Friday, October 21, 2016

games, part 17

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

“you brought then here to murder me!,” mrs morris screamed. “help! help! murder! murder!”

“now, mrs morris,” porterfied looked up at the balcony. “you know these gentlemen don’t know your sense of fun…”

“i’m going to call the police!” mrs morris shouted. “you can’t stop me!”

“yes, mrs morris, why don’t you do that? ha, ha!” porterfield turned to bob and the professor as mrs morris left the balcony and retreated to her room. “ha, ha! quite batty, as you can plainly see, gentlemen.”

bob and the professor were both staring at the empty balcony.

“did you bring us here to murder her?” bob asked in a matter of fact voice.

“of course not! what a thought!” porterfield laughed as heartily as he could manage. “ did i say anything about a murder? the poor old thing is quite mad, that’s all!”

“well, you never know, “ bob answered. “it didn’t hurt to ask, did it?”

“no, i suppose not.” this was getting very strange, porterfield thought. maybe they really are both mad and escaped from an asylum.

“i’ve seen and done things too terrible to be believed,” bob continued.

“well, that’s good,” porterfield answered with a chuckle. “then you must be a pretty capable fellow. so why don’t we get cracking and board those windows up, eh?”

“killing a little old lady would be all in a day’s work for me, “ bob said. “you wouldn’t believe the things i’ve done.”

the professor, seated on the couch, seemed to be paying no attention to the conversation between bob and porrterfield, but was staring into the unlit fireplace.

“heh, heh, i see you have a dry sense of humor, young man.” porterfield put his hand gently - very gently - on bob’s elbow, and began steering him out of the room. “but those boards won’t nail themselves up.”

porterfield looked back at the professor. “make yourself a fire, sir. everything you need is there. we will expect a roaring warm fire when we come back inside, won’t we, bob?”

neither bob nor the professor responded, and porterfield left the professor to his thoughts and led bob back outside.

porterfield’s own thoughts were in a whirl. first off, had mrs morris actually called the police? probably not, but she might have. and if she had, it was not likely that the police would come out, especially on such a night.

mrs morris would go for months without actually calling the police on porterfield, no matter how much she threatened to. and then she would call every night for three weeks, and they would come out a few times the first week - if it was a slow night and they were really bored.

all well and good. at the same time, did he really want her calling the police on the very night he decided to actually get rid of her?

what if somebody besides the local sheriff and police, who were familiar with mrs morris’s cracked ways, got involved in the investigation of her demise? some smart-alecky district attorney from the state capital, looking to make his mark? could porterfield palm the two madmen off on him?

what a dilemma! these two fellows were so perfect! so perfect! the chance he had been waiting for!

he would have to determine if mrs morris had called the police. just the fact that they did not show up would not show she had not called.

why was everything so difficult? why was life so unfair?

porterfield pushed the foot door open against the wind, and a blast of rain hit him and bob in their faces.


the professor continued to stare into the dead fireplace.

he did not need a fire to stare into the flames.

he thought of his life, of all his past lives, on earth, in the golden empire of betelgeuse, and in all the other universes and dimensions he had passed through.

of all the kingdoms he had conquered, and of all the women who had betrayed him, and the comrades who had stabbed him in the back…

he dd not make a move to light a fire, but after a while he awoke from his reverie enough to try to light his pipe.

after a few attempts he succeeded, and took a long satisfying puff.

as he did so he felt someone sitting beside him on the couch.

it was mrs morris.

mrs morris, clutching the collar of a heavy blue dressing gown, and staring at him with large red-veined eyes.

“good evening, madam,” the professor addressed her in his most suave manner. “i thank you for your hospitality.”

“hospitality be damned,” she hissed. “and there is nothing good about it.”

“it is a bit inclement,” the professor agreed.

“porterfield - he wants you to murder me, doesn’t he?”

“the young fellow who let us in? why no, he didn’t mention anything of the sort. seemed rather a pleasant chap, in fact, though perhaps a bit intense.”

“intent on murdering me, you mean.” mrs morris stared at the professor. “do you have a car? you must have come here in a car.”

“why yes, i do. parked at the bottom of the hill. the rather steep hill, if i do say so.”

