YBHS IX: ‘On Call’ by Dennis Etchison


On Call
Art by Roy C. Krenkel “An Incident On Barsoom”

‘On Call’ by Dennis Etchison originally appeared in Fantasy Newsletter #22 March 1980. Fantasy Newsletter ran from 1978 to 1987. Over the years it was largely focused on reviews, interviews, and publishing news with the occasional piece of fiction. Paul C. Allen the editor at the time of ‘On Call’ says fiction “will receive a very low priority in terms of space. But it will receive a high priority with regard to quality–when I use it, it will be “different” and well written”. (FN 22, p.1) 

Karl Edward Wagner was very familiar with Fantasy Newsletter. He wrote a semi-regular column called ‘On Fantasy’ sharing writing duties with Fritz Leiber from 1980-1984 then the column became infrequent and Wagner traded writing duties with Ramsey Campbell from 1984-1987. The column covered trends, authors they were reading, conventions and various other musings. I would love a nice collection of these writings someday.

So it was in the pages of this periodical that ‘On Call’ first appeared. Drastically different from the other offerings in the book so far in its, to use a buzzword, nightmarish Dreamtime logic. Wagner had this to say when talking about where ideas come from in his introduction to the story “Occasionally, however, an author will experience some particularly vivid dream (or, if you will, nightmare) and will incorporate this into a story. Such is the case with Dennis Etchison’s disturbing Kafkaesque nightmare, ‘On Call.'”  And what a nightmare it is.

Very simply put ‘On Call’ is the story of a man who is picking up his wife after dropping her off so she can receive her x-ray results. This is merely a framework on which Etchison hangs the nightmare. As a reader, I find this style hard to approach because so much of the story is under the surface of any narrative I’m often not sure if I ‘got’ the story or not. Wagner has his own experiments in this dreamlike style with stories like ‘Cedar Lane’, ‘Shrapnel’ and ‘Endless Night’. Etchison opens his story with “‘Read it now,” called the blind newspaper vendor. “Many are dying and many are dead!”‘ This phrase is packed with the bizarre. The juxtaposition of the blind man selling a visual news source and proclaiming that ‘many are dying’ when in fact we are all dying; or are at least headed that way. Could it be that we are living our lives blind to our impending doom? The story then proceeds in a realistic manner for a good page or two before the hints of nightmare start appearing. There is a motif of waiting from the inhabitants in the world Etchison created and our protagonist keeps taking action to find his wife. Ultimately, waiting or taking action, they all end up in the same place.

I should have realized:

A) this story is from Etchison a master of this style


B) this story is included in a best of the year

I shouldn’t have been too concerned whether I would ‘get’ it. At least I found that it means something to me personally and ultimately that’s all that matters.

Next: ‘The Catacomb’ by Peter Shilston

More Dennis Etchison: YBHS VIII: ‘The Dead Line’

YBHS IX: ‘The Propert Bequest’ by Basil A. Smith

Propert Bequest
Art by Stephen Fabian

‘The Propert Bequest’ by Basil A. Smith has one of the most wonderful stories about how it came around to being included in the collection. This is the kind of story that I find incredibly exciting. ‘The Propert Bequest’ originally appeared in Basil A. Smith’s first collection The Scallion Stone (1980) published by Stuart David Schiff and his Whispers Press. Basil A. Smith was an entirely unknown author at the time, his only published story being ‘The Scallion Stone’ which was seen in the first Whispers Anthology in 1977. What makes this story so unique is that Basil A. Smith passed away on December 9th, 1969!

So how did these stories make it into print and Wagner’s anthology? It all traces back to Year’s Best Horror Stories Alum Russell Kirk. In the biography Russell Kirk: American Conservative by Bradley J. Birzer it implies that Kirk meeting the rector of Holy Trinity, Micklegate, York in 1949 was a transformative experience. This rector was one Basil A. Smith. In addition to being an influence on Kirk’s spiritual life, Smith shared with him his love of the English ghost story. Holy Trinity, Micklegate was said to have its own ghosts, Wagner states in his introduction “The church itself, with its twelfth-century nave, was reputedly haunted by apparitions whose silhouettes passed against a great stained-glass window.” Today the stories tell of three main ghosts at Holy Trinity; A nun who was murdered protecting the church, and a mother and child looking for reunification after being buried separately during the time of the plague. It seems Smith gave Kirk a nudge in the direction of writing about the supernatural.

