Dust jacket illustration by Dave McKean.
Tales of darkness and inexplicable happenings have always been with us—and always will. In its contemporary form, this sort of story is not only alive and well, but flourishing, and it continues to speak to us in a variety of voices. Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 is the latest installment in an acclaimed anthology series, and it brings together ten voices—some familiar, some less so—that are at once distinctive, compelling, and irresistible.
The volume opens with award-winning novelist Kat Howard’s “An Orderly Progression of Hearts,” an elegant meditation on the fragility of the human heart; and closes with acclaimed newcomer P. Djèlí Clark’s “Skin Magic,” a stunning account of sorcery and dark magic set in an unnamed third world country. Elsewhere in the anthology, Caitlin R. Kíernan (“Cherry Street Tango, Sweat Box Waltz”) offers a piece of near-future noir in which a “blackstrap” (a hired assassin) contemplates the failure of her latest murderous assignment. “At the Threshold of Your Bedchamber on the Fifth Night” by Sarah Gailey is the tale of a courtship that leads to a most unusual consummation. In “Final Course,” a rare short story by rising star C.J. Tudor, the reunion of old school friends takes a savage and unexpected turn. In addition to these and other stellar tales by the likes of Bentley Little, Richard Kadrey, Stephen Gallagher and Ian R. MacLeod, Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 contains Robert R. McCammon’s “Death Comes for the Rich Man,” a rare novella set in Colonial America and featuring McCammon’s popular “problem solver,” Matthew Corbett.
The limited edition of this superb anthology comes with a very special signed bonus hardcover: Always Going On by Tim Powers. A 14,000 word autobiographical essay of immense charm, it offers a highly personal glimpse into the mind, memories, and personal esthetics of one of modern fantasy’s most durable—and original—artists. Always Going On is both a gift to Powers’ many readers, and an invaluable supplement to an extraordinary body of work.
Limited: 250 signed numbered copies, in slipcase, with exclusive Tim Powers volume, Always Going On
Trade: Fully cloth-bound hardcover edition
From Publishers Weekly:
“The striking third volume in Subterranean Press’s series of dark fantasy anthologies comprises 10 masterful, original tales... A woman witnesses the purchase and renovation of her former home in Stephen Gallagher’s brilliant ghost story ‘Twisted Hazel,’ which is told with such finesse as to put readers in mind of haunting masters Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier. The other standout, Robert McCammon’s ‘Death Comes for the Rich Man,’ is a powerful gothic tale of failed parenthood and fast approaching death… Devotees of dark fantasy won’t want to pass up this excellent anthology.”
“The third of an occasional anthology series (previous volumes appeared in 2008 and 2011), William Schafer’s Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 offers ten stories by top-notch writers. It starts off with ”An Orderly Progression of Hearts” by Kat Howard, a very short rumination on the vagaries of the human heart. Next up is Caitlín R. Kiernan’s ‘Cherry Street Tango, Sweatbox Waltz’, a near-future neo-noir story featuring Elenore Sakellarios, an accomplished assassin undergoing torture that includes Lewis Carroll and fairytale responses.
“The world as we know it is beginning to fall apart in C.J. Tudor’s ‘Final Course’… Tudor masterfully sets it all up for maximum impact and wickedly plays our own expectations against us.”
