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

Friday, September 16, 2016

the call

by fred flynn

illustrated by roy dismas

originally appeared in the december 1947 issue of desperate space stories

editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo

he sat alone in his office, staring out his big window at the universe.

it was almost over. he had won.

there was one little detail to take care of.

and then he would be complete master - of everything and everybody.

sending the security police on this detail had not been as exciting as sending his army and space navy against the combined might of the united planets and the fifth empire, but it was something that had to be done.

the desk was empty except for the single blue telephone.

the phone rang.

that was quick, he thought.

he picked up the phone, expecting to hear the voice of colonel m———, of the security police.

but there was a different voice.

“hello,” said the voice.

“hello,” he managed to say.

“they have come for me,” said voice. “they are outside.”

he tried to answer but could not.

“it’s all right,” said the voice. “i understand. you have to do this.”

“i - i’m sorry,” he said.

the voice laughed. “of course you are not sorry. but i understand. i just heard the elevator stop. i have to go now.”

he heard the click on the other end.

he fumbled the blue phone back into its cradle.

he looked out the window at the universe.

he started to cry.

the end

Saturday, September 10, 2016

games, part 13

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

edna, a kind-hearted waitress at a bus station, has offered a night's shelter to julie, a young woman with a strange story.

edna lived in the house she had grown up in, and had lived in it alone since her mother had died a few years past.

the neighborhood had gone a little bit to seed since the war had ended and a couple of nearby factories had closed down. many of the houses were empty, and the lots overgrown.

edna’s old friends - the same ones who told her she should not take in stray humans and animals - kept telling her she should move out before the neighborhood went completely to hell.

and that she especially should not be bringing strangers home when she had hardly any neighbors nearby who would hear her cries for help if she was set upon by one of the objects of her charity.

one of the houses beside edna’s was empty. the other was occupied by another woman living alone - old mrs henderson, the world’s nosiest and nastiest neighbor, who had feuded with edna’s mother for more than twenty years over every little thing either could come up with.

mrs henderson was probably not quite the world’s nosiest neighbor any more, but only because she could hardly move around. and - the point edna’s friends made - she was deaf.

mrs henderson’s lights were all off when edna pulled her old pontiac into the driveway.

edna and julie got out of the car.

julie looked around. it was very dark. the houses that she could see were dark, and there were a lot of trees.

“it’s quiet,” julie said.

“yes it is,” edna answered. a little quieter than usual, edna now noticed, with no breeze.

edna led julie around to the front of the house. she took her house key out of her purse.

“you lock your door,” julie said. she did not seem surprised, just making an observation.

“yes, i do,”

“we never locked our door,” julie said, in the same matter of fact way, as edna opened the door.

“it doesn’t hurt to be careful,” edna said. there was a light switch just inside the door and she turned it on.

“i guess not.” julie did not pursue the subject. she looked around. they were in a small parlor or living room, with a couple of couches, a small coffee table, and a small bookcase.

and a small fireplace which was spotlessly clean and looked unused.

the biggest thing in the room was a big brown radio. an old fashioned standing lamp with a big red globe stood beside the radio.

there was a picture on the wall which julie glanced at. a girl who was probably a princess was staring at a pool or lake like she was thinking about jumping into it.

“have a seat.” edna pointed to one of the couches. “you want something? tea, milk, a coke or ginger ale?”

“thank you. a coke would be nice.” julie sat down on the larger of the two couches. she was directly facing the picture of the princess who was getting ready to jump into the lake.

“unless you would rather go right to bed?” edna asked. “you must be tired after your long day”

“oh,no, “ julie answered. “i am wide awake.” and she was. she had dozed a little in the car on the way over from the bus station but was now completely awake.

edna was pleased. she brought people home because she liked to talk to them. plus, julie’s particular story interested her, horrified as she was by it.