“good, good.” mrs morris leaned closer to the professor. “i have a secret.”

“we all have secrets, madam.”

“yes, yes.” mrs morris shifted on the couch closer to the professor. “secrets, secrets! you are mad, aren’t you?”

the professor waved his pipe. “madness does not exist in nature,” he answered calmly. “only in the eyes of the soulless clinician.”

“quite so! ha,ha! yes, you’ll do! i see that you, like me, have penetrated to the secret heart of things.”

“i make some effort in that regard.”

“listen! do you know what i have hidden in the basement?’”

“no, madam, why don’t you tell me?”

“a million dollars!” mrs morris looked around the dark room after making this announcement.

“a tidy sum,” the professor agreed.

“tidy enough enough to get me murdered in my bed.” mrs morris grabbed the professor’s arm. “by porterfield and - that young man who came in with you, what is he to you?”

“why, nothing. just a young fellow i picked up on the road a couple of hours ago. i had never seen him before in my life.”

“good, good,” mrs morris tightened her grip on the professor. “now, listen to me….”

(to be continued)

Friday, October 14, 2016

games, part 16

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

but as they got closer, suddenly a beautiful thought entered porterfield’s brain.

maybe, he thought, i have been waiting for these gentry for years. maybe they are the pawns of fate, come to save me.

for years porterfeld had dreamed of murdering mrs morris, so that he would finally have a completely free hand to ransack the house for her hidden wealth.

and if he found nothing, then he could just be on his way.

but had never been able to get up the nerve, telling himself that he would be too obvious a suspect.

but a passing tramp, or a couple of passing tramps … if only they would come along at the exactly right time! and if he, porterfield , could somehow manipulate them into murdering mrs morris…

he could always try making up a story about tramps, but he knew that when the police found no trace of them, that would make him, porterfield, who had told the story, even more of an obvious suspect.

but now, suddenly, these two had come along!

and the storm! perfect cover!

not that he would try to get them to murder mrs morris. he would have to do that himself. but they would be there - “trapped” by the storm! ha, ha!

all this ran through porterfield’s brain in less than a minute. he watched from the shelter of the side of the side of the house as the two men made their stumbling way up the hill. t he wind was in their faces, and they made slow progress.

as they came closer, he saw that they did not quite fit the idea of “tramps” he had always had in his mind - circus clown looking fellows with battered hats and big red noses.

the taller, younger one looked like one of the old fashioned “hired men” that walked the roads in the years before the war.

and the shorter one, that he was helping along, looked like - well, he did not look like, porterfield could see right away that he was a professor.

so maybe they were not bums after all. maybe the younger one was the professor’s chauffeur, though he did not look like one.

porterfield would just have to play it by ear.

friendliness was not something porterfied was very good at, but he gave it a try.

“howdy, fellows!” he shouted. “mighty rough night, eh?”

“i guess,“ the younger one replied. he released his hold on the older one, who, once he had reached the shelter of the house, seemed perfectly capable of standing his own two feet.

“say,” porterfield continued, “how would you two fellows like to give me a hand? i’ll make it worth your while.”

“maybe,” the younger one answered . he was looking at the door and the windows as if he would like to get behind them. sheltered as they were, the wind was still whipping around them and they were all three still getting wet.

the older man - the professor - had wiped the rain from his glasses and was looking around and up at the house with an expression of polite curiosity.

“i could use some help going around and making sure all these windows are boarded up,” porterfield said. “i’ll get a ladder. and then when we are done you can come in and dry off and have some hot coffee or cider and maybe even a slice of pie, how does that sound?”

the younger man looked up at the big house with its rows of windows. “i could do that,” he answered without enthusiasm. “i don’t know if he could.”

“i am afraid of heights,” the professor said matter-of -factly. “and i always fall off ladders.”

“ha, ha! well in that case, sir, why don’t you just step inside and make yourself at home. and i will get the ladder and this stout young fellow and myself will see to the windows. my name is pete, by the way, pete porterfield.”

“my name is bob,” said the younger man.

“pleased to make your acquaintance, bob. and are you - this gentleman’s chauffeur?”

“no,” said bob. “I’m just a guy.”

