Oregon
Literary
Review
Vol. 2, No. 2

Contents

Home

Jeremiah Rickert
GENRE FICTION


Manly Wade Wellman  
 
Manly Wade Wellman
(1903-1986)
INTRO
BIOGRAPHY
THE FAULKNER INCIDENT
INTERVIEW:  David Drake
INTERVIEW:  Jeremy Lassen, Night Shade Books
MWW WRITING ESSAY:  "Interior Dialogue"
STORY:  "O Ugly Bird!"
STORY:  "That's Just Like A Martian"
Why Wellman?
By Jeremiah Rickert

     I came to Wellman at a time when I had all but abandoned genre fiction.  I had left it in the dust of my undergraduate English degree.  As part of my subsequent MFA program, I started an internship with Night Shade Books, an independent publisher of “weird fiction” and horror.  One of their best selling series of books was a five volume collection of Manly Wade Wellman pulp reprints.  I was assigned to take vintage pulps, such as Amazing Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Startling Stories and scan the Wellman stories into the computer for eventual publication.  Trying to use OCR software with old pulps is difficult because over time the cheap paper turns brown and the printing turns gray, so the computer has trouble picking out the letters.  (Also, the pages are so brittle that they tend to disintegrate if you flatten them out to be scanned).  Instead, I ended up typing the stories into the computer by hand.  (You learn a lot about your typing skills doing this).  It also gave me a chance to read the stories as I transcribed them, and the more I read, the more I was captivated by Wellman’s work.  Whether it was Hok, the leader of a pre-historic tribe battling Neanderthals for supremacy, or Patch Merrick, a rugged individualist living in a shack in a nature preserve while all around him, 30th Century Earth spirals towards the heavens, Wellman had a knack for creating yarns that managed to be fun, well written, and even multi-layered in a era that didn’t always stress these things.  On the rare occasions that I found a story that was equal or better than Wellman’s offerings, the name on the byline was A. E. Van Vogt, Henry Kuttner, L. Sprague De Camp, Arthur C. Clarke, or Robert Heinlein—all giants of the genre. 

     Manly Wade Wellman wrote for a living in a time when you were paid by the word, and often quantity was more important than quality, however of the dozens of stories of his that I’ve read, very few struck me as rush-jobs or filler.  He wrote in all genres, contributing stories to science-fiction, horror, adventure, and mystery pulps, as well as novels aimed towards the juvenile market and his highly regarded Civil War histories and biographies.  He also lived a full life, from his birth in Angola to spending time in the mountains searching for folk stories.  Wellman’s life brings to mind the phrase from the film Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, where a characters says “We did the things in the days,” and Manly was the kind of guy who at the age of 15, drove towards Canada with a friend to try to enlist, only to have WW1 end before they could get there, or once saw Clyde Barrow in a bar, or fended off a group of thugs with a loaded pistol, because they were angry about his newspaper boss’s crusade against the local Klan.  I think so many of us, who come from an academic background, with our English degrees and our MFA’s, sometimes forget that it is important to live first, and have some experiences with life before we try putting lives down on the page.  There are writers whose talents allow them to imagine these things, but there are times when talent fails and you have to fall back on experience.  If you don’t have any experience that blank page looks awfully big and awfully white. 

     I hope you will find something useful in these examples of Wellman’s work and the interviews with the people who knew him and the people who are publishing him now.  At the time of his death he had published 500 stories and over 80 books, a staggering number, and even the most cliché situation in his stories has a kind of buzz that sets it apart.  I think everyone who is interested in literature would do well to try to take jaunts away from their comfort zone and not to judge a book by the monster on the cover.

Back To TOP
 

Biography of Manly Wade Wellman
By Karl Edward Wagner

Originally published in the semi-pro fanzine Nightshade in 1976, this is considered by many to be the best available biography of Manly Wade Wellman.  It appears with permission of the Karl Edward Wagner Literary Group. 

     Manly Wade Wellman was born May 21st, 1903 in the village of Damundongo in Portuguese West Africa (now Angola), where his father was stationed as a medical officer.  Manly was the second white child born in the area, his brother Frederick, who would become the world’s leading authority on coffee growing, was the first.  His oldest brother Paul, and older sister, Alice, were born in Utah while the family was on leave.  All the Wellmans were writers.  Dr. Wellman was a talented painter as well as author.  Paul became a best-selling author of mainstream and historical novels in the 40s and 50s; four of his novels became movies:  The Walls of Jericho, The Iron Mistress, and The Comancheros.  Frederick has written the standard textbook on coffee horticulture, among other books.  Alice has written a number of novels of Africa, as well as a recent book on witchcraft and voodoo. 
 Manly grew up in the village of Kamundongo, where he spoke the native dialect before he learned English, and became an adopted son of a powerful chief whose vision Dr. Wellman had restored—had this impromptu cataract surgery failed, the story would have ended there.  As a small child, Manly twice visited London, where his family stayed in Torrington Square (obliterated during the battle of Britain).  There Manly took his first steps, and listened enthralled as a nanny recited the eerie rhyme, “Roses and lemons…” 

     Manly left Africa later in his childhood and came to live in the US.  As an adolescent, he lived in many parts of the country—Utah, Virginia, Arkansas, Kansas, East and West—never long in one place.  The youthful Wellman wandered a great deal, hopping freights, on horseback, by car, on foot.  During summers of his school years he held a wide-ranging succession of temporary jobs:  harvest hand, house painter, soda painter, soda bottler, cowboy, bouncer in a tough Prohibition roadhouse (his favorite job), and newspaper work.  In prep school in Utah he played center on the football team.  He never thought he’d be able to attend college afterward—his family was concentrating its resources on other siblings, money was tight, and Manly was too big and dumb.  But Wichita University (now Wichita State) wanted him for their team, and Manly attended college on a football scholarship, playing center in the days when players played on offense and defense, wore minimal protective equipment, and tactics were patterned after saloon brawls.  Wellman graduated in 1926 with a BA—then went on to Columbia, where he received his degree in Literature in 1927.  From Columbia he returned to Wichita to work as a reporter for the Beacon and later for the Eagle. 

     From his earliest school years, Manly wanted to be a writer.  A number of juvenile stories and proto-novels were completed, laughed at, and destroyed when found.  Manly didn’t give up.  As early as 1925 his poetry was being published.  A number of short stories, written in prep school and college, were published by the late 20s.  Family and teachers did all they could to discourage him.  A teacher said of one early story:  “Your work is impossible!”  That story, Back to the Beast, a grim tale of a scientist who manages to reverse evolution—on himself, was Wellman’s first sale to Weird Tales (November 1927).  He confronted his sneering teacher with his sale; it did little to help his grades. Classmates refused to believe that a big dumb jock could write, and insisted he must have plagiarized his stories.  When another early story, When The Lion Roared, an African tale, appeared in the first issue of the ephemeral pulp, Thrilling Tales (May 1927) Wellman was billed as “The King of Bungled Diction.” 
     Wellman would go on to write some 500 stories and articles.  Most of his early work appeared in very obscure publications such as Ozark Stories.  Another body of early work was buried in the Macfadden chain of magazines (The Master Detective, True Detective Stories, True Story Magazine, Ghost Stories), often articles and filler, often uncredited.  In addition to his newspaper articles, Wellman published an unknown quantity of poetry, used as filler.  Other early work included radio scripts, historical pageants, gags for humor magazines, movie reviews, and lyrics for sheet music composed by the famous Thurlow Lieurance.  During these struggling early years, Wellman said:  “I’d write a piece of copy for anybody for anything.” 

     The sales were needed.  Wellman worked as a newspaper reporter in Wichita from 1927 to 1930.  A hungover editor picked the wrong person to cuss out one morning and Wellman gave him some interesting observations and quit on the spot.  Not many people walked out of jobs in 1930, the teeth of the depression, especially when they were in the process of getting married.  Wellman did.  In 1930 he married Frances Obrist, a music student (training under Thurlow Lieurance) with a Texas background.  For the first few years, they ham-and-egged it along, Manly selling wherever he could.  A five or ten dollar sale meant money for a week, at a time when if you had a buck you were buck richer than most of your friends.  It was in the early 30s that Wellman first began to hit the science fiction markets with the poorly paying and semi-crooked Gernsback chain (“a penny a word, payable on [law]suit”).  Gernsback bought several of Wellman’s earliest s-f efforts, including what was to be the first of Wellman’s seventy-some books—The Invading Asteroid, a space opera thriller published as one of a series of promotional pamphlets (as the first s-f paperbacks were).

     In order to be closer to his markets, Wellman moved to New York in 1934, taking with him a battered suitcase and portable typewriter.  Frances waited in Wichita (told by friends he’d never see that man again), while Manly earned her fare with a couple of quick sales to the Macfadden chain.  The Depression was as tough for the two in New York as in Wichita, although “for a dollar a day you could get along all right,” Manly recounted.  Manly’s sales kept them eating, though it got close a few times.  Then in 1935, Astounding bought “Outlaws of Callisto” for $150, and Wellman’s career was assured from then on.  The story, Wellman’s first to Astounding, drew the cover that issue (April 1936).  Agent Julius Schwartz, who handled many of the same s-f writers, then took Wellman on as a client.  After that, the sales came fast, all over the fantasy and s-f pulp field. 

     While Wellman sold to all markets and genres, at least until the end of World War II, he was primarily a writer of fantasy and science fiction.  Of the two genres, far and away his best work as been in fantasy.  This is not surprising.  Wellman has been an avid reader of ghost stories and legends from his earliest years.  His earliest sales were stories and poems of the fantastic.  Above all else, Wellman states that he owes his development to Weird Tales and to its editor Farnsworth Wright.

     Wellman was reading Weird Tales since it first appeared on the stands in 1923, but it wasn’t until he read Lovecraft’s masterpiece, The Outsider, in the April 1926 issue, that his affection for the pulp really took fire.  The story prompted a letter to The Eyrie, and before long Wellman had sold a story to Wright.  It was the first of some fifty stories that Wellman sold to Weird Tales, staying with the pulp after Wright was forced out, and almost to the last year of the pulp’s existence.  Weird Tales brought out the best in Wellman’s writing, and Wellman became one of the pulp’s most popular authors.  Indeed, after the deaths of Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, and the semi-retirement of other stalwarts of the early years, Wellman’s fantasy tales became one of the pulp’s strongest features, particularly in the McIlwraith years.  But it was Farnsworth Wright who insisted that a story be convincing, who requested multiple revisions until the story was right.  That started Wellman on the tricky road that makes a selling writer a great writer.  Wright bought three stories from Frances Wellman (writing as Frances Garfield) in the same philosophy—insisting on last revisions ever after the story was purchased. 

