Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Wednesday, August 11, 2021


 'The Silver Bullet" by Phyllis A. Whitney (first published in Weird Tales, February 1935; reprinted in Edwina Noone's Gothic Sampler (pre-publication title The Award Gothic Sampler), edited by "Edwina Noone" (Michael Avallone), 1966, and in Startling Mystery Stories, Summer 1970, edited by Robert A. W. Lowndes)

First off, everyone nows the silver bullets are used a defense against werewolves, right?  And maybe, in a pinch, against vampires.  But using them aginst witches and warlocks?  That strains my credibility.  I'm willing to forgive the author because this story was written in her salad days when she was selling to church and pulp magazines, at least six years before her first novel was published.

"The Silver Bullet" is a by-the-numbers tale typically found in the pages of Weird Tales and, like many other stories from that magazine, the story stills reads well.

Ramsay (I have no idea if that's his first or last name) and his wife Linda are driving to the remote town of Loon Mountain, where Linda was born.  Shortly after her birth, Linda's mother sent her away from Loon mountain, gaving her to strangers -- something that may have contributed to the "nervous spells" that Linda had been experiencing all her life.  On the advice of a psychiatrist, are headed to Linda's birthplace to discover the origin of her spells.  (Yes, it's a muzzy diagnosis and a muzzy solution, but it moves the plot.)  

Loon Mountain and Loon Valley are remote places.  The couple are driving up a tricky dirt (well, actually, mud) road at the dark of night with a thick pea-soup fog that makes driving dangerouse, especially since on one side of the road is a steep precipice and their car keeps sliding in the mud.  Ramsay stops the car and they expected to have to spend the night there when they spot a lit window through the fog.  The trudge to the house looking for help.

The house turns out to be a former hotel and they are greeted by a woman in strange black garb who offers to put them up for the night.  This woman curiously resembles Linda in many ways -- the same dark flowing hair, the same set of the face...but the woman has a far more exotic beauty than Ramsay's wife.  We never learn her name.  Also at the house is a man with frightenly piercing eyes and a zombie-like stature.  Their hostess ignores him.  Their room was dark and poorly furnished and they are given a key and told to lock the door for their own safety.  Before she leaves them, their hostess gives Linda a silver bullet -- a good-luck charm she had been carrying for years -- telling her to place the bullet under her pillow.

When Ramsay wakes up the next morning, Linda is gone.  The door remains locked but the window is now open.  He searches the entire building and finds no one.  He is then met by Samuel, a wizened old man who claims to be the caretaker of the building.  Samuel vows that the building has been empty for years and that there was never a dark-haired woman living there.  Ramsay insists on a search party for his wife and the townspeople oblige, although they appear to doubt the existence of a wife at all.

Near the end of his rope, Ramsay is confronted by some of the searchers who say they found Linda's body in a near-by gravel pit.  On inspection, the body turned out not to be Linda, but that of their hostess.  The townspeople say they have never seen that woman before.

Ramsay has an epiphany:  "The poeple from Loon Mpountain faded from the room and Ramsay knew the thing thaat was required of him if he was to save himself and reach Linda.  He must be as cunning as the dark forces leagued against him.  Never again must he give way to despair, thus opening a doorway to all evil.  And he must fight alone.  By some strnge intuition he knew that all the mountaainside was against him -- little men like Samuels, with blurred and shifty eyes, crowding their lies upon him; driving him with a slow, devilish peristence until his mind would abandon his last outpost and they woulld be rid of them forever."

There is a rifle hanging on the wall.  Ramsay grabs it.  It is unloaded.  Ramsay reaches under his wife's pillow to retrieve the silver bullet.   The bullet appears to have made to fit the rifle...

There is not much more to say.  All ends well for Ramsay and Linda.  And -- son of a gun! -- silver bullets do work against warlocks, leving one "an ooze of gray and jelly-like matter."

Phyllis A. Whitney (1903-2008; yes. she was 104 when she died of pneumonia) was one of America's premier writers of romantic suspense -- a description she preferred more than "The Queen of American Gothics."  Over her long career, she penned 73 novels plus three textbooks on writing.  Working in both the juvenile and adult suspense novels, she won two Edgar Awards for juvenile mysteries (and was nominated for three more) and often hit the best-seller lists with her romantic suspense novels for adults, winning comparisons to Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.  She served as president of The Mystery Writers of America and received their Grand Master Award in 1988.  She also received the Agatha Lifetime Achievement Award from Malice Domestic in 1989, The Romance Writers of America Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990, and The Society for Midland Authors Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995.

"The Silver Bullet" is available to read online in the February 1935 issue of Weird Tales and on the Summer 1970 issue of Startling Mystery Stories.  The Weird Tales issue also contains stories by Seabury Quinn, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Jr., Edmond Hamilton, August Derleth, and Henry S. Whitehead, "Kurt Barle" (Kurt Schwabe-Barlewin), and Fanny Kemble Johnson, as well as the second installment of a three-part serial by Paul Ernst and poetry by Cristal Hastings and Donna Kelly.  The Startling Mystery Stories issue also contains stories by "Francis Flagg" (George Henry Weiss), David H. Keller, M.D. (a "Taine of San Francisco" story), Eddy C. Bertin (translated from the Durch), and Seabury Quinn (a Jules de Grandin story).  If you happen to pick up Edwina Noone's Gothic Sampler (not available online, alas), you will find additional stories from Mignon G. Eberhart, Virgina Coffman, Veronica Parker Johns, Gladys Cluff, Natalie MacMurdy, Mary Wollestonecraft Shelly, and two pieces witten by Michael Avalonne under pseudonymns.

1 comment:

  1. Several Whitney fans I've run this by have been happified to know that she published in WEIRD TALES back in the Wright years...a fact which had eluded me till reading your post.