthly issue of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine as they came out: my canonical education.

Introduction: A Decade of Fear

     ....For once, there was good news for horror fans on the magazine front, with the appearance in April of a new monthly newsstand periodical, Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone Magazine. Under the skillful editorship of T.E.D. Klein (a gifted horror writer himself), the magazine manages to crowd about ten stories into each issue, with articles and reviews, a color photograph section on current fantasy films, and a detailed look at the old Twilight Zone television series, complete with a script of one episode. If you haven't discovered Twilight Zone Magazine for yourself, by all means do so....


TOURING by Gardner Dozois, Jack Dann, and Michael Swanwick

The King story "You Know They Have a Hell of a Band" done right: follow the rockers, not lost tourists.

"Elvis" spread his legs wide and crouched low, his thick lips curling in a sensual sneer. He was wearing a gold lame jumpsuit, white scarf about his neck. He moved his guitar loosely, adjusting the strap, then gave his band the downbeat.

     Well it's one for the money

     Two for the show

     Three to get ready

     Now go, cat, go!

     And he was off and running into a brilliant rendition of "Blue Suede Shoes." Not an easy song to do, because the lyrics were laughable. It relied entirely on the music, and it took a real entertainer to make it work.

     This guy had it all, though. The jumps, gyrations, and forward thrusts of the groin were stock stuff—but somehow he made them look right. He played the audience, too, and his control was perfect. Holly could see shadowy shapes beyond the glare of the footlights, moving in a more than sexual frenzy, was astonished by their rapturous screams. All this in the first minutes of the set.

     He's good, Holly marveled. Why was he wasting that kind of talent on a novelty act? There was a tug at his arm, and he shrugged it off.

     The tug came again. "Hey, man," somebody said, and he turned to find himself again facing the woman. Their eyes met, and her expression changed oddly, becoming a mixture of bewilderment and outright fear. "Jesus God," she said in awe. "You are Buddy Holly!"

     "You've already told me that," he said, irritated. He wanted to watch the man on stage—who was he, anyway?—not be distracted by this foul-mouthed and probably not very clean woman.

     "No, I mean it—you're really Buddy Holly. And that dude on stage"—she pointed—"he's Elvis Presley."

     "It's a good act," Holly admitted. "But it wouldn't fool my grandmother. That good ol' boy's forty if he's a day."

     "Look," she said. "I'm Janis Joplin. I guess that don't mean nothing to you, but—hey, lemme show ya something." She tried to tug him away from the stage.

     "I want to see the man's act," he said mildly.

     "It won't take a minute, man. And it's important. I swear it. It's—you just gotta see it, is all."

     There was no denying her. She led him away, down the corridor to the metal door with its red EXIT sign, and threw it open. "Look!"

     He squinted into a dull winter evening. Across a still, car-choked parking lot was a row of faded brick buildings. A featureless gray sky overhung all. "There used ta be a lot more out here," Janis babbled. "All the rest of the town. It all went away. Can you dig it, man? It just all—went away."

     Holly shivered. This woman was crazy! "Look, Miss Joplin," he began. Then the buildings winked out of existence.

     He blinked. The buildings had not faded away—they had simply ceased to be. As crisply and sharply as if somebody had flipped a switch. He opened his mouth, shut it again....


HOMECOMING by Howard Goldsmith

Goldsmith's ghost story is nicely modern. Houses are not haunted: families inhabiting them are haunted, or haunt (and damn) each other.

....As I stood up and walked into the hallway, my eye fell upon the cellar door. As kids, Jed and I used to play down there. Jed was six years older, but acted much younger than his age, despite his tall and hulking appearance. When he got angry, his fury was unbounded, like the tantrum of a gargantuan infant. At thirteen he'd snapped the arm of a gym teacher for refusing to let him have a basketball.

     I might as well inspect the cellar. I opened the door and found the light switch. The dim overhead bulb cast a beam of pale, dusty light. A damp and musty odor hung heavily in the air. As I reached the foot of the stairs, I noticed that one of the windows was partway open. I closed it and fastened the latch. Below the window, the remains of rotting spider webs hung down like strands of ancient tapestry.

