Author: Robert Shearman, Clive Barker, Michael Marshall Smith, Pat Cadigan, Mark Samuels, Joanne Harris, Muriel Gray, Kim Newman, Ramsey Campbell, Reggie Oliver, Angela Slatter, and Lisa Tuttle (edited by Stephen Jones).
Genre: Fiction, short stories, horror.
Country: England, U.S., Scotland, and Australia.
Publication Date: 2015.
Summary: This collection includes 12 short stories in the horror genres. In Accursed by Robert Shearman, a woman has a strange affliction wherein every time she goes to the circus, a clown dies. In Afraid by Clive Barker, a woman discovers her lover is not human and has to make a difficult choice. In Afterlife by Michael Marshall Smith, a despondent middle-aged man decides to take a motorcycle trip after his divorce, but encounters a young woman on the way that leads him to a whole different life. In Chilling by Pat Cadigan, a journalist investigates the mysterious phenomenon of people freezing to death during a hot summer, and the implications these deaths may have on the weather. In Decay by Mark Samuels, a man sent by his high-profile tech company employer to check on an inventor discovers an astounding but dark invention that has been slowly taking over the world. In Faceless by Joanne Harris a woman recalls her mother's death, a mysterious house from many years past where she met a mysterious being as a little girl, and the Small Things that populated her childhood. In Forgotten by Muriel Gray, a conceited, cruel celebrity has a devastating curse put on him after he has a run-in with an ancient witch. In Guignol by Kim Newman, in the end of the 19th century in Paris, three female intelligence agents try to investigate whether a string of murders and disappearances is connected to a Théâtre des Horreurs, which specializes in putting on horrifying and gory displays every week and is headed by the mysterious masked Guignol, as the rumours on the streets claim. In Ripper by Angela Slatter, a woman masquerading as a rookie policeman sets out to hunt down the infamous Jack the Ripper, after she gets a tip that though he only slays prostitutes, what he's after is of a paranormal nature. In Vastation by Lisa Tuttle, a young woman struggles to help her father who is haunted by a demon who she had seen since she was a child.
My rating: 7/10.
♥ Whenever Susan Pitt went to the circus a clown died, and she wasn't entirely sure that it was a coincidence. She mostly thought it was. It had seemed a coincidence when she'd been a little girl, rather less so in her late teens and early twenties. And now she'd turned forty, and the world seemed flatter and greyer and just so very real, and she was firmly of the opinion it was a coincidence after all. Much of the time, anyway. If she stopped to think about it:
Coincidence did seem the most likely explanation. And that's because: (a) The manner of the clown deaths had nothing in common with each other (save for the fact the clowns did, indeed, die). (b) She never had any personal interaction with the clowns, she did nothing to distract them or alarm them. She just sat in the middle of the crowd, none of the clowns showed any inclination to pick her out from it. Except that last clown, maybe, and that was arguable. (c) Three clowns over a ten-year period sounds a lot, but isn't really enough to establish any pattern; a scientist would want her to kill a fourth clown at least before agreeing there was any precedent.
She hadn't killed a fourth clown. She hadn't visited a circus in years.
..In fact, when it boiled down to it, Susan wasn't very gifted at anything. She had passed her exams at school, but none with distinction. She could drive a car, but liked to keep off the motorways. They were glad of her attendance at work, but never much noticed when she took a day off. And Greg would come home each and every night and she'd have prepared him a perfectly adequate meal and then they'd have a perfectly adequate evening together, watching TV and holding hands and then going up to bed. "I'm a bit useless," Susan would sometimes joke, "really, I don't know why you put up with me!" And Greg might laugh.
And sometimes she'd think of those poor dead clowns, and yes, of course it was all a coincidence. But she might get a frisson of, what? Guilt? Fear? Even a little pride? Because just maybe, somehow, she'd been responsible after all. This was hers. She had a gift. It wasn't much of a gift, but really, Susan would take what she could get.
♥ She'd been frightened by it, and excited too, and she remembers deciding whether or not to cry or to enjoy herself. She remembers this being a conscious decision. She decided to be happy.
♥ And each time his good intentions to make the audience happy were vandalised, he bore it as patiently as he could – he shook his head sadly, sighed, looked out at the boys and girls and shrugged. What can you do? he seemed to say. Isn't this just what life is like? He had a white-painted face like the others, but it was almost as if he didn't know he was wearing it – the joke was on him, at least the rest of the clowns knew they were fools.
♥ Daddy began talking about how death happened to us all and that no one knew what it meant or why it happened, and Mummy said, "Shut up, shut up." And she turned to the girls in the back seat, and she said, "Mummy and Daddy are never going to die, we'll be here for you for ever." And Susan knew Mummy was trying to be kind, but she was actually fierce and frightening.
♥ "Mummy said, the people we kill come back to us."
"They come back to us. They never stop. They never leave us alone. They'll hide in the shadows, so sometimes we think they've gone. But they'll come out sooner or later."
..She'd told Ruth it was nonsense – the people we kill do not come back to haunt us. And she could have given her proof. The clowns had never come back to her.
They hide in the shadows, Ruth had said. And there, in the darkness of the room, Greg's body beside her fast asleep, it did seem to Susan that the room was nothing but a shadow now. Moonlight coming in through the window, a sliver of light from under the door – and everything else black, and getting blacker.
Could it be that poor stupid Susan just hadn't noticed all the ghosts watching all this time? Stupid Susan, who never got anything right?
And it felt like another truth – something cold and clear and indisputable.
She wasn't alone. She was never alone. She never had been.
♥ "I love you, Uncle Greg," she'd say before going to bed, and she'd give him a big hung. "I love you, Auntie Susan." And Susan got a hug too, but it wasn't a proper hug, a woman knows.
