Pobby and Other Stories by Jane Rice
Five classic stories of horror, humor and the macabre from Jane Rice.
Five classic stories of horror, humor and the macabre from Jane Rice.
From the Salem Witch Trials to a drowned man’s revenge and a man-eating plant, Jane Rice finds a macabre humor in some horrific stories.
The House (1941) – The House hated. It had a grim and determinedly evil personality all its own, and it had set out to murder every member of the family, one by one—
The Golden Bridle (1943) – The golden bridle was the answer to the golden dream of every jockey—it meant a winner in every race. But its golden touch had something, too, of the Midas touch—
The Crest of the Wave (1941) – He was riding the crest— ’til a Delilah and a Judas tipped him into the river. After that—he rode them!
The Elixir (1942) – Maybe it was the Witches’ Cup, maybe it was the mighty potion of mixed drinks she’d mixed—but something sent her from a 1942 Halloween party to a Salem witch-hunt. At the wrong end of the hunt!
Pobby (1942) – Pobby was a difficult character for an author to handle. He kept coming around to visit the writer, demanding that the ending be changed. He didn’t want the plant to grow—
Jane Dixon Rice (1913–2003) was born in Owensboro, Kentucky and was of the same family as the Mason-Dixon Line was named after. Rice caught the eye of legendary editor John W. Campbell when she submitted The Dream to his magazine Unknown in 1940. She continued to write for Unknown until its demise in 1943 during the midst of wartime paper shortages.
Pobby and Other Stories contains 11 illustrations.
Excerpt: The Crest of the Wave
BIG MIKE settled back against the dove-gray velour upholstering with a well-fed grunt. His little eyes imbedded in rolls of fat gazed serenely out at the shifting scenery of Lindell Boulevard sliding past the car windows, three-inch and bulletproof.
Women in furs, their tiny hats and sheer hose belying the scurrying wind that nipped at their silken ankles, and shook cascades of rusty leaves from the threadbare trees to send them whirling in the gutters; the stuccoed Coronado; tall, thin apartment buildings with blank inscrutable fronts; a house, incongruously out of place, draped with dried brown ivy; the Park Plaza with its circular drive of crushed stone and swank iron grillwork; an old crone huddled in her shapeless coat and exhibiting shoelaces, and toothless gums, to passersby; the Chase, its clipped shrubbery curtsying to the wind, its doorman spanking his white gloved hands for warmth. And beyond. Forest Park—the baseball diamonds deserted and forlorn, the trees trying desperately to make their tattered garments cover their twisted limbs; a trickle of people, bent against the wind, coming up the walk from the Monkey House; a small boy jumping up and down on the pedal of a drinking fountain, its bowl stained and discolored and choked with trash.
The car turned left. Neon signs began to make their slow appearance: Italian Spaghetti; Clark Gable in “Boom Town”; Beer To Take Out; Hamburgers 10¢; “Gone with the Wind” at Popular Prices; Thrifty Dry Cleaning, Pants Pressed While You Wait; Closing Out, Everything Must Go, Prices Slashed; Edward G. Robinson in “Brother Orchid” All Seats 15¢; Poske’s Barbecue; a policeman on the corner teetering back and forth on his heels; Ladies’ Entrance; We Buy Old Gold and Silver; a walnut-faced man in a dirty newspaper apron yelling, “Read all about it; big jewel robbery; read all ABOUT it, read ALL ABOU—” His voice was lost in the derisive toot the chauffeur gave the horn as Big Mike swept by.
Big Mike picked up the speaking tube.
“Mebbe we shoulda bought a paper, hey, Joe?” and he laughed a thick, gurgling laugh of padded contentment.
The chauffeur only smiled. It was a mirthless smile, barely curved, and did not come anywhere near the outer corners of his lips. He didn’t answer. Which was as it should be, for Big Mike had let the speaking tube slip from his pudgy fingers and had given himself up to meditation.