     Wellman also sold notable fantasy stories to Weird Tales’ short lived competitors, Unknown and Strange Stories.  On the s-f scene, Wellman became part of the Better Publications stable, along with writers Henry Kuttner, Eando Binder, and Edmond Hamilton; and sold regularly to Thrilling Wonder Stories and to Startling Stories.  In addition he was a regular contributor to Astounding, during the F. Orlin Tremaine years and the early John Campbell era.  Personal differences with Campbell came to a head over Twice in Time, and Wellman quit working for Astounding.  The novel in contention was sold quickly to Startling Stories—a tale of time travel and Leonardo da Vinci, it is one of Wellman’s best s-f works.  Otherwise, Wellman was hitting almost every s-f pulp around, going from covers and feature novels to salvage-rate duds sold as by “John Cotton” or “Gabriel Barclay.”  In particular, Wellman was best known for his 30th Century Series.  He kept his universe consistent through some 17 stories and populated it with stalwart spacemen, flower-headed Martians, dastardly villains, lovely ladies, and all the ingredients of the pre-WW2 pulps.  Even the unabashed space opera yarns show flashes.  One of the 30th Century series, Devil’s Planet, appears to be the archetype of Asimov’s Caves of Steel, while Sojarr of Titan is of interest to Edgar Rice Burroughs fans in that it was designed (at the editor’s request) as a Tarzan-of-the-future novel. 

     In 1939, the Wellmans moved from New York to the Watchung Mountains area of new Jersey.  Their only child, Wade was born there.  In early 1940 Wellman took a job with Harry M. Chessler as managing editor of the Gold Medal syndicate.  While he had the job only long enough to establish credit to buy a house, Wellman plunged full-tilt into writing for the Golden Age comic books.  Many of his friends from the s-f pulps were involved in this new field, including Earl and Eando Binder and their artist brother Jack.  Wellman turned out a tremendous volume of work, inventing characters and writing stories for all the major and most minor outfits, including such notable comic heroes as Captain Marvel, Prince Ibis, The Spirit, Blackhawk, Green Lantern, Plasticman, Captain America, Aquaman, and countless others. 

     Wellman was asked to develop the character of Captain Marvel, and was shown a few Superman comics with instructions to copy him.  In Captain Marvel #1, Wellman amused himself by spelling out his name through the first initials of the balloons of the first story.  A decade later, this had major consequences in the infamous Fawcett/DC plagiarism lawsuit.  Wellman was a key witness for DC, inasmuch as his initials in the first Captain Marvel comic proved he was in at the creation.  Since Wellman testified that he was instructed to copy Superman his testimony was damning to Fawcett.  Captain Marvel had outsold Superman in the 40s.  It is an odd twist that one of the Big Red Cheese’s best writers would ultimately send him into limbo. 

     Wellman considered the comics work to be the very bottom of hack writing and kept no records of his work.  He wrote countless examples of two-page prose fillers (which were essential to claim a second class mailing permit) for which coined the term “squinkus.”  [Ed note: Wagner is incorrect here, Wellman's journals define a squinka (plural squinkas) as the plot and dialogue for a comic, not the two-page fillers]. Wellman ended his comics career after the war, although the early issues of Strange Adventures contained several s-f stories credited to him.  And the huge stacks of prime, first issue, Golden age comics he wrote for?  Well, he kept most of them around until his son tired of them—then he gave them away at Halloween! 

     Wellman joined the New Jersey Shore Patrol in WWII and served stateside as a first lieutenant.  After the war there were other changes.  The comics boom was dying out, the pulps were dying out.  Space opera was dead.  Weird Tales hung on, but it was a dinosaur.  However, while still contributing to the last pulps and the new digests, Wellman was changing his writing career to another field—that of hardcover novels and non-fiction.

     In 1946, Wellman’s mystery story, "A Star For Warrior" beat out a certain William Faulkner for the first Ellery Queen Mystery Award.  The Wellman’s then left New Jersey, moving to Pine Bluff, North Carolina.  It was in part a renewal of Manly’s Southern heritage, in part a desire to be closer to source material he needed for his new non-fiction works on Civil War history.  In 1947 Wellman’s first hardcover book came out, a highly regarded mystery novel, Find My Killer.  The same year saw the first of a long series of Wellman’s hardcover juvenile novels—which would eventually win a number of prestigious awards and make Wellman a staple author on libraries’ teenage shelves.  In 1949 he published a biography of his namesake, Confederate General Wade Hampton, called Giant In Gray.  The book has been called the best Civil War biography.

     In 1951 the Wellman’s moved to Chapel Hill.  In addition to the Ellery Queen award, Wellman’s Dead and Gone won the Mystery Writers of America Award.  The nonfiction Civil War history Rebel Boast was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  Worse Things Waiting won the World Fantasy Award. 

     Starting in 1951, his most famous fantasy series would appear in the pages of the digest-sized Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.  F&SF bought Wellman’s stories of John the Balladeer, the wandering mountain minstrel who battled supernatural evil with his wits, a good store of occult lore, a bit of luck, and a silver stringed guitar.  The series was collected in Arkham House’s Who Fears the Devil and a movie was produced based on two of the stories and a character who resembled John in little more than name.  The John stories represent Wellman’s best writing and the essence of his instinctive grasp of the wonder and mysticism of the American South.  The series also reflects Wellman’s incredible knowledge of mountain music, folklore, customs, and supernatural legends.  Unlike the plethora of “black books” invented by Lovecraft and his disciples, the books of witchcraft and “gramerye” in these stories are actual books, and could be found on Wellman’s shelves. 

     Except for the John stories in F&SF, Wellman virtually stopped writing fantasy or s-f.  New short fiction sales of any sort were few, he was now concentrating on hardcover writing—juveniles, mainstream novels, Civil War history, county history.  A number of hardcover and paperback reprints of his earlier s-f novels surfaced.  In addition to his writing chores, Wellman also taught classes on creative writing at the University of North Carolina and at nearby Elon College. 

      Fortunately for fantasy fans, that wasn’t the end of the saga.  In 1974 Wellman retired from teaching.  While he had only been teaching a once-a-week seminar by this time, he took creative writing seriously, devoting long hours to his students’ work and a good many of them were intelligent enough to profit from his attention to them.  With a little more time to spare, he began to heed the requests of editors for new fantasy stories.  Jerry Page, editing the new semi-pro “zine” Witchcraft and Sorcery, suggested that Wellman send him a new series, which turned into the Lee Cobbet stories.  Sitting around his small cabin on the side of Walnut Mountain in Madison County (the setting of the John stories), he began to toy with new plot ideas based on mountain music and mountain legend.  The collection of his best fantasy stories Worse Things Waiting, and its success added to the new impetus.  The renewed interest in fantasy, along with the rush of the semi-pro “zines” devoted to fantasy—Whispers being the leader and the best of the new breed—added fuel as well.

     And so, the dean of fantasy writers buckled his saber and revolver back on, and after a long leave of absence mounted up and rode back into the field.  Wellman would never quit what he called the “outlaw profession,” churning out five more John novels and other fantasy works.  He died on April 5th, 1986 after suffering a fall he never was able to recover from, leaving behind works that spanned every genre and every subject.

Back To TOP
 

The Faulkner Incident
By Jeremiah Rickert
This account is assembled from as many sources I could find, unless there's a letter hiding somewhere in an unsorted crate of papers in some library archive,  this is as complete a version of the story that I could assemble. 

     Manly Wade Wellman and William Faulkner crossed paths in 1946 when they were each one of three finalists for the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award.  Wellman’s entry was called “A Star For Warrior” and was about a Native American detective named David Return.  Faulkner’s story “An Error in Chemistry” was actually written in 1941 and had been turned down nine times before Ellery Queen finally agreed to publish it once Faulkner cleared up a plot point.  The third entry “Count Jalacki goes Fishing” was by (largely) forgotten writer T.S. Stribling. 

     At the time, Manly was still regarded as mainly a pulp writer, a staple in the pages of Weird Tales and the sci-fi pulps, and making a consistent living with his work.  He was a relative newcomer to detective fiction.  Faulkner was just concluding a stint in Hollywood, where he had become jaded and was trying to get out of his contract with Warner Brothers.  He felt the movies had robbed him of several of his prime years as a fiction writer and he was aching to return to the work that had made his name.  He walked off the set without permission, and Jack Warner insisted that he owned anything Faulkner produced until the contract was fulfilled—even threatening publishers to accept Faulkner’s work at their own risk. 

     The panel of judges for the Ellery Queen contest consisted of Christopher Morley, a novelist and founder of the Baker Street Irregulars, the fan club dedicated to Sherlock Holmes; Howard Haycraft, one of the founders of the Mystery Writers of America and author of Murder For Pleasure a well regarded book that traced the history of detective fiction; and Ellery Queen himself, (aka Manfred Lee and Frederic Dannay).  When they announced the winners, Wellman took the top  prize of $2000 and Faulkner and Stribling were each awarded $500 for being among the six second prize winners. 

     The  editorial comments in The Queen’s Awards, 1946, said the Faulkner story “…failed by a single vote to win the first prize…his story represented, in the opinion of at least two of the judges, ‘the most distinguished writing’ in all 838 manuscripts entered into the EQMM contest.’” 

     For Wellman’s entry, they would write:  “In the opinion of the judges, Manly Wade Wellman’s ‘A Star For Warrior’ was the most original detective-crime story among the 838 submitted…It’s originality is twofold:  it introduces not only a new detective character, but a new type of detective character; and it places this new type of detective against a background hitherto unexploited in the field of crime fiction.  The detective is named David Return, and he is a full-blooded American Indian.”

     According to Wellman, who related the story to his friend David Drake, there was a deadlock behind the scenes among the judges.  Wellman, Faulkner, and Stribling each had a “partisan” on the panel who refused to budge on their vote—none of the stories had enough votes to win.  Ellery Queen then called upon writer Rex Stout (famous for his Nero Wolfe stories) to break the tie.  Stout picked “A Star For Warrior,” for the top prize, and Faulkner and Stribling were awarded second prize. 