“ just a guy. well, nothing wrong with that. and you, sir, if my eyes don’t deceive me i take it you are a professor of some sort.”

as if to conform porterfield’s surmise, the professor took his pipe out of his pocket.

“ha, ha! a professor! yes, young man, you have hit the nail! yes, you have hit the nail, but not right on the head, only halfway on the head! and do you know why that is!”

an odd duck, thought porterfield, but he figured most professors were. “no, sir, why is that?”

“because being a professor is just the outward form i have taken on my visit to this universe.”

“i see.” why, thought porterfield, he’s crazy.

“yes,” the professor continued, “i am actually the emperor ton-wa xviii, of the empire of betelgeuse. and i have been cast into this world by my evil witch of a wife.”

porterfield could see that the younger man was surprised by this declaration. why, he is as crazy as a bedbug, he thought. maybe they both are - they are a couple of inmates escaped from an asylum!

how perfect is this!

“well sir, that is good to know, “ porterfield answered with a genuine smile. “but look here, we are getting wet, why don’t you come in, come in.” he opened the door behind him and held it open as bob and the professor entered.

porterfield led them into a large front room and switched on a lamp. except that there was no rain falling in it, it was almost as dreary and cold in the room as it had been outside.

“make yourself at home, sir.” porterfield told the professor. he pointed to a large fireplace. “make yourself a fire. make yourself a fire while young bob here and myself see to the windows.”

the professor looked doubtfully at the fireplace. he made no move toward it, but sank down on a large couch, with a curiously defeated air as if his declaration of being the emperor ton-wa xviii had taken something out of him.

there was a staircase on the side of the room leading up to a darkened balcony.

suddenly a shadowy figure appeared on the balcony. it was mrs morris.

“what are you doing, porterfield,” she cried. “who are these people?”

“why, just a couple of travelers, mrs morris, “ porterfield answered with an attempt at a hearty laugh, “a couple of weary travelers seeking shelter from - “

“you can’t fool me, porterfield! you brought them here to murder me!”

“ha, ha! now, mrs morris - “

“i know your sly ways, porterfield! you don’t fool me! you brought them here to murder me!,” mrs morris screamed. “help! help ! murder! murder!

part 17

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

games, part 15

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

“ha, ha!” exclaimed the professor, as they were past the barricade and speeding up again. “we fooled him! we fooled him good!”

bob had been picked up by crazy people before, so the professor’s outburst did not bother him too much.

and bob of course was crazy himself - certified as such by booby hatch doctors in four states - so who was he to complain?

just another day or night among the lost souls running and crawling and driving over the surface of the spinning earth.

what did bother bob a little was the wind they were suddenly heading into, wind which threatened to blow the old packard off the road.

at least there were no other cars in sight, to crash into.

and bob could see the professor was concentrating on his driving and keeping the car on the road.

the professor had stopped telling his story.

which bob had already forgotten every word of anyway.

bob did not want to distract the professor so he kept his mouth shut as the car headed into the wind down the highway.

what was it the trooper had said back at the barricade? about the storm? bob had not really been paying much attention and probably would not remembered even if he had been.

remembering stuff was not bob’s road game.

at least, thought bob, it has not started raining.

and then the rain came.

driving sheets of wind-driven rain, covering the windshield and overpowering the feeble windshield wipers.

damn, thought bob, i shouldn’t have thought that about the rain. i made it happen.

it had happened to bob many times before. he thought about something - and then it happened!

the human mind is a terrible thing, and bob should have known better, after all his experiences with his own mind.

of course he was not going to tell the professor what he had done.

the rain was harder now, and bob was a little bit scared.

should he suggest that the professor pull over? it was hard to see what “over” was - it could be a deep ditch that would send them tumbling over, it could be a river. and if they just stopped in the road there might be somebody right behind them, though that was unlikely.

maybe if the professor pulled over real slow, bob could get out and see where they were?

but these thoughts of bob’s were interrupted by the professor laughing and shouting, “what fun! what glorious fun!”

he is even crazier than me, bob thought.

bob gave up. he decided to just see what happened, as he had so many times before.

they kept on. the rain and wind got worse, and the car started to skid a couple of times, but the professor got it under control and actually slowed down some.