♥ Ruth was sleeping with her nightlight on. Her face was calm. She was smiling.
Susan stood over her. She wanted to wake her. She didn't want to wake her. And the ache was so bad now, it made her head swim. The mouth, dry like sand. Sick sticking in her throat.
"I am special," she whispered. She insisted. "I am."
And then. The sudden relief.
Susan took all the rage she had in her head. All the shame, all the guilt, and the long long years of disappointment. She crushed it into a tiny dense ball of thought. She looked down at her niece.
The throb in her forehead felt so good.
Ruth opened her eyes. There was no surprise in them, and there was no fear.
She stared up at her aunt, and her aunt stared back down, and Susan wondered who would be the first to flinch, and promised herself it wouldn't be her. She wouldn't let it be her. It must never ever ever be her.
~~Accursed by Robert Shearman.
♥ She fumbled with the lock. But it refused to open; or else her hands refused to turn the key. Sher cursed them for betraying her. Had they been so blissful, touching him – was that it? So happy about him, they wouldn't now conspire with her to escape him?
♥ His skin was so responsive to her touch she could write on it with her nail. Indeed he'd encouraged her to do so. Invited her more than once to decorate him with her graffiti. There were traces still on his shoulders of where she'd clutched him during their last coupling. If she looked closely she thought she'd find a thumb-print there, a palm-print; evidence of her complicity.
How could she ever claim she'd not known his otherness, when he'd lifted her to such ecstasies? She's known.
♥ She glanced past him, thinking on this. It wasn't that she didn't like the woman she'd been before she met him. It wasn't that she didn't have ambitions for what she might become if she were to go on alone. She liked the world. But liking wasn't enough.
♥ Before it broke from him, and unknitted him in its riot, there was a moment when she was afraid as she'd never been afraid before, knowing that all paths but one had been sacrificed with this choice.
Then, without moving, it was leaping against her, and the heat of his devotion burned her fear away.
"This is love," she thought, and pushing lightly at the door, closed it against the world.
~~Afraid by Clive Barker.
♥ When you enter new environments it's easier to do so as part of a family, or as a couple at least. A man by himself is less welcome. The lone male can be regarded as a source of potential unrest, a disturbance in the Force, even if that man is merely a newly-divorced bookstore owner riding across country for no more unruly reason than having grown sick of sitting in silence amidst the same four walls.
♥ In the end, however, finding myself is exactly what happened. Whether that's a good thing is hard to say. It's possible that writing this down is the first step towards an answer, though I have come to believe there are no ends, no answers worth a damn; that sometimes the most momentous change happens with very little fanfare, and true closure only ever happens in made-up stories.
And this is not one of those.
♥ Being Quite Good At Most Things is one of life's most boring curses.
♥ The fact her choice made sense only makes it worse, though. You're not supposed to stay with someone just because they're currently the best available, right? You're supposed to love them with your soul entire, contra mundum, against all reason, forever and a day, through the blackest hour and the darkest night. When someone bails on that it's hard not to feel evaluated and found wanting.
♥ It was all pretty quick and very civilised.
And then I was in the after-life.
The life after the one I'd had before.
♥ After Aerin left I soldiered on for six months, turning up every day, until I realised I felt like a ghost haunting the store. Haunting my own life.
♥ When people think they leave, they don't, really. They just move out of reach. They climb out of the hole, leaving it deeper.
♥ I keep doing that, I know. The foreshadowing. It's a cheap trick, a would be writer's conceit, but it's also how life works. Everything is foreshadowed once it's happened, and I have now happened. The man I'm describing, the one still an hour away from Lake Tahoe, with a full bladder and an increasingly strident desire for a beer, is the man I was a few weeks ago. The guy who opened Book 'Em is the man I was over ten years back. The one who placed a ring on the finger of a feisty girl from Portland called Aerin (who lit up every room I ever saw her in, and who, I am sure, truly meant it when she swore she'd be forever true) is twenty-five years in the past. The cat's out of the bag in those lives. I know what happens, which road fate pushes those guys down. They become me. The person I am now, who casts a dark shadow back down his years, limiting everyone he once was.
We all cast shadows. They are dark.
♥ Instead I stood looking down, realising everything about my life had changed. That, in fact, I didn't even have one any more. I had me. That's all.
So now what?
♥ That's the kind of thing grown-ups do. Avoid the foods that make you feel bloated, even though they're great. Exercise, even though it's never given you a moment's pleasure. Stop enjoying things for fear of making other things worse. Step carefully around the hole, but keep it in mind. Live in the shadow of absence, always.
♥ I shook my head abruptly, irritated at myself. You can get heartily sick of your own self-pity. It's another way of honouring the hole, of letting it stare back into you.
♥ "Where are you headed?"
"Aha. That, I don't know."
"How could I give you a ride if you don't know where you're going?"
"You always need a destination before you start?"
"Really? Have you found that's how life works?" She helped herself to another sip of my beer, and stood up. "I need a ride," she said, again, and walked out.
♥ "We all want to be where we're needed."
♥ But yes, I don't wear it any more but there's still a paler ring around the finger, where the wedding band used to be.
A guy I talked to in a bar once said there always would be. Like scar tissue. Though he was the most bitter individual I've ever had the privilege to listen to, I suspect he's right – because you get scars after healing, too.
♥ We sped back into town, her arms tight around me, and maybe that's what I'd been thinking of, searching for on some inarticulate level, when I bought the bike in the first place. Arms right around me. Someone hanging on for dear life – my life, their life, our life, both of us tied to the same arrow and flying straight up intro the clouds. That's what we're all looking for, isn't it? Two hearts that beat as one. And that's what we neever find.
