Don Webb teaches Horror!, Horror 2, and How to Write the Metaphysical Bestseller for UCLA Extension where he has been a popular instructor since 2002. His work has appeared in Amazing, Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, Interzone and Weird Tales. His newest horror collection is Building Strange Temples from Ramble House. 

As a Texan, he possesses his own secret Chili recipe. 

by Don Webb


The slamming door pulled Javor Gyori out of his reverie. He had been planning a painting in his mind and that sort of thing always let little things like space and time slip away. The radio on the shelf above played something popular but very sad.

Why had she slammed the door? Had he said something stupid, or not answered a do you even like me? Had she just stormed out? Oh lord, what was it this time? 

He shook his head. Things seemed fuzzy; his brain as thick as his momma’s porkholt. Now that thought made him hungry. His wife Yllona could never cook, not like momma. Maybe she had left to go the restaurant across the street Kis Pipa.

But that didn’t seem right either. Yllona wasn’t much of a “fetch-it” woman. If anything, he would be heading across the cobbles and bringing back the goulash. She must have left the window open; it was cold and misty outside, a gloomy day, autumn perhaps. Why could he not focus?

His coffee was cold. He looked around the hotel room, much nicer than their usual. How was he paying for this? Had someone bought one of his paintings? That must be it. A celebration, a little too much pálinka, probably Josef talked about Tristan Tzara. They slept late, no doubt planning to visit the baths, and then there must have been a fight. Probably he had wanted to make love and she had wanted to go to Mass.

That was it. It was the same when János and he had founded the New Artists’ Union. But he wanted to know which painting he sold. 

He recognized the song on the radio. Osz van és peregnek a sárgult levelek. 

Well, the radio is telling the truth, it is autumn and the leaves are falling. In Kalossa, Momma would be hanging strings of paprika and garlic. The Danube would mirror the melancholy clouds; Papa would be drinking pálinka with other men as they refought the war. He should be happy.

Maybe it was because he was an artist. Momma always old him that artists have sensitive souls. Or maybe it was because he was Hungarian; Hungarians kill themselves more often than any group—even the Japanese with their seppuku. 

That’s not a good thought, like black coaches, something not to think about; he should look to see if any pálinka was left…maybe an unfinished bottle lay in the waste can, or maybe a full bottle had rolled under the bed. 

The room was so neat, so undisturbed. Had Yllona and he grown neat? Fastidious now that the marriage was a couple of months away? 

Oh god, the marriage; the event that brought out a strong religious streak in Yllona. She had ceased to be a good Communist or even a good surrealist.

Their long talk about the Fourth Dimension and messiness of time and will—of fata and fortuna had been swept away into bourgeoisie trashcan. She belonged to the angels and saints these days, and knees reddened by praying. He hoped that would pass with marriage, that her religiosity was a sort of virus that would run its course. At least they hadn’t stopped sleeping together, as her mama had devoutly wished.

What was that smell? Sweet and stifling. There on the table, a vase of little white flowers…what were they? Her favorites. Ah yes. Tuber roses. 

When she had been wild, he thought with the biggest grin, she had read in Le Jardin des supplices and the heroine Clara thought Tuber roses smelled of seamen, and planted them in the garden near her crucifixtions. 

What was the name of the song?  So sweet and sad. He should know it. Would it be too much of an invasion to stick his head out the window and ask them what it was? It was gloomy but it fit his mood. Gloomy Sunday.

He got a glass of water from the bath. He must have come into some serious money if he could afford a room with a private bath. Had some rich uncle died? Do surrealist painters have rich uncles?

Javor didn’t want to be so bourgiese about money. But with Yllona expecting, painting wasn’t going to pay the bills. Neither would the poetry. All of Yllona’s poems in Nyuga takentogether could not buy a loaf of brown bread. 

He hoped and he dreamed like all the young men of his generation of salvation from the east. The Magyars were an ancient people, the relatives of the Khan; their dreams lay in Russia with Lenin, not with the Four Arrow movement, not with Fascism or the West. But bread is more important than politics, and bread would mean leaving Budapest and going home to his mother’s farm. 

His father’s practicality would win in the end. No more coffee culture, no more surrealism, no more dreams. Maybe for his children. 

He really needed a drink—a drink to face her when she came back. She wouldn’t discuss these things, she was all angels now. An angel for the wedding, an angel for the child. He hated angels and he hadn’t wanted the child; he had almost said it last time they quarreled. 

Maybe he had said it, he was drunk and a drunk Magyar remembers little. This is why they are the stepchildren of history. 

Maybe it was just fear. Maybe life isn’t about the big fears like the battlefield or dying of the influenza, maybe it is just the fear of being worn away bit by bit, atom by atom by the daily wind of compromise. You agree to go to a church, you agree not to go to a party meeting, you make your painting a little less extreme—would it kill you to have a statue of the Virgin?

Does each new white hair kill you? Is anyone killed by a single wrinkle? Missing a single reading? Painting one less painting and painting one more wall? And then you are dead and your psyche which has been rounded into a cosmic 0 rolls down the drain of Time. Not even a splash.

“Do you hear that Yllona? Not even a splash. Not even the sound your shit makes in the WC!”

He was remembering now. They had fought.


They had come to the city for the publication party for her long poem A Door in the Sky. He had told everyone at the Blue Goat that the wedding would be held in that pub in two months.

He had always imagined it so. Men and women in surrealist costumes, the artist-revolutionaries of Hungary, a mock-priest, maybe even a woman reading surrealist vows.  It would be their last hurrah as artists. 

