Category Archives: Short Story

The Door in the Wall

The Door in the Wall

During my reading of The King in Yellow, I read H. G. Wells story “The Door in the Wall.” Since the collection was on my Classics Club list and I enjoyed the titular story quite a bit, I decided to finish the book before moving on.

The Chambers story “The Demoiselle d’Ys” is said to have anticipated Wells’ “The Door in the Wall.” In both, our protagonist crosses over into some other time or place. In “The Demoiselle d’Ys,” Philip is time-slipped into the past where he has a curious encounter. In “The Door in the Wall,” Lionel Wallace goes through a green door as a child and enters some sort of utopia. Though he promises to return as an adult, he never does, even though he sees the green door several more times throughout his life.

To a certain extent, I think Wells’ “A Dream of Armageddon,” bears resemblance to the Chambers’ story as well. In this case, a man named Cooper relates the “consecutive” dream he’s had. He has lived a whole other life within a dream world—what he purports to be the far future. At first this other world is Idyllic, but it turns dark when war breaks out. Cooper ends up living out his entire life and dying in the dream, similar to Philip’s snake-bitten fate in his time-slipped past.

Wells spends a lot of time in “A Dream of Armageddon” describing the beauty and terribleness of the war machines. This appreciation and dread of industrial machines is revisited often in these stories. In “The Cone,” a fairly basic revenge tale, I personally don’t know enough about smelteries to know when Wells is being fanciful, but his descriptions are vivid and full of grandeur. So also are the descriptions of deaths in “The Cone” and “The Lord of the Dynamos.” The victims meet their demises due to the evils of man rather than the evils of machines—the machines are only the tools—but their deaths are horrible in ways that only technology can seem to facilitate.

Man’s mind doesn’t fare well either in the industrial world. In “The Door in the Wall,” it’s Wallace’s business ambitions that keep him from going through the door again. The life of the protagonist in “The Diamond Maker” is pretty much ruined by his gem fabrication technology. (The story includes a long description of the actual technology.) The protagonist of “A Moonlight Fable” is also driven a little mad when he isn’t let by his mother to wear his very nice, spiffy suit. The suit is a thing of the modern world, which is being curtailed by the past, and the man just can’t take it.

Unfortunately, some of Wells’ 19th century attitudes are on display as well. When Neptune and a rogue celestial body are hurtling toward Earth in “The Star,” the “savages” believe it’s a good portent while the scientist are sure that humanity is screwed. (Neither are exactly correct.) “The Lord of the Dynamos” gives us Azuma-zi, a black assistant from the “mysterious East,” a savage of the sort that “give(s) souls to rocks and trees—and a machine is a thousand times more alive than a rock or tree.” Azuma-zi ends up sacrificing his abusive supervisor to the power plant’s main dynamo…

Wells does subvert colonial notions in a stronger manner in “The Country of the Blind.” Nunez, a sighted English mountain climber, finds a sequestered city where everyone is blind. Believing the adage “In the land of the blind, the one-eye man is king,” he attempts to conquer them. When that doesn’t go well, he tries to fit in, but eventually leaves when the head of the society demands that his eyes be put out. In a way, this is a tale of colonialism repulsed.

Whatever the subject matter, I do like Wells’ style of writing. While many writers might shoot for dry allegory, Wells is always lively enough that I don’t feel entirely preached at. Definitely a bright spot in the early 20th century writings I’ve been reading lately.

Deal Me In, Week 9 ~ “Paladin of the Lost Hour”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Paladin of the Lost Hour” by Harlan Ellison

Card picked: A
Found in: Angry Candy, but also online at Ellison Webderland

And then the pillager’s fist came loose, and he was clutching for an instant a gorgeous pocket watch.

What used to be called a turnip watch.

The dial face was cloisonné, exquisite beyond the telling.

The case was of silver, so bright it seemed blue.

The hands, cast as arrows of time, were gold. They formed a shallow V at precisely eleven o’clock. This was happening at 3:45 in the afternoon, with rain and wind.

The timepiece made no sound, no sound at all.

The Story
This is my favorite short story.

When I decided on Angry Candy for Deal Me In, I debated whether to include “Paladin of the Lost Hour” because I’ve read it so many times in the past, but I couldn’t leave it out either. I read it (or rather listened to it) the day after Leap Day.

The story is about Gaspar, an old man who is the keeper of a watch that mystically holds the last hour of existence. It is also the story of a young veteran, Billie, who is not living, but simply marking time after returning from war. Their lives intersect and each are given friendship and grace. “Paladin of the Lost Hour” never fails to make me cry, though always enough time passes between my readings that I don’t quite remember what touches me and I’m therefore always taken by surprise too.

Some of Harlan Ellison’s stories are…oblique. Maybe they are satire anchored in a certain place and time (a problem I generally have with satire and allegory), or maybe they require a certain state of Ellison-ness to make as much sense as they should. “Paladin of the Lost Hour” isn’t one of those stories. Ellison won a Hugo for the novelette and a Writer’s Guild Award for the script adaptation that was an episode of 1985 Twilight Zone revival.