     In a corner stood an old cardboard box overflowing with toys. I began rummaging through the contents, lost in the archaeology of my childhood. A Tom Thumb typewriter, an Official Hockey game, a chemistry lab, an erector set ... I pulled out a Ouija board, recalling the hours Jed and I had watched it spin its mystic messages. Without thinking, I placed my hand upon the planchette—a miniature tripod mounted on casters that rolled across the board, tracing out letters. Something stirred inside me, a heightened sense of uneasiness, and I turned with a start. For it seemed as if someone had crept up close behind me and was staring over my shoulder. A shiver raced down my back. And then, for a moment, I felt the distinct pressure of an invisible hand resting on the opposite side of the planchette! Just as suddenly it lifted and, as if released, the planchette spun across the board, stopping at the letter D.

     My hand was trembling as the planchette rolled back to the center of the board. It began to move again, by slow degrees. My hand seemed glued to it, unable to resist its movement, even by a concentrated act of will. I watched, fascinated, as it stopped at the letter A and proceeded across the board, spelling out the word DANGER.

     My subconscious mind was guiding my hand. It was delivering a warning to me. That was the only explanation. Unless—

     "Is someone in this room with me?" I asked out loud.

     The planchette spun across to the word YES.

     "Are you my stepfather?"

     The indicator rotated, pointing to NO.


     The planchette reversed itself. YES.

     I'd really gone off the deep end, I thought to myself—conversing with spirits! I regarded myself as a skeptic in psychical matters. I didn't believe in an afterlife. But there was a part of me, usually suppressed, that yearned to believe, and I was letting it run away with me. I grasped desperately at the possibility of communicating with my mother, while deriding my suggestibility.

     The planchette began to move again. Swiftly it spelled out G-E-T, paused, then rolled on to the letters O-U-T.

     "Get out of the cellar?"


     "Get out of the house?"


     "There's danger in the house?"

     The planchette spelled out J-E-D.

     Jed! I felt an aching constriction in my throat. Jed in the house with me.

     Panicky, I fled up the stairs, seized the doorknob and—The door was stuck! God, no! I reared back and threw my weight against it. Repeatedly. Until the frame splintered and the door rocked open.

     D-r-r-r-ring. The phone. On the hallway table. I snatched it up, out of breath.


     "I'd like to get you ... All by ourselves ... All alone. All alone—"

     "Who is it?" I screamed.

     "All by ourselves ... All alone—"

     The receiver fell from my hand, clattering to the floor.

     "All alone. All alone ..."

     The insane refrain continued until I dived for the receiver and slammed it back in place.

     "Jed, are you here, in the house with me?" I yelled, my voice breaking....



In his story note K.E.W. writes:

     ...."Old Hobby Horse" is A.F. Kidd's third published story. It is based on an idea by M.R. James, outlined in his essay, "Stories I Have Tried to Write." In this essay, James described a number of "stories which have crossed my mind from time to time and never materialized properly. Never properly: for some of them I have actually written down, and they repose in a drawer somewhere ... Let me recall them for the benefit (so to style it) of somebody else." "Old Hobby Horse" is based on only a single incident described by James, the plot and writing being entirely Kidd's. I think the Old Master would have been pleased with her extrapolation.

….For some days after his visit to Mr Somerville, he told me, he was aware of a certain uneasiness of spirit, as if a weight of responsibility or guilt had been imposed upon him. He found himself frequently looking over his shoulder or being alarmed by slight movements out of the corner of his eye; movements which his rational mind knew were no more than the shifting of a curtain in the draught.

     He had never been a particularly impressionable person: imaginative, yes, but not undisciplinedly so—therefore this inexplicable nervousness was difficult to attribute to mere imagination. One evening, about a week after his visit to Somerville—the date was late in April—he was sitting in his study putting the finishing touches to the MS which had been so sadly neglected of late, when the sense of being watched suddenly intensified. It increased to such an extent, in fact, that he actually felt the hairs on the back of his neck literally begin to prickle.

     At the same time, he became aware that a tune was running round in his head, one which he recognized as having been in the back of his mind for some time. It was a Morris tune, and by this time his senses were so abnormally heightened that he felt he was actually hearing it, as distinct from being merely an echo in his brain. Why he should think so he could not say, but he was convinced that what he was hearing was the "Southfield Morris".