Or maybe you have, in which case good for you.
Hold it tight.
♥ The hole inside is filled now.
I am the hole.
♥ Everything is simpler now.
I found something. I found someone. I found myself. You'd better hope I don't find you, though, because I can only drive you down a one-way street. The road no one wants to go down, though we must.
I have become the shadow, that foreshadow cast back along all of our lives. You know it's coming. That I'm coming. Do what you can to be happy in the meantime.
That's all this has ever boiled down to.
The job suits me. I am happy. I am me. And eventually one day you and I will meet, as it was foretold.
Behold, a pale horse.
It's coming. And his name that sits on him... is mine.
~~Afterlife by Michael Marshall Smith.
♥ The '30s were the Dust-Bowl years. Drought set in and peoples' whole lives blew away in dust storms. Like the Great Depression wasn't bad enough."
"I know my history and I've read Grapes of Wrath," I said.
"Reading about it and living through it are two very different things. I was only a little girl then – a very little girl – but it's a big part of my background. The Kansas City Machine meant a lot of people didn't end up in Hoovervilles with the Okies. But nobody could do anything about the heat. The heat was awful. Watch weather report on the ten o'clock news – you'll see just about every night that the record for highest temperature on the date, whatever it is, was set in the 1930s, during the Dust Bowl."
"People must have died in the heat then, too," I said. "Without air conditioning."
"Actually," MillieLou said as she started another spool, "Kansas City is the home of the first air-conditioned building – the Armour Building, in 1902."
"No kidding," I said, genuinely impressed.
"Ten years later, Clarence Birdseye developed a system to flash-freeze food. Used a conveyor belt. Not in Kansas City, though; I forget where. That was before most people even had refrigerators – in those days, it was all iceboxes, with deliveries from the ice-man. You didn't find a lot of refrigerators in peoples' homes till the late 1920s. Window a/c units were around for a while, but didn't really come into general use until after World War II.
"So yeah, people died in the heat. People have always died of exposure, either heat or cold. We just haven't always kept real good records, even when things were reported. Which they weren't always. A lot if people were born at home, not in hospitals, and that's where a lot of them died, too. Families made their own arrangements and, unless their doctor saw obvious bullet-holes or knife wounds in Grandpa, cause of death would be old age. Or the flu, or pneumonia, depending."
♥ "Actually, the biggest weather event before 1920 is the big freeze of November, 1911. Climatologists called it the Big – no, the Great Blue Norther of 11/11/11.
"The day started out unseasonably warm, practically summery. Then the clouds lowered, temperatures plummeted, rain turned to sleet, then to hail, followed by thunderstorms and tornadoes, all topped off by blizzards. And not just here, but all over the Midwest and as far east as Virginia. According to more than one paper – reliable papers – the winds were so high that they torqued buildings out of true."
"And all that happened on 11/11/11?" I shook my head. "That would have made me superstitious for life."
"You wouldn't have been alone. Sometime I'll show you all the silly-season material I've got on 11/11. The First World War officially ended at 11:00 a.m. on November 11, 1918, but that's not why. There's something about 11/11 that makes people jumpy in ways that 10/10 and 12/12 don't."
"Maybe it's because eleven's a prime number?" I said.
MillieLou laughed. "Ask twenty people at random if they know what a prime number is. Half of them won't. Okay, maybe not that many. Even Jerry knows what a prime number is and he had to have Irene balance his chequebook every month.
"But sixty years ago, you'd have been lucky to get two. Prime meant meat around these parts, not numbers. No, I think it's the way 11/11 looks. Four ones in a row."
♥ "When at least two people freeze to death in the summer, the following winter isn't too rough. But if no one freezes to death in the summer, the winter's a monster. ..Okay, it's not as easy to see the farther back you go because the reporting isn't as reliable," she said. "In the 1930s, the whole country was pretty much a disaster area and then there was World War II. In the post-war era, things started looking up.
"The summer of 1951, the Missouri flooded, bad. But I guess nobody froze because on Christmas Eve, there was an ice storm that crippled the entire state. The following year was the driest we ever had – barely two feet of rain total. But I guess a couple of people got frozen that year and again in 1954, which was damn hot – temperatures up to 118°. Sad story about a kid who crawled into a refrigerator thinking he could cool off, and a butcher who had an accident working alone over a weekend. They didn't find him for two days."
♥ "But after examining your infected tissue, I know that the only way to save your life is to amputate your finger. My colleagues concur."
The last three words hung in the air almost like an echo. My colleagues concur... concur... concur... Concur: for those special moments when agreeing just isn't enough. Like amputating someone's finger.
♥ "Because there's an old saying about freezing to death. You're not dead until you're warm and dead."
♥ "Maybe," MillieLou said, "and then again, maybe not. This cold spell we're having might be your fault. You are, after all, the one that got away."
"I should have died to keep the winter mild?" I said.
"Well, no, of course not. Human sacrifice is long out of style."
"Thank God," I said feelingly.
"Even if it happens anyway," she added. .."It's not the Scotch, and you know it. My family's been in this town for a very long time. Before there was really even a town. I didn't just pull that idea out of the air, you know."
"No? So where did you get it?"
She surprised me by breaking into song. "Oh, Susannah, oh, don't you cry for me, I come from Alabama..."
I burst out laughing. Then she got to, "It rained all night and the day I left, the weather it was dry; the sun so hot, I froze to death..." and I stopped. That was a little close to the knuckle, particularly the one I didn't have any more. But it was ridiculous.
"You know, a lot of things we know today have their roots in much older things," MillieLou said. "I should know."
~~Chilling by Pat Cadigan.