     At a time when money and sales were scarce for Faulkner, his manager Harold Ober wrote him to tell him the good news that “An Error in Chemistry” had won second prize in the Ellery Queen Mystery Awards, good for $500.  Faulkner, however was not exactly pleased by the news and wrote to Ober in January of 1946:  “What a commentary.  In France I am the father of a literary movement.  In Europe I am considered the best modern American, and among the first of all writers.  In America, I eke out a hack’s motion picture wages by winning second prize in a manufactured mystery story contest.” 

     Wellman recalled seeking out Stout after the announcement had been made to thank him personally, perhaps thinking the fact that they were friends had something to do with the prize.   Stout shook his hand and said “You deserved it Manly, you wrote a great story!”  Manfred Lee, when congratulating Wellman, commented “Manly, you know how I love the Red Man!” 

     Faulkner would go on to publish Intruder in the Dust in 1948, and in 1949 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  Two of his later novels, A Fable and The Reivers were awarded the Pulitzer Prize.  Not bad for a detective story also-ran. 

     Ironically, when Faulkner passed away in 1962, the University of Virginia offered their Writer-in-Residency position, held by Faulkner since 1957, to Wellman.  He turned them down.

Sources for this article: 

Blotner, Joseph Leo.  Faulkner: A Biography.  Random House:  New York, 1974. 

Blotner, Joseph Leo.  Selected Letters of William Faulkner.  Random House:  New York,  1977

Drake, David.  Email Interviews.  May-June 2006

Page, Gerald W.  Afterword, The Collected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman, vol. 5. 
     Night Shade Books:   San Francisco & Portland 2003.

Queen, Ellery.  The Ellery Queen Awards, 1946.  Little Brown & Company:  Boston, 1946

Back To TOP
 

Interview with David Drake
By Jeremiah Rickert
David Drake was a friend of Manly’s and eventually purchased the Wellman literary estate.  He is a working writer in his own right, and is well known in sci-fi circles for his military SF series “Hammer’s Slammers” among others. 

Do you remember the first Wellman story that you read?

DD:  The first Wellman story I read was probably one of the short novels which Avalon and Ace reprinted in the late '50s--Giants from Eternity, Twice in Time, Island in the Sky, The Dark Destroyers; one of those.
 I read “The Pineys” in a Weird Tales which a high school teacher loaned me when I was sixteen.  I mention that because my first contact with Manly was when I phoned him to ask if the story was based on a real legend.  He told me it was--a legend of the Jackson Whites in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. He'd transplanted it, however, to the Sandhills region of North Carolina where he was living when he wrote it. 

How did his work differ from the myriad others in the pulps...what made you pick him?

DD:  Manly's work always had an intensity, a feeling of belief, that set him apart from most of his contemporaries.  Then, when I first ran into the John the Balladeer stories in F&SF, I was blown away.  There's no better series in the field.

Pulp writers tended to be quantity over quality.  How do you think Manly managed a good balance? 

DD:  I have Manly's writing journals. He always revised. Even when he was on a tight deadline, he did a complete typescript, edited it, and retyped a show copy. In one case (“His Name On A Bullet”) that meant two 10,000-word typescripts over a weekend. (Which included writing the story, of course.)  That gave him a considerable edge in technique over most of his contemporaries.

Do you think the kind of "working writer" that Manly was, can still exist today? 

DD:  Can that sort of working writer exist? Well, I exist and I don't think I'm unique. I've been a full-time freelance pro since 1981 and the major source of the family income for the whole period. Manly didn't encourage me on that course, but I was well aware of his example when I made my decision. (And he didn't try to discourage me, either, as both Karl Wagner and our mutual agent did.)

Did you read him differently after you met him?

DD:  Knowing Manly certainly affected how I viewed both his new work and older work that I read or reread after I met him. I could see bits of Manly's life in his fiction, stories he would tell when we all got together for dinner or a party.

Did you go back and re-read him after you'd met him?

DD:  Yes, I reread Manly. Did and do. Some of his short fantasies (in particular) are models of economy and effectiveness. A professional writer (which I am) can always learn by studying the best of his field, and Manly's one of the best.

Do you think he influenced more as a writer or as a person...or both?

DD:  Manly's work wasn't a great influence on me, though Old Nathan was an homage to him and to John the Balladeer.  As a man, he influenced me greatly. Not in the least because he always was a man, in the best sense of the word.

I'm sure you have plenty of stories about Manly, is there one that sticks out?

DD:  I've put a number of stories about Manly in print.  I'll mention something here that I haven't before--and it fits in with what I said about him being a man.  I didn't have the whole story on this until his widow Frances told me after Manly died.
      He was twice offered a Writer in Residence position, once by officials at William and Mary while he was researching The Jamestown Adventure, and a few years later by UVA on the death of William Faulkner (who'd held the sinecure till his death).  Manly refused both times.
      "I didn't want to be a trained seal for the Rockefellars," was how he referred to the first offer; the second I didn't hear about until after he'd died.  I suspect the reasoning was the same:  he was in his sixties and the writing business, never easy, was in a further state of upheaval.  But he was going to be his own man nonetheless, refusing to answer to anybody else beyond the immediate work in hand.

Why did you decide to take charge of his literary estate?

DD:  I bought Manly's literary estate from his son on the death of Manly's widow Frances.  Manly and Frances were very, very close friends.  I wanted there to be someone who could help keep Manly's work in print which his son, living in a charity hostel without a phone because of substance abuse problems, could not be expected to do.

Are there any of his works you'd really like to see reprinted?

DD:  Manly's fantasy stories are his best work and they're in print thanks to Night Shade.  The novels of John the Balladeer (Silver John as Doubleday marketing people dubbed him) and John Thunstone are not. They're warm stories with a lot of emotional depth and deserve reprinting.

What do you have in the pipeline as far as your own work?

DD:  My work?  Oh, goodness. I have an Isles fantasy coming out in a month or two. An RCN space opera coming out next March (I think). And a couple hours ago I finished the rough plot outline (12,412 words) for the final Isles fantasy. 
      Like Manly, I'm a working writer.  Maybe he's up there grinning at me now, with a glass of iced tea ready since he knows I won't drink whiskey with him.

For More on David Drake, his homepage is www.david-drake.com

Back To TOP
 

Q&A With Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade Books
By Jeremiah Rickert
Night Shade Books has published a five volume set of Wellman’s best fantasy work, including a volume containing all of the John stories.  Additionally, they published two volumes of Wellman’s science fiction, Strangers on The Heights, and Giants From Eternity

How did Wellman’s Work come to Night Shade Books originally?

JL:  Jason and I were both big fans, and the idea of a collection of his work seemed like a good idea.  We had met the editor of the series at a convention and he was also a big fan, and had an idea for a five volume set, which ended up being the way we went. 

What is it about his work that interested you enough to decide it needed to be republished?

JL:  His work is very influential.  You always hear writers of SF and fantasy talking about Wellman’s work.  He’s one of the masters of the field, along with Ray Bradbury and Fritz Lieber.  But when the least expensive volume of his fiction is $400 on the used market, it simply ensures that no new readers will discover him.  Allowing a new generation to discover his work was one of the major reasons for choosing to publish him.  I know I read his work, both as a teen and young adult, and now I know people younger than myself will have an opportunity to enjoy his work.

What do you think distinguishes Wellman from other genre writers of his era?

JL:  Wellman straddled both the “literary” and the mainstream markets, writing a lot of historical fiction, and was compared to Faulkner when he was writing for the pulp markets.  But the majority of his work WAS written for the pulp markets.  Weird Tales in particular provided a market for a very unique kind of “American Literature.”  His blend of the Weird Tales tradition with myths and folklore from the Appalachian Mountains and American South, created something unique—it was pulpy horror/fantastic fiction that was NOT steeped in the Gothic or European traditions…  It was suffused with American imagery, from the combination of Native American myths, voodoo, and Mountain Folklore. 

Is there something from Wellman’s work that you think modern writers could learn from?

JL:  Wellman’s work shows how even strictly category “genre” fiction doesn’t have to be generic, or the same as everything else in the marketplace.  From his historical novels to his weird fiction, to his science fiction, Wellman always brought a unique perspective and voice to the category he was writing in.  My example above is just one way he made the weird and fantastic fiction his own, and his popularity in Weird Tales demonstrated how he stood out above his contemporaries as a very singular voice.

What Wellman do you recommend for people who are unfamiliar with his work?

JL:  Wellman’s most iconic character was John the Balladeer.  This cycle of short stories was collected up in Owls Hoot in the Daytime and Other Omens and is an excellent place to start. 

Night Shade Books Homepage

Back To TOP
 


The following is a small essay on writing by Wellman.

Interior Dialogue
(A Fancy Way of Saying You're Talking to Yourself)

By Manly Wade Wellman

    Perhaps more than anyone else, the writer must find what he is from within himself.  For he is alone, with himself, must understand himself, and wield himself in all he writes. 

     Your life is measured, not by time or ability or knowledge or reputation, but by the work you do.  Faulkner said, “Get it done.  Take chances.  It may be bad, but that’s the only way you can do anything really good.”  Hemingway said, “Apply the seat of the pants to the chair and the fingers to the typewriter.”  Wolfe said, “There can be no talent for writing whatever unless you have power to write.”  Hear all these things, but also hear yourself. 

     The road a writer follows is paved with words he writes.  It may be long or short, wide or narrow.  It is the only solidity on which his feet may travel.  Every step forward on the road he makes goes into new, unknown country, full of wonders and perils and ecstasies he can dream only as he counters them. 

     It is never a royal road.  Royalty rolls in chariots or is carried on the shoulders of slaves.  Drudgery produces the words that pave your road.  Nobody can give the words to you.  You find and use them all by yourself, away from sight and sound of anybody you think might help.

     What you find you must use.  If you chew it too long in meditation, it becomes limp and lifeless.  Remember the poet who knelt to thank God for an inspiration.  When he rose from his knees, he had forgotten it. 

     Use everything.  Don’t hold back something for the next time.  If it’s good, if it fits, use it now and trust God, or whoever’s up there pretending to be God, for more to use the next time.  It is there when you need it.  It always is.  Inspiration never comes to you, it is there, a part of you, distilled from all you know and feel and dream and hope.  It flows with you as your red blood flows. 

