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Dust jacket and interior illustrations by Ted Naifeh
An albino girl wanders the sun-scorched backroads of a south Georgia summer, following the bidding of an angel or perhaps only voices in her head, searching out and slaying ancient monsters who have hidden themselves away in the lonely places of the world. Caitlín R. Kiernan first introduced Dancy in the pages of her award-winning second novel, Threshold (2001), then went on to write several more short stories and a novella about this unlikely heroine, each a piece of what has become an epic dark fantasy narrative. Alabaster finally collects all these tales into one volume, illustrated by Ted Naifeh (Gloomcookie, How Loathsome, Courtney Crumrin, Polly and the Pirates, etc.).
Alabaster will include:
An introduction by the author.
The Well of Stars and Shadow
“Le Fleurs Empoisonnées” (originally published as In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers)
Bainbridge (previously unpublished, the “last” Dancy Flammrion story, a 16,000 word novella)
Limited: 350 signed numbered copies, with an exclusive chapbook
Trade: Cloth hardcover edition
Caitlín R. Kiernan
I. Dry Creek Road
Only a few miles south and west of the sleeping city of electric lights and sensible paved streets, where a crooked red-clay road ends finally before wild nettle thickets and impassable cypress swamps leading away through the night to the twisting, marshy banks of the Flint River, sits the ruined husk of Grace Ebeneezer Baptist Church. Erected sometime late in 1889 by two freed slaves from Alabama, forsaken now by any Christian congregation for more than two decades, it has become another sort of sanctuary. Four straight white walls, no longer precisely white nor standing precisely straight, rise from a crumbling foundation of Ocala Limestone to brace the sagging gray roof, most of its tar-paper shingles lost over the years to summer gales and autumn storms. In places, the roof of the church has collapsed entirely, open wounds to expose decaying pine struts and ridge beams, to let in the rain and falling leaves and the birds and squirrels that have built their nests in the rafters. Here and there, the holes go straight on through the attic floor, and on nights when the moon is bright, clean white shafts fall on the old pews and rotting hymnals. But this night there is no moon. This night there are only low black clouds and heat lightning, a persistent, distant rumble somewhere to the north of Dry Creek Road, and Dancy Flammarion stands alone on the cinderblock steps leading up to the wide front doors of the church.
There are two dozen or more symbols drawn on the weathered doors in what looks like colored chalk and charcoal. She recognizes some of them, the one’s that the angel has warned her about or that Dancy learned from her grandmother before she died—an Egyptian Eye of Horus and something that looks like a letter H but she knows is really the rune Hagal, a pentagram, an open, watchful eye drawn inside a triangle, a circle with a fish at its center. They’re all there for the same reason, to keep her out, to keep whatever’s hiding inside safe, as if she were the monster.
As if she’s the one the angel wants dead.
Dancy’s dreamed of this place many times, a hundred nightmares spent on this old church brooding alone at the nub end of its narrow, muddy road, the steeple that lists a bit to one side, threatening to topple over, the tiny graveyard almost lost to strangling creeper briars and buckeye, ferns and polk weed. At least a hundred times, a hundred dream-sweat nights, she’s walked the long path to this place, and sometimes the doors have no protective symbols to ward her off, but are standing open, waiting for her, inviting her to enter. Sometimes, the stained-glass windows and the empty window frames where all the glass has been broken out are filled with flickering orange light, like dozens of candles or maybe a bonfire someone’s built inside the church. Tonight, the windows are dark, even darker than the summer sky.
She sets her heavy duffel bag down on the cinderblocks, which were painted green a very long time ago. Now, though, most of the green paint has flaked away or is hidden beneath a thick crust of moss and lichens. Dancy opens the canvas bag, and it only takes her a moment to find what she’s looking for, the big carving knife she’s carried all the way from Florida and the burned-out cabin on Eleanore Road. She ties the duffel bag closed again, and looks up at the sky just as a silent flash of heat lightning illuminates the clouds and the craggy limbs of the trees pressing in close around the churchyard.