     He abandoned his work for a minute or so, until he was startled into turning by what sounded like the stealthy opening of the window. In the slight gap between the curtains he perceived a face. It was a blank, dead face, with the pale waxy complexion of a corpse; but the eyes which stared from it were so unpleasantly out of place in their living, malevolent awareness that they made the apparition somehow far more terrible. There was a kind of awful gloating expression in them—even, maybe, hunger.

     There is such horror in the totally impossible that you might suppose him to have been rooted to the spot; but this was not the case. In a panic, he leapt to his feet and tore the curtains apart with an almost convulsive gesture. Something fell on his foot, something with an unpleasant soft texture: he jumped away from it.

     Behind the curtains was the closed window: the latch was securely fastened.

     He looked down, then, to see what had fallen, and found nothing more than a perfectly ordinary mask made of pasteboard. Nevertheless, and perhaps understandably, he could not bring himself to pick it up for some considerable time. When he did so he found it such a totally innocuous object that he began to laugh—but not, indeed, without a certain amount of hysterical relief.

     The only thing which bothered him, apart from wondering how the mask came to be there, was this: whose were the eyes which had peered through the blank slits in the mask?

     "And the sequel?" I enquired....


FIRSTBORN by David Campton

Campton is a fine writer, and this tale-within-a-tale is ferociously horrific.

     ...."On this occasion the bubbles must have gone to his head, because he prattled of his great experiment. At first I took this to mean the bone-crunching monster locked up in the hot-house but gradually came to realise that he was referring to some holy of holies. Apparently under the house lay unsuspected cellars, and he was offering to show us all. Elaine and I floated after him on an alcoholic cloud of euphoria.

     "The cellar door was a cunningly devised panel in the kitchen. At the bottom of the stairs were doors to right and left. Behind the right-hand door lay the wine racks in an electronically controlled atmosphere at exactly the right temperature and humidity to keep their precious contents in condition.

     "The same principle applied to the room behind the left-hand door, except that here conditions were equatorial. Within minutes of the door being shut behind us, our pores had opened like faucets, sweat running into our eyes. Even with vision somewhat blurred, though, we could not miss the vine that half-filled the cellar. The plant was supported by a frame of hausers, to which it clung with rope-like tendrils.

     "As Uncle lectured on instinctive reactions in plants he held out a finger, and a green thread obligingly curled around it. A pretty demonstration. While we were admiring this performance I leaned unsteadily against the frame, whereupon something gripped me around the waist in a wrestler's hold, jerking me off my feet and among the dripping leaves.

     "Uncle gently unwound the slippery bonds, ducking words like 'naughty, naughty'; though I could not be sure whether they applied to me, or to the vine.

     "Cautiously standing back, we were invited to admire the buds that festooned the branches—green fingers varying in size, with the largest a handspan in length and over an inch in diameter. Streaks of red showed through a tracery of cracks near the top of one bud that was ready to open.

     "Subdued excitement gripped Uncle. He knew what to expect. He stared at the bud, biting his lip and breathing heavily. On cue, while we watched, the bud burst open. Later I wondered if the fact that we were there may have had something to do with this prompt exhibition. After all the movement of the tendrils had shown that the plant reacted to our presence. Even if we had been obliged to wait, though, we would have been rewarded by the display. The flower was remarkable.

     "A bright, shining red, it parodied my inefficient reproductive equipment—the main difference being its rampant vigour compared with my habitual ineptitude. No wonder it had been kept behind locked doors: its appearance in a shop window might have exposed a florist to prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act.

     "Elaine has a delicate mind. Easily offended by schoolboy smut, she switches off completely at an off-colour remark. I glanced sideways, expecting blushes at one of Nature's jokes. In that heat a blush was difficult to detect, but her eyes had opened very wide and her mouth hung open. For the space of a few heartbeats nothing existed in her world but that flower. She looked so peculiarly vulnerable that something stirred deep inside me—a chemical reaction with pity and jealousy fizzing together. I wanted to take her in my arms and console her for what she had been missing—at the same time realising, almost with fury, that in her present mood she would be easy game for anyone offering as much.