     But none of it is of any worth to you unless it is of worth to someone reading it.  You don’t know him.  His face and eyes and mouth would be strange to you.  But he must say to you, I know what you mean and it is good, it is valid.  It helps me, I’m glad I read it.

     That’s why you write in the Lonesome Valley, with only your thoughts like ghosts around you—for someone else, in some other valley, who reads you and believes you.

     When you can’t do it any more, it’s time to rest.  Stop writing books and read them.  Take two drinks an evening instead of one.  You’ve come to the bottom of the hill.  Maybe there’ll be a soft place to sit. 

Reprinted With Permission of the Estate of Manly Wade Wellman

Back To TOP

O Ugly Bird! 
By Manly Wade Wellman

This is the first of the John stories, published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in December of 1951 (pictured left).  Wellman’s John was a wanderer—a Korean War veteran turned backwoods minstrel, and he confronted evil wherever he found it.  Wellman said he always pictured John as resembling Johnny Cash.  As Night Shade Books’ Jeremy Lassen mentioned in his Q&A, Wellman took horror out of the Gothic and European tradition and set it into the American tradition.  This sea-change would have long lasting effects, setting the seeds for future American horror writers such as Stephen King, who dedicated his nonfiction book Danse Macbre to Wellman and others from the pulp era.

This is a song by Joe Bethancourt which uses Wellman's lyrics from the story, set to a traditional folk tune.
For more information on Joe Bethancourt, click HERE
(Click Play Button To Listen)

      I swear I'm licked before I start, trying to tell you all what Mr. Onselm looked like. Words give out—for instance, you're frozen to death for fit words to tell the favor of the girl you love. And Mr. Onselm and I pure poison hated each other. That's how love and hate are alike.

      He was what country folks call a low man, more than calling him short or small; a low man is low otherwise than by inches. Mr. Onselm's shoulders didn't wide out as far as his big ears, and they sank and sagged. His thin legs bowed in at the knee and out at the shank, like two sickles point to point. On his carrot-thin neck, his head looked like a swollen pale gourd. Thin, moss-gray hair. Loose mouth, a bit open to show long, even teeth. Not much chin. The right eye squinted, mean and dark, while the hike of his brow twitched the left one wide. His good clothes fitted his mean body like they were cut to it. Those good clothes were almost as much out of match to the rest of him as his long, soft, pink hands, the hands of a man who never had to work a tap.

     You see what I mean, I can't say how he looked, only he was hateful. 

     I first met him when I came down from the high mountain's comb, along an animal trail—maybe a deer made it. Through the trees I saw, here and there in the valley below, patch-places and cabins and yards. I hoped I'd get fed at one of them, for I'd run clear out of eating some spell back. I had no money. Only my hickory shirt and blue duckin pants and torn old army shoes, and my guitar on its sling card. But I knew the mountain folks. If they've got ary thing to eat, a decent spoken stranger can get the half part of it. Towns aren't always the same way. 

     Downslope I picked, favoring the guitar in case I slipped and fell, and in an hour made it to the first patch. Early fall was browning the corn out of the green. The cabin was two-room, dog-trotted open in the middle. Beyond was a shed and a pigpen. In the yard the man of the house talked to who I found out later was Mr. Onselm. 

     "No meat at all?" said Mr. Onselm. His voice was the last you'd expect him to have, full of broad low music, like an organ in a town church. I decided against asking him to sing when I glimpsed him closer, sickle-legged and gourd-headed and pale and puny in his fine-fitting clothes. For he looked mad and dangerous; and the man of the place, though he was a big, strong old gentleman with a square jaw, looked afraid. 

     "I been short this year, Mr. Onselm," he said, begging like. "The last bit of meat I fished out of the brine on Tuesday. And I don't want to have to kill the pig till December." 

     Mr. Onselm tramped over to the pen. The pig was a friendly one, it reared its front feet against the boards and grunted up to him. Mr. Onselm spit into the pen. "All right," he said, "but I want some meal." 

     He sickle-legged back to the cabin.  A brown barrel stood in the dog trot. Mr. Onselm lifted the cover and pinched some meal between his pink fingertips. "Get me a sack," he told the man. 

     The man went indoors and brought out the sack. Mr. Onselm held it open while the man scooped out meal enough to fill it. Then Mr. Onselm held it tight shut while the man lashed the neck with twine. Finally Mr. Onselm looked up and saw me standing there. 

     "Who are you?" he asked, sort of crooning. 

     "My name's John," I said. 

     "John what?" Then, without waiting for my answer, "Where did you steal that guitar?" 

     "It was given to me," I replied. "I strung it with silver wires myself." 

     "Silver," he said, and opened his squint eye by a trifle. 

     With my left hand I clamped a chord. With my right thumb I picked a whisper from the silver strings. I began to make a song: 

     Mister Onselm, 
     They do what you tell 'em— 

     "That will do," said Mr. Onselm, not so musically, and I stopped playing. He relaxed.

     "They do what I tell em," he said, half to himself. "Not bad." 

     We studied each other a few ticks of time. Then he turned and tramped out of the yard in among the trees. When he was out of sight the man of the place asked, right friendly, what he could do for me. 

     "I'm just walking through," I said. I didn't want to ask right off for some dinner. 

     "I heard you name yourself John," he said. "So happens my name's John too, John Bristow." 

     "Nice place you've got," I said, looking around. "Cropper or tenant?" 

     "I own the house and the land," he told me, and I was surprised; for Mr. Onselm had treated him the way a mean boss treats a cropper. 

     "Then that Mr. Onselm was just a visitor," I said. 

     "Visitor?" Mr. Bristow snorted. "He visits everybody here around. Lets them know what he wants, and they pass it to him. Thought you knew him, you sang about him so ready." 

     "Shucks, I made that up." I touched the silver strings again. "I sing a many a new song that comes to me." 

     "I love the old songs better," he said, and smiled, so I sang one:   I had been in Georgia  Not a many more weeks than three,  When I fell in love with a pretty fair girl,  And she fell in love with me.  Her lips were red as red could be,
Her eyes were brown as brown,  Her hair was like' the thundercloud  Before the rain comes down.      You should have seen Mr. Bristow's face shine. He said: "By God, you sure enough can sing it and play it." 

     "Do my possible best," I said. "But Mr. Onselm don't like it." I thought a moment, then asked: "What way can he get everything he wants in this valley?" 

     "Shoo, can't tell you way. Just done it for years, he has." 

     "Anybody refuse him?" 

     "Once Old Jim Desbro refused him a chicken. Mr. Onselm pointed his finger at Old Jim's mules, they was plowing. Them mules couldn't move ary foot, not till Mr. Onselm had the chicken. Another time, Miss Tilly Parmer hid a cake when she seen him come. He pointed a finger and dumbed her. She never spoke one mumbling word from that day to when she died. Could hear and understand, but when she tried to talk she could just wheeze." 

     "He's a hoodoo man," I said, "which means the law can't do anything." 

     "Not even if the law worried about anything this far from the county seat." He looked at the meal back against the cabin. "About time for the Ugly Bird to fetch Mr. Onselm's meal." 

     "What's the Ugly Bird?" I asked, but he didn't have to answer. 

     It must have hung over us, high and quiet, and now it dropped into the yard like a fish hawk into a pond.

     First out I saw it was dark, heavy-winged, bigger than a buzzard. Then I saw the shiny gray-black of the body, like wet slate, and how it seemed to have feathers only on its wide wings. Then I made out the thin snaky neck, the bulgy head and long stork beak, the eyes set in front of its head—man-fashion in front, not to each side. 

     The feet that taloned onto the sack showed pink and smooth with five graspy toes. The wings snapped like a tablecloth in a wind, and it churned away over the trees with the meal sack. 

     "That's the Ugly Bird," said Mr. Bristow. I barely heard him. "Mr. Onselm has companioned with it ever since I recollect." 

     "I never saw such a bird," I said. "Must be a scarce one. You know what struck me while I watched it?" 

     "I do know, John. Its feet look like Mr. Onselm's hands." 

     "Might it be," I asked, "that a hoodoo man like Mr. Onselm knows what way to shape himself into a bird?" 

     He shook his head. "It's known that when he's at once place, the Ugly Bird's been sighted at another." He tried to change the subject "Silver strings on your guitar—never heard of any but steel strings." 

     "In the olden days," I told him, "silver was used a many times for strings. It gives a more singy sound." 

     In my mind I had it the subject wouldn't be changed. I tried a chord on my guitar, and began to sing: 

     You all have heard of the Ugly Bird
     So curious and so queer, 
     That flies its flight by day and night 
     And fills folks' hearts with fear. 
     I never come here to hide from fear, 
     And I give you my promised word 
     That I soon expect to twist the neck 
     Of the God damn Ugly Bird. 

     When I finished, Mr. Bristow felt in his pocket. 

     "I was going to bid you eat with me," he said, "but—here, maybe you better buy something." 

     He gave me a quarter and a dime. I about gave them back, but I thanked him and walked away down the same trail Mr. Onselm had gone. Mr. Bristow watched me go, looking shrunk up. My song had scared him, so I kept singing it. 

     O Ugly Bird! O Ugly Bird! 
     You snoop and sneak and thieve! 
     This place can't be for you and me, 
     And one of us got to leave. 

     Singing, I tried to remember all I'd heard or read or guessed that might help toward my Ugly Bird study. 

     Didn't witch people have partner animals? I'd read and heard tell about the animals called familiars—mostly cats or black dogs or the like, but sometimes birds. 

     That might be the secret, or a right much of it, for the Ugly Bird wasn't Mr. Onselm's other self. Mr. Bristow had said the two of them were seen different places at one time. 

     Mr. Onselm didn't turn into the Ugly Bird then. They were just close partners. Brothers. With the Ugly Bird's feet like Mr. Onselm's hands. 

     I awared of something in the sky, the big black V of a flying creature. It quartered over me, half as high as the highest woolly scrap of cloud. Once or twice it seemed like it would stoop for me, like a hawk for a rabbit, but it didn't. Looking up and letting my feet find the trail, I rounded a bunch of bushes and there, on a rotten log in a clearing, sat Mr. Onselm. 

     His gourd-head sank on his thin neck. His elbows set on his knees, and the soft, pink, long hands hid his face, as if he was miserable. His look made me feel disgusted. I came toward him. 

     "You don't feel so brash, do you?" I asked. 

     "Go away," he sort of gulped, soft and sick. 