It had been a haul, all right. Fifty thousand bucks, easy. Of course, the boys had to get their cut but he could tone that down some. He knew how to soap the boys. And then that crook Zacchus wouldn’t handle anything hot for less than a third. He ought to have his can spiked. He was going to handle it, though, and the way the D. A. was putting on the screws most of the mobs let out a squawk fit to bust your eardrums, if you brought in anything that didn’t have six months’ age on it. Oh well, say twenty thousand take after the payoff. Twenty G’s complete. Not bad. Not bad at all.
Big Mike laughed again. Silently. His stomach shaking like pastry dough. Nobody could say he hadn’t made good. Seven years ago slicing up codfish in the Market, resting his hands on the porcelain counter and saying, “What’s yours?” to a lot of beefy-faced housewives who watched the scales like a brood of hawks. Well, that was seven years ago. A lotta water’d gone over the dam since then. Seven years. He’d done O. K. Plenty O. K. Big Mike insteada just Mike. The Kingpin some of them called him. That was him, all right. The Kingpin.
Big Mike heaved himself up by the window strap and unanchored his watch from its hiding place among the folds of his blue-serge paunch. He picked up the tube.
“Slow down, Joe. Ain’t no rush.”
He settled back once more against the velvety cushions. Never wait for a doll. That was his policy. Keep them waiting. Made ’em feel like they was lucky he come at all. Of course, Flo wasn’t no ordinary doll. She had class. Well, wait’ll she laid her blinkers on what he’d save out for her. Them sparklers was class, too, all right.
The short, stubby fingers caressed a jewel box beside him on the seat.
Twenty thousand clear. He might even take Flo down to one of them resorts. One of them smart jobs with mineral springs and all the fixings. Nothing was too good for Flo. Funny, her calling him up and asking him to pick her up way out here. She’d never done that before. It’d been his place, or her place, or Garselli’s downtown. But that was Flo for you. Just when you thought you had her tagged and figgered, she’d do something and you was right back where you started. She was a pistol, all right. Yes, sir, mebbe one of them ritzy joints with a swimming pool right inside the building. That’d suit Flo to a T.
The car swerved over to the curb and purred to a smooth stop so the rear door was exactly even with the yawning cave of a faded green canopy flaunting on its canvassed sides the legend, “Floor Show Every Hour.”
A GIRL in a squirrel-skin coat, with a jeweled butterfly caught in her platinum-blond hair, was standing just inside the gloomy shelter. She was nervous. You could tell by the way she kept touching a sausagelike ringlet that drooped becomingly low over one mascaraed eye. As the car drew up she seemed to grow tense, as if every nerve had gone taut as piano wire. But that was only for a moment—a split second. An instant later her powdered face was wreathed in smiles and, letting her coat hang loosely so that the decided V of her neckline showed like a demarcation on an alabaster column, she stepped swiftly to the door of the car.
Big Mike hoisted himself up and pressed down the safety catch. The door swung open.
“Keep yuh waiting?” he asked.
The girl flashed two rouged dimples at him. “Don’t you always,” she said archly and kissed him. Big Mike’s face was momentarily buried in a full shirred collar of squirrel skin faintly redolent of perfume. And that was where Big Mike made his first and only mistake. And his final one.
Two men, slim-liipped, pinch-waisted, with dark slouch hats, swung from the shadowed twilight of the canopy and when Big Mike looked up he looked right down the barrels of two .38s. His hand darted underneath his coat but he was too late.
Flo, the rouge standing out in symmetrically round spots on her chalky cheeks, backed away—Big Mike’s gun concealed in the voluminous squirrel-skin sleeves. Her blue eyes were locked with the blazing slits that were Big Mike’s and a muscle at the corner of her mouth twitched, as if it held a hidden spring. She whirled suddenly and ran back under the canopy and up the steps. The blare of a band playing “My Gal Sal,” sounded brassily as she opened the door and was cut off with its closing.
The silver and maroon custom-built Cadillac swept away from the curb and out into the stream of traffic headed north.
All in all the entire performance had taken one and three-quarter minutes.
Excerpt From: Jane Rice. “Pobby and Other Stories.”
Also available on Google Play Books
More Fantasy & Horror
More by Jane Rice