♥ décay v.i. & t. 1: (cause to) become rotten; 2: (cause to) deteriorate; 3: lose quality; 4: decline in power; 5: to slowly enter a state of ruin; 6: (Phys.) decrease in amplitude or intensity. n. 1: decline in health, strength or vigour; 2: loss of quality; 3: rotten or ruinous state; 4: wasting or wearing away; 5: decayed tissue. 6: destruction, death. Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French decaïr, from Late Latin decadere to fall, sink, from Latin de- + cadere to fall. First known use: 15th century. Synonyms: break down, corrupt, debilitation, decaying, declension, decline, decompose, degeneration, descent, deterioration, disintegrate, ebbing, enfeeblement, fall apart, fester, foul, mould, perish [chiefly British], putrefy, rot, spoil, weakening. Example: The terrible thing that happens to everyone around you when the world suddenly changes...
♥ True, the latter had consisted mainly of gadgets and machines that were embarrassing to own more than a year after their release on the market, but at least their very nature was a matter of built-in obsolescence. Humans were so much more difficult to convince of their transience and final uselessness. A pet has the advantage of never complaining, even when it's time to put the animal down. But he'd never owned pets, not counting a goldfish he'd won at a local carnival sideshow which had rotted away in the poisonous water of the cheap plastic bowl he'd been given it in.
The past was good for one thing, and one thing only in life, thought Riaz; killing stone dead and then forgetting all about it.
♥ He knew, in the back of his mind, that it would only take one night in the sack with Daisy for him to lose any interest in her altogether. His stupid fixation with getting her to realise his own worth showed only a potential lack of actual worth on his part. But if that deliberation bubbled up in the alcohol-riddled electric jelly of his brain, he soon pushed it right back down again.
♥ That's how she saw him, as just another one of the tragic dipsos propping up the same bar night after night. A well-off dipso simply finds the end of a bottle more stylishly than your below-average welfare Joe.
♥ ..but then again he had spent almost each and every day of his assignment in a state of potential inebriation. His dipsomania had gained considerable ground since his last serious episode, and when he awoke his first instinct was to open a beer and begin the measured process of filtering reality for the rest of the day. It was a fine art, and he'd read once that Italian fishermen had long since mastered it. They would drink steadily throughout the day, beginning as their boats set out to sea and their nets were cast, but always pacing themselves so not to reach the tipping point of total inebriation until they were back safely ashore and the sun had set. It was not an easy discipline, since wine has a thirst all of its own, but Riaz followed the regime during daylight hours.
It was only at twilight that he allowed himself to lose control entirely, and his thoughts turned to a certain story – or maybe it was a fable – written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1920s of a dipso who had lost himself and climbed into the bottle for a couple of decades but who, after sobering up, found himself a total stranger in the New York he'd never actually left.
~~Decay by Mark Samuels.
♥ I remember this place. I've been here before. Long ago, when I was a chikld, when I was six, I knew this wall; this doorstep. It's a church wall, with lavender growing alongside up the path, and the short stubby tower of the church rising not too high above. This door, too, I once knew: a white door, bound in black iron, without any knocker or doorbell. There's no letterbox either, perhaps because there's no one there, or perhaps to stop the world getting in. Either way, it's faceless, a blank. Nothing going on inside.
♥ The gravestones are faceless, like the door. Time and erosion have rubbed them out, rewarding their patience with rosettes of gold and silver lichen, like prizes at a church fête, as if there were prizes for being dead; first class; second class. I used to try and work them out, long ago, when I was a child, kneeling on the sun-warmed grass, tracing the indentations in the stone with the tip of my finger. There's a something that might be an "A" – and something else that may be a "16" – or maybe they're only the trail-tracks of a stone-munching worm, moving idly from one word to another, making nonsense of history.
There's no such thing as stone-eating worms, says the voice of my grandfather.
Oh, but there are. I knew there are, just as I know there are Small Things, because I've always seen them. Not so often nowadays, but that was the year my mother died, erased like blackboard chalk from the world, and that year the Small Things were everywhere: sitting on the church wall; scuttling across the lane; blinking at me in the air; waiting behind the sofa to reach out a hand – or a finger – as soon as I turned my head away.
That's what happened to me that year, the year of my sixth birthday.
♥ It was sunny, and not too cold, the way all holidays used to be.
♥ I turned away. The Small Thing was back, furtively teasing the tail of my eye. This time it was like a cat playing with a piece of string – darting out, darting in – retreating every time I looked. Small Things didn't like to be seen, except when I was alone sometimes, and even then not always. Small Things have no faces, of course, but sometimes you can see them; the one that looked like a small blue car sitting on the doorstep, a small blue car just like the one my mother was driving when she died—
♥ Safe from what? I didn't know. But I had been raised on stories in which wicked queens and witches lured small children into their homes and fed on them, hungrily, body and soul. They told me they were stories, and stories were only make-believe. And yet I was supposed to believe that my mother was with the angels. Why believe in angels, I thought, but not in monsters, witches or ghosts?
♥ There were snowdrops in a vase by the side of the window – snowdrops were her favourite flower, and I thought of the churchyard, with its swatches of snowdrops over the mellow graves of the dead, and wondered if she'd be buried there, with snowdrops nodding over her head like wise little elves and the stone-worms eating away at her carefully-wrought inscription so that soon she would be just like the rest, worn as smooth as a butter-pat, smooth as an old man's memory.
♥ There was a painting on one of the walks: a lady in a long dress, with dark curly hair like my mother's, but her face was blurred and in shadow and I couldn't see who it really was.
