The Deadly Streetsby Harlan Ellison
Remember Charles Bronson stalking the streets of New York blowing holes in muggers in Death Wish? Remember Glenn Ford standing off the vicious juvenile delinquents in Blackboard Jungle? Well, it's more than fifty years and two different worlds from 1955 to now. And something the author of these stories knows, that you're scared to admit, is that reality and fantasy have flip-flopped. They have switched places. The stories that scare you today are the ones about rapists and thugs, psychos who'll carve you for a dollar and hypes who'll bust your head to get fixed. Glenn Ford's world was yesterday, and Bronson's is today. And in the stalking midnight of this book, one of America's top writers, Harlan Ellison, invades he shadows of both!
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Read an Excerpt
AVOIDING DARK PLACES
In 1974 the Mystery Writers of America awarded me an Edgar Allan Poe statuette for the "best mystery story" of the year. It was a story called "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs." You can find it in my collection, NO DOORS, NO WINDOWS. It's a story about street violence, based on the now-legendary murder of Catherine Genovese in New York's Kew Gardens section, 13 March 1964. It took the rapist-killer over half an hour to slaughter the woman, as she dragged herself around almost an entire city block, screaming for help. For those few of you who may not remember this case--now solidly entrenched as cultural mythology--the horrifying extra-added-attraction that separated the murder of Kitty Genovese from all the other unspeakable rape-murders that have become, sadly, a commonplace staple filler for tabloid back pages, was this:
No one helped her. She screamed long, and she screamed loud, and no one helped her. There were witnesses. Thirty-eight of them. They watched from darkened windows; some even pulled up chairs for a more comfortable view. One turned up her radio so she wouldn't have to hear the shrieks of agony. As Kitty was being raped in an apartment vestibule--already having been knifed repeatedly, already half-dead--one of the tenants opened his apartment door, saw the necrophiliac attack ... and quickly closed the door. He even knew Kitty. Thirty-five minutes after her first screams were heard, at 3:55 A.M., someone finally called the 102nd Precinct. Three minutes later a patrol car was there. The killer was gone, however; and Kitty Genovese died in the ambulance a few minutes before five o'clock; DOA Queens GeneralHospital.
When "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" was first published in a magazine in June 1973, nine years after Kitty Genovese's death (a million excuses and explanations why those 38 people had refused to help her after Kitty Genovese's death), I received a floodtide of letters telling me things were very different in New York now. The writers of those letters assured me New Yorkers were more concerned now, that they no longer stood by as people were robbed or beaten or killed. They called me to task for disinterring a moldering corpse of ages past. They said such things could no longer happen.
Yet in early 1975, when I first wrote this introduction, as I write this, a nurse was stabbed to death in precisely the same Kew Gardens street and one of the observers who watched the murder, and did nothing, was one of the women who had sat by as Kitty Genovese was butchered and defiled.
This book speaks directly to the authors of those letters chiding me, because
Plus ï¿½a change, plus c'est la mï¿½me chose.
A few weeks ago, my housekeeper, Eusona, laid a beauty on me. She reads the newspapers: I haven't the stomach for it these days. So she has become my gazette.
The story, which she found on the back page somewhere, was a quickie. Woman parking her car in Manhattan was driven to a frenzy by a dude in a VW who pulled into the space snout-first behind her, as she was backing up. As he parked, she reached into the glove compartment of her dashboard, pulled out a revolver, jumped out of the car, stalked over to the VW, aimed the weapon through the window and shot to death the man driving, and his two female passengers.
These two stories took place in New York, but just so you don't feel all teddibly superior to those barbarian Megalopolitans, here's a lovely one from a large Midwestern city (which one, I cannot remember right now, but it was on the evening network news). A couple of thugs broke into the apartment of an old Czech woman. At knife-point they demanded she give them all her money. She laughed at them, telling them all she had was about three American dollars worth of Czechoslovak koruna, a currency so unstable and unacceptable that the exchange control law of 1 January 1954 prohibits its import and export. She offered them the koruna and continued laughing. Wrong move.
They spotted her gold fillings, bust out her teeth, and got away with about $1100 worth of marketable gold.
As horrifying as we may find Charlie Bronson's actions in Death Wish, his vigilante tactics of stalking and killing muggers in New York strike a sympathetic vibration in each of us, though we hate it in ourselves, though most of us would deny we feel the same urge from time to time.
You feel it, I feel it.
Ten years ago, I was worked over pretty fair by a couple of over-six-feet heavyweights. One of them held me while the other one pounded my face into guava jelly. When the local bacon finally arrived, the guys had split. One was a deckhand on pleasure yachts, with a string of priors for mayhem that made Hurricane Carter look like Christopher Robin's nanny. He skipped the country, so I was told. But the other one was a certified flake, an overly macho clown who had been married to a busty film starlet, had bombed out as a stockbroker, and who owed money all over Hollywood. We hauled him into the City Attorney's office, got him cold when the Man suggested we each take a lie detector test. I rolled up my sleeve right there and said, "Let's get it on!" The flake began to hem and haw, and his attorney fumfuh'd it was an invasion of something or other. Nonetheless, I took the polygraph test and it backed my story one hundred per cent. Attorney's office put out a warrant for his arrest. But the cops didn't bother looking for him.
Meet the Author
Harlan Ellison has been called “one of the great living American short story writers” by the Washington Post. In a career spanning more than fifty years, he has won more awards than any other living fantasist. Ellison has written or edited one hundred fourteen books; more than seventeen hundred stories, essays, articles, and newspaper columns; two dozen teleplays; and a dozen motion pictures. He has won the Hugo Award eight and a half times (shared once); the Nebula Award three times; the Bram Stoker Award, presented by the Horror Writers Association, five times (including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996); the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America twice; the Georges Melies Fantasy Film Award twice; and two Audie Awards (for the best in audio recordings); and he was awarded the Silver Pen for Journalism by PEN, the international writers’ union. He was presented with the first Living Legend Award by the International Horror Critics at the 1995 World Horror Convention. Ellison is the only author in Hollywood ever to win the Writers Guild of America award for Outstanding Teleplay (solo work) four times, most recently for “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” his Twilight Zone episode that was Danny Kaye’s final role, in 1987. In 2006, Ellison was awarded the prestigious title of Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Dreams With Sharp Teeth, the documentary chronicling his life and works, was released on DVD in May 2009.
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I am a big fan of Ellison's later work. This isn't quite as good. The stories are alright, but get repetitive.