Wednesday, August 26, 2009

'Where the Summer Ends' by Karl Edward Wagner

When the Dog Days of Summer are in effect, and the atmosphere is sweltering and steamy and every vacant lot or untended piece of turf gets swamped with vegetation, I readily think of the story ‘Where the Summer Ends’ (1981) by Karl Edward Wagner.

While Wagner is best known for his novels about Kane, the red-haired sword and sorcery adventurer, in my opinion, Wagner’s real strength as a writer was his short stories. And the best of these short stories is ‘Summer’, which appeared in the 1981 anthology 'Dark Forces' edited by Kirby McAuley.

The story is also printed in the anthology of southern ghost and supernatural stories ‘Nightmares in Dixie’ (1987), edited by McSherry, Waugh and Greenberg; and in ‘The American Fantasy Tradition’, edited by Brian M. Thomsen.

“Where the Summer Ends’ is set in Knoxville, Tennessee in the summer of 1977. Mercer, the protagonist of the story, is an older college student who is rehabbing a house in a seedy, decaying neighborhood. He furnishes his house with items salvaged from the abandoned homes littering the area, or with better-quality purchases from Grady, an elderly, cantankerous ‘antiques’ dealer who lives nearby. Grady has a fine mantelpiece that Mercer covets; with the strategic application of the right amount of liquor, maybe Grady will sell it for a price Mercer can afford.

The summer is hot and sticky and there are thunderstorms nearly every night. The entire ghetto has been overrun with kudzu, the fast-growing shrub originally imported from Japan. It overgrows the deserted homes and parking lots and playgrounds and it’s even encroaching on Grady’s house.

Mercer’s cat has gone missing.

Winos and vagrants from the neighborhood are turning up dead; old Morny’s corpse, mutilated and missing most of the skin, was discovered within a stand of kudzu.

And Mercer, when he stands very still on the sidewalk on a sweltering afternoon, hears rustling and skittering noises coming from under the thick clumps of kudzu…

1 comment:

Will Errickson said...

So much of Wagner's short fiction is worth searching out; if you can find them, grab WHY NOT YOU & I? and IN A LONELY PLACE.