Years later after the passing of Basil A. Smith, Kirk was able to acquire the manuscripts

Art by Stephen Fabian

of stories, Smith had written over the years for his own enjoyment. Kirk being a writer now and having a publishing relationship with Stuart David Schiff of Whispers Press showed the papers to him. ‘The Scallion Stone’ was published first as a short story and then the hardcover collection The Scallion Stone was published in 1980 just in time for Wagner’s collection. When the collection was released initially it got good reviews in a few of the genre magazines. In Fantasy Newsletter #31 Douglas Winter says “these tales are written with uncommon charm, authenticity and an ephemeral Jamesian eeriness that should delight the connoisseur of the antiquarian ghost story.” Sadly years later in a letter to Wagner Schiff states “I wish I had the money to risk on another Smith-type title, but unless I get a PW or LJ review, I cannot make money on a book.” It’s the harsh reality of the publishing business, many wonderful writers aren’t always profitable, especially if not seen by a specific group of folks.

Storywise, ‘The Propert Bequest’ has been my favorite read so far. I agree with Douglas Winter that Smith feels very influenced by M. R. James. The story involves an old Priory that has been converted into a library featuring many old and rare books. Through the eyes of antiquarians, we learn some of the books may involve occult writings and a shadowy person or group is trying to get their hands on them. It has plenty of gothic elements mixed in, including family secrets and secret passages. The climax very much reminded me of the climax of The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, oddly also published in 1980 (Italian). This is the longest story in the book measuring to 45 pages almost 1/4 of the entire collection. My only criticism of the story was I felt ahead of the characters at certain points, however, I did not see the reveal of the shadowy shape seen flittering in the library coming. I have my own theories about it and found it a bizarre and fresh take.

I was happy to learn about Smith and sad to learn about the small output. I’m glad Schiff took the chance on publishing his work and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of The Scallion Stone.

Next: ‘On Call’ by Dennis Etchison

YBHS IX: ‘The Gap’ by Ramsey Campbell

Ramsey‘The Gap’ by Ramsey Campbell was originally published in the Fantasy Readers Guide issue two. To my understanding, this guide worked as a great source of bibliography for the author featured in the issue pre-internet. In addition to the bibliography, it also included essays on Campbell’s work as well as this new story ‘The Gap’.

‘The Gap’ tells the story of horror author Lionel Tate and how his life is changed after a young author Don Skelton comes to visit. Skelton was brought along by the Dewhursts, friends of Tate’s when they come to stay. Skelton questions Tate’s belief in the occult and treats Tate as a pretender. Skelton becomes more and more difficult and is eventually tossed out, as are the Dewhursts, after Skelton is found snooping in Tate’s office late at night. Days later Tate is sent an anonymous unmarked puzzle. Being a puzzle fan he assembles it only to find its a picture of himself being menaced by a figure. As he finishes the puzzle all the pieces to fill in the face of the menacing figure are missing. A bright light glistens off the table in this gap. The rest of the story is what happens as the gap begins to extend outside the puzzle.

I thought this was a solid Campbell story. The dread unfolds in an obscure and subtle way without clear answers which is a style I attribute to Campbell’s other writing as well. It’s a great story about the fears of being overwhelmed and erased by the younger generation. It makes me wonder if Skelton and the Dewhursts weren’t based on folks from Campbell’s own life.

An intriguing question came up for me while reading Wagner’s introduction. He states

Art by Jill Bauman

“Currently Campbell is at work on a novel set in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.” This didn’t ring any bells as a published work to me and I went digging. I found mention of this book again in the letters of Wagner and Campbell. Mr. Campbell adds that he’d like to add some of the experiments of Dr. Rhine at Duke University. Dr. Joeseph Banks Rhine started the parapsychology department at Duke and worked in conjunction with Karl Zener, of Zener card fame, to test for ESP. It seemed to me that this would be an early draft of Campbell’s novel Incarnate.