“Please,” she says, “if there’s another way,” and from the other side of the door there are sounds like small claws against dry wood and a woman’s nervous laughter, and Dancy squeezes her eyes shut.
“I don’t have to do this,” she says, trying to ignore the noises coming from inside the church. “There must be somebody else besides me, somebody stronger or more—”
Something slams itself hard against the other side of the door, and Dancy almost screams, almost drops the carving knife onto the cinderblock steps. She glances over her left shoulder, wondering if the angel’s hiding itself somewhere in the trees, if it’s watching just in case she needs help. You never needed anyone’s help before, her dead mother whispers. That night at the creek, the night it dragged me down to the deep place, or that day in the Wood, you didn’t needed anyone’s help with the first two. “With those first two, I had the shotgun,” Dancy tells her, which is the truth, and she wishes that she’d thought to take her grandfather’s Winchester out of the cabin in Shrove Wood before she burned it to the ground.
It wasn’t the shotgun killed them, her mother whispers, her voice like someone that’s trying to drown and talk at the same time.
“It helped, I’d reckon,” Dancy says. “It was better than having nothing but this rusty old knife. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s not even very sharp anymore.”
But this time her mother doesn’t bother to answer, so Dancy knows that she’s alone again, no murdered ghosts and no vengeful angels, and it’s time; she takes a deep breath and stares at the doors to the old church, the peeling white paint and the symbols that have been put there to keep her out. Then Dancy uses the tip of the knife to cut something invisible into the air, something like the sign of the cross, only there are more lines and angles to it. She does it exactly the way the angel said to, her own secret magic to undo all the monsters’ hexes, and then the albino girl climbs the last two steps and reaches for one of the rusted iron door handles. She isn’t surprised that the door isn’t locked.
Excerpt from “Bainbridge” Copyright © 2006 by Caitlin R. Kiernan. All rights reserved.
From Gahan Wilson, in Realms of Fantasy Magazine:
“There’s no one quite like her in folding and unfolding characters in a sort of origami fashion so that they surprise you again and again, but always logically no matter how bizarrely; there are very few who can transport you via deft, strange spells from scene to scene as smoothly and gracefully, sliding open secret panels, turning reliable-seeming staircases into carnival slides, and dropping you suddenly through trap doors.”
From Publishers Weekly:
“Kiernan imbues the tales with disquieting gothic imagery and envelops them in rich, evocative prose that conveys cohesiveness beyond their fragmentary plots.”
From Locus Magazine:
“Dancy stands, a bit uncomfortably, in a long line of monster-hunting characters, walking the Earth and dispatching creatures of ancient evil, but Kiernan twists the conventions hard. First, Dancy is young, naive about human society (having grown up isolated in a Florida swamp), and visited often by a terrifying angel. She gets no satisfaction out of killing monsters. First, she killed to survive. Later, she killed because it seemed the only life open to her, and because her angel would not permit her to do otherwise. It's not a question of duty, or responsibility, but of necessity. She is more Joan of Arc than Solomon Kane… “Bainbridge,” an original novelette, is a tour de force, alternating three storylines: Dancy's assault on a desecrated church that houses monsters; the story of Dancy's mother and her youthful attempt to commit suicide to escape the demands of her own angel; and sections set in the dark fantasy otherworld of Kiernan's novel Murder of Angels, which obliquely relates to the other threads.
“It might seem a bit early to review a book not due until September, but I hear the $45 limited edition—which will include a chapbook with a new story—is close to selling out, so pre-order while you can. Ted Naifeh's illustrations are suitably creepy, and his wraparound cover, Dancy, alone, menaced by monsters—is marvelous.”
“Kiernan's richly evocative prose vividly portrays her twisted characters as well as it illustrates their eerie, kudzu-infested, Deep South surroundings.”
From Bookslut: “With her latest collection, Caitlin Kiernan proves that she knows how to write a damn fine story about the scariest parts of everything that lives and breathes down those long dark southern roads… Kiernan makes us see just how painful a job it is for her teenage hero, just how ugly and nasty being a savior can be.”