Sheets first appeared in Chrysalis 5 edited by Roy Torgeson. Chrysalis lasted six years, and was ten volumes in all. Torgeson of Zebra books, wanted to use Chrysalis to stretch the bounds of sci-fi and launch the genre into the 80s. If Zebra sounds familiar it’s because that’s also the publisher Wagner worked with on the Robert E. Howard properties.
Sheets is the first story in this collection that I’d identify as being in the horror sub-category of weird fiction. Recently, weird fiction has been going through a renaissance and there has been much more of it on the market. It’s a genre parallel to horror that is growing and growing.
At the start, Sheets feels like an ordinary ‘literary’ tale about a man who leaves his job as a school teacher because of dissatisfaction. He’s found temporary holiday work at the NYC Macy’s by Herald Square in the bedding and sheets department. Ryan is spot on with his descriptions. Anyone who has worked in retail will recognize the customers, the co-workers, and the boredom. I was getting flashbacks of my years in the trenches at the Strand Bookstore. To alleviate his boredom, the protagonist decides to start memorizing all of the stock to pass time. He creates a system dividing the sheets into categories; Geometrics, Flowers, Sillies, and Butterflies. He then attempts to spend a week on each category memorizing all the patterns and colors. It is when he is exposed to this level of attention and concentration on the sheets that things begin to get weird. He begins to notice movement within the patterns.
I loved this story. It was a seemingly normal story that started skewing stranger and stranger. I almost wish the story was longer so the weirdness of the sheets had a little time to develop before the frightening conclusion. This story is from the beginning of Alan Ryan’s career and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work in the future.