     "The show was not yet over. My uncle giggled as he tapped the stem of the flower. It bounced backwards and forwards suggestively; and before quivering to a stop, it exuded a few drops of viscous honeydew with a heady perfume.

     "I can't describe the scent, only its effect—more potent than any combination of claret and brandy. Elaine felt it too: the melting ice-maiden turned to me moist-lipped. Her hair was streaming. Perspiration and the atmosphere had drenched her clothes until they clung to every curve. She was making little animal noises.

     "Dizzy with the perfume, I grabbed her and she clung to me. Murmuring incoherent excuses to my uncle we lunged from the cellar. I dimly remember him holding the cellar doors open for us, and his laughter cackling behind us. We left a trail of scattered garments all the way up the stairs to our bedroom. From then on we threshed about in an ecstatic frenzy until first light, when sheer exhaustion brought us down to earth and we crashed into sleep."

     Harry fell silent, savouring his drink and perhaps the memory. We could hear the midwife purposefully busy. Harry gestured vaguely in her direction with his glass, as though emphasising the link between the drama in the next room and the bedroom farce some nine months past.

     "Good for Uncle's potted plants," I murmured, quickly refilling my glass before the bottle was quite empty. Between the glow of the fire, the sighing of the wind, and Harry's reminiscent drawl, I was losing a battle against lethargy.

     Another cry from Elaine. I sat up with an expletive, and with one stride Harry was over to the door. It opened as he reached it. The freckled midwife, firm of bosom and bicep, shook her head.

     "Early yet," she hooted. "Back to your bottle and dinna' fash yourself. I promise ye'll be the first tae ken when the bairn appears."


LUNA by G.W. Perriwils

     ....In Dr. Alton's cool presence Kossum felt somehow disheveled and clumsy, as if he had stumbled in by accident. The psychiatrist, dark-eyed and bearded, was slightly theatrical in appearance, in contrast to his highly restrained manner. Slowly he perused the dream record.

     "We have a little more to work on this time," he said, looking up at Kossum. He spoke in a precise, emotionless voice that admitted of no interpretation. The forest dream is basically the same one you reported last time. This time we have more details."

     "I never used to dream at all," said Kossum.

     "That's really not true. Everyone dreams. The sleep researchers, Dement and the others, have never yet found a subject who doesn't dream. Some people just forget very quickly. By the time they're fully awake, they can't remember a thing."

     "I—I hate to dream," said Kossum.

     "On the moon flight, do you remember having any dreams?"

     "I don't think so," Kossum said slowly, envisioning the moon, its bright surface looming in the viewport on their approach. A troubling thought, a wisp of dream or false memory, hovered on the periphery of awareness. He saw the nude figure of a lovely woman, her hair drawn back in classic style. Her face, turning toward him, grew cold with anger. But he wasn't sure. "I don't remember any dreams," he said.

     "What about earlier in your life?"

     "Nothing. Even when I first came to you, I thought I was just having trouble sleeping—you know, night sweats, palpitations, all the rest. I didn't really know what was going on. Now that I do know, I wish I didn't. If I could just take something to blank the dreams out—"

     "I don't think that would be wise now. You're getting in touch with a part of yourself that's been suppressed. We can learn a great deal from it."

     "But it's the same dream over and over," Kossum said with irritation. "It's happened twice more. I quit writing it down because each time it's the same thing. I'm in the forest at the foot of the mountain, scared as hell. The last time it lasted longer. When I heard the dogs barking I started to run. I ran for miles, and the dogs were gradually gaining. I knew they were after me. The terrain was wild, thickets and gullies and streams, almost impassable. When I realized there was no escape, that's when I woke up."

     Dr. Alton watched him thoughtfully. "What do the feelings of the dream mean to you?"

     "Being helpless, afraid ... nowhere to hide."

     "To be hounded and hunted—that doesn't fit your image of yourself." Dr. Alton's puzzled words hung in the air like a question. After a moment he continued, "You're human like the rest of us, Kossum, even though everyone knows you as the hero, the perfect man. They remember how you handled the thruster malfunction when you were coming off the moon. I've listened to the tapes and read your medical file from NASA. O'Shea was coming apart, but you were cold as ice."


