Vol. 2, No.
Manly Wade Wellman
Manly Wade Wellman
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"
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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!
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.
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
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.
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.’”
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
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!”
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,
Fable and The Reivers were awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
Not bad for a detective story also-ran.
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,
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,
Back To TOP
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
Back To TOP
With Jeremy Lassen of Night Shade Books
By Jeremiah Rickert
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
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
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
Night Shade Books Homepage
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The following is
a small essay on writing by Wellman.
(A Fancy Way of Saying You're
Talking to Yourself)
By Manly Wade Wellman
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
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.
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
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
By Manly Wade Wellman
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'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."
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
"Who are you?"
he asked, sort of crooning.
"My name's John,"
"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:
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.
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."
"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
"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
You all have
heard of the Ugly Bird
and so queer,
its flight by day and night
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!
and sneak and thieve!
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.
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—
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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?"
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
She shook her
head. The thundercloud hair stirred. "He never needs any. Takes what he
wants without paying."
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."
"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—"
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
"The guitar strings,"
said Mr. Bristow, "The silver guitar strings. It finished him, like any
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.
told her. "Like his soul coming out—and getting struck dead outside his
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
in privy wile,
held the high way
Of love and
honor, free from guile . . . .
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
Just Like A Martian
Manly Wade Wellman
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
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
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
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.
he reported to the senior clerk, a supple Martian. “Patch Merrick,
owner and pilot, from the Saturnian system.”
Merrrick,” purred the clerk. “We have hearrd of yourr exploitss therre—disscoverry
of Z-metal and yourr rrise to wealth.”
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
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
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
Merrick. “On what?”
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—”
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!”
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.”
bound to die,” reminded Morgana. “his illness is a fatal one, might
become painful. Perhaps he figures on a painless death—just like
“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?”
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.
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
“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.”
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
“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.”
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.
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.
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
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
“The land looks
wonderful,” complimented Merrick. “Almost like Earth.”
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
“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.”
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
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?”
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.
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.”
gin space, was thinking:
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.”
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
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
“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.”
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
do you explain the moons of Mars? Deimos and Phobos are jagged in
“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
came the thoughts of Patch Merrick. “You may hear from me again.”
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
Merrick was back
in the conference room. “That little Martian is in the clear,” he
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
Conti. “Didn’t belong? But he got that hydroite shipment from
Phobos, our own development.”
But Phobos isn’t Martian territory. At least, a clever delegate could
you’re utterly mad,” exploded Morgana. “I wonder why I love you.”
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—”
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.”
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
“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
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.”
for this idiocy to me,” promised Morgana, beautifully baleful.
to ignore her. His eyes were on Conti, waiting for a reply.
But it was Sskirr
who had the inspiration.
iss rright. Let him go, without any legal trrouble. Let him
esscape. The rray iss hiss only guarrd, and—”
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
“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.”
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
rose to his feet from where he had been dropped to the floor. He
purred, dusted himself, and confronted Merrick expectantly.
Merrick, and caught him by an arm tentacle, at the spot where the elbow
would be. “We’re leaving.”
hastened out to an elevator, and thence Merrick led the way to the landing-platforms
where he summoned attendants.
“Roll out my cruiser!”
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.”
“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....
“Yourr lady frriend?”
prompted Zaarrgon. “Rreflect. Perhaps you could face trrial.
But could you face herr?”
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.
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
“Yes?” came her
silvery voice, as she accepted teh call. “Where are you, Patch?
And have you come to your senses?”
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.
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
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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.