By Rita Mae Moore, illustration by Alicia Krupsky
There is a sharp stab to the underside of your foot as you step away from your bed. The fog of sleep is still heavy, but you wince involuntarily, a sharp hiss through gritted teeth as the pain forces you to stumble to the side. You look down, blinking to clear your tired vision, searching for whatever item attacked you.
It’s a typewriter key.
Strange, you think, bending to pick it up. As you’re turning it over in your hands, you wonder, do I even own a typewriter? The key is smooth from years of use on one side, with some still sharp prongs on the other. Lucky you, it was sharp side up. At least your foot isn’t bleeding.
Letter “i,” you note, and slide the key into your pajama pants pocket, moving gingerly to the kitchen. The curiosity about the key fades as a need for coffee arises. You’re powerless against the siren call.
It’s a warm morning already, promising a steamy early autumn day. Soon, the scent of the roasted beans is curling into your nose as the machine sizzles. You reach for your favorite mug, the image worn down from years of washing it in the dishwasher even though it plainly says not to on the bottom. The handle fits into your hand like an old friend, glaze completely worn off where your thumb rests towards your face, you peer inside.
As you remove it from the shelf, something clinks from inside the mug. Tilting it, you see another typewriter key. Face up, letter “h.”
You’re almost positive you don’t have a typewriter, not even in the boxes in your garage that follow you every time you move and never get unpacked. Do you know anyone with a typewriter? You’re not sure. And it doesn’t matter anyways, because you haven’t had a visitor in weeks.
You dump the key out onto your counter, and drop the key from your pocket alongside it. Giving the mug a quick rinse, you fill it with coffee, craving the clarity it brings now more than ever.
This is strange, right, you think, looking around as though someone might validate the increasing unease you’re feeling. You live alone. No one is there to offer you a reassuring pat on the shoulder, or an explanation, or anything.
Silence is your answer, of course.
You backtrack, coffee in hand, to your bedroom, eyes scanning the floor methodically, searching for any more loose pieces. You find none, and you sit on the bed with a sigh. Of course you’re alone and something strange happened. Wasn’t it just last night that you felt a tear slide down from your eye as you laid in bed, a silent herald of your loneliness? Didn’t you end up sobbing into your palms as you ground them into your eyes, pressing to stanch the flow?
Didn’t you cry out to your empty room, pleading for someone to see you, to care about you, to fill the aching gap inside you?
You shake your head softly as you sit on the end of the bed, something like shame welling in you even though your outburst the previous night had no audience. A shiver traces across the back of your neck, so cold that you tremble involuntarily, despite the gathering humidity in the early autumn breezes outside your window. It raises the hair along your arms and you inhale sharply, heart pounding for reasons you can’t fully describe.
A footstep in the hall. Then two.
A familiar clinking.
You jump up and rush to your bedroom door, coffee sloshing carelessly from your mug as you move, and the hallway is just as abandoned as it should be when you reach it. You skid to a stop, thankfully, before you crush your feet into the items placed on the floor, just outside your bedroom door.
The smooth sides face you, propped up in the carpet just so. The two typewriter keys, side by side, spelling out the word you anticipated somehow - a greeting and acknowledgement that you aren’t alone, even when you are:
Rita Mae Moore is the author of A Voice In-Between. The sequel, A Soul In-Between, is out September 23. Rita also leads haunted history tours for American Ghost Walks in Lake Geneva, WI.
This story originally appeared in QWERTY Quarterly #2. You can get a subscription here: www.etsy.com/shop/qwertyquarterly
By Tea Krulos
“WI Words” is a new series in QQ that spotlights writers with Wisconsin ties that have contributed significantly to various fields of writing and publishing.
Since it’s fall time, aka the scary season, we thought we’d start by looking at the life of Robert Bloch (1917-1994), an influential horror writer who spent his formative years living in Milwaukee.
Born in Chicago, Robert Bloch and his family moved to Milwaukee when he was 12-years-old, settling into an apartment on the East Side. While on a train ride to Milwaukee, Bloch fostered a true love for a pulp fiction magazine he bought at the station titled Weird Tales. Pulps flourished in the 1920s and 30s and you could find racks filled with titles specializing in western, adventure, war, romance, mystery, and “weird fiction” (as the genres of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy were then called). Weird Tales, originally published 1923-1954, was among the most well known of the weird fiction titles. Bloch would save a quarter (one-fourth of his monthly allowance) so he could buy a copy each month.