“look for some lights!” the professor shouted.

that’s something, bob thought, at least he wants to stop. “do you know where you are?”

the professor did not seem to hear him, so bob shouted louder, “do you know where we are?”

“no,” the professor answered, “but there has to be an old house along the road somewhere. there always is!”

bob did not reply, and the professor continued, “barry won’t let me down! there will be an old dark house along the road here somewhere.”

barry? “who is barry?” bob shouted.

“my friend i was telling you about!”

“oh.” bob had forgotten everything the professor said.

“he rules the world now!” the professor said. “he was working on a secret project and he stumbled on the key to the universe - to reality! so he rules the world now!”

bob just nodded. he was getting too confused now to be scared.

“and he’s still my pal, even though he stole my girl, “ the professor added, in an almost normal voice.

bob had an idea. a good idea.

i will say i see a light, he thought. even if i really don’t. that way he will stop. and then i can just get away.

i will get soaked but i have been soaked before. at least i probably won’t be dead.

“hey! i think i see a light! “ bob shouted.

it worked. the professor slowed down and came to an almost smooth stop.

with a shudder of relief, bob pushed the door open against the wind.

he slipped out of the car, and looked around.

and there - about five hundred yards away - was a light! not too bright, but definitely a light.

bob moved away from the car, squinting into the rain.

it was a house all right, up on a hill. an enormous old house, but with just one lit window, barely visible on the top floor.

the professor got out of the car, after moving it a little further off the road.

“i can’t see a damned thing,” he told bob. “either with my glasses on or without them. you will have to lead me.”

it didn’t bother you when you were driving, bob thought, but did not say so.

bob took the professor’s arm, and they moved slowly toward the hill, looking for a path up it.


damn, thought porterfield, this is really bad, as he guided the ancient bentley around the bends in the road back to the old morris house.

the rain had hit just as he left old burley’s general store. at least burley had been busy enough with other customers that porterfield did not have to stand around politely listening to his interminable gossip and chatter.

maybe he should not have gone into simmonsville at all, but there was no use crying about it now.

and at least he had the wind at his back, and there were no other cars on the road that he could see.

he took each turn very carefully, in case there was a stalled or flooded car just around it.

he got back safely.

as he reached the sloping driveway, he noticed a car parked - abandoned? - just beyond the hill the old house stood.on.

he got up the hill and parked as close to the house as he could get .

before unloading the supplies he had gone to town for, he looked down the hill and saw a couple of figures approaching. a taller one seemed to be helping a shorter one along.

what is this? porterfield thought. i will make short work of these rascals. probably a couple of good for nothings using the storm as an excuse to impose on honest citizens and steal the silverware.

but as they got closer, suddenly a beautiful thought entered his brain.

maybe, he thought, i have been waiting for these gentry for years. maybe they are the pawns of fate, come to save me.

part 16

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

games, part 14

by harold p sternhagen writing as "ralph desmond"

being a sequel to fun

illustrated by konrad kraus

originally appeared in the july through october 1952 issues of walloping midnight stories magazine

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

a couple of large raindrops hit hal on the back of the head as he rang the doorbell of the boarding house, to be let back in after his walk around the block.

he had already forgotten the curious sight of jenny letting a couple of women in by the side door.

he waited a few seconds. he started to press the bell again, but the door suddenly opened and brenda the landlady stepped aside and let him in.

she did not say anything but quickly closed the door behind him as a few raindrops followed him inside.

the entrance and front room were dark, but hal could see a light on in what he knew was the kitchen.

though she had not invited him to do so, hal followed brenda into the kitchen,

there was no one else in the kitchen. there was a mug of tea on the table. and an ashtray with a cigarette burning in it, and a book.

hal sat down and made himself at home. “it’s quiet here, “ he said.

“yes, you mentioned that before.” brenda sat down and knocked the ashes off the cigarette and took a puff of it. “i told you, the guests are mostly working people, they need their sleep.”

“i’m just saying,” hal persisted. “you sure you got a full house here?”