MIND by Les Freeman

"Mind" begins with a wonderful evocation of Whitby. When the protagonist tries to leave...

….The same pub was there, the same garden, the same station, the same four children, the same cries. The train shuddered as it prepared to leave again. Derek's hand flashed to the door. His fingers fumbled with the catch which refused to budge. He dropped his briefcase on to the floor as he did battle with the lock. Finally, growing more and more frightened, he flung himself at the door in his frenzied battle to get out. He landed with a thump on the station's cold stone platform.

     "Hey, are you all right?" asked a gruff Yorkshire voice as a plump porter (the same man who acted as ticket collector—when there were any tickets to be collected—at Whitby station) bent down to check he was not hurt. "You came out of that door at a devil of a rush; it's a wonder you didn't break something. Are you sure you're all right?"

     Derek stood up and straightened his coat.

     "No. I'm fine," he said. "But where am I?"

     "Where are yer?" repeated the porter. "Yer exactly where you were a couple of minutes ago—at Whitby."


     "Where else?" asked the porter with a touch of suspicion.

     Derek shrugged his shoulders and muttered that he wasn't feeling quite himself and willingly took up an offer from the porter of a cup of tea. In the porter's room Derek told what had happened on his train journey to Sleights.

     "That's a very odd story you're telling," said the porter when Derek had reached his account of his escape from the train. "Very odd."


     "Well, I'll tell yer if yer really want to know."

     Derek nodded....


COMPETITION by David Clayton Carrad

K.E.W.'s story note begins: "I have often made the observation that the horror story is a ubiquitous literary form, unlike most category fiction which is more or less restricted to publications exclusively devoted to one particular genre. Yet another proof of this is "Competition," which appeared in Running Times—not exactly the sort of magazine one looks to for a good frightening read...."

"Competition" is a competently executed tale about a jogger in peril on a causeway bridging mainland and island.

....Michaelson had asked the bartender about the causeway two nights earlier as he sipped the last of the two beers he occasionally allowed himself. "They put it up during the war," the bartender said, polishing a glass with his rag. "Navy used the island to store ammunition away from town, and the water out there's too rough to take explosives out by boat."

     "Do they still use it?" Michaelson asked.

     "The bartender shook his head. "Navy still owns the island, but they haven't used it since Korea," he said. "Nothing out there for almost thirty years."

     Michaelson sipped his beer. "Why did they build the causeway up so high?" he asked. "It must have cost a fortune."

     "Back then the fishermen were still working under sail. Best fishing ground in those days was right between the island and the mainland. No way they'd let the Navy run it at sea level, or down so low the masts couldn't pass under it. And they had eighty, ninety foot masts on the fishing boats back then. Cost a lot, but no way they were going to let the Navy ruin the fishing. Would have put most of the town out of work. Funny thing, though, after the war the fish all moved out past the island. Never see a fishing boat out there now."

     "Anybody use it these days?" Michaelson asked. He had already run the causeway twice, and found nothing on the island except one abandoned barracks building with a tarpaper roof a few yards past the island end of the causeway. He had not explored the ocean side of the island which lay over a low hill cutting the island in half.

     The bartender looked up from the glass he was polishing at Michaelson. "What for?" he said.

     Michaelson shrugged. "I don't know. Swimming? Fishing off the far side?"

     The bartender shook his head. "Surf's too rough for both," he said.

     "Be an interesting place to run," Michaelson said tentatively. He felt reluctant to admit to the bartender that he had already violated the signs—"NO TRESPASSING. U.S. GOVERNMENT PROPERTY"—on the barricade at the mainland end of the causeway.

     "Run?" The bartender put the glass down. He wiped his hands on the rag. "You a runner?"

     "Yes," said Michaelson. "In fact, to tell you the truth, I've already run out there. Beautiful place."

     The bartender shook his head. "Crazy bastards," he said. "Never understood how a man could get involved with such foolishness."


On 202 by Jeff Hecht

A well-observed little story about a couple falling-out on a car trip.

….Sandy shivered. "Please turn it off."

     "But it's good music ... great music. It takes me back to the good years, back when the Movement was alive."