     "Why?" I wanted to know. "I like it here." 

     Sitting on the log, I pulled my guitar across me. "I feel like singing, Mr. Onselm."   His father got hung for horse stealing,  His mother got burned for a witch, And his only friend is the Ugly Bird,  The dirty son of— 

     Something hit me like a shooting star from overhead. It hit my back and shoulder, and knocked me floundering forward on one hand and one knee. It was only the mercy of God I didn't fall on my guitar and smash it. I crawled forward a few scrambles and made to get up, shaky and dizzy. 

     The Ugly Bird had flown down and dropped the sack of meal on me. Now it skimmed across the clearing, at the height of the low branches, its eyes glinting at me, and its mouth came open a little. I saw teeth, sharp and mean, like a garpike's teeth. It swooped for me, and the wind of its wings was colder than a winter storm. 

     Without stopping to think, I flung up my both hands to box it off from me, and it gave back,flew backward like the biggest, devilishest humming bird ever seen in a nightmare. I was too dizzy and scared to wonder why it gave back; I had barely the wit to be thankful. 

     "Get out of here," moaned Mr. Onselm, who hadn't stirred. 

     I shame to say that I got. I kept my hands up and backed across the clearing and into the trail beyond. Then I half realized where my luck had been. My hands had lifted the guitar toward the Ugly Bird, and somehow it hadn't liked the guitar. 

     Just once I looked back. The Ugly Bird was perching on the log and it sort of nuzzled up to Mr. Onselm, most horrible. They were sure enough close together. I stumbled off away. 

     I found a stream, with stones to make steps across. I turned and walked down to where it made a wide pool. There I knelt and washed my face—it looked pallid in the water image—and sat with my back to a tree and hugged my guitar and rested. I shook all over. 

     I must have felt as bad for a while as Mr. Onselm looked like he felt, sitting on the log waiting for his Ugly Bird and—what else? 

     Had he been hungry? Sick? Or just evil? I couldn't say which. 

     After a while I walked back to the trail and along it again, till I came to what must have been the only store thereabouts. 

     It faced one way on a rough road that could carry wagon and car traffic, and the trail joined on and reached the door. The building wasn't big but it was good, made of sawed planks well painted. It rested on big rocks instead of posts, and had a roofed open front like a porch, with a bench where people could sit. 

     Opening the door, I went in. You'll find a many such stores in back country places through the land. Counters. Shelves of cans and packages. Smoked meat hung one corner, a glass-front icebox for fresh meat another. One point, sign says U. S. POST OFFICE, with half a dozen pigeonholes for letters and a couple of cigar boxes for stamps and money-order blanks. The proprietor wasn't in. Only a girl, scared and shaking, and Mr. Onselm, there ahead of me, telling her what he wanted. 

     He wanted her. 

     "I don't care if Sam Heaver did leave you in charge here," he said with the music in his voice. "He won't stop my taking you with me." 

     Then he swung around and fixed his squint eye and wide-open eye on me, like two mismated gun muzzles. "You again," he said. 

     He looked hale and hearty. I strayed my hands over the guitar strings, and he twisted up his face as if it colicked him. 

     "Winnie," he said to the girl, "wait on him and get him out of here." 

     Her eyes were round in her scared face. I never saw as sweet a face as hers, or as scared. 

     Her hair was dark and thick. It was like the thundercloud before the rain comes down. It made her paleness look paler. She was small, and she cowered for fear of Mr. Onselm. 

     "Yes, sir?" she said to me. 

     "Box of crackers," I decided, pointing to a near shelf. "And a can of those sardine fish." 

     She put them on the counter. I dug out the quarter Mr. Bristow had given me, and slapped it down on the counter top between the girl and Mr. Onselm. 

     "Get away!" he squeaked, shrill and mean as a bat. 

     He had jumped back, almost halfway across the floor. And for once both of his eyes were big. 

     "What's the matter?" I asked him, purely wondering. "This is a good silver quarter." And 

     I picked it up and held it out for him to take and study. 

     But he ran out of the store like a rabbit. A rabbit with the dogs after it. 

     The girl he'd called Winnie just leaned against the wall as if she was tired. I asked: "Why did he light out like that?"

     She took the quarter. "It doesn't scare me much," she said, and rung it up on the old cash register. "All that scares me is—Mr. Onselm." 

     I picked up the crackers and sardines. "He's courting you?" 

     She shuddered, though it was warm. "I'd sooner be in a hole with a snake than be courted by Mr. Onselm." 

     "Why not just tell him to leave you be?" 

     "He'd not listen. He always does what pleases him. Nobody dares stop him." 

     "I know, I heard about the mules he stopped and the poor lady he dumbed." I returned to the other subject. "Why did he squinch away from money? I'd reckon he loved money." 

     She shook her head. The thundercloud hair stirred. "He never needs any. Takes what he wants without paying." 

     "Including you?" 

     "Not including me yet. But he'll do that later." 

     I laid down my dime I had left. "Let's have a coke drink, you and me." 

     She rang up the dime too. There was a sort of dry chuckle at the door, like a stone rattling down the well. I looked quick, and saw two long, dark wings flop away from the door. The Ugly Bird had spied. 

     But the girl Winnie smiled over her coke drink. I asked permission to open my fish and crackers on the bench outside. She nodded yes. Out there, I worried open the can with my pocket knife and had my meal. When I finished I put the trash in a garbage barrel and tuned my guitar. Winnie came out and harked while I sang about the girl whose hair was like the thundercloud before the rain comes down, and she blushed till she was pale no more. 

     Then we talked about Mr. Onselm and the Ugly Bird, and how they had been seen in two dfferent places at once— 

     But," said Winnie, "who's seen them together?" 

     "Shoo, I have," I told her. "Not long ago." And I told how Mr. Onselm sat, all sick and miserable, and the confer bird crowded up against him. 

     She heard all that, with eyes staring off, as if looking for something far away. Finally she said, "John, you say it crowded up to him." 

     "It did that thing, as if it studied to get right inside him." 

     "Inside him!" 

     "That's right." 

     "Makes me think of something I heard somebody say about hoodoo folks," she said. "How the hoodoo folks sometimes put a stuff out, mostly in dark rooms. And it's part of them, but it takes the shape and mind of another person—once in a while, the shape and mind of an animal." 

     "Shoo," I said again, "now you mention it, I've heard the same thing. It might explain those Louisiana stories about werewolves." 

     "Shape and mind of an animal," she repeated herself. "Maybe the shape and mind of a bird. And they call it echo—no, ecto— ecto—"

     "Ectoplasm," I remembered. "That's right. I've even seen pictures they say were taken of such stuff. It seems to live—it'll yell, if you grab it or hit it or stab it." 

     "Could maybe—!" she began, but a musical voice interrupted. 

     "He's been around here long enough," said Mr. Onselm. 

     He was back. With him were three men. Mr. Bristow, and a tall, gawky man with splay shoulders and a black-stubbled chin, and a soft, smooth-grizzled man with an old fancy vest over his white shirt. 

     Mr. Onselm acted like the leader of a posse. "Sam Heaver," he crooned at the soft, grizzled one, "can tramps loaf at your store?" 

     The soft old storekeeper looked dead and gloomy at me. "Better get going, son," he said, as if he'd memorized it. 

     I laid my guitar on the bench. "You men ail my stomach," I said, looking at them. "You let this half-born, half-bred hoodoo man sic you on me like hound dogs when I'm hurting nobody and nothing." 

     "Better go," he said again. 

     I faced Mr. Onselm, and he laughed like a sweetly played horn. "You," he said, "without a dime in your pocket! You can't do anything to anybody." 

     Without a dime . . . the Ugly bird had seen me spend my silver money, the silver money that ailed Mr. Onselm. . . 

     "Take his guitar, Hobe," said Mr. Onselm, and the gawky man, clumsy but quick, grabbed the guitar from the bench and backed away to the door. 

     "That takes care of him," Mr. Onselm sort of purred, and he fairly jumped and grabbed Winnie by the wrist. He pulled her along toward the trail, and I heard her whimper. 

     "Stop him!" I bawled, but they stood and looked, scared and dumb. Mr. Onselm, still holding Winnie, faced me. He lifted his free hand, with the pink forefinger sticking out like the barrel of a pistol. 

     Just the look he gave me made me weary and dizzy. 

     He was going to hoodoo me, like he'd done the mules, like he'd done the woman who tried to hide her cake from him. I turned from him, sick and afraid, and I heard him giggle, thinking he'd won already. In the doorway stood the gawky man called Hobe, with the guitar. 

     I made a long jump at him and started to wrestle it away from him. 

     "Hang onto it, Hobe," I heard Mr. Onselm sort of choke out, and, from Mr. Bristow: 

     "There's the Ugly Bird!" 

     Its wings flapped like a storm in the air behind me. But I'd torn my guitar from Hobe's hands and turned on my heel. 

     A little way off, Mr. Onselm stood stiff and straight as a stone figure in front of a courthouse. He still held Winnie's wrist. Between them the Ugly Bird came swooping at me, its beak pointing for me like a stabbing bayonet. 

     I dug in my toes and smashed the guitar at it. Full-slam I struck its bulgy head above the beak and across the eyes, and I heard the polished wood of my music-maker crash to splinters. 

     And down went the Ugly Bird! 

     Down it went.

     Quiet it lay. 

     Its great big wings stretched out on either side, without a flutter. Its beak was driven into the ground like a nail. it didn't kick or flop or stir once. 

     But Mr. Onselm, standing where he stood holding Winnie, screamed out the way you might scream if something had clawed out all your insides with a single tearing grab. 

     He didn't move, I don't even know if his mouth came open. Winnie gave a pull with all her strength and tottered back, clear of him. And as if only his hold on her had kept him standing, Mr. Onselm slapped over and down on his face, his arms flung out like the Ugly Bird's wings, his face in the dirt like the Ugly Bird's face. 

     Still holding my broken guitar by the neck like a club, I ran to him and stooped. "Get up," I said, and took hold of what hair he had and lifted his face up. 

     One look was enough. From the war, I know a dead man when I see one. I let go his hair, and his face went back into the dirt as if it belonged there. 

     The others moved at last, tottering a few steps closer. And they didn't act like enemies now, for Mr. Onselm who had made them act so was down and dead. 

     Then Hobe gave a scared shout, and we looked that way. 

