Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, May 3, 2021


 (It's been a lazy weekend)

Openers:  A moment before, the raucous comments of drinkers at the bar, the click of poker chips and the occasional scraping of a chair has created a small tumult of sound.

Now the drinkers were silent and cards lay undrawn on the green felt-top tables.  Kruvane has just walked in.  Dex Kruvane, the outlaw from Four Fords River, the killer on the run.

He stood just inside the edge of the arc of glare from the nearest overhead kerosene lamp, dusty and sweaty and obviouslu saddle-weary, and slowly surveyed the smoky room with his dark eyes as if he wanted to stamp every detail of it into his memory.  His heavy, tightly buttoned riding jacket gave him a bulk which belied his slight frame.

When he walked toward the bar, they could see how tired he was.  His feet dragged, his shoulders slumped forward.  He gripped the edge of the bar and for  minute stood hunched there with his head hung down, as if he were trying to gather strength.

-- Joseph Payne Brennan, "Killer in Town" (from Fifteen Western Tales, September 1951)

Kruvane, it turns out, had just escaped from an ambush near another town and had managed to outrun the sheriff's men and enter Sutton's Run and its dim saloon.  His presence made the saloon's customers nervous.  They knew all about Kruvne and his dark reputation for sudden, hair-triggered actions.  The local marshal was out of town so there would be little help there.  Kruvane quicklyFifteen downed three shots of tequila, then yelled, "Drinks on me!  Line up!"  The tension was relieved for a moment, then Charlie Hesson, the temporary deputy while the marshal was away. entered the saloon, intent on either arresting or killing Kruvane...

"Killer in Town" is a short -- very short -- character piece from an admired writer of horror and mystery stories, as well as a poet.  Joseph Payne Breenan worked at the Yale University Library for forty years, writing short stories and poetry in his spare time. His first stories were written for the Western pulps, at least 26 stories from 1948 to 1955.  As the market for pulp westerns dried up, Brennan switched to horror in 1952. Some of his stories, such as "Slime" and "The Calamander Chest," are considered classics; "Slime" has been reprinted over fifty times.   His most famous creation was the occult detective Lucius Leffing, whose cases turned out to have rational explanation as often as they did fantastic ones.  

Brennan established a small journal of poetry, Essense, in 1950, which appeared periodically over 28 years with 47 issues.  In 1955 he established his own publishing imprint, Macabre House, which, among  books and pamphlets by Brennan, issued the small press horror magazine Macabre, with 23 issues from 1957 to 1974.

Brennan's western stories are largely unavailable online, but the September 1951 issue of Fifteen Western Tales is availbe to read at Luminist Archives.  The issue also has stories from Steve Frazee, Clifton Adams, Will C. Brown, and William R. Cox.  Check it out.

1 comment:

  1. "Slime" is one of the better antecedents of THE BLOB, though my favorite Blob story remains THE CLONE, novel version, by Kate Wilhelm and Ted Thomas. My favorite Brennan horror remains the vignette "Levitation"...and I was surprised, but not for any compelling reason, to find his poetry in some of the same radical magazines that August Derleth contributed to...dunno if Derleth suggested JPB turn his hand to horror. ("Zothique" is another I remember well.)

    Thanks for the pointer!