     "Lennon is dead," she said, realizing as the words came from her mouth that they would have no more impact than reminding Wayne that the Movement had died, too. He had never been able to cope with that reality, and music had become his way of tuning out the world. At times—often when she was out working—he would sit for hours listening over headphones. "Just listening," he would say when she came home and asked. He insisted that the only reason he used the headphones was that they sounded better than the speakers, but she suspected that he really was trying to keep his beloved old music to himself. Perhaps he wanted to slip back a decade to when the music was being made, and to when he wasn't the only one drifting aimlessly through life.

     Wayne shifted into neutral and kept his foot on the gas while braking for the flashing red light at the end of the road. It wasn't the best treatment for an automatic transmission, but it was the only way they'd found to keep the car from stalling when they slowed it. This time it worked.

     "We don't have to worry about that again for a while," Sandy said as they coasted through the left turn and Wayne began accelerating on Route 202. "It's probably twenty miles before the next stop light."

     "That far?"

     "There's not much out this way. We're going through the watershed of the Quabbin Reservoir—Boston's water supply. There aren't any houses for miles." They were out of the village of Pelham before they realized it. The snow was coming down heavily now, and Wayne eased off the gas. With the snow blowing outside and the speedometer light out, Sandy couldn't estimate their speed. The trees seemed to meet overhead at places, and it looked as if they were driving through an endless tunnel defined by their headlights.

     Wayne stared out into the snow, trying to see the road. "The snow's early, isn't it?"

     "A little. But it does this sometimes." The sad, flabby voice of Elvis Presley sang meaningless words in the background. Sandy tuned them out automatically.

     "It's a desolate land, Sandy, and these are desolate times." Wayne's voice seemed remote, as if he was speaking from the other end of a tunnel rather than from the other side of the car. "The music helps me hold off the worst of it, lets me try to recapture the magic that's gone. Sometimes it seems like I'm the only one left who remembers it all, you know, like everybody else had forgotten peace and love and copped out and voted for Ronnie Reagan ..."

     "What do you mean?" Sandy kept her question short, hoping it would keep Wayne from drifting back into the silent brooding that she dreaded the most.

     "Even the music has become a big business. Take Elvis ... or Lennon. What did they say Lennon was worth when that guy shot him—two hundred million? What did he do to deserve all of that? And how many people could he have fed with his money?"

     It was a familiar tirade. Wayne had always been jealous of people who had money because he wished he had some, and Sandy told him so once again. She didn't expect him to become a businessman, but there were times that she did get tired of supporting him.

     "It's not the money, dammit, it's the waste. Lennon and Yoko rode around in chauffeured Rolls Royces while people starved to death. And look at your friends out there in that little town with all that land. They have a great big lawn, some pasture for a couple of horses, and forty acres of woods. That land could be feeding people like it used to. Now it's covered by the darkness of the forest because the rich think it's pretty."

     The tone of the words scared Sandy. "That soil is awfully rocky, Wayne; you can't farm it very well."

     "But people did a hundred years ago. That quaint little house used to be a farmhouse that housed real working people, and those woods used to be a farm that gave them a living. Your friends seemed so proud of that. Why waste land that could be used? Why hand it over to the darkness of the forest?"

     "What's the matter with the forest? We need trees; they can be lovely ..."

     "They cut out the sun and hide the light. The forest breeds bugs and decay and disease ..."

     "That's where you had your bad trip, wasn't it. Out in the woods in Oregon somewhere? You're not getting a flashback now, are you? Not after all these years?"

     Wayne stared through the windshield at the tunnel of snow illuminated by the cold light of the headlamps. "No." He seemed to be switching his attention back to the road. The wind had died down, and enough of the heavy snow had accumulated to make the surface slippery.

     The distorted voice of a disk jockey cut through the static, a strange voice that Sandy felt sure she'd heard years before. "In Enfield this is WEND, 666 on your AM dial. That's the number of the beast, folks, you come to it and it comes to you, via the miracle of Mr. Marconi and others long dead. And you're listening to the voices of the dead tonight ..."


I only have six of the first ten volumes of Year's Best Horror Stories. I've enjoyed revisiting those volumes and reading some of the tales I skipped on previous skims through the paperbacks. 

Eventually I'll pick up with volume eleven.


6 June 2020

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