YBHS IX: ‘Without Rhyme or Reason’ by Peter Valentine Timlett

Art by Andrew Douglas

‘Without Rhyme or Reason’ by Peter Valentine Timlett is our second story from a collection edited by Ramsey Campbell. The cover of New Terrors 1 may look familiar to you as it was also the collection that originally published Wagner’s ‘.220 Swift’ which we covered in Episodes 4 and 5. This story was later published in a collection of Timlett’s short stories A Singing in the Wilderness (2003). He is best well known for his Seedbearers trilogy about exiles from doomed Atlantis. Apparently, he was heavily influenced by his own interest in the occult, “For several years Timlett was a practicing ritual magician…”.

It was surprising to me that with his background in the occult and previous fantasy series this final story of his rounded out the collection as a crime tale. I had expected a flourish of the supernatural but was not disappointed by the macabre ending. In ‘Without Rhyme or Reason’ we learn the story of Miss Templeton and Mrs. Bates. Templeton, a young woman, is hired to take care of the estate and affairs of Mrs. Bates while Bates, an older woman, tends to her garden all day. Before hiring her Bates makes it clear she wants her employees to have little connection with others outside the house because she doesn’t like to be disturbed. As Miss Templeton gets to know Mrs. Bates, we discover Bates has a grudge against the young and beautiful, we also learn her last six employees have left the job suddenly and not been heard from again. The horror sets in while Miss Templeton is in the garden one night and remembers the old nursery rhyme:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.

The story is a great note to end the collection on and a great use of the unreliable narrator. Thus ends my coverage of The Year’s Best Horror Stories Series IX edited by Karl Edward Wagner. I thought this was a really strong collection that for the most part holds up well. It feels like a quick read with only ten stories. I’m looking forward to reading the next collection in the series as the 80’s horror boom ratchets up.

Join us is two weeks where Jonathan and I will be finishing up our Season of Kane with ‘The Treasure of Lynortis’ and ‘Lynortis Reprise’. After that, we’ll take a hiatus throwing in a couple bonus episodes and then come back in the summer with season 3.

YBHS IX: ‘Footsteps’ by Harlan Ellison

Footsteps copy
Art by Ken Snyder

‘Footsteps’ by Harlan Ellison (1934-2018) is the third story in this collection from a skin mag. It appeared in the Gallery December 1980 issue, that is just one month after Stephen King’s story ‘The Monkey’. Ellison’s story ‘Footsteps’ was later published in his collection Angry Candy (1988) as well as a self-titled limited edition chapbook in 1989.

Wagner includes a brief introduction by Ellison explaining how the story came to be. Inspired by the writer Georges Simenon (1903-1989) who Ellison believed at the time had written a novel in one week while sitting in a glass cube on display to all of Paris, Ellison sat in the window of the bookstore Temps Futurs for a day to write a short story. This is a practice that Ellison continued for many years in many different cities. In an interview with NBC he remarked: “I do it because I think particularly in this country people are so distanced from literature, the way it’s taught in schools, that they think that people who write are magicians on a mountaintop somewhere.” 

While in Paris at Temps Futurs, to ensure the story he wrote was not pre-plotted Harlan Ellison was given several story prompts the morning he started. He was told the story must include a female werewolf rapist, she must have long blonde hair, and the story must take place in Paris. (groan) If he had ever been to an improv show he would know audience suggestions are the worst. However, the story that came from those prompts is a testament that Ellison knew what the hell he was doing.

‘Footsteps’ tells the story of an American Werewolf on a European Tour eating her way from country to country. The footsteps of the story refer to her loneliness they are the steps of those that keep her on the run. We get to see what happens when she meets a monster of another kind on the streets of Paris and the footsteps finally stop. There were a million ways Ellison could have dealt with his awful prompts but he dealt with them in, most likely, the least offensive way he could. Writing on a deadline it would be easy to get lazy and schlocky but Ellison grounded a ridiculous idea in a way that felt truthful to him. He used the concept of erection upon death and extreme pain in a horrific way.