“then make yourself at home.” edna left julie and went into the kitchen.

julie looked around. without getting up, she could tell the house was a pretty good-sized one, bigger than the one she and her mother had lived in. it had an upstairs and probably at least three bedrooms. edna lived in it alone, she had said so on the drive over.

edna returned with a ginger ale and a coke and a couple of glasses on a tray. each glass had a straw and a single large ice cube in it.

“i like your picture,” julie said, looking over edna’s head at it.

“the picture?” edna laughed. “oh, it’s been there for a hundred years. i never even notice it any more.”

“it tells a story,” julie said.

“it does?” edna smiled. “yes, i suppose you could say that.”

“i like things that tell stories, “ said julie. “pictures that tell stories, books that tell stories, songs that tell stories.”

“yes, so do i,” edna agreed.

“if there is no story, what’s the point of anything?”

“and what story do you see in my old picture?” edna glanced back at it. “i always thought she looked kind of sad.”

“she is sad,” said julie. “she is sad because her father, the king, is making her marry the dragon. the dragon will destroy the kingdom unless she marries him.”

“that’s pretty sad,” edna agreed.

“not as sad as it will be when she jumps into the lake.”

“and drowns.”

“no, she doesn’t drown. much worse. she sinks to the bottom of the lake and there is a sea serpent, and she has to marry him. so she might as well have stayed on land and married the dragon.”

edna took a sip of her ginger ale. “you have quite an imagination.”

“i am going to write a best selling novel,” julie said. “or a broadway play.” julie had decided to tell edna about her plan to write a best-selling novel. but - at least for now - not to say anything about the two diamond rings.

“i always thought i could write a best-seller myself,” said edna. “if i wasn’t so tired all the time. but what are you going to do?"

julie nodded sympathetically.

edna would have liked to ask julie more about the mail-ordering husband she was supposed to meet at the bus station but instead said, “what will your best seller be about? do you have an idea for it yet?”

julie took a sip of her coke through its straw and thought for a few seconds. “it’s about a future world,” she said.

“that sounds interesting,” edna encouraged her.

“in the future all the women and girls live in one big city and all the men and boys in another big city . all the boys are brought up to be bullfighters or cowboys or deep-sea divers. and all the girls are brought up to bake either pies or cakes or cookies.

the bullfighters have to marry girls who bake pies. the cowboys marry the girls who bake cakes and the deep-sea divers marry the girls who bake cookies.”

“that’s a good start.” edna said.

“the heroine is a girl named yolina 543. she is the most beautiful girl in the whole big city except for one thing. she has a blue birthmark on her forehead that looks like a bullet hole …”

part 14

Friday, September 2, 2016

games, part 12

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

“is that you, porterfield?”

“of course, it is i, mrs morris, who else would it be?”

“but i fired you, porterfield, yesterday. don’t you remember? i told you to leave and never darken my hearth again.”

“of course i remember, mrs morris. i remember all the times you fired me - at least all the times this month.”

porterfield, the long time butler-handyman-factotum of the old morris house, entered mrs morris’s bedroom. he had a bunch of wooden boards under his arm, and a hammer in his hand.

mrs morris was in bed, where she spent most of her life, under the same heavy blankets she burrowed under in all weathers and seasons. a pink shaded lamp on a small table beside the bed provided the only light in the room. a pile of novels by mary roberts rinehart and john dickson carr teetered on the edge of the table.

porterfield turned on a standing lamp beside the door, lighting up the room somewhat.

mrs morris noticed the boards under porterfield’s arm. “what do you think you are doing?”

“just preparing for the storm, mrs morris,” porterfield replied, “the one i have been telling you about for the last twenty-four hours.” he placed half the pile of boards under one of the two windows in the room - it was a corner room - and the other half under the window on the other side of the room.

“i hope you are not going to start banging nails at this time of night. i won’t have it. and i want you out of here in an hour or i will call the sheriff.”

“just a precaution for now. just being prepared. in case the storm gets really bad, these will be here and ready.”

“pooh. i know you. any excuse to cause a fuss, and especially any excuse to make a lot of noise and exasperate my nerves.”