     The Ugly Bird all of a sudden looked rotten mushy, and was soaking into the ground. To me, anyhow, it looked shadowy and misty, and I could see through it. I wanted to move close, then I didn't want to. It was melting away like snow on top of a stove; only no wetness left behind.

     It was gone, while we watched and wondered and felt bad all over. 

     Mr. Bristow knelt and turned Mr. Onselm over. On the dead face ran sick lines across, thin and purple, as though he'd been struck down by a blow of a toaster or a gridiron. 

     "The guitar strings," said Mr. Bristow, "The silver guitar strings. It finished him, like any hoodoo man." 

     That was it. Won't a silver bullet kill a witch, or a silver knife a witch's cat? And a silver key locks out ghosts, doesn't it? 

     "What was the word you said?" whispered Winnie to me. 

     "Ectoplasm," I told her. "Like his soul coming out—and getting struck dead outside his body." 

     More important was talk about what to do now. The men decided. They allowed to report to the county seat that Mr. Onselm's heart had stopped on him, which it had. They went over the tale three or four times to make sure they'd all tell it the same. They cheered up as they talked. You never saw gladder people to get rid of a neighbor. 

     "And, John," said Mr. Bristow, "we'd sure enough be proud if you stayed here. You took this curse off us." 

     Hobe wanted me to come live on his farm and help him work it on shares. Sam Heaver offered me all the money out of his old cash register. I thanked him and said no, sir, to Hobe I said thank you kindly, I'd better not. If they wanted their story to stick with the sheriff, they'd better forget that I'd been around when Mr. Onselm's heart stopped. All I was sorry for was my broken guitar.

     But while we'd talked, Mr. Bristow was gone. He came back, with a guitar from his place, and he acted honored if I'd take it in place of mine. So I tightened my silver strings on it and tried a chord or two. 

     Winnie swore she'd pray for me by name each night of her life, and I told her that would sure see me safe from any assaults of the devil. 

     "Assaults of the devil, John!" she said, almost shrill in the voice, she was so earnest. "It's you who drove the devil from this valley." 

     The others all said they agreed on that. 

     "It was foretold about you in the Bible," said Winnie, her voice soft again. "There was a man sent from God, whose name was John." 

     But that was far too much for her to say, and I was that abashed, I said goodbye all around in a hurry. I strummed my new guitar as I walked away, until I got an old song back in my mind. I've heard tell that the song's written in an old-time book called Percy's Frolics, or Relics, or something: 

     Lady, I never loved witchcraft, 
     Never dealt in privy wile, 
     But evermore held the high way 
     Of love and honor, free from guile . . . . 

      And though I couldn't bring myself to look back to the place I was leaving forever, I knew that Winnie watched me, and that she listened, listened, till she had to strain her cars to catch the last, faintest end of my song.

Reprinted with permission of the estate of Manly Wade Wellman.

 Back To TOP

 
That’s Just Like A Martian
By
Manly Wade Wellman

This story originally appeared in the Fall 1943 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories (pictured left).  It is part of Wellman's series of "30th Century" stories.  It stars Patch Merrick, who was introduced in "Asteroid Castaways," (Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1942) a rugged individualist who prefers living in a shack in the Ozarks to being a cog in the 30th Century society.  In addition to "That's Just Like A Martian" Merrick also appears in "Gambler's Asteroid" (Thrilling Wonder, Spring 1944).  Of all the 30th C. stories, I chose this one because it's a good example of how Wellman's space opera stories were somewhat atypical.  In this story, Merrick meets a Martian individualist and his life is sent off on yet another crazy tangent. 

     Mars is practical about prisoners, as about all things else.  It was really a compliment to Zaarrgon, suspending him in the block-ray; but it was also necessary, for Zaarrgon was the type of individual who must be held for grim justice’s sake.

     He had violated nobody knew how many rules of scientific conduct.  A trusted technician of the jealously guarded water-synthesis system maintained by both government and private enterprise, he had gone to Phobos, closest of the two tiny Martian moons.  There he had found and shipped back valuable water-producing minerals.

     At home, he began to synthesize at once.  Then he released this supply, without orders, to drought-stricken paupers on the northern desert.  Their frantic pleas sounded too desperate to wait for government approval, and he piped the water along, saving lives—none of them scientifically precious—and a trifle of vegetation, which his superiors had planned to abandon.

     This was sentimental and Mars is too grimly thirsty a world to excuse sentimentality.  Anyway, misuse of scientific apparatus or supplies is punishable, under Martian law, by death.

     In an upper chamber of the great administration building at Ekadome, in a high pinnacle that towered above massed tenements, the sky-aspiring travel-ways, the landing stages, the battlements that are aeons old, a buzzing little camera-device shed a great cone of light.  In the midst of it lay Zaarrgon, silent and motionless.

     He was small and frail, even for a Martian.  Like most advanced members of his race, he had been surgically made over to approximate in general outline and function the more handy Terrestrial figure.  His bladder body was corseted into something like a torso, his two lower tentacles were strengthened by jointed tubes to serve as legs, and their tips inserted in metal boots.  Two upper tentacles served as arms, sleeved properly in his tunic, and upon harness-braced shoulders was a pink chrysanthemum of head, tufted with sensitive flesh-petals that housed the awareness power, which serves a Martian for eyes, nose and mouth.

     He could twitch no tentacle, inhale no air, speak no metallic word through the artificial voice-box in his breathing hole.  The ray in which he bedded took away those powers, took away the very sense of them.  All Zaarrgon could do was think.

     By rights, he should think rueful, self-abnegating thoughts of his misbehavior and the certain and merited punishment.  But Zaargon’s mind, unfettered from his ray-lulled body, roamed in other channels.  The poor folk of the desert, reprieved by his illegal gift of moisture, would know of his death in their service.

     Life is cheap on Mars, but high-ranking scientific officers don’t often throw their own lives away.  He judged that a few, only a few, of the rescued paupers would be impressed.  They might strive to be more than poor and obscure.  Perhaps they might be interested in his own case, enough to study it, to come across what he had always conned and pondered, even to take up the study where he was leaving off.  Several brains, even ordinary brains, would be better than one.

     As for himself, he’d been about to die, anyway.  A medical authority had told him that he could not live long in the vibration-zone of Mars.  He must seek smaller, less sunshiny worlds.  And the government would never have discharged him on plea of poor health.  Zaarrgon, at ease in his ray captivity, had little to regret and less to repent.  Beyond that, he had what Terrestrials call a trump card....

     On the great landing-stage that lies like a roof upon Ekadome’s upper levels, a silvery-sleek roster cruiser came to rest.  Attendants ran out to it.  The hatch-panel opened, and forth came a tall, lusty Terrestrial with a certain gay savagery manifest in his dark face.

     “Cruiser Omen,” he reported to the senior clerk, a supple Martian.  “Patch Merrick, owner and pilot, from the Saturnian system.”

     “Welcome Missterr Merrrick,” purred the clerk.  “We have hearrd of yourr exploitss therre—disscoverry of Z-metal and yourr rrise to wealth.”

     Merrick grinned harshly.  The wealth-conscious inner planets would surely know that, and find it convenient to forget his earlier adventures, but he remembered. 

     He was out of place in the thirtieth century, to which no gypsies as such, had survived.  He had first entered the Omen as a stow-away, and when the Omen was wrecked on a certain wild asteroid, he had become leader and schemer to keep the hapless company alive.  He had made a debtor and dependent out of Coburn Conti, once director of Spaceways, Inc., and a frank worshipper out of Conti’s daughter Morgana, who had the loveliest gray eyes and the most arrogant manner on all the habitable worlds.  Thus, when help came and the Omen was repaired, he’d stolen the ship and fled, to escape the rewards of Conti’s money and Morgana’s admiration.

     For Patch Merrick valued personal freedom above luxury and wealth.  It was fate, fantastic even for outer worlds, that had cast him among the Z-metal prospectors and made him embarrassingly rich and important.  Z-metal was needed for speed-precision machinery, and he knew that he was responsible to the System for it.  He hoped, however, that he need not now assume too much responsibility....

     “Patch!” cried a voice as silvery as a bell, as triumphant as a trumpet.  “Old Cross Patch, who ran away from me!  And now you’ve come back!”

     He faced her—Morgana.  The savagery went out of his face, and embarrassment dawned in its stead.

     “Where did you come from,” he mumbled, inwardly quivering.

     “Didn’t you think the whole System has buzzed with your adventures and successes?” she cried, all glorious smiles.  “I knew about you—found out when you’d arrive, and I waited.  Now,” and her arm glided through is, “you won’t get away again.”

     Patch Merrick, in the old days, had heard such words from Martian and Terrestrial police who did not sympathize with his unorthodox ways.  He had never felt so helpless in their hands as in Morgana’s.  He thrilled at her touch—she was lovely—but a terrible dread clutched his heart.  Had he returned to be trapped by civilization at last?”

     “Come,” she urged.  “Daddy will want to see you and congratulate you.  He’s sitting in judgment.”

     “Judgment?” repeated Merrick.  “On what?”

     “Yes.  In the administration building.  Daddy wouldn’t stay retired, he’s chief Terrestrial administrator for Martian Hydro Limited.  And I’m also a director.  We’re operators of public resources and influential adherents of the Martio-Terrestrial League.  So we’re officers, technically, of that part of the government.  To us, because the Martians can’t understand, comes a report and request for judgment on this Zaarrgon—”

     “Who’s Zaarrgon?” demanded Merrick.  “And why can’t Martians understand?”

     “Because he doesn’t act like a Martian.  Come along.”

     She took him to an elevator, along a covered travel-way in a surface-car, and to the office where her big, grizzled father waited.

     Conti had once helped Merrick steal the Omen, because he did not think that Morgana would be happy whit a fundless rebel.  But now he rose with a beaming face and outstretched hand.

     “Patch, my boy!  Delighted to see you.  What a fine record you’re making!”

     Merrick shook hands, grimly aware that his Z-metal made himself so welcome.  Conti said other things, cordial and confident—how much he hoped to learn from Merrick, how profitable and cozy it would be if Merrick came into Martian Hydro Inc., and what a fine-looking pair Merrick and Morgana made.  Then they all sat down, and Conti and Morgana quickly reviewed the case of Zaarrgon, the Martian whose crime baffled his fellow Martians.

