The Year’s Best Horror Stories XIX, edited by the great Karl Edward Wagner, came out in 1991. I got it as vacation reading, but I think I was too busy with vacation-having to read it right away. I don’t remember exactly when I got back to the book, but I remember enjoying every story in it.
One story felt like it thundered off the page, and might be three solid knocks away from breaking down my door. That story was “I’ll Give You Half-Scairt” by Wayne Allen Sallee. The story, as explained in its introduction, is a fictionalization of a real life conversation between Sallee and artist Alan Clark.
Sallee wrote his story under the inspiration of the painting above. It concerns a writer and artist, naturally, who begin a sort of competitive collaboration. It ends with a hazy homicidal blending of death and art, as it they were two mucky colors smudged together on a canvas.
Amazingly, the story captures the picture without including it. I have added it here with the kind permission of the artist. Like the story, the picture is realistic, but slowly bleeding over into surreal horror. Both painting beg the question “Why?” and then gleefully avoids answering that question.
UPDATE: Alan Clark was nice enough to send me a close-up of the thing in the painting. I’m simultaneously relieved and, somehow, more scared. So many questions about what’s going on in that house.
Reading this story, I could feel Sallee smudging my own fears, and mixing my nerves in with the character’s trauma. With reckless pacing and vivid description, Sallee challenges all of his readers to remember why they came. And then he poses the question – what would readers do if he ever gave them the full measure of scaring they came for?
Just look at the picture and let your mind wander.
Painting or story, either “half-scairt” is scairt enough.