“close enough.” what does he care? brenda thought. what would he do if the place was empty? tie me and jenny up and go through the place for - what, some jars full of pennies? the pies in the icebox?

and then it hit her - could this stupid punk have an idea about the money in the basement?

how? who could have known, or suspected? and if there was anybody out there who had traced her after all this time. wouldn’t they have come themselves?

even as she considered these reassuring thoughts, another part of her brain knew that strange things could happen in the world of yeggs and stickup men that she had left behind. a slip here, a lucky break there, and a punk like this could get the best of the hardest customer.

brenda was confident of her ability to read people, and she had pegged hal for a complete moron. looking at his stupid face through a puff of smoke, she felt again she was right.

hal pointed to the book on the table. it was a library book - the milk of human kindness, by elizabeth ferrars.

“reading a book. huh?”


“any good?’

“pretty good.”

“what’s it about?”

“it’s a mystery - a murder mystery.”

“a murder mystery, huh?” hal stared at the closed book. “ where a little old lady gets her head bashed in by the maid? and a detective with a mustache smokes a pipe and solves the case?”

“i haven’t got that far yet.”

“books like that,” said hal, shaking his head, “they don’t know nothing about real violence.”

“you don’t think so?”

“i know about real violence,” hal continued. “i seen things you wouldn’t believe. things you wouldn’t believe, sitting here in this cozy kitchen.”

“you don’t say so?” brenda assumed he was talking about wartime experiences, real or imagined. she wasn’t interested.

but hal, perhaps sensing her disdain, changed the subject. “say, about that pie that the little girl was giving her spiel about -“

“what about it? you want some?”

“sure, if you don’t mind. i mean, i was going to have some in the morning anyway - “

“i’ll get you a piece of pie.” brenda put her cigarette out in the ashtray and started to get up. “you want some tea with it?”

“no, that would just keep me awake. i’ll take a glass of water though.”

“coming right up.” brenda stood up. “i’ll get you some and then i’m going to bed. what kind do you want?’

“um - what kind have you got?”

“right now i got apple, blueberry , pumpkin - “

“pumpkin! aargh! i ain’t eating no pumpkin pie!”

“all right, do you want apple or blueberry then?”

“nothing personal, you could make the best pumpkin pie in five states but it’s still the most disgusting thing anybody ever ate.”

“apple or blueberry?”

“i’d take a dead raccoon out of a coyote’s mouth and eat it before i ate pumpkin pie.”

“apple or blueberry? i’m going to bed, sport, i haven’t got all night.”


brenda went over to the icebox and took out a pie.

while she was cutting him a slice, hal shifted in his chair and looked back at the parlor. “mind if i sit up a while?”

“suit yourself. just make sure you turn the light off when you go upstairs.”

hal nodded. “can i turn the radio on?’’

“as long as you keep it low.” brenda turned the tap on and filled a glass with water and brought it over to hal with the pie and a fork.

“say, you’re pretty easy to get along with, “ hal told her. “i been in places where such is not always the case.”

“it’s good business.”

“i guess. it pays to be nice to be nice to people.”

“sometimes,” brenda agreed.

“you got to be nice to people,” hal warmed to his theme. “but at the same time, you can’t let people take advantage of you.”

“that’s so true.”

“a lot of things are like that. you got to find a balance. my uncle joe used to say, you got to gamble but you can’t be too careful.”

“on that wise note, i’ll leave you.” brenda made her escape from the kitchen and closed the door behind her.

more of a chatterbox than i would have expected, brenda thought. at the same time she felt reassured that he was just what he seemed and knew nothing about her and the money in the basement.

did she hear something in the basement? what the - ? and then she knew - it was jenny letting her bum friends camp out - camp in - again!

jenny thought she was so sly. brenda sighed. why couldn’t she have friends her own age? well, she, brenda, was not going to do anything about it tonight, and wake up the whole house.

what there was of the “whole house”. for brenda had not been entirely truthful wth hal and cindy in telling them that the house was “just about” filled up.

in fact, besides hal and his two friends, there were only two other residents in the house at the time.

which was the main reason she had let hal and company in in the first place.

brenda started up the stairs. as she did, the house shook slightly and the little window on the staircase suddenly filled with rain.

part 15