She would go as Ophelia in a long white gown and a wreath of flowers in her hair.  Everyone would applaud and wine would flow like—well, wine at a surrealist gathering.  Everyone would want to dance with the pregnant bride.

But the middle class disease struck her. “Nem, nem, nem!” she yelled. “I will not have my baby brought up in this. It is a plaything, a child’s guess at the world. It is not for real people.”

“Yllona we are real people! Illyés is a real person, you drank with him tonight.  Lenin is a real person! Andre Breton is a real person. Your parents are not real people!”

“You are full of shit and pálinka in equal measure, Javor. What will you feed your child on? Automatic writing and the derangement of the senses? Poems picked out of bowler hats? What will he pray with—a manifesto?”

“I am not unreasonable, darling. Do not yell; it will hurt the baby.”

“Hurt the baby more than a roomful of deranged art?”

“Our friends made this room for us! It is made out of love. There is nothing else for us in Budapest!”

“There is nothing but insanity here. I want to go home to Kalossa.”

“We will go in the morning. We will get some rest. You are overheated.”

“I am going tonight. I will find someone to take me.”

“Darling, even if you could find someone to take you, you would get in that little peasant town at three in the morning. Your momma would be asleep. Even the barkeep would be asleep. Be reasonable.”

“I’ll have nothing to do with this life,” said Yllona.

“But my love, this is your life; we are here to celebrate your poem. You worked months on it. Why are you acting this way?”

“Didn’t you see them? Our so-called friends. They weren’t acting like humans. They were striking absurd poses. None of them sees anything special in this.” She gestured at her belly, four months along. “To them, it is jewelry, a cosmic accident of a meaningless universe. I could see them planning on having the child at a reading or a galley opening, incorporating her into a sculpture.”

“Our friends would do nothing of the sort. You are seeing them the way your mother sees them.” Javor said. 

This was the trump card. It had always been the trump card, Yllona hated the bent-back crone, and her one fear was that it was her destiny to someday be the old lady. “For once, I think my mother sees many things correctly. I will find a coach and I will ride alone while you drink with your fellow Sodomites!”

So, realized Javor, it is over. Over in so many ways. He could feel the collar slipped around his throat, not even a jeweled collar like a Buda lady’s poodle might sport. So be it. He loved Yllona. He would love the child.

Javor both hated and loved drama in his woman. They had first made love in a thunderstorm after smoking hashish and reading Poe.

Surely she had’t found anyone to take her out of the city. He grabbed a bouquet of the tuber roses and headed after her, sure he would find her. Drama had always led to love; it had been their ticket out of the existence that they were fated to follow.

Down the stairs, around, down again, in a white painted spiral of panting exhaustion he traveled until he reached the ground floor. There were screams from outside, and horses neighed and people pushed back chairs in the lobby in their rush to run to the windows. 

As he rounded the last mezzanine, he knew. He knew before he saw, and he ran out through the lobby into the moonless dark.

People were fetching lanterns and the smell of kerosene blended with horseshit and fresh human blood and his stupid, stupid tuber roses. A coach had struck her, tearing open just below the ribcage. A black coach of sorrow, its bald driver poured out mad apologies.

Javor watched her long white dress turn to carmine. He held the white flowers to her unbreathing mouth and nose. Her costume, his flowers, the lateness of the hour, the louder and louder apologies of the poor driver would make this a legend of this street for a few years.

The police had dragged him away and if sorrow had left anyplace for irony, he would have noted that he had nowhere to go but Kalossa. Her mother and his mother tended him, but neither forgave him. Art and poetry are dangerous things; they lead you away from the safety of the farm. 

And so he tried painting. It was the beginning of October and the light was still good enough. Little White Flowers Will Not Awaken You.


He seldom slept and never slept sober. He did not light his room. The shadows, his only friends, were numberless. A few writers from the Blue Goat came up for a weekend, but between the insane darkness in his eyes and the icy glances of the villagers, they did not feel welcome. 

Everyone has their own problems in this world, and surely the dead are taken care of by Something. Like the song sang above, Szivtelen rosszak és kapzsik az emberek. People are heartless greedy and wicked.

And so at the end of the month, when the sky would be as moonless as the one that hides your face from the coach-driver, he came back to Budapest. He took a room on the second highest floor of the hotel. He could only have afforded this room, by not paying for it. He would not be exit by the front door.  He knew what he needed to know. 

He let the darkness in through an open window and scented it with the incense of his church, the Church of the Divine Yllona. He wondered if the angels, that had carried her off, would be mad at him for deciding to join her.

He moved the vase away from the window and ran into space, and as he hoped, no door opened for him in the sky. The cobbles from below met him quickly.


When Mrs. Peter Anderson returned to the room, the open window puzzled her. She did not note Peter’s absence immediately. And she certainly did not hear the sound of the thud a few seconds later. 

The last few notes of a song from an open window above on the fourteenth floor suggested nothing to her. She had never heard of the song “Gloomy Sunday.” 

She didn’t speak Hungarian and did know that the radio documentary talked about the Hungarian suicide song of the thirties that had accompanied hundreds of suicides: Hungarians, British, French, Americans, Mexicans, Brazilians, and lately Vietnamese to their solitary ends, all believing that they were Javor Gyori, the first to die.

All she knew was that Peter had been sleeping. She had walked across the street to buy some food from the little tavern.

All right, she admitted to herself, she had left because she was in a bad mood since she and Peter were fighting.