“The Golgotha Dancers”
Manly Wade Wellman
This story was originally published in the October 1937 issue of Weird Tales. It’s now available as a short story in electronic format.
This is an early Wellman, so it doesn’t have the strong sense of place as his later work set in the Southern mountains, such as the John the Balladeer stories. Still, it’s a solid piece of fiction in its own right, even if it isn’t Wellman’s best work.
Just so you know, below the CONTINUE READING line, there will be spoilers.
The story concerns a bachelor art enthusiast who is wandering a large art museum when he comes across a painting on a landing in a stairwell. He is a regular visitor to the museum and is wondering where the piece that’s usually on display at this location has gone.
The painting he’s looking at shows a dozen pink creatures dancing about in a half circle. At their center are two more of the things nailing a man to a cross. The man’s face is turned away, but the bachelor can see from the painting that he’s in agony.
A security guard comes along and is perturbed to find the painting there. He tells the bachelor that a strange artist had been around earlier in the day, trying to convince the museum director to take the painting. He had said something about selling his soul to create a living painting.
The bachelor helps the guard replace the painting that should be there, and as thanks, the guard allows the bachelor to take the painting home.
We all know this is a major lapse in judgment.
That night, the bachelor awakens from vivid dreams to find that the creatures from the painting are real, are in his bedroom, and are trying to hold his wrists down. He manages to fight his way out and to his front door. Screaming in terror all the way. By chance, he discovers that when he turns on the lights, the creatures vanish.
No sooner are they gone than someone is knocking on the door. Turns out it’s an attractive young nurse from down the hall who heard him screaming and has come to check on him. She convinces him the creatures from the painting weren’t real but were a residue from a nightmare.
Unfortunately for both of them, the things come back the next night. The nurse returns, and this time she sees that they’re real.
I’ll stop here, so as not to completely give the ending away. I will say that Wellman played with gender conventions a bit here. Rather than have the bachelor rescue the nurse, she ends up saving him, although he’s not entirely passive about the situation.
Like I said, this isn’t one of Wellman’s stronger stories, but it’s still a satisfying read. It’s one of the selections from this period of Weird Tales that hasn’t been anthologized much. The only collection of Wellman’s “The Golgotha Dancers” has appeared in was Sin’s Doorway and Other Ominous Entrances (Nightshade, 2003). Check it out.