“the correct term is ‘exacerbate my nerves’, mrs morris.” porterfield placed the hammer on the windowsill. he took some nails out of his pocket.

“i will not have you correcting my grammar, “ mrs morris told him. “you are fired. i want you out of here by morning, storm or no storm.”

porterfield started to put some nails on the windowsill beside the hammer, thought better of it, and put the nails back in his pocket.

“i am going to take a run into simmonsville,” he told mrs morris. “pick up some things we might need if the storm lasts a while.”

“will the store be open? at this time of night?”

“oh, of course. old burley loves these situations. he will be open all night, doing a land office business. do you want something before i go? a glass of milk, or a cup of tea?”

“a cup of tea would be nice. but then you are fired. i don’t want to see your foolish face again after that.”

porterfield switched the standing lamp off and started to leave the room.

“oh, one more thing,” he said to mrs morris, with his hand on the doorknob.

“what?” she asked sharply.

“i put those advertisements in the papers for a new maid. but i haven’t heard anything yet. and nobody has come by.”

mrs morris just nodded, and porterfield left the room and closed the door behind him.

mrs morris resumed reading the problem of the green capsule by john dickson carr.

porterfield made his way down the dark hallway, humming a happy tune. he was in a good mood, as the storm was giving him something to do.

something to break up the monotony and increasing frustration bordering on despair of his existence.

porterfield had installed himself, and maintained his position, as a functionary and servant - often the only servant - in the vast, gloomy, largely empty “old morris house” after the legendarily miserly old mister morris had died.

old morris had been quite a bit older than his wife when he died, and now she was old.

porterfield had spent the years searching the house and the grounds for the fortune “everybody knew” old morris - who disdained the modern institution of banking - had left behind.

others had had the same idea. porterfield had taken care of them.

but so far all his searches and machinations had been in vain.


back at the three roads truck stop, sheriff james brown sipped his black coffee and gazed out into the night.

the stop was now empty except for samantha behind the counter - who had finished with her look magazine and was staring into space - and the sheriff. the sheriff knew that samantha was not much for conversation with folks she knew, although she could be as friendly as she had to be with the truckers and other people passing through.

but he was in a good mood. talking with those two young fellows about football had put him in a good mood.

a couple of fine young fellows, the salt of the earth. how mistaken he had been in taking them for a couple of hoodlums at first glance!

he had enjoyed talking football with them and was only sorry he had not found a way to bring the conversation around to the war, and his, the sheriff’s, participation in it.

as he had told them, he did not like their chances at lizzie morris’s but he hoped they and the smaller fellow’s sister - what a peach! - found some honest employment down the road.

now he could see the lights of a car pulling into the lot outside. it looked like the left headlight was cracked.

he watched as a couple of people got out of the low slung vehicle. a tall man with from the driver’s seat and a much shorter person - probably female - from the passenger seat.

as the pair headed through the shadows to the door of the truck stop the sheriff thought he recognized the slouching gait of the man.

an alarm went off in his head and his good mood evaporated like the steam from a cup of coffee in a snowstorm.

tomeys! probably a couple of damned tomeys!

the tomeys were a low down clan of no-goods that were the curse of the county since anybody could remember.

harder to get rid of than raccoons or woodchucks.

the door opened and sure enough there was the worst of the lot - carl “lobo” tomey - along with a girl, “little red” tomey, one of his sisters or cousins or whatever - you never knew with the tomeys - walking in as easy as you please and looking right at the sheriff with all the sass in nebraska.

“howdy there, sheriff. you’re looking well,” lobo greeted him. at least he didn’t offer to shake hands.

“you looking for me, lobo?”

“hell, no. but we seen your car outside so we figured you was in here.”

“haven’t seen you for a while,” the sheriff said. “just passing through?”

“maybe. maybe. depends how hospitable folks are. you know how it is.”

“yeah, i know how it is.”

part 13