“Arimetta” by Manley Wade Wellman

kadath_1981071_v1_n4“Arimetta” was originally published in Kadath #4 in July of 1981, something that isn’t listed in the ISFDB.  It was reprinted once in Sin’s Doorway and Other Ominous Entrances, The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman, Volume 4 (Night Shade, 2003).  The latter is where I read it.  It’s the type of story set in the mountains that Wellman became known for.

This is a fairly short tale, one that’s loosely connected to the John the Balladeer stories.  Earl Wood is wandering the mountains and ends up literally singing for his supper in the cabin Big Don Imbry shares with his wife and daughter.  John taught Earl how to play the guitar, which makes him immediately welcome.

One of the songs Earl plays is “Wildwood Flower”, which he learned in Arkansas.  The song is an actual folksong, not a fictional one.   (Here’s Johnny Cash singing it.)  Welllman changes the name of one of the flowers mentioned from “aronauts” to “arimetta”.  That line has been changed in all the recordings I can find of it online to “the pale and the leader and eyes look like blue”.

“Arimetta”, from what I’ve been able to determine from my Google-Fu, is a woman’s name from that region of the country that’s no longer common and doesn’t appear to ever have been.

Anyway, the Imbry family tell Earl that the song isn’t sung around there or even mentioned.  When he inquires why, the response is that everyone who sings it comes to trouble.  Out of respect for his hosts, he refrains from singing it, but alone later that night in the barn loft, he hums it as he gets ready for bed.  At least he thinks he’s alone until he senses another presence.

Earl is looking to settle in the area, and Big Don doesn’t have a son.  What he does have is an attractive daughter of marrying age.  He also has a still up in the mountains that produces some of the finest moonshine in the area.

Don takes Earl under his wing and shows him the still.  Anytime that Earl is alone at the still, he is joined by a beautiful young woman who says he called her with the song.  Her name is Arimetta.

You can see where this is going to lead.  A lover’s triangle.  I’ll refrain from giving away the ending except to say that it’s violent and sudden.  I thought things had been resolved and in the space of about a dozen lines, Wellman completely turned the situation around.  Any old folk wisdom about a woman scorned which comes to mind would be appropriate here.

Wellman - Sin's DoorwayThis isn’t one of Wellman’s major short stories, but it has all the trademarks of the works that made his reputation.  The mountain people are presented as real folks, not hillbilly caricatures.  He has a real fondness for his characters and a respect for the way they choose to live.  Wellman uses some terms that might not be familiar to urban readers, but he does so in such a way that you can figure out their meaning from context pretty easily.

I think the approach of using regional beliefs and folklore is a good one.  Wellman crafted a significant body of work by doing so.  Robert E. Howard was beginning to use the history and people of his native Texas in his work before he died, and produced some of his strongest pieces.

Sin’s Doorway is out of print from the publisher, but a search at ABE reveals copies available for reasonable prices.

7 thoughts on ““Arimetta” by Manley Wade Wellman

    1. Keith West Post author

      Agreed. These are top notch. Night Shade started out doing this kind of book before they went into more contemporary authors. I’ve also got the collected Jorkens stories by Lord Dunsany and all but the last volume of their William Hope Hodgson set.

  1. Woelf Dietrich

    I love mythology and folklore as sources for stories, and you get some of your most original stories from there.

    Last year I used slavic lore to write a proposal for a possible game titled, The Dead God. It was rejected, but I’m going to develop it into either a novella or a novel. I’m currently writing a sci-fi tale based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin legend.

    I love writing for the same reason I love reading. It’s why I love to (re)discover masters of old that I’ve never heard about or haven’t read in a long while. Thanks

    1. Keith West Post author

      You’re completely correct about the originality of stories based on myth and folklore. Unfortunately, too many authors base their works on things that aren’t based on original sources. Which goes a long way to explaining why so much material today isn’t all that fresh.

      I’m looking forward to reading both of these works. Any idea of a publication date?

      You’re welcome. One of the things I try to do is bring a bit of attention to authors and books I think deserve a wider audience. If you’ve found a new author, then I’ve succeeded.

      1. Woelf Dietrich

        The Pied Piper one will come out end of this year or early next year. I’m collaborating with a bunch of other writers and we call the project The Collective. Each of us will tell a fairytale or legend, but in a sci-fi setting. The premise of The Collective is that somewhere in the future a God-Machine is creating history and recording it with the help of tethered slave-scribes, but something goes awry and real history gets mixed up with fairytales.

        The Dead God I don’t know yet. I’m burning to start, though, because my first love has always been heroic fantasy.

        I recently co-founded a publishing label called Kōsa Press with a few author friends and we’re bringing out an anthology end of this year, or rather a Kosalogy. Again science fiction, taking place on a broken earth after a massive war between aliens and humans destroyed most of the world. Our stories will overlap in some or other way creating a kosalogy. My story is tentatively titled, The Last Devil. We’re actually finishing up a mini-anthology featuring flash pieces to introduce the concept to readers which should be ready end of June.

        Plus I need to complete The Morrigan and Spirit Bow somehow. Busy, busy year, this one. 🙂

        1. Keith West Post author

          AT least you’ve got plenty of projects going, all of which sound interesting. The end of the semester derailed any fiction I was working on. I’m going to try to get back into a routine this week.

          1. Woelf Dietrich

            It’s not easy, though. I’m a stay-at-home dad with three kids of which the youngest is only turning two this year. I write in stolen moments on both my phone and laptop and I’ve now learned to stand and write. I had to, because the minute I sit down the little one is on me, curious to press buttons and cause havoc. So, I have my laptop on a box on a cabinet and this is my workstation until I can disappear to my office. 😛

            I you ever want a beta reader let me know. I look forward to reading your stuff.

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