This was later confirmed by Campbell himself on the message boards. He said “It is indeed Incarnate, but only one chapter is actually set in Chapel Hill and that was deleted. I’d visited there, staying with Manly Wade Wellman and Frances after the first World Fantasy Convention. The Futura and Little, Brown editions reprint the chapter in an afterword.” Mystery solved!

Thanks to Mr. Campbell for taking the time to respond.

Next: ‘The Cats of Pere LaChaise’ by Neil Olonoff

More Ramsey Campbell: YBHS VIII: ‘To Wake the Dead’ 

YBHS IX: ‘The Monkey’ by Stephen King

Monkey Original‘The Monkey’ was originally published in the November 1980 issue of Gallery magazine as a detachable insert. It was later expanded and included in the short story collection of King’s entitled Skeleton Crew. Gallery was a “skin” magazine started in 1972 in imitation of the lucrative Playboy. Because of Hugh Heffner’s love of Sci-Fi and horror, he was a card-carrying member of the ‘Weird Tales Club’ after all, Playboy often included very good genre fiction. Gallery, I imagine in imitation of Playboy, published their own genre fiction. In addition to Stephen King, Gallery hired some of the same authors including Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, and Isaac Asimov. What intrigues me about this story in the collection is that it is early career King. It’s safe to say he had exploded on the scene six years earlier with Carrie in 1974 then followed it up with several bestsellers. King’s status can be seen in his prominent billing on the magazine cover, sandwiched below “‘Girl Next Door’ Winner of the Year” and above “Can We Survive the Next President?” However, at the same time this story was published, he was still publishing under

The Monkey
Easy mistake…

the pseudonym Bachman, only two stories had been turned into a film, Carrie and The Shining, and he wasn’t the genre-shaping force he has become today!

If there is one thing I’d like people to take away from this post it’s that the film Monkey Shines has absolutely nothing to do with Stephen King’s ‘The Monkey’.


For almost my entire life I thought Monkey Shines directed by George A. Romero was a film adaptation of ‘The Monkey’. It is in fact based on the book Monkey Shines by Michael Stewart. I have been very wrong about this story in different ways for years; though to be fair

monkey shines

the movie poster for Monkey Shines is a total rip-off of the Stephen King collection Skeleton Crew. Something I’m not wrong about is it’s a damn good story.

The story is about Hal. As a child, he stumbled across a wind-up monkey with cymbals in the attic/crawlspace. Anytime the monkies cymbals ‘jang-jang-jang’ a person dies. After disposing of it 20 years ago it has suddenly reappeared in his life, endangering his wife and kids. He decides it’s time to get rid of the monkey once and for all.

As Wagner said in his opening “it is absolutely imperative that the author convince the reader of the reality within his story.” The basic plot could very easily be campy but the reality and anxiety about what Hal is going through grounds everything. It’s not until very late in the story that I was sure it wasn’t all in his head. Hal is dealing with losing his job, moving his family, a son who is drifting away, and a recent funeral that is dredging up his rather tragic past. It’s easy to see why this object that represents that past is causing major problems. I was invested in Hal which made me invested in the story. There is a supernatural payoff at the climax that was fabulous. Other than two cringe-worthy moments of the material not aging well I thought this story was an amazing piece to launch a collection of the year’s best.


Next: ‘The Gap’ by Ramsey Campbell

Episode 2.6 ‘Sing a Last Song of Valdese’ – Fantasy Murder Ballads 101

Art by Jeff Easley

Sing a Last Song of Valdese

Originally Published: Chacal #1, Winter, 1976, edited by Byron L. Roark and Arnie Fenner

‘Sing a Last Song of Valdese’ is Karl Edward Wagner’s fantasy take on the tradition of the murder ballad. We covered his earlier ode to the murder ballad in episode 2 and 3 where we covered, one of my favorite stories, ‘In the Pines’.