For some reason I didn't like it. Nor did I like the portrait on the landing, a shadowy portrait of someone old, but once more blurred and faceless, as if a big thumb had smudged it away. Perhaps that's what happens when someone dies: the face in their picture disappears, just like the name on their gravestone. I wondered if my mother's face would also disappear in my mind. I thought that in time, it probably would.
♥ And then I realised something else; in all my exploration of the house, I hadn't seen a mirror. Not one. Not even in the bathroom, or on the bedroom dressing table. There were no mirrors and no clocks, as if even Time had no face here, making the stillness absolute.
♥ It would have made her so happy, I thought. I knew shoes were expressive. And then she'd gone out in her little blue car to go and pick up my birthday cake, and I hadn't even kissed her goodbye—
I won't. I won't. I hate you! I'd said.
That little word. Such a small thing. But now it followed me everywhere. The thought that if only I'd worn the shoes, if only I'd stopped her to kiss her goodbye, if any one of those small things had got in the way of what happened next – the lorry that had taken a turn at the wrong intersection, the little blue car that had been dragged right underneath the trailer, with the birthday cake on the back seat crushed into a jammy mess—
All it had taken was seconds. These, too, were small things. I wondered how such small things could be so huge, so momentous.
You can tell me anything, said the shadowy thing on the stairs. Let me remember her for you. Let me take the little blue car and the blue shoes and the birthday cake. Let me take the small things. You don't need them any more.
And for a second, I wanted to. I wanted to more than anything. I started to open my eyes, to say okay, yes, you can take them all, but even as I did, I knew that, if I looked the thing in the face (assuming that it had a face), it would stay with me forever, perhaps until the day I die. And it was hungry. Like the wolf, like the wicked witch, it was hungry, and it would feed, not on my soul, but on my memories. And the thing inside would wear her face, and walk from room to room of the house, sitting in the window-seat, looking down at the garden, and I would forget her, day by day, and that would be unbearable...
♥ I remember this place. I've been here before. I remember it as well as I remember the face of my mother. Her blue eyes, her smile; the kiss she planted on my forehead. No one ever dies, she said, as long as we remember. And now I understand what she meant. I hope my son will see it too. And I hope, when he finds this house – which he will – he will know what to leave behind.
~~Faceless by Joanne Harris.
♥ There are witches.
Most think they're a myth, but they aren't. It's not important what they are exactly, whether that means a different species, or simply another branch of humanity, perhaps older, perhaps more evolved, perhaps less. It doesn't even matter if they're considered benign or malign. What matters is they're most certainly amongst us and go largely unseen.
And, of course, it matters a great deal how they conduct themselves Because there is something they must do, are forced to do, and this compulsion has moulded the fearful reputation the witch has endured fore the centuries mankind has registered them, peripherally, from the corner of our wary eye.
For the witch is burdened by being an agent of correction. It must punish what it perceives an injustice. Given the subjectivity of wrong-doing, the awkwardness of cultural relativity, and the personal cost of meeting our retribution, the modern witch has survived by avoiding situations which might present the necessity to fulfil this biological imperative of their existence.
In other words, they try to keep out of trouble.
But this is not so much about the witch. This is about a mistake.
♥ Given a tablet device in place of a bedtime story, those electronic tools of constant self-promotion that have replaced the magic of fantasy and invention, and so diminished many of his contemporaries, the medium became the stuff of life to Darren.
At school, social media taught him how to create himself in the image he desired, and to destroy those who would question or hamper his progress in this quest. In common with everyone he knew there was no time for curiosity, the absorption of information or the unfettered exploration of the fantastic and unknown. The non-stop broadcasting of the self was an exhaustive full-time occupation.
♥ Close study of his contemporary rivals who'd made a bigger mark prompted him to try a different strategy. The media was hungry, not for handsome, healthy young men who lived well and played small roles in dramas. The group of actors, comedians and musicians of whom the media could not get enough, and whom were begged for their views on almost every topic, were the ones who had declared in public some personal weakness which they had apparently overcome. Darren decided it was time to ditch his good London boy image and be taken seriously.
So began the faking of a history of concealed, serious drug and alcohol abuse, concocted in order that he could seek praise for his recovery, lecture sanctimoniously and shift up a gear into the A-list celebrity world where the high-flyers were always victims, brave enough to have overcome the odds stacked against them. There were few stars out there who had mothers at all, still less ones who brought them soup and smoothed out their shirts on the bed. So Darren began to redraw the narrative of his short life.
♥ Darren became politicised. The new voice of the young and disaffected, he joined demonstrations, raise his fist in solidarity outside the embassy of whatever country whose conduct had fallen out of favour with the under-twenties, and was jostled in regular photogenic variety by policemen in riot gear. As long as the cause was on the right side of political correctness, and required no more deep analysis than it being seen as "a bad thing," then Darren was there on the side of righteousness.
♥ The end was never in the gift of the witch. Unlike the humanity it moved amongst, it could not bring about its own demise, but in common with them in nevertheless treaded carefully and had learned to accept its fate.
It looked with sorrow at the optimistically packed rucksack by the door, then stood on weakened legs and walked slowly and carefully to the kitchen to open one last tin of gourmet cat food for its beautiful, loyal companion, one of the few friends it had on Earth.
♥ The witch cocked its head straight again and narrowed its ancient eyes. "Can you not live as you are now?"
Darren wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Live? Call this livin'? No one even knows I'm alive."
The witch thought for a moment, the ghost of a smile playing on imperceptibly shrivelling lips. "Then surely, you are free?"
Darren snorted, looked away and then back. "Free? To do what? Yeah?"
"To do as you please. Without interference. Without impediment. Without judgement or consequence." It leaned forward. "Is that not the ultimate goal of those who seek fame and power?"