     “It’s clear that he’s guilty,” summed up Conti, “but why is a cold-brained Martian sorry for anyone?  It’s not that he’s sorry, they say.  There’s a deeper reason, and they think Terrestrial viewpoints can find it.”

     “Zaarrgon was bound to die,” reminded Morgana.  “his illness is a fatal one, might become painful.  Perhaps he figures on a painless death—just like a Martian.”

     Merrick frowned.  “But,” he tested, “if Zaarrgon’s just a death-hungry invalid, wouldn’t he blow off his flowery head?  Honorable, by Martian standards.  He must have had a real reason for releasing the water.  You say he got it from Phobos?”

     Conti shook his head.  “Only the water-fixing elements.  Phobos is full of them, but they’re hard to mien, and they’re needed for regular channels of use.”  He fixed Merrick’s eye with his.  “You credit Zaarrgon with humanity, Patch my boy.  But Martians are inhuman and glory in the fact.  This starved world of theirs makes them so.  Morgana, what else do we know about Zaarrgon?”

     Morgana studied notes.  “He was interested in asteroids—another un-Martian trait.  The asteroids are adjudged to belong neither to the Martio-Terrestrial nor the Jovian system governments, until more is learned about them.  That wasn’t Zaarrgon’s job, or his business.  He had no reason to dig into their mysteries.”

     “Why not?” Patch Merrick wanted to know.

     “Because,” said Conti, “Martians stick to their own assignments.  Zaarrgon’s business was water-synthesis and water-preservation, mighty important on this thirsty planet.  Let astronomers and astro-archeologists worry about the asteroids.  Yet Zaarrgon seems to have shown sentimentality and curiosity in un-Martian degrees.  Unnatural.”

     “When it comes to talk of business,” pursued Merrick, “what business is it of ours to advice on Zaarrgon’s fate?”

     “Oh!” sighed Morgana, a little distractedly.  She was joyous and thrilled to see Patch Merrick again, but she was finding him difficult.  “We’re officials of Hydro, Patch.  Terrestrial money put us there, but officials have a governmental status on Mars.  It’s our water that Zaarrgon tampered with.  We have a voice and an obligation.”

     The door opened, and a Martian entered.  His name was Sskirr.  He was Conti’s First Advistor, and fresh from a conference of his own.”

     “The grreetingss of the judiciarry authorrity,” he slurred out through his artificial voice-box.  “They rrecommend that Zaarrgon die, forr the ssake of sscience.  It iss not often that an individual of ssuch sscientific attainment iss killed, and many rressearcherss will be glad forr the chance to disssect hiss ssuperiorr thought-ganglia.”

     “That’s the closest to sense I’ve heard yet, which isn’t saying much,” groaned Patch Merrick.  “If the purpose of legal execution is to get high-type specimens for medical study, why not frame the Martian Ruler himself?  He should be interesting?”

     Sskirr was shocked, and his quivering face-petals showed it, but he only continued his report.  “Telepathic sstudy of Zaarrgon’ss thought processs rrevealss that he has no prroperr apprreciation of the grravity of hiss missdeed.  He iss wrrapped in contemplation of the assterroidss.”

     “Asteroids,” repeated Conti.  “We haven’t anything to do with them, until the claims of Jupiter and the League are examined and settled.  I’m afraid that Zaargon’s better out of the way.”

     “Excuse me,” said Merrick, suddenly rising.  “I’m going for a little stroll on the battlements.  Maybe I can capture some rationality.”

     “I hope so,” called Morgana pointedly, but gazing possessively after his departing broad shoulders.

     The battlements outside towered almost a mile above the red-rusty desert plain.  Above was the momentous shade of landing platforms.  Merrick strode along a railed footway, and then paused to lean his big forearms on the topmost rail and stare across the distances.

     Desert, that was Mars.  Barely a quarter of the planet’s surface was vegetated, and that only by Herculean efforts of irrigation and planting and care.  The value of water on Mars was rather higher than the value of blood anywhere else.  And Zaarrgon had transgressed, had wasted the precious liquid, and must be punished.  His arresters and accusers were not vindictive, but they were in deadly earnest.

     Meanwhile, Zaarrgon was un-Martian in another respect—his curiosity about what did not concern him.  Who, indeed, could be legitimately concerned for the Asteroids?  They were tiny crumbs of mineral rock, circling the sun in a band between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, claimed by both planets but not fought or even argued over because they were not worth too much fight and argument.  A few of the largest—Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta, Eros—had settlements of a sort, that bore allegiance to nobody.  And even these were hardly practical in the development of the cosmos.  Where did this Zaarrgon get off, worrying about the Asteroids and causing others to worry about him?

     Asteroids...Merrick remembered how he had adventured on one.  A stowaway and fugitive from Terrestrial law, because he’d rather be a woodland hermit than a pillar of Thirtieth-Century society, he had been aboard the ship of Coburn Conti that was cast away on a little detached hillock in space.  He, Merrick, had taken command because he’d learned how to live without civilization. 

     And Morgana Conti had come out of it loving him.  He’d fled from that into what he hoped was obscurity, and stumbled upon rich Z-metal findings on Titan of the Saturnian system.  He’d let himself become possessed by wealth, had come back to the inner planets, and to Morgana.  Here he was, not happy about it in any particular. 

     Abruptly he went away from there, restlessly seeking vehicles, travelways, elevators.  Already he felt the cramping hand of civilization tightening about him.  On the landing-stage above, he ordered his cruiser out.  He rocketed away, tossing stratospheric miles over his shoulder like apple-peelings.  He came to the northern desert where Zaarrgon had given water illegally.

     It wasn’t a desert any more.  He could see that even from high up, as he descended to the rocket port.  The desert was green, as Martian deserts always turn green with even minutes of encouragement.  Old fashioned, disused canal beds held trickles of moisture, little antlike figures toiled and bustled and furrowed plots and fields.  There were miles of dead ground becoming cultivable and cultivated.  Yes, and there and there, a patch of misty cloud, promising a spatter of rain.

     In the port administration cubicle, he found an overworked official, a grim young Terrestrial who answered his questions:

     “Oh, the water’s always here, what time it doesn’t evaporate and slide clear out of Martian gravity-pull.  That moisture-fixing stuff that was turned loose here against orders keeps it condensing and working, the same water may times over.”

     “The land looks wonderful,” complimented Merrick.  “Almost like Earth.”

     “Because we’re trying Terrestrial crops.  Nitrogen plantings, and cereal.  We might as well, since the water must not be wasted.  It was really destined for the sub-polar regions.”

     “No people there,” pointed out Merrick.  “And I see lots of them here.  Hard at work.”

     “Yes, the paupers.”  The official sounded contemptuous.  “We couldn’t waste them, either.  The government provided harnesses and leg-tubes and so on, to make them adequate for farm-labor.”

     “I see.  And they’d have died otherwise?”

     “Or they’d have been transferred to other areas, on doles and so on.  Thanks for being interested, but do you mind going now?  I’ve got a triple job of work to do.”

     Merrick went back.  High in the stratosphere, he glanced up and saw the two moons of Mars overhead, jagged little clods less than ten miles in diameter.  Small, barren, yet one and perhaps both held reprieving water-powers for Mars.  Zaarrgon was accused of criminal waste.  Yet his crime had reclaimed desert, had given people life and work and respectability.  Was that so bad?”

     Merrick realized that his own outdated preferences were at work, and flying rebelliously in the face of Martian method and law.  He returned to Ekadome, having been gone less than an hour.

     “Refuel this cruiser, and get provisions aboard,” he told the attendants.  Then he descended to the very battlement from which he had departed.

     “Someone had come out looking for him—Sskir.

     “The Marrtian divission of the Marrtio-Terrresstrrial League takess verry ssehrioussly the casse of Zaarrgon.  We arre grrateful forr the chance to rreferr hiss behaviorr to Terrresstrrialss.”

     “I’d like to know more of his thoughts,” said Merrick.

     “That can be arrranged,” said Sskirr.  “Come with me.”

     Zaarrgon, floatin gin space, was thinking:

     “Asteroids...gravelly obstruction band between inner and outer planets...the largest five hundred miles through, the smallest only a whirling boulder...whence did they come?”

     Into his mind stole an answer, spoken it seemed by another thought process:

     “They came from the explosion of a planet, of course.  Their jagged formations show that.  It’s generally accepted, isn’t it?  But what I’m wondering is why you got into this jam.”

     Zaarrgon digested that.  He pondered an answer:

     “I wonder, too.  Not that I acted in caprice, only because I thought it well that thirsty creatures should drink a little now.  Isn’t the end of Mars certain, and why should I slow or hasten it?  Yet who are you and how do you communicate?”

     Again foreign thoughts came to him:

     “You’re in the block-ray.  It freezes your motions and senses , which leaves more clear-cut your pure thoughts.  That is why they can be picked up on the thought-detector. 
“You’ve been studied for many hours by legal minds.  I happen to be a Terrestrial official by the name of Merrick.  I have a voice in deciding your fate.”

     “I am too well-mannered to ask or suggest concerning that fate,” Zaarrgon concentrated on replying.  “In any case, my unauthorized use of water hastened by a small bit the ultimate death of this world.  Dead worlds preoccupy me.  I ponder a world not only dead, but dismembered.”

     “The asteroids?””

     “The asteroids.  Broken crumbs of what must once have been a huge planet.  As you say, the jagged form of the asteroids establishes the fact of their being remnants of a breaking-up, else they would be round, like Earth or Mars, or Earth’s moon.”

     “So?  How do you explain the moons of Mars?  Deimos and Phobos are jagged in shape.”

     “It is something beyond my study.  Even though I was stationed on Phobos, at the water-synthesis plant there.  I am unfortunate in being interested in things far from my home.”

     “Goodbye, Zaarrgon,” came the thoughts of Patch Merrick.  “You may hear from me again.”

     Zaarrgon returned to his own meditations.  If anyone had remained on the thought-detector he would have been further mystified, for Zaarrgon mediated on the peculiar Terrestrial custom of registering triumph by a strange upward quick of the mouth-corners.

     Merrick was back in the conference room.  “That little Martian is in the clear,” he said.

     Conti stared, Morgana gasped, Sskirr vibrated his tentacles and face petals.

     “In the clear? Repeated Conti.  “He can’t be.  We must make an example of him.  The Martian side of the League government is anxious for that.”