‘Last Song’, though short, covered a lot of lore and added a great deal to the history of the world Kane inhabits. Once again the demon lords have poked their heads into the story in passing. I am of course speaking of Thro’ellet and Tloluvin. They have popped up in several stories so far: ‘Two Suns Setting’, ‘The Dark Muse’, and ‘Sing a Last Song of Valdese’.  I’m looking forward to how they’ll weigh in moving forward in the Kane stories and why they seem entwined with Kane’s destiny. Only time and future seasons will tell.

On a side note, where did the name Valdese come from? My best guess is from the town Valdese in North Carolina not too far from Wagner’s stomping ground. Valdese was founded in 1893 by a group of Italian Waldensians or Valdese. The Waldensians are a sect of Christianity founded around 1173 by Peter Waldo. Waldo was a merchant who took the radical move of giving up his wealth and preaching poverty as the way to enlightenment. This radical deviation from the Catholic Church caused them to be considered heretics and they were persecuted for years. Today, Valdese and its Waldensian church have folded in with the Presbyterians. Does this history have anything to do with Wagner’s story? Probably not, no. But, it’s a neat bit of history from the town the name came from.

Lastly, I have to give a special thank you to Jason Tarpey and Eternal Champion for Eternal Championletting us use their song ‘Sing a Last Song of Valdese’ off the album The Armor of Ire. Jason had this to add about the song.

“As for the lyrics to that one, they are actually based on two short stories from Night Winds, “Sing a Last Song of Valdese”, and “Raven’s Eyrie”. The song was actually called Night Winds in the beginning but I thought that “Sing…” was a much more epic title for it.”

You can check out their full album here. Lyrics to the song are below. And with that, we’ll be back in two weeks with ‘Misericorde’.


Into the vale beneath the autumn ridges flows the Cotras. It cuts it’s way to Raven’s Eyrie’s door. Under the strange moon the night winds mock the Sun. The hound is baying for his master Demonlord. 

Ever the rider, ever the foe. The name of Kane forever known. By spell or by steel the brazen fall. Bear the curse and bear the time. The Seven Nameless hear thy cry. The Grey Lord and not Thoem will have your soul. 

Valdese by revenge your soul can be as one. No longer must you stalk among the nighted boles. Seven times seven, the Grey Lord will return, and carry back with him the soul which he has won. 

Wherever Kane has walked, a trail of crimson would follow now. Cursed by Theom! He will tread through the ages until the treasures of kings turn to dust, and the flesh of all men falls from their time-eaten bones. Lord Tloluvin, Sathonys, wait an age for the one that will not die! 

In a tower of stone there burns a fire. The pain of steel for any who’d cross. The fatal eyes, weaken the brave. Horror met by the rushing of his blade. Lord Tloluvin, Sathonys, wait an age for the one that would not die. The hunting hound, the Demonlord, mark him by the strange hilt of his sword. 

Ever the rider, ever the foe, the name of Kane forever known. By spell, or by steel, the brazen fall. 

Valdese by revenge your soul can be at one. No longer must you stalk among the nighted boles. Seven times seven, the Grey Lord will return…..


Hosts: Jordan Douglas Smith & Jonathan Gelatt
Music: ‘Sing a Last Song of Valdese’ The Armor of Ire by Eternal Champion
Background Music: ‘Pippin the Hunchback’ Thatched Villagers by Kevin MacLeod

Pippin the Hunchback Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

Episode 2.5 ‘The Dark Muse’ – You say O-pee-ros I say O-pie-ros.

Dark Muse
art by George Chastain

The Dark Muse

Originally published: Midnight Sun, Summer-Fall 1975, edited by Gary Hoppenstand

Just made it back in time from summer vacation to get this episode in under the wire. I wanted to share this blurb from Gary Hoppenstand from the inside cover of Midnight Sun V. 1 N. 2 “Midnight Sun is a magazine devoted primarily to Kane and the new school of serious epic fantasy.”

If you enjoyed the poetry of Opyros check out some of the morbid poetry from these Graveyard Poets.

Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Church Graveyard

Thomas Parnell’s A Night-Piece on Death

Robert Blair’s The Grave

Edward Young’s Night-Thoughts

Join us in two weeks when we discuss the Kane horror classic Sing a Last Song of Valdese.