Pick a Card, Any Card

Endless Time playing cards are an apt fit for “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” clean and  cleverly designed. You can find out more about them at Kardify.

Deal Me In, Week 7 ~ “The Daunt Diana”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Daunt Diana” by Edith Wharton

Card picked: 3
Found at: Tales of Men and Ghosts

“WHAT’S become of the Daunt Diana? You mean to say you never heard the sequel?”

Ringham Finney threw himself back into his chair with the smile of the collector who has a good thing to show. He knew he had a good listener, at any rate.

I decided at the beginning of the year to add one of my Classics Club books to my Deal Me In list. Two birds with one stone! So, I’ll be reading through Edith Wharton’s Tales of Men and Ghosts throughout the year.

The Story
I wondered somewhat about the title of the story: “The Daunt Diana.” What is meant by daunt? It turns out that Daunt is a collector of art, and the Daunt Diana is a statue of the goddess Diana owned by Daunt. Strangely, the actual artist who carved the Diana is never named.

Finney tells our listener about Humphrey Neave, a man with tastes more expensive than his means. Neave is deeply envious of the kind of art collection that Daunt owns, one effortlessly obtained by a very rich man. As fate would have it, both Daunt’s and Neave’s fortunes change and Neave, haunted by the Diana, buys the entire collection. One would presume that Neave would now be a very happy man. Not so! There had been no hunting for his art, no wooing, and Neave is left unfulfilled. So, Neave sells off the collection piece-meal. And then goes about buying each piece back. But can he regain the sculpture which again haunts him, the crown jewel of the collection? Can he woo Diana back?

Finney has a very particular voice which makes this story quite enjoyable, even as I rolled my eyes and muttered, “Rich people…”

The Author
Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Which means of course I want to read some of her ghost stories.

Pick a Card, Any Card

This week, cards inspired by Italian art: the Sistine deck created by Julio Ribera. Found at Kardify and on Kickstarter.

Deal Me In, Week 3 ~ “Eidolons”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Eidolons” by Harlan Ellison

Card picked: 10
Found in: Angry Candy

You’ve got time. You have always had time, but fear slowed you, and you were overcome. But this is the hour that stretches…and you’ve got a chance. After all, it’s only your conscience come to kill you. Stop shivering and put up your dukes.

The Story
Vizinczey, a man wanted on two continents, tells of Mr. Brown, a collector of tin soldiers. Or rather a collector of soldiers from throughout time which he turns into tin soldiers. Mr. Brown knows many secrets from Promontorium Sacrum, or the area beyond the edge of the map. Mr. Brown is killed by his “creations,” but he tasks Vizinczey with helping mankind. Vizinczey does so by imparting thirteen, well, “they are not quite epigraphs, nor are they riddles.”

These vignettes are about time, and inspiration, and creativity. Maybe. With Harlan Ellison, it’s hard to tell sometimes.

The Author
Harlan Ellison was a prolific, award winning, and occasionally problematic short story and screenwriter. He’s probably best known for the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” though even that is subject to controversy…

Deal Me In, Week 2 ~ “Light And Space”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Light and Space” by Ned Beauman

Card picked: J
Found at: The Guardian

Shortly after midnight on Christmas morning, a night watchman discovered me standing by Feretory with a fire axe held over my head. I am, or was, a senior member of MoMA’s curatorial staff, with a special interest in the Light and Space movement of the 1960s, and so naturally I’ve been called upon to give an account of why I should wish to destroy such an important work. My only reply is that in fact I wanted nothing less than to destroy it. Even after all that’s happened, I still recognise Feretory as a masterpiece. Destroying it would have been no more than an unavoidable consequence of what I really hoped to achieve with the axe that night.

The Story
This is one a several “Christmas” ghost stories that The Guardian ran in 2013. I bookmarked them probably in 2018, so I haven’t been sitting on them for *that* long. But it’s always fun to see where seasonal stories end up when you’re picking randomly.

Conroy Glasser is a 1960s “light and space” movement artist who worked in blocks of resin. His masterpiece, Feretory, is an impossibly seamless pillar of translucent plastic. What makes this sculpture even more mysterious is that the formula for the resin was proprietary, cooked up by Glasser and “a sympathetic polymer salesman from Hudson Plastic.” And also that Glasser’s wife disappeared around the time the sculpture was poured. And that Glasser committed suicide a few months later. And that in 1989 a curator of his works ended up in an mental institution after one of his assistants turned up dead. And that a collector of Glasser’s works from the same period as Feretory also committed suicide. The curator we meet in the quote above was also planning a new showing of Glassers, until he begins to suspect there are dark truths behind Glasser’s works.