Darren's eyes were filled with a mixture of hatred and fear. He took a step closer, and lifted the cleaver. "Fuck yo' on about? How my gonna still be famous ain't no one remembers me?"
The witch just stared.
Darren was almost weeping now. He carried on in a high, gulping whine. "I mean it. What I got to do to get this off of me? Eh? What I got to do? Yo' want me to say sorry? That it?"
The witch shook its head. "Apology without sincerity is worthless. Nor do I have the capacity or authority to forgive."
Darren was breathing heavily now.
Here it comes, the witch thought. It is time. It stood up.
"Yo' ain't real. None of this bullshit is real. I'm Darren Lowry. No one fucks with Darren Lowry!" Darren shook his head wildly as his arm started to rise. He was weeping openly, his voice a high bleat of despair. "What even are yo', yo' monster? Yo' fuckin' weird animal piece of shit. I jus' made yo' up outta my head? Yeah that's it! Yo' ain't even real! I'll prove it!"
Eyes that had seen so many things looked up at the sky and then closed for the last time.
~~Forgotten by Muriel Gray.
♥ Strumpets and beggars importuned from doorways and windows. Barkers and panderers even stuck their heads out of gutter grates, talking up attractions below street level. Here were cafés and cabarets, bistros and brothels, poets and painters, cutpurses and courtesans. Drinking, dining, dancing and damnation available in cosy nooks and on the pavement. Competing musicians raised a racket. Vices for all tastes were on offer, and could be had more cheaply if the mademoiselle would only step into this darkened side street...
♥ Montmartre, "mountain of the martyr," was named after a murder victim. In 250 AD, Saint Denis, Bishop of Paris, was decapitated by Druids. He picked up his head and climbed the hill, preaching a sermon all the way, converting many heathens before laying down dead. Local churches and shrines sported images of sacred severed heads as if in gruesome competition with the Théâtre des Horreurs.
♥ A dozen years ago, the impresario Jacques Hulot had bought the place cheaply and converted it into a theatre at great expense. The original bill offered clowns, comic songs and actors in purportedly amusing animal costumes. Patrons found it hard to laugh within walls stained with horrors. After a loss-making final performance, M. Hulot slapped on white make-up and hanged himself in the empty auditorium. Cruel wags commented that if he had taken this last pratfall in front of paying customers, the fortunes of his company might have been reversed. The showman's adage is that the public will always turn out for what they want to see – a lesson not lost on the heirs of M. Hulot, who transformed the Théâtre des Horreurs. A space unsuited to laughter would echo with screams instead.
♥ His harsh fly-buzz voice was produced by the distortion gadget Punch and Judy men called a swazzle. It was rumoured that Guignol, whoever he was behind the mask, had his swazzle surgically installed. Otherwise, he might swallow it and choke. When he laughed, it was like Hell clearing its throat.
♥ Tall figures in black robes and steeple-pointed hoods dragged in a young man, stripped to thew waist and glistening, and a fair-haired girl in a bright white shift...
...by now, Kate understood the Théâtre des Horreurs well enough. Whenever she saw white on stage it would soon be stained red.
"...there was a plot," Guignol continued. "A wealthy young orphan, a devoted lover, a cruel uncle who held high office, a false accusation, a fortune for the coffers of the church if a confession could be extracted. Scenes dramatised all this. Lots of chitter-chatter. But we have learned it is wasteful of our energies to go into that. Really, what do you care whether an innocent's gold coins are diverted to dry sticks of priests? The preamble is stripped away here, for we understand you want to reach this scene, this climax, as soon as possible. And so our piece begins with its climax, and then..."
The youth and the girl were clamped into cages and hauled aloft. The girl uttered piteous cries. The youth showed manly defiance. A canvas sheet was unrolled beneath the hanging cages.
Braziers of burning coals were wheeled on stage. A burly, shaven-headed brute in a long apron entered. An eyepatch didn't completely cover the ridged scarring which took up a third of his face. Shouts of "Morpho... bravo" rose from all corners of the house. A popular figure, evidently. Morpho grinned to accept applause. He unrolled an oilskin bundle on the table, proudly displaying an array of sharp, hooked, twisted, tapered implements. Picking up Guignol's cast-off poker, he straightened it with a twist – exciting more cries of approval – then thrust it into a handy fire.
Was there rivalry between the brute and the ringmaster? Theatre companies are prone to such. Morpho wasn't featured on the posters, but had as devoted claque.
♥ No one on stage in the Théâtre des Horreurs could frighten Kate as much as the audience.
♥ For an institution eager to make powerful enemies, the Théâtre des Horreurs was surprisingly un-persecuted.
Even before the attack on the people best placed to have the place shut down, the programme seemed calculated to offend everyone – Catholics (especially Jesuits), Protestants (especially Freemasons), Jews (no surprises there), atheists and free-thinkers, conservatives, moderates, radicals, anyone not French enough, anyone not French at all, the medical profession, the police, the law, criminals, cannibals, the military, colonialists, anti-colonialists, the halt and lame, circus folk, animal lovers, people who lived through the Paris Commune, the friends and relatives of people who failed to live through the Paris Commune, women of all classes, drama critics, the left-handed, the fat-headed, the soft-hearted.
In a city where a poetry recital or a symphony concert could set off a riot, this house was tolerated so completely that she sensed an invisible shield of protection. Was the Théâtre des Horreurs so profitable that is could afford to bribe everyone? Including the Paris mob, who were notoriously easier to stir up than buy off.
