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Authors: Charles L. Grant

Tales from the Nightside

BOOK: Tales from the Nightside
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CHARLES L. GRANT

TALES FROM THE NIGHTSIDE

***

With a Foreword by Stephen King

and Drawings by Andrew Smith

Arkham House 1981

 ***

(version 5.0)

Contents

Foreword by Stephen King

TALES FROM OXRUN STATION

Coin of the Realm (1981)

Old Friends (1981)

Home (1981)

If Damon Comes (1978)

A Night of Dark Intent (1981)

TALES FROM HAWTHORNE STREET

The Gentle Passing of a Hand (1981)

When All the Children Call My Name (1977)

Needle Song (1979)

Something There Is (1981)

TALES FROM THE NIGHTSIDE

Come Dance With Me On My Pony's Grave (1973)

The Three of Tens (1975)

Digging (1981)

From All the Fields of Hail and Fire (1976)

The Key to English (1974)

White Wolf Calling (1975)

Foreword

There is something mildly surreal about writing this introduction for Charles Grant’s
Tales from the Nightside
, or so it has seemed to me in the last few days as I thought about what I might say and how I might say it. I think I finally pinned down the cause of that surreal feeling about ten minutes ago, as I changed the ribbon on the typewriter I am using to write this, the hands doing their own work, the mind tracking free. The oldest cliche in the book suddenly popped into my head as an opening line (give me credit, folks: I didn’t use it). That line was: “Here is a man who needs no introduction.”

Following the thought I realized that there was more truth than whimsy in it, at least as applies to the Arkham edition of the fine collection that follows. Arkham House has specialized in exceptional volumes of fantasy, horror, and weird tales for more years than either Charlie Grant or I have lived: in its history of just over forty years it has published books by Ray Bradbury, Carl Jacobi, Ramsey Campbell, Clark-Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, and, of course, H. P. Lovecraft. All the same, they are not books you are apt to find at your local B. Dalton or Waldenbooks, and the reason is simple: Arkham Mouse has always catered to the intelligent reader of fantasy and strange tales, the literate fan of the genre, the man or woman who has progressed beyond
The Tomb of Dracula, Swamp-Thing,
and the works of such writers as John Saul and Frank De Felitta. In its nearly half-century of publishing Arkham House has, in short, served those whose imaginations crave something more than shopworn pulp and gore; it has published for those whose sense of wonder does not begin with worm-eaten corpses and end with a stake through the heart.

In this context, Grant’s work really doesn’t need an introduction; for me to be standing here (sitting, actually, with a can of beer close at hand, thank you very much), taking up your time introducing Charles Grant is like any of the following:

Jon Landau giving the assembled multitudes at Woodstock a lecture on the meaning of rock and roll.

An Irish priest explaining to his parish how to make a good confession.

Judith Crist telling a group of film buffs who Paul Newman is.

Sammy Davis Jr. explaining to a group of Roxbury high school students what the black experience is all about.

Me telling my grammy how to suck eggs.

The stunning (at least to me it seems stunning) fact of the matter is this: if you are holding the Arkham House edition of Charlie Grant’s book in your hot little paws, the chances are very, very good that you have met the man either in person (he travels tirelessly to science fiction and fantasy conventions across the United States, spreading not the gospel of Charles Grant but the gospel of fantasy as an honorable and uplifting form of literature and story-telling) or through his work… which has been fairly prolific, a fact for which all fans of the imaginative story can give thanks. He won the Nebula Award for the best short sf story of the year in 1977 and for the best sf novelette in 1979, and has been nominated for that award five times. He has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award eight times—a staggering number when one considers the fact that such awards have been given for less than ten years and also when one reflects on the great number of talented writers in the fantasy field; he has also won the WFA while wearing his anthologist’s hat for the original
Shadows
collection.

To suggest that Charlie Grant is a household name would be to suggest the ridiculous (we reserve that dubious honor for corrupt politicians, TV stars with big breasts, insane international leaders, and international terrorists, cute dogs such as Benji, and inane comedians who make megamillions saying such things as “Mork calling Orson” and “Ex-cuuuse ME!”). But in the fairly circumscribed world of the fantasy fan, Charles Grant is known well enough so that I feel no compunction at all to enumerate either his bona fides or his cards of identity. I could tell you that he is one of the premier fantasists of his generation, but most of you will know that already and those of you who don’t will discover that fact in the stories that follow—stories that are by turns amusing, grotesque, terrifying, dramatic, and, above all, engrossing. Some are tales that you finish and that hit you suddenly, an hour or a day later, like a blow around the heart. Some may cause you to flinch, others may leave you with a sense of thoughtful sadness… a sense that seems to pervade the best of Grant’s work. He is an autumnal writer, and in the best of his fiction, the reader goes away with something rather more complex than a simple scare; there is a loneliness in these tales that is also civilized and, in the best sense, sensual. They are good stories, but you don’t need me to tell you that when you can read the stories themselves.

The things I
don’t
know about Charlie Grant would fill a book. I don’t know what kind of shaving cream he uses, what kind of chair he sits in when he writes, what his bookcases look like, what sort of pictures hang in the room where he sleeps. Because we’ve corresponded, I know that he has an IBM electric typewriter, but I don’t know if he types two-finger (as I do, using the Biblical Typing Method—“seek and ye shall find”) or ten-finger touch. I don’t know if he has pets, a favorite fast-food restaurant, a favorite barber shop.

I know that he is a bit taller than average, that his face is narrow in a way that seems scholary, that his eyes are wide-set enough in that narrow face to be arresting even behind his spectacles. He speaks rapidly and can be wildly funny… but never in an angry or cruel way. I suspect that he may be the only man of my acquaintance who could wear red pants, a white belt, and white shoes… and get away with them.