In the real world there is no way that there wouldn’t be a thousand podcasts and YouTube videos about the (obvious) curse of Conroy Glasser and his art…

Conroy Glasser is fictitious, but the  Light and Space art moment is a real thing, involving minimal and abstract works that focused on the interplay of light, objects, and color. (That’s probably wildly inaccurate. I know very little about art.) Do an image Google search on Light and Space. You won’t be disappointed.

Also, a feretory is:

1. A receptacle to hold the relics of saints; a reliquary.
2. An area of a church in which reliquaries are kept.

The Author
Ned Beauman is a new author to me. He’s a British novelist, journalist, and critic. I enjoyed this story and I am tantalized by his novel The Teleportation Accident, “a hilarious sci-fi noir about sex, Satan, and teleportation devices.”

Pick a Card, Any Card

I’m not entirely sure if Light and Space can be accurately produced in two dimensions, but the back of these horizon playing cards might come close.

Horizon Playing Cards at Kardify
And at Kickstarter

Deal Me In, Week 1 ~ “What Tune the Enchantress Plays”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“What Tune the Enchantress Plays” by Peter S. Beagle

Card picked: 5
Found in: Sleight of Hand, Tachyon Publications, 2011

Ah, there you are. I was beginning to wonder.

No, no. Come in, do—it’s your lair, after all. Tidy, too, for a demon. I’d do something about those bones, myself, and whatever that is, over in the corner, that smelly wet thing. But each to his taste, I say; you probably wouldn’t think too much of my notions of décor, either. God knows, my mother doesn’t.

The Story
In the introduction to this story Peter S. Beagle admits that it is the voice of a character that comes easiest to him. As you can see from the beginning few sentences above, this story has a great deal of voice.

Our speaker is Breya, an enchantress of some power. She is from Kalagria where many of the women are witches, sorcerers, or enchantresses. Never the men, though. The men of Kalagria are carriers of magic. Furthermore, if a majkes of Kalagria marries an outsider, their daughters will not have any knack with magic. So, the story that Breya tells this demon before she sings him into oblivion at moonset is an unfortunate one: Breya’s true love was an outsider.

I didn’t remember this story from the first time I read back in 2011-ish. A different author five years later might have used this set up to tell a tale of gender reversal or maybe at least gender role reversal, but that’s not quite Beagle. Lathro, Breya’s love, goes off to become the man he thinks he needs to be. Breya goes after him under the advisement of her mother, who is bent on making Breya into the woman she needs to be.

The Author
Peter S. Beagle is best known as the author of The Last Unicorn, but he has a fairly large body of work. “What Tune the Enchantress Plays” is set in the same magical world as his novel The Innkeeper’s Song.

Pick a Card, Any Card

Music plays a role in this story and many of Beagle’s works. Vivaldi Playing Cards evoke some of that beauty and grace.

Vivaldi Kickstarter
And at Kardify

Happy Halloween from The Black Cat, Vol. 2

I promised a second set of stories from The Black Cat for Halloween, but I’ve almost run out of holiday season. 😉 Here’s a link to the first five stories.

Mr. Williamson, a mysterious jeweler, has gone missing and after a period of time, his massive safe is being removed from his former place of business. Between the time of Williamson’s arrival in town and his disappearance, a series of burglaries and robberies have taken place, including Williamson himself being mugged. But after Williamson disappeared, the robberies stopped. What happened? And is the answer to be found in his safe?

Link to “The Williamson Safe Mystery” by F. S. Hesseltine

Mr. Jones is a bit nosy. He noticed the rather smart family who lived in the building across the street and when he noticed their absence, he was quick to inquire about their apartment. After he moves in, he befriends Mr. Flemming, the second floor’s only other resident. Since the other rooms on the floor aren’t locked, they make light use of them. During one lazy evening, Jones notices that the width of two apartments is shorter than the hallway is long. Is there a secret room? And the better question, why is there a secret room?

Link to “The House Across the Way” by Leo Gale

Prof. Linwood was a collector of seaweed. Until he got married. But now his wife is dead and the seaweed room is kept locked. No one knows why, so surely it would be okay if a late-staying guest spends the night there, right?

Link to “The Seaweed Room” by Clarice Irene Clinghan

A man and woman on the run settle in a deserted Boom Town. Their crimes are never enumerated, but they have a good-sized box of money. Their plan is to lay low in this town for a year and then head to South America. Everything is fine for a while. The couple obviously love each other and enjoy the freedom of having a whole town at their disposal. But when they are forced to move into the old hotel, the woman starts hearing a small voice asking, “Mama?”

Link to “The Reapers” by Batterman Lindsay

An old salt, Tom, tells Sam of a treasure on Mustery Island. After braving a squall to reach the island, Sam encounters a dog that leads him to a dilapidated mansion. There he finds a invalid woman with dimentia. She believes she’s a refugee from the French Revolution and goes on about some devil-weed on the island, protecting the treasure. It all seems too fantastical to Sam…until he meets the devil-weed…

Link to “The Guardian of Mystery Island” by Edmond Nolcini