     “Mars is too methodically just,” flung back Merrick.  “It won’t turn Zaarrgon over to the dissectors simply because he gave away water—if the water didn’t belong to the Martian government, anyway.”

     “Eh?” grunted Conti.  “Didn’t belong?  But he got that hydroite shipment from Phobos, our own development.”

     “Phobos, yes.  But Phobos isn’t Martian territory.  At least, a clever delegate could claim that.”

     “Patch Merrick you’re utterly mad,” exploded Morgana.  “I wonder why I love you.”

     “Phobos isn’t a regular satellite, as Luna is of Earth, or it would be round.  But it’s jagged.  In other words,” wound up Merrick impressively, “it’s an asteroid—probably Deimos too—drawn into the Martian gravitational influence ages ago, but originally part of the world that exploded into asteroids!  And, according to present agreement, the asteroids aren’t possessions of any planetary government, but a free, unclaimed bunch of—”

     “Hsst!”  That was Sskirr, agonized and pleading.  They all faced him.

     “No morre of ssuch talk, I beg,” he quavered.  “Long have ourr goverrnment headss husshed up ssuch ssugesstionss, forr fearr that Deimos and Phobos would be called non-Marrtian—fair game forr filibussterring ssettlement, as pirrate lairrs or enemy bassess.”

     “Thunder, that’s so!” excitedly chimed in Conti.  “And Martian Hydro has sunk a world of money in the mines there.  Look, Patch, this mustn’t get out.”

     “If it mustn’t get out,” said Merrick coolly, “little Zaarrgon must.”

     “Let him go?” cried Conti.  “But we can’t, we’re only advisory!  The judiciary must act!”

     “Then he’ll stand a final trial, and make the claim I just outlined.”

     “How did you find out?” demanded Morgana.

     Patch looked her over quizzically.  “I planned it myself, darling.  Hang it, I like that little squid-formed fellow.  He is guilty of mercy and romance, and so would I be.  If he’s going to be tried, I’ll give him that defense.”

     Conti started to his feet.  “You traitor!”

     “Easy does it,” warned Merrick.  “People don’t call me names.”  He put a big hand on Conti’s shoulder and, without seeming to make an effort, pushed him back into his seat.  “Be reasonable, and so will I.  Get Zaarrgon out of it.”

     “You’ll answer for this idiocy to me,” promised Morgana, beautifully baleful.

     Merrick affected to ignore her.  His eyes were on Conti, waiting for a reply.

     But it was Sskirr who had the inspiration.

     “Missterr Merrrick iss rright.  Let him go, without any legal trrouble.  Let him esscape.  The rray iss hiss only guarrd, and—”

     “Splendid!” cried Conti, rubbing his big hands together.  “Sskirr, take charge.  Get him a ship of sorts, and he can flee in it.  Out in space, then—”

     “Out in sspace ssomething will happen,” finished Sskirr, who like most Martians was something of a mind-reader.  “The sship can have a time-detonatorr attached to the fuel ssupply.  And then Zaarrgon’ss ssecrret defensse will die with him.  All will be well.”

     “Too bad,” signed Morgana.  “He was really a sort of attractive character.”

     Merrick got to his feet.  “You make me sick,” he began, and then shut up.

     What would his protests amount to?  He could make an unpleasant scene, but government and wealth and practicality were all arrayed against him and the little prisoner of the ray.  He made a gesture of resignation.

     “Sskirr is a genius,” he went on.  “And I seem to be an idiot, by your standards.  Mind if I wash my hands of this?”

     He caught Morgana’s gray, protesting stare.  He winked at her, and went out.  Sskirr followed him.

     “What iss yourr intention?” the Martian demanded.

     “Too have a look at Zaarrgon in his prison,” replied Merrick.  “Martyrs aren’t any too frequent these days, and I’d like to see one before I die.”

     “Ssssss...” buzzed Sskirr politely.  “You arre making a Terrresstrrial joke.  Come, I will accompany you.”

     They went up to the tower where Zaarrgon was kept.

     As Sskirr had said, there was no armed guard in the chamber, only the attendant in charge of the ray mechanism.  When Merrick and Sskirr entered, the attendant buzzed a query.

     “I was on the thought-detector in the next room, remember?” Merrick told him.  “I neglected to come in to look at the ray mechanism, and I’m curious.  Odd, isn’t it, that little camera affair generates power enough to suspend a weight like Zaarrgon’s?”

     Sskirr stood beside the attendant.  “It can ssusspend even morre weight—twice as much,” he informed Merrick.

     He took a quick stride, got his hands on the device, and touched a button.  The light blinked out, and Merrick swiveled the thing on its base before the two startled Martians could chatter out a protest.  Another touch of the button, and Sskirr and the attendant were flooded by the white light.  They stood silent and stiff in the midst of it, like two fish in a cake of ice.

     Opposite, Zaarrgon rose to his feet from where he had been dropped to the floor.  He purred, dusted himself, and confronted Merrick expectantly. 

     “Quick,” said Merrick, and caught him by an arm tentacle, at the spot where the elbow would be.  “We’re leaving.”

     Together they hastened out to an elevator, and thence Merrick led the way to the landing-platforms where he summoned attendants.

     “Roll out my cruiser!” he commanded.

     While it was coming, he addressed Zaarrgon again.  “You’re off on a little trip of exile.  The board discussed your case and decided—”

     “That Phobos iss an assterroid,” finished Zaarrgon for him.  “Which makess thingss embarrrasssing—sso much sso, that I am not being trried.  I might talk too much at the trrial.”

     Merrick stared.  “Don’t tell me you have a thought-detector too!”

     The little flower-head shook.  “No.  Frrom the firrsst, I knew that ssuch a defensse would be valid.  But I needed someone in yourr possition, Merrick, to offerr it forr me.  A courrt of law might rreleasse me—but my health doess not prossperr on Marrss.  I need to be ssent away.  And sso I made carreful ssuggesstion to you, knowing what ssomething like thiss exile would be ssurrepticioussly offered.”

     “Just like that, eh?” grunted Merrick.  “What would you say if I told you that the plan was to give you a rocket set to blow up in space?”

     “I would ssay that I had arrranged forr that, too.  The perrsson who rreleasses me cannot rremain to be arressted ass an aiderr of outlaw fugitivess.  He musst come along—and sso guarrantee that my rrocket iss ssound.”

     The cruiser was being rolled out.  Merrick studied it.  “Provisions, fuel, all aboard,” he was saying.  “You could fly to Saturn or further—wait a second!  Something whizzed by me just then!  What did you say about going with you?”

     “If you have forrgotten, I have not,” said Zaarrgon patiently.  “Whoeverr rreleasses me musst come underr blame and trrial by the law.  You have chosen to be that one.  Therreforre, you musst alsso flee—and musst be ssurre that ourr sship iss a ssafe one.  That iss a fine cruisserr, Missterr Merrrick.  You sseem to have fitted it forr yourr own esscape—without thinking.”

     “My own escape!” repeated Merrick, startled speculation in his fine eyes.

     He mused a moment.  Wealth.  He had that.  With it he could buy power, luxury, fame, hangers-on—all the things he had never wanted.  He now had position and respect, because of his Z-metal holdings; but they demanded that he get into ticklish affairs and positions that he did not relish. 

     He had Morgana—no doubt of that, she loved him and wanted to marry him.  But if she adhered to the policy of ruthless rule that seemed inseparable from riches, what would happen to him?  She would turn him from a nervy vagabond into a suitable husband who either forgot his heart for profit or else didn’t dare dream out loud....

     “Morgana!” he muttered, regretfully. 

     “Yourr lady frriend?” prompted Zaarrgon.  “Rreflect.  Perhaps you could face trrial.  But could you face herr?”

     “I couldn’t,” said Merrick, shuddering.  “And why should I?  There are other men for her, but there aren’t more than two like us in the worlds.”

     “I know that,” said Zaarrgon, nodding gently.

     “You’ve thought out everything!” exclaimed Merrick.  “Isn’t that just like a Martian!”

     They got into the space cruiser.  Quickly Merrick checked controls, fuel-feed, supplies.  Then he went to the televiso and turned a dial while his companion saw to the closing of the ports.

     The screen lighted up.  Merrick fiddled and tuned.  A head and shoulders appeared, clarified against teh background of a plastic and chromium and syne-cloth boudoir.  Morgana.

     “Yes?” came her silvery voice, as she accepted teh call.  “Where are you, Patch?  And have you come to your senses?”

     “Yes indeed.  Look my dear.  Somebody has to take the blame for letting Zaarrgon go.  It’ll be a serious charge to face.  So you and your father blame me for everything.”

     “But they’ll put you in prison—” she began.

     “Oh, no, they won’t!”  He laughed with genuine good humor.  “Because they won’t find me!  I’m going with Zaarrgon!”

     Her response to this was a gasp of pain, and her face went white.  “No, Patch!  Please—” she began in swift protest.

     “Goodbye, darling,” he cut her off quickly before she could get that deadly charm of hers working on him again.  “You’re a wonderful girl—too smart for me.  But thanks for wanting to make me vice-president of your dad’s financial empire.”

     There was a click as Merrick cut the connection.  Morgana Conti stared into the dying silver screen, and her lovely eyes slowly filled with tears.  Then her proud face hardened in determination, and her slim hands clenched tight.

     “You just think you are going to escape from me this time, Patch Merrick” she whispered fiercely.  “I’ll follow you around the curvature of our light universe, if I have to, because—because—I love you.  Damn you!”

     Aboard the Omen Morgana’s reply was never heard.  Patch Merrick turned from the dead televiso and spoke to the queer individual he had rescued.

     “Get her going, Zaarrgon.  You’re the astrogator.  Where are we going?”

     “Where can we be beyond the law and tamperring?” asked the Martian as he began punching control buttons on the firing panel.  “Only among the asssterroids.  Once a ssingle worrld, they arre now a hosst of worrldss with an unknown hisstorry.  We are going to ssolve the myssterry of the assterroids!”

     They took off. 

Reprinted With Permission of the Estate of Manly Wade Wellman

Back To Top
 


Special thanks to the following whose assistance was essential for this piece:  David Drake; Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade Books; John Pelan; Gerald W Page; Joe Bethancourt; Lisa Speer and Robert Hamblin at the Brodsky Faulkner Collection; Gerald Gaidmore at Brown University's John Hay LIbrary; and Jacques Harmon, whose archive of Pulp covers is unrivaled.