♥ The point of Guignol's Caillet play was that horror was unconfined. Not limited to one madman, not on one small stage. It was all about, all-pervasive... in the statues of Saint Denis toting his raggedly=severed head and the ritualised domestic abuser of the apache dance. The Reign of Terror and the Commune were done, but Guignol's Légionnaire d'Horreur were ensconced in positions of power. Georges Du Roy could throw honest ministers to les loups but maintain Eugène Mortain in office. Riots erupted whenever the Dreyfus case was argued. War with Germany was inevitable one week, the alliance with Germany against Great Britain was equally inevitable the next. Father de Kern was appointed Inspector of Orphanages. Horrible whispers about his night-time surprise visits to his little charges were heard with disturbing frequency, though even Zola didn't dare accuse him in print. A military coup which would have installed General Assolant as a new Napoleon had recently collapsed at the last minute. Kate liked to think of herself as a reasonable person, but she was working for a faceless creature who supposedly dropped a chandelier on the heads of an opera audience because he didn't like the casting of Marguerite in Faust.
Was it all in fun?
♥ Kate thought about the eyes of Guignol, the living eyes in the papier mâché face. She thought she'd know those eyes again. But would she, really? Guignol was in disguise when he took his mask off. He might be anyone.
♥ "It is not Max Valentin's Canary Cage illusions," said Clara. .."Maximilian the Great is a stage magician," Clara explained. "A very inferior one. Most of his act is old tricks, borrowed or stolen and performed indifferently. He had one illusion, though, that puzzled his rivals. Magicians are competitive and take pride in seeing through sleights of hand or mechanical devices. Prizes were offered to anyone who could duplicate Maximilian's illusion. None of the greats could manage it. Maskelyne, Robert-Houdin, Méliès. Max holds up a square-sided cage, in which a dear little canary sings, then folds the cage flat. Off comes the top. Down go the sides. Poof! The canary is gone. And yet the birdie sings again. Each night, from a different place... the back of the stalls, the cleavage of a female assistant, the pocket of a patron on the front row. Each night, a disappearance and an appearance."
"I think I can guess the trick," said Kate. "Canaries are cheap, right?"
"Yes, that is it. In the end, the escape artist Janus Stark saw through it. The springs that collapse the cage are unusually powerful. Each night, a canary is crushed... killed in an instant. And another canary takes it place, only to have its moment in the cage at the next performance. Once word got out, Maximilian's bookings dried up. Europeans profess to be foolishly sentimental. For my part, I believe many canaries would choose a moment of public transcendence –singing and dying – over living on unheard. Before this evening, I entertained the notion – indeed, I hoped it was the case – that the Théâtre des Horreurs was offering a chance to make such an ascension. That would have been, in an oriental manner, magnificent. Reality, as so often, is a disappointment."
♥ "A fix is in. I know how it works in Dublin and London. I doubt Paris is different. Newspaper proprietors are in competition with each other but belong to the same clubs. If they agree a story should be buried, it sort of goes away. No matter what reporters think or feel. Sit in the Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street and any scribbler will give you a long list of startling stories he's had spiked. The owners horse-trade, of course. You don't cover my brother's arrest at a boy-brothel in Bayswater and I'll drop the investigation of the fraudulent stock company which lists you among the directors. Let's not mention the peaceful natives your old regiment massacred in the Hindu Kush... on the condition the exposé of the gambling ring which paid my school's old boys' cricket side to drop easy catches three times in a row doesn't run. A discussion between gentlemen. It's in the interests of gentlemen, which is to say the powerful, that things stay this way. I've read the French papers since I got here, and – though the battles between Dreyfusard and Anti-Dreyfusard factions are more bitter than any London press feud – I sense the same system running smoothly. If the "Guignol Murders" isn't a story – and that's the headline it'd get in Britain – then it's in the interests of well-paced individuals that it not be."
♥ In Paris, poets started more café brawls than stevedores. Rival high-fashion couturiers slashed each other with scissors in the 8th Arrondissement. An unknown patriot shot Fernand Labori, Zola's defence lawyer, in the back. Marquis d'Amblezy-Sèrac, the Minister charged with enforcing laws against duelling, fought – and won! – a duel in answer to a challenge from Aristide Forestier, a magistrate who insisted that the right of every Frenchman to try to stick a sword into or put a bullet through any other Frenchman with whom he disagreed was an unwritten yet enforceable clause of the Code Napoleon.
♥ "A Frenchman would rather be assassinated than made to look silly," said Clara. "The French they are a funny race, they fight with their feet... they make love with their face."
"I've heard that before, more crudely put."
♥ Yuki didn't waste effort. She maimed and killed as she would compose a haiku – inside seconds, with strictly limited moves.
♥ General Assolant still stood, half his face red. All his battles were fought and finished well before he arrived at the bloody field to supervise the executions. Now, he'd have real scars to go with his medals.
The officer who despised cowards was trembling.
~~Guignol by Kim Newman.
♥ night'mare n. 1: oppressive or paralysing or terrifying or fantastically horrible dream or (colloq.) experience; 2: haunting fear or thing vaguely dreaded producing a feeling of anxiety or terror; 3: an evil spirit thought to oppress people in their sleep. Origin: Middle English, from night + mare. First known use: 14th century. Synonyms: agony, Gehenna, horror, misery, murder, Hell, torment, torture. Example: When you are inexplicably lost, and cannot find your way back...
♥ "Just help me find him," she begged, "and we'll leave you alone."
"He'll be found."
Why should this seem threatening? It aggravated Violet's growing panic. "Help me," she said furiously, "or I'll make such a noise it'll wake the whole place up."
"No need. It's awake," the woman said, and her silhouette decomposed further as it shrank into the darkness of the house.
~~Nightmare by Ramsey Campbell.
