“Come on!” I said, “Let’s get out of here! The whole place is going to go up!”
We ran out to the car and drove away rapidly.
There isn’t too much left to say. I’m sure that you have all read about the fire that swept the residential Belwood District of California, leveling fifteen square miles of woods and residential homes. I couldn’t feel too badly about that fire. I realize that hundreds might have been killed by the gigantic maggot-things that Weinbaum and Rankin were breeding. I drove out there after the fire. The whole place was smoldering ruins.
There was no discernable remains of the horror that we had battled that final night, and, after some searching, I found a metal cabinet. Inside there were three ledgers. Once of them was Weinbaum’s diary. I clears up a lot. It revealed that they were experimenting on dead flesh, exposing it to gamma rays. One day they observed a strange thing. The few maggots that had crawled over the flesh were growing, becoming a group. Eventually they grew together, forming three separate large maggots. Perhaps the radioactive bomb had speed up the evolution.
I don’t know.
Furthermore, I don’t want to know.
In a way, I suppose, I assisted in Rankin’s death; the flesh of the body whose grave I had robbed had fed perhaps the very creature that had 26
killed him. I live with that thought. But I believe that there can be forgiveness. I’m working for it. Or, rather, we’re working for it.
Vicki and I. Together.
THE GLASS FLOOR
From Weird Tales, Fall, 1990
INTRODUCTION by Stephen King
In the novel Deliverance, by James Dickey, there is a scene where a country fellow who lives way up in the back of beyond whangs his hand with a tool while repairing a car. One of the city men who are looking for a couple of guys to drive their cars downriver asks this fellow, Griner by name, if he’s hurt himself. Griner looks at his bloody hand, then mutters: “Naw – it ain’t as bad as I thought.”
That’s the way I felt after re-reading “The Glass Floor,” the first story for which I was ever paid, after all these years. Darrell Schweitzer, the editor of Weird Tales invited me to make changes if I wanted to, but I decided that would probably be a bad idea. Except for two or three word changes and the addition of a paragraph break (which was probably a typographical error in the first place), I’ve left the tale just as it was. If I really did start making changes, the result would be an entirely new story.
“The Glass Floor” was written, to the best of my recollection, in the summer of 1967, when I was about two months shy of my twentieth birthday. I had been trying for about two years to sell a story to Robert A.W. Lowndes, who edited two horror/fantasy magazines for Health Knowledge ( The Magazine of Horror and Startling Mystery Stories) as well as a vastly more popular digest called Sexology. He had rejected several submissions kindly (one of them, marginally better than “The Glass Floor,” was finally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction under the title “Night of the Tiger”), then accepted this one when I finally got around to submitting it. That first check was for thirty-five dollars. I’ve cashed many bigger ones since then, but none gave me more satisfaction; someone had finally paid me some real money for something I had found in my head!
The first few pages of the story are clumsy and badly written – clearly the product of an unformed story-teller’s mind – but the last bit pays off better than I remembered; there is a genuine frisson in what Mr. Wharton finds waiting for him in the East Room. I suppose that’s at least part of the reason I agreed to allow this mostly unremarkable work to be reprinted after all these years. And there is at least a token effort to create characters which are more than paper-doll cutouts; Wharton and Reynard are antagonists, but neither is
“the good guy” or “the bad guy.” The real villain is behind that plastered-over door. And I also see an odd echo of “The Glass Floor” in a very recent work called “The Library Policeman.” That work, a short novel, will be published as part of a collection of short novels called Four Past Midnight this fall, and if you read it, I think you’ll see what I mean. It was fascinating to see the same image coming around again after all this time.
Mostly I’m allowing the story to be republished to send a message to young writers who are out there right now, trying to be published, and collecting rejection slips from such magazines as F&SF, Midnight Graffiti, and, of course, Weird Tales, which is the granddaddy of them all. The message is simple: you can learn, you can get better, and you can get published.
If that Little spark is there, someone will probably see it sooner or later, gleaming faintly in the dark. And, if you tend the spark nestled in the kindling, it really can grow into a large, blazing fire. It happened to me, and it started here.
I remember getting the idea for the story, and it just came as the ideas come now – casually, with no flourish of trumpets. I was walking down a dirt road to see a friend, and for no reason at all I began to wonder what it would be like to stand in a room whose floor was a mirror. The image was so intriguing that writing the story became a necessity. It wasn’t written for money; it was written so I could see better. Of course I did not see it as well as I had hoped; there is still that shortfall between what I hope I will accomplish and what I actually manage. Still, I came away from it with two valuable things: a salable story after five years of rejection slips, and a bit of experience. So here it is, and as that fellow Griner says in Dickey’s novel, it ain’t really as bad as I thought.
Wharton moved slowly up the wide steps, hat in hand, craning his neck to get a better look at the Victorian monstrosity that his sister had died in. It wasn’t a house at all, he reflected, but a mausoleum – a huge, sprawling mausoleum. It seemed to grow out of the top of the hill like an outsized, perverted toadstool, all gambrels and gables and jutting, blank-windowed cupolas. A brass weather-vane surmounted the eighty degree slant of shake-shingled roof, the tarnished effigy of a leering little boy with one hand shading eyes Wharton was just as glad he could not see.
Then he was on the porch, and the house as a whole was cut off from him. He twisted the old-fashioned bell, and listened to it echo hollowly through the dim recesses within. There was a rose-tinted fanlight over the door, and Wharton could barely make out the date 1770 chiseled into the glass. Tomb is right, he thought.
The door suddenly swung open. “Yes, sir?” The housekeeper stared out at him. She was old, hideously old. Her face hung like limp dough on her skull, and the hand on the door above the chain was grotesquely twisted by arthritis.
“I’ve come to see Anthony Reynard,” Wharton said. He fancied he could even smell the sweetish odor of decay emanating from the rumpled silk of the shapeless black dress she wore.
“Mr Reynard isn’t seein’ anyone. He’s mournin’.”
“He’ll see me,” Wharton said. “I’m Charles Wharton. Janine’s brother.”
“Oh.” Her eyes widened a little, and the loose bow of her mouth worked around the empty ridges of her gums. “Just a minute.” She disappeared, leaving the door ajar.
Wharton stared into the dim mahogany shadows, making out high-backed easy chairs, horse-hair upholstered divans, tall narrow-shelved bookcases, curlicued, floridly carven wainscoting.
Janine, he thought. Janine, Janine, Janine. How could you live here?
How in hell could you stand it?
A tall figure materialized suddenly out of the gloom, slope-shouldered, head thrust forward, eyes deeply sunken and downcast.
Anthony Reynard reached out and unhooked the door-chain. “Come in, Mr. Wharton, ” he said heavily.
Wharton stepped into the vague dimness of the house, looking up curiously at the man who had married his sister. There were rings beneath the hollows of his eyes, blue and bruised-looking. The suit he wore was wrinkled and hung limp on him, as if he had lost a great deal of weight. He looks tired, Wharton thought. Tired and old.
“My sister has already been buried?” Wharton asked.
“Yes.” He shut the door slowly, imprisoning Wharton in the decaying gloom of the house. “My deepest sorrow, sir. Wharton. I loved your sister dearly.” He made a vague gesture. “I’m sorry.”