Bloch’s favorite Weird Tales author was Howard Phillips Lovecraft, now considered to be one of the most influential American horror writers, who inspired future writers like Stephen King. Bloch was so taken with Lovecraft’s stories about the ancient monster Cthulhu and other hideous beings, that he wrote Lovecraft a letter care of Weird Tales, asking where he could find more of his stories. To his surprise, Lovecraft wrote back and offered to send some copies of stories to borrow.
“The notion that a full-fledged adult literary celebrity would make such an offer to a half-fledged teenage entity was as astounding to me as it was commonplace to Lovecraft,” Bloch wrote.
Equally as valuable was Lovecraft’s introduction to other members of his correspondents circle, which included several other weird fiction writers like Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian), and many others. Hundreds of stamped envelopes traveled around the country, exchanging critiques, story ideas, and well wishes.
Lovecraft encouraged Bloch to take up writing and after a few rejections, Bloch started his long career with a story titled “The Secret of the Tomb,” published in a 1934 issue of Weird Tales. Bloch quickly developed his own style– creepy tales with a macabre sense of humor, and a keen sense of wordplay. He titled one short story “Time Wounds all Heels,” for example.
Lovecraft and Bloch’s friendship was so strong that they gave each other the ultimate compliment– killing each other in horror stories. Bloch’s came first and featured a stand-in character for Lovecraft being devoured by a monster in his story “The Shambler from the Stars.” Lovecraft was delighted and retaliated with a story called “The Haunter of the Dark” in which a “Robert Blake” of Milwaukee (with the same street address as Bloch, 620 E. Knapp St.) meets his own gruesome fate.
Bloch and another Lovecraft correspondent and Wisconsin writer, August Derleth, had plans to subsidize a trip to bring in Lovecraft for a visit. Derleth was a prolific writer from Sauk City, who wrote in a wide variety of genres, including weird fiction. Lovecraft probably would have crashed on Bloch’s couch on Brady Street (after getting married, Bloch moved to an apartment above the Glorioso’s location at 1018 E. Brady St.) before going to visit Derleth. That trip never happened. On March 15, 1937, the poverty-stricken Lovecraft died of cancer of the small intestine and malnutrition.
After Lovecraft’s death, Derleth began his own publishing imprint– Arkham House, with the initial goal being to publish a collection of Lovecraft’s work for the first time. Arkham House went on to publish works by many other notable authors, including the first book by sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury as well as Bloch’s first book– a collection of stories titled The Opener of the Way (1945).
When Bloch’s wife became ill in the mid-1950s, they moved to Weyaweuga, WI to be closer to her family. It was there, inspired by the horrific case of murderer and grave robber Ed Gein, that Bloch wrote his best known work– Psycho. Published in 1959, Bloch’s agent soon got a blind offer from someone representing an unknown director who wanted to adapt the book to film. After negotiations, Bloch and his agent were paid $9,000 for the movie rights to Psycho. As Bloch soon read in the newspaper, the director turned out to be master of suspense Alfred Hitchcock, and his 1960 adaptation is one of his most well-known works.
Bloch had proven himself and he moved his family to Hollywood to pursue new opportunities, finding good gigs writing scripts for movies and TV shows like Star Trek, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Night Gallery. He continued to write short stories and novels (he wrote over 30). One of his last works before his death in 1994 was his autobiography, Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography, which shows his morbid humor and details several chapters of his life in Milwaukee.
This article originally appeared in QWERTY Quarterly #2. You buy single copies or a subscription here: www.etsy.com/shop/qwertyquarterly
–Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography by Robert Bloch (Tor Books, 1993)
–H.P. Lovecraft: Letters to Robert Bloch and Others, edited by David E. Schultz and S.T. Joshi (Hippocampus Press, 2015)
“The clouds were thick overhead, and the field mists rolled like a cold fog in a November midnight. Even so, Martin should have been able to see the headlights as the train rushed on. But there were no lights. There was only the whistle, screaming out of the black throat of the night. Martin could recognize the equipment of just about any locomotive ever built, but he’d never heard a whistle that sounded like this one. It wasn’t signaling; it was screaming like a lost soul.”
–from Robert Bloch’s Hugo Award winning short story “That Hell-Bound Train,” originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, 1958
The fall issue of QWERTY Quarterly debuted last night at a party at the newly opened Mitchell Street Arts (MiSA). People enjoyed our array of typewriters, readings from QQ (which features poetry, fiction, articles, columns, fun pages, and art), drinks from the Space Bar, a presentation on QWERTYFEST MKE 2024 preliminary plans, QWERTY cupcakes, and the debut of our fortune vending QWERTY Word Machine. Here's a few pictures.
You can buy single issues or subscriptions to QWERTY Quarterly