I recently had the opportunity of working on the documentary film Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams. Harlan Ellison plays a big part as one of the interviewees in what I believe was his last interview. His insights into not only Smith but also the writing industry are some of the most thoughtful and passionate ideas in the film. You can check that out here.

Next: ‘Without Rhyme or Reason’ by Peter Valentine Timlett

More Harlan Ellison:
YBHS VIII: ‘In the Fourth Year of the War’
YBHS VIII: ‘All the Birds Come Home to Roost’



YBHS IX: ‘The King’ by William Relling, Jr.

AlohaThis story inspired me to listen to the live album from Elvis Presley ‘Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite’ which I highly recommend. Colonel Thomas Parker, Elvis’s agent, reportedly got the idea for a worldwide live television concert after being inspired by the recent trip President Nixon took to China in 1972. Nixon had a television crew following him around on his historic trip documenting everything bringing the world together through television. Colonel wanted the same thing for Elvis. On January 14th, 1973 Elvis performed a concert raising money for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund, a fund for Cancer Research at the University of Hawaii. It was aired in over 40 countries, watched by an estimated 1.5 billion people. Sadly the United States had to watch until April 4th, 1973 because January 14th, was also the Superbowl. But what does all this King talk have to do with William Relling’s story ‘The King’ you say? EVERYTHING.

‘The King’ recounts the story of a gig drummer who spends some time on tour playing with Elvis filling in for the sick Ronnie Tut. Following Elvis’s recent death, our narrator hooks up with an Elvis look-a-like and cover band to tour and capitalize on the public desire to see Elvis. All this capitalizing on the dead leads to a vengeful ghost of sorts, and boy can that ghost sing “Love Me Tender”.

Relling makes several references to the famous ‘Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite’ concertElvis throughout the story to great effect. At the beginning the narrator mentions Elvis being at the top of his game at that point. Later he mentions the set list the Elvis cover band plays the night of the haunting. It starts out with “Also Spracht Zarathustra” and goes into “C. C. Rider” which is how the Hawaii concert starts. These callbacks to the concert call to readers attention the mythic and even God-like status of Elvis. During the concert, Elvis was appearing to a possible 1.5 billion people in their homes. The action played over and over again like a ritual by Elvis impersonators of throwing their cape into the audience is from this concert. In the repetition of this musical event to the masses from beyond the grave through impersonators, it is as if Elvis has risen indeed. The whole story draws into focus a commentary on modern-day idolatry, and like Pet Sematary when we ask for something to come back we may not like what it has become.

William Relling, Jr. (1954-2004) was fairly new on the writing scene when ‘The King’ came out. This story originally appeared in the February 1980 issue of Cavalier, a skin mag much like Gallery. It later appeared in his collection The Infinite Man (1989) by Scream Press. Relling had several notable books come out during the 80s horror boom including Brujo (1986) and New Moon (1987). He continued writing until he sadly took his own life in 2004.

Of all the stories in the collection thus far this one seemed the most similair to something Wagner would write. The voice of the main character had a hip contemporary feel to him. Relling used an icon to talk about the dark side of fame and worship. It brought to mind such Wagner tales as ‘Did They Get You to Trade’ and ‘Neither Brute Nor Human’.

Next: ‘Footsteps’ by Harlan Ellison



YBHS IX: ‘Black Man With A Horn’ by T. E. D. Klein

With a Horn
Art by Jason Van Hollander

‘Black Man With A Horn’ originally appeared in the collection New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos published by Arkham House and edited by Ramsey Campbell. It was written by T. E. D. Klein or Theodore “Eibon” Donald Klein. The “Eibon” was something T. E. D. added to his name after the necromancer from Clark Ashton Smith’s story ‘The Door to Saturn’. Eibon and his Book of Eibon are mentioned by H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and even referenced in several issues of Dr. Strange from Marvel Comics. The legend goes that Klein knew he wanted to go by initials like H. P. Lovecraft so he threw in the “Eibon” for an E making his initials effectively the name he went by, Ted.