♥ "There are some so-called "primitive" tribes – in New Guinea, I think, or is it the Amazon rain forest? – Oh, bloody hell, who cares? Anyway, these guys refuse to be photographed because they think that in capturing their image, you are also capturing a part of their soul, their spirit, whatever... Well, I'll tell you something for nothing. They're not so bloody primitive as we think; they're not so bloody stupid. Eh? All you need is equipment. Eh? That's all I'm saying."
♥ There is the kind of egoist who wants you to love and know all about them; but there is another more dangerous kind who wants to remain an enigma and confound you with the illusion of mysterious power.
♥ Leila was young, naïve, adoring. She expressed herself in clichés, as the sincere nearly always do.
♥ Leila was no great actress, but she had a quality which made her watchable. Vulnerability, I suppose you'd call it, but venerability of an extreme kind. She gave the impression of being utterly lost, of having no inner self to guide her. The terror in her eyes was the terror of someone who looks within and finds a void.
~~Possessions by Reggie Oliver.
♥ But her brother, observed Kit, remained cheerful; illness and immobility hadn't soured his nature, and he looked forward to hearing about what she did when dressed as a man.
She wondered if he'd be so accepting if he'd had a father still alive, if he'd spent the better part of his thirteen years going among other boys and drinking in their beliefs and bigotries. Despite the hardship his sickness caused them all, a tiny part of Kit was pleased it had made him so sweet and open-minded.
♥ The lights had come on, yellow beacons flickering weakly in the early hints of a night mist – of course, the alleys and courts, the side streets and lacunae between buildings did not warrant electrical illumination; darkness needed a place to thrive.
♥ "Sweet Jesu, thought you were smarter than those with a weight between the legs, pulling their brains downwards!" Kelly shook her head.
♥ She cleared her throat and led with, "You're more like one of us now, the face on you. And you've got that look in your eye – a woman never looks quite the same after she's been hit, no matter that it might only happen once."
♥ Since arriving home in the early hours Kit had not gone to see her brother. She'd heard him through their shared wall, calling for a while, but had not been able to bring herself to answer. She could not bear to look at him and know that his actions, intended to save her, had damned Mary Kelly. She couldn't, she knew, speak to him yet without crying out all the grief building in the pit of her. If she opened her mouth, she would let something awful out, she would push a little of it – oh, just a little! – onto him just to lighten her own burden. She couldn't – wouldn't – speak to him until she could keep all her anger, her guilt, to herself. Until she could lie to him and swear he hadn't played even a tiny part in the tragedy that had reeled itself out last night.
♥ "I did what I needed to. No," she corrected herself, "I did what I wanted to do."
"You did what you thought was right."
"Right? Or convenient? Don't think I don't know how much of this is my fault. If I hadn't been so determined to keep my secrets then this might have been over long ago. I'm very aware that I put myself and my family ahead of the lives of the streetwalkers, because I'm as bad as any man, because I didn't set sufficient store by them. I didn't think they deserved to be safe as much as I did though I didn't say it; I thought they somehow brought the violence on themselves by the very nature of their lives. I judged them less worthy than me and mine, Mr Makepeace, and I will live with that every damned day for the rest of my life." She pointed a finger at him as he made to contradict her. "And don't tell you haven't thought the same – that they're worthless, these women. If it wasn't true then you wouldn't be sitting here so calm as you question me, acting as if I've done nothing more than steal a bag of sweeties.
"You don't think they're worth enough to get angry about – you're more infuriated that this man dared to defy you and make a mess on your streets, made your men look like idiots, than you're outraged by the loss of these women's lives. Deny it and I'll know you're a liar."
♥ Kit cleared her throat but couldn't find words. She should shoot him, she knew. She should just be done with it, but she needed – the witches needed – to know why. They deserved for someone to hear bear witness, for some kind of memorial even if it were an ephemeral one of words.
♥ No one wants a clergyman's family after the clergyman is gone.
♥ "Lucius, Mrs K and I visit her once a week, although she still will not speak to me, quite rages when she catches sight of me, so mostly I sit in the foyer and read." Kit laughed mirthlessly. "I find it fascinating, don't you, Inspector, that she judges me more harshly for dressing as a man and entering your world than I ever judged her for being a whore?"
~~Ripper by Angela Slatter.
♥ vas'tat'ion n. (archaic, literary) 1: a renewal or purification of someone or something by the burning away or destruction of evil attributes or elements; 2: spiritual purgation; 3: devastation; 4: a laying waste. Origin: Latin vastation-, vastatio, from vastatus (past participle of vastare to lay waste, from vastus empty, waste) + -ion-, -io -ion. First known use: mid-16th century. Synonyms: depredation, desolation, destruction, havoc, ruin, waste, wreckage. Example: That feeling of absolute dread you experience when something invisible enters your life...
♥ "I did not understand – until now! You remember, I wondered if that demon came from within my own mind, or had some external source? Now, having read Swedenborg, I understand it to have been a creation of my own mind."
"But how can that be? I saw it, too!"
He grasped her hands, to stop her angry attempt to pull away. "To say that something was the product of my own mind is not to say that it did not exist. On the contrary. Many things that begin as thoughts in the mind take on a physical reality – books, house, and demons, too. Heaven and Hell are not places located on a map, like Boston or Poughkeepsie, but they do exist. People create their own heaven or hell while they are alive, and inhabit their creation after death."
♥ Her father was sitting behind his desk as usual, but a bloody axe lay across the books and papers before him. When he turned to look at her, his smile was unlike any she had seen before, but she recognised the yellow gleam in his eye. It was the same evil light she had seen – they both had seen – raying from the demon's eyes last year, and it told her everything. Last year, she had been shocked to see that creature had got into the house, and thought there could be no greater horror. But this was worse: she saw it had got into her father.
~~Vastation by Lisa Tuttle.