And none of that matters at all to the person holding this book at this moment. The one thing that does (and I suppose the stories also say this, but it is worth pointing out) can be summed up in five words of one syllable, none of them longer than three letters. It doesn’t take long to write or to say, but from where I sit, those five words say about everything that needs to be said:
The man is a pro.

Charlie Grant works at it. Not all of these stories came easy; he probably had physical headaches over some and mental headaches over plenty. His stomach was probably upset as he wrote some of them, he probably smoked too much over some of them, lay awake over some of them. He probably wrote some of them thinking in the back of his mind that it would be a hell of a nice day to go to the beach and wrote others thinking it would be a hell of a nice day to find, some long field bordered with blazing autumn trees and ramble it to its far end. If he is like most writers, I imagine his back ached and his kidneys felt crunched during mora than one stint at the typewriter and I imagine that more than once his brain itself felt crunched, dismal; and as devoid of inspiration as a sleety afternoon in late December.

But the opposite holds, the sunny side to this art/business that balances off the writer’s sometime (often!) malaise, and his almost constant sense of loneliness as he voyages at his typewriter alone (writing a story is like having a pee—you can’t get anyone else to do it for you): the days when your head feels like it’s busting with the need to tell the story, the days when the story simply spills out all at once, and you are reduced to chasing it with a silly, slap-happy grin on your face, the days when you feel you got, in one story or on one page or in one phrase, exactly what you meant. There are days when you finish, and put a paper clip on the manuscript, and put the manuscript in an envelope, and mail it off somewhere, and you think, “I sent off a good one. Boy, did I ever.”

One of the crucial differences between the pro and the amateur is that the pro is able to place both of these sets of feelings—the good and the bad—within a fairly narrow range; unlike the students of many college creative-writing courses, who may consider themselves Prousts one day and feel like killing themselves the next, the pro is able simply to push on, determined to do the best he can possibly do, to grow as much as he can grow, and to perform, each day, one almost incredible feat of intellectual and imaginative strength: to look at the ream of blank paper beside the typewriter without quailing, to see not so much hostile and inimical whitespace but invisible words that need only be brought up and out.

Charlie Grant is this sort of writer, and, so far as I know, always has been. If you don’t thank God for it, I’ll thank Him for both of us. In a world that is usually far too grim and much too grey, the writer who can produce consistently good fiction is a rare and wonderful resource.

Listen here, sir or madam: these stories break out. Let me tell you what I mean by that by using an example. In the first of C. S. Lewis’s Narnia novels, the girl Lucy reaches the land of Narnia by stepping through a wardrobe into which she has gone to hide herself during a game of what our British cousins call “seek-and-find.” There is darkness, a stuffy smell of wool and mothballs… and a sense of space. Lucy advances into the wardrobe, marveling to herself at its size. She feels a particular coldness around her ankles, bends down, and scoops up snow. She has entered Narnia.

It is a breakout moment, a fancy so right and yet so breathtaking that we are transfixed with the wonder of it: the magical and the commonplace are juxtaposed with the courage and the imagination of a Magritte painting, the kicker of a good Twilight Zone episode, or the instrumental break in a Chuck Berry top-tenner. We may be horrified or transfixed with the strangeness of the situation, but we are also simply delighted. When a story breaks out in this fashion, it enhances our lives.

In the first of these stories, “Coin of the Realm,” the toll takers in Charles Grant’s half-magical little town of Oxrun Station begin to receive strange coins from the drivers shooting through—in size and shape they could almost pass for quarters, but when the toll takers look at them closely, they find a stylized pyramid on one side, and various designs they can’t understand on the other. The story progresses from there, of course, moving toward a denouement that is both bizarre and believable, but that is almost secondary to the point I’m trying to make; the fact of those coins themselves, so strange and out of place in a situation we can all visualize, is the breakout—Charlie Grant has managed to shunt us off the major tracks of everyday reality and onto his own weird and compelling spur line… and all without even breathing hard.

The rest of the tales here are as equally compelling and as equally well told. You’ll meet the inhabitants of Oxrun Station, of Hawthorne Street, and of half a dozen other locations. I could summarize the tales, but as Richard Nixon so memorably said, “that would be wrong.” Charlie can tell you this set of tales better than I could; he can draw the line between the living and the dead indelibly in your mind. You’ll meet a man who keeps toys on his lawn and a sandbox in his backyard in what may be one of the three finest horror stories I have ever read (the other two would be Ramsey Campbell’s “The Companion” and “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman). You’ll meet a Montagnard boy with a pony… a carnival pitchman with a particularly sinister grab-bag concession… a baker’s dozen more.

None of them takes place on distant planets, none of them takes place in any environment more exotic than suburban England. Most of them could have happened two streets over and one block down from where you yourself live—this is your world and my world, but Charlie Grant’s world has some vital differences. Deadly differences, you might say.

But in each case (yes, I’m going now. I’m going, dammit, be patient a minute longer and I’ll be out of your hair), watch for that wonderful moment when the story breaks out, when—to make a phrase—the quarter with the stylized pyramid on one side and the curious indecipherable designs on the other is slapped into your unwary hand. Only here you don’t have to stand in the gate while the car passing through takes off for some strange and unknown place; Charles Grant is inviting you along for the ride. Because he’s a pro, the ride is going to be a good one. Because he cares about stories and the people who walk through his stories, it may be something more than just good; it may be memorable.

BOOK: Tales from the Nightside
6.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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