Klein has always been a mystery to me. The only story I had read of his previously was ‘The Events of Poroth Farm’ which I enjoyed greatly. Folks who have been listening to the podcast know that I’m a sucker for literary allusions and references and ‘Poroth Farm’ is full of them. I knew I wanted to read more of his work but for years it had been out of print and hard to get ahold of. Thankfully his novel ‘The Ceremonies’ is back in print through PS Publishing. In addition to the difficulty of finding his work is that career-wise he came out of the gates with multiple well-respected stories and a well-respected book and after that his production halted for the most part. He was still very much involved in the NYC literary world teaching, editing the Twilight Zone Magazine as well as having a position with Conde Nast. For me, this created a mystique. I’ve always been a bit curious if he was going to return to writing once he retired. I’m going to leave some links at the bottom of this entry for several articles discussing this story as well as a recent podcast interview with Klein on one of my favorite podcasts ‘Eating the Fantastic’.

This story measures up as being one of three stories (The Monkey, The Propert Bequest, Black Man With A Horn) that take up a large portion of this collection. The more I read of this collection I begin to think it was a bold move on behalf of Wagner. I’m curious how many stories were left on the edit room floor to include these longer works. This story riffs on the work of Lovecraft and mythos writers, focusing on the fear of racial differences. Wagner notes it’s “a bitter comment upon fandom’s obsessive dead-hero worship.”

Please Tell Me John Coltrane Never Read This: T. E. D. Klein’s “Black Man With a Horn” by Anne M. Pillsworth & Ruthanna Emrys

Dark Gods by T. E. D. Klein, and a Question About the Depiction and Significance of Racism in Characterization by Gord Sellar

Eating the Fantastic with Scott Edelman: Episode 65- T. E. D. Klein

Next: ‘The King’ by William Relling, Jr.

YBHS IX: ‘The Catacomb’ by Peter Shilston

More G&S ‘The Catacomb’ by Peter Shilston hits that
perfect sweet spot of mine for blasphemous horror. In ‘The Catacomb’ Shilston tells the tale of a Mr. Pearsall who is coming to the end of his bus tour through Sicily. When a passenger is sick and the bus needs to stop in a small town for a short rest stop Mr. Pearsall decides to find and explore an old church he saw while passing through the town. What he finds is not at all what he expected.

The story is told second hand so we know Mr. Pearsall makes it out alive to tell his tale to the narrator. It starts out poking a bit of fun at the protagonist. The narrator says “He was a mild-tempered man, but if there was one thing that caused him irritation, it was suddenly finding himself with nothing whatsoever to do when he had expected to be occupied.” Pearsall believes he knows better than the tour guides regarding his own safety and goes off alone in the town. Though he does seem like a ‘mild-tempered’ fellow he’s breaking the taboos and in the world of horror, this makes him fair game.

Shilston used a wonderful technique that I like to call the ‘focusing effect’ in this story. As Mr. Pearsall examines the inside of the church we’re introduced to details about the architecture and mosaics. Pearsall hits the second level of detail in describing the mosaics and is able to explain away the oddness as being related to the Capuchins or Cathars. This leads him to focus even further into the detailing as he’s gone even deeper into the church, at that point, he is surrounded. I have to say, this story reminded me of the very first section of ‘Sticks’ by Wagner. Great minds think alike mayhaps?

The story originally appeared in the second issue of the M. R. James periodical Ghosts & Scholars, titled More Ghosts & Scholars and edited by Rosemary Pardoe. I previously discussed Rosemary Pardoe and Ghosts & Scholars in YBHS VIII: ‘A Serious Call’ by George Hay. At the time the story was written, Peter Shilston was a history professor. He has since retired but still regularly posts on history, literature, and his memories on his blog here. I appreciated his history knowledge and attention to detail. As noted by Shilston in Wagner’s introduction “The town and cathedral represent Cefalu…”. Shilston describes the outside of the cathedral as similair to the one in Cefalu but when describing the interior he says “…this church had not been revamped later on in the Baroque period. There was not a Corinthian pilaster to be seen.” A little specific detail like that lets us know how forgotten and secluded this cathedral is. Wagner adds his own interjection about Cefalu reminding the reader it was also the site of Aleister Crowley’s Abbey of Thelema.

Next: ‘Black Man With A Horn’ by T. E. D. Klein

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