Original music: F. N. York
Narrator: Malcolm Mills

Episode 2.4 ‘Bloodstone’ Part 2 – Chapter XV: Lord of Bloodstone thru Epilogue

Italian Kane
Art by Maren


Originally Published: 1975 by Warner Paperback Library

Lo! Now arrives the conclusion of our coverage of Karl Edward Wagner’s Bloodstone. Such a large undertaking to try and tackle a novel in only two episodes. I feel like so many topics and themes hit the cutting room floor. One such subject was the role of horses in fantasy literature and Teres’s faithful horse Gwellines!

Bloodstone was translated into German in 1989 and then into Italian in 1991. I really loved the portrayal of the ring in the Italian cover so I wanted to display it here. It looks almost as if the ring is oversized and more girdle like. It gives the feeling of the power of the ring and also references how slippery the ring was until it began fusing itself to Kane.

Deuce Richardson, who we previously mentioned in the ‘Undertow’ episode, brought up another possible influence on Wagner’s work. This time the link is between Wagner’s Bloodstone and A. Merritt’s Dwellers in the Mirage.

Dwellers in the Mirage was originally published in Argosy Magazine split into six parts Argosystarting in January of 1932. It was written by the very interesting, world traveling, occult book collecting Abraham Grace Merritt or A. Merritt. We know Karl Edward Wagner read Merritt because of the inclusion of Merritt’s book Burn, Witch, Burn on Wagner’s list of Best Supernatural Horror Novels so a possible connection is not out of left field. Below are some of the connections that first stood out to me. This could certainly become its own blog post.

-The Ring: In Bloodstone the Ring is Kane’s connection with the space entity Bloodstone. It grants him access to Bloodstone and its power. In Dwellers, Leif Langdon also comes in possession of a ring. A ring that gives him the power to summon the horrible kraken space God Khalk’ru. The ring also starts him on the path of gaining knowledge and skills from a previous life. Both evil space creatures are tricking followers into powering their bids for power.

-Red Harvest Factor: In both stories the protagonist is going back and forth between two warring sides. The reader is often not sure which side they are really working for. In the end Leif helps the ‘good guys’ whereas Kane helps himself like a true hero-villain.

-Mind Control: Both tales have the ring exerting force over the bearer. It controls their decisions to a certain extent and the lead becomes unpredictable. In Dwellers it has more to do with a Blavatsky style past-life.

-Liebe zum Wolf: Love interests in both stories are warrior women who are associated with wolves. Teres is the daughter of ‘The Old Wolf’ and the chapter of her escape from Ristkon is titled ‘She-Wolf’s Fangs’. Lur, one of Leif’s two love interests in Dwellers, literally controls a pack of intelligent wolves into battle with her.

Maybe you see some of the connections, maybe you don’t. Either way, Dwellers in the Mirage was a fun pulpy read, perfect for sitting on the beach or surrounded by nature this summer.

Summoner's Pit
The Summoner’s Pit Demo

I have the link for Graven Rite here. Please check them out and support their work. Below find the lyrics for their song ‘The Bloodstone Ring’ on their demo album The Summoner’s Pit.

For aeons laid under earth and the rock, the relic waits in forgotten lore.
He who wields it becomes one with the stone come from the stars on another’s form.
Unholy glow, the guarded city of woe, the awful light from an ancient hall.
And so it falls to a thief with a past longer than Man would dare recall.

The Bloodstone Ring will find it’s hand.
All the lands would bow before the man turned god.
The power of the ages to command.
A thrall to the gem, it will seek dominion once again.

Two armies massed before the wasteland of rot to fight the beasts and the risen dead.
And the Daughters kill so that their pleas to the Gods might grant reprieve from that which they dread.
The Demon Moon can only stall the defeat, the witch’s tide would sweep the dome.
But the book reveals the only way to avail is to kill the one who bears the Stone.
Thanks for listening and don’t forget to join us in two weeks for our coverage of The Dark Muse.
Original Music: F. N. York
Narration: Alex Malcolm Mills
The Bloodstone Ring: Graven Rite
Special Thanks to Deuce Richardson for pointing me in the direction of A. Merritt and Dwellers in the Mirage. Also, for nerding out with me about all the possible connections.