Table of Contents:
- An Orderly Progression of Hearts—Kat Howard
- Cherry Street Tango, Sweatbox Waltz—Caitlín R. Kiernan
- Estate Sale—Bentley Little
- Twisted Hazel—Stephen Gallagher
- Death Comes for the Rich Man—Robert McCammon
- At the Threshold of Your Bedchamber on the Fifth Night—Sarah Gailey
- Final Course—C. J. Tudor
- Lamagica—Ian R. MacLeod
- Razor Pig—Richard Kadrey
- Skin Magic—P. Djèlí Clark
Cherry Street Tango, Sweatbox Waltz
Caitlín R. Kiernan
The hotel room is hot as blue blazes, and it smells hot, and it also smells simultaneously of dust and mildew, both dry and damp. The room is, in fact, almost unbearably hot, and I sit on this sofa, alone in my private darkness and I sweat and listen to the radio. Usually, there’s only music, jazz from a hundred years ago, discord and jangle and a thousand arrhythmic anti-harmonies on piano and clarinet and baritone saxophone that seem composed to mock my disorientation. But then I am a paranoid woman. It comes with the job, the paranoia. That is, either you bring it with you to the job or you pick it up soon afterwards – or you don’t live very long. And sometimes you don’t live very long anyway. So, the radio plays and I sit here listening to the jazz, sweating in someone else’s silk bathrobe, cradled in frayed upholstery, alone in the darkness behind the bandages that cover my flash-burned eyes. I might have been sitting here for hours. I lose track of time, in between sleeping and being awake. But finally the music stops, as it periodically does, and a man with a heavy Hungarian accent comes on in its place, and he wants to know if I’m feeling any better than I felt the last time we talked. I tell him sure, I feel like a million bucks, and he reminds me how snark and sarcasm isn’t going to cut it. His time is precious. On the other hand, my time, like my life, is disposable, expendable, no kind of rare dish, me, and I should therefore behave accordingly. Which is to say I should behave.
The morning David O’Meara took a leave of absence from the junior college where he was head security guard, he loaded his Chevy Suburban with maps, protein bars, and a recent birthday photo of his daughter. He’d taken the picture out of the frame the day after Lucy disappeared and laid it in a drawer. Putting it in his pocket was the first time he’d seen her face in a week. He knew there might be trouble when he tracked her down, so he packed a Glock 9mm pistol in a holster that fit at the small of his back. That way, the gun would be hidden under his untucked shirt. No need to show the thing if he didn’t have to. Besides, when he found Lucy, he didn’t want her first sight of him to be packing heat. That, he knew, wouldn’t help the situation at all.
O’Meara drove north from San Marcos, Texas, north on I-35 toward Austin. He knew the road well. It’s where, many years earlier, his secret, second heart had truly begun to grow. Following the route on the dusty map, he turned off onto highway 21 and sped through Uhland, heading north to Mustang Ridge. The carnival seemed to be sticking to the smaller towns along the narrow highways that snaked through that region of Texas.
He’d been rigid with tension ever since Lucy disappeared, unable to sleep or eat. A tap on the radio button in the Suburban brought up his favorite broadcast, an old-fashioned local San Marcos AM news and call-in show. Today, though, something was off. The host did his usual rants, going attack dog on “liberal gay humanists” while mixing in homespun redneck wisdom. But O’Meara found himself strangely bored. He listened to the call-in portion of the show, hoping for a UFO weirdo or conspiracy nut who’d go on and on about how the government was controlled by lizard people. No such luck. It was just the same tired Mexicans, Jews, and lesbians infiltrating the schools. After a few minutes, he turned the damn thing off.
Reaching into the plastic bag on the passenger seat, he pulled out a protein bar and tore it open with his teeth. It was a bad idea. The thing tasted like sugar on switchgrass, or at least his sleepless brain made it seem that way. O’Meara rolled down the window, spit out what was in his mouth and tossed the rest of the bar with it.
As the window rolled back up he wondered what Lucy was doing at that exact moment. His mind hopped from images of her laughing with friends to ones of her tied up in the back of a van, helpless and abused. He’d seen what that could do to people.
O’Meara had more than his share of strange encounters along this stretch of road. There was one before Uhland and two more on the empty stretch of road out of town. It bothered him when he couldn’t remember who’d been first, the trucker or the Target cashier? The third was definitely the hippie boy heading to Dallas for a music festival. There had been enough of those brief, intense encounters by now that O’Meara was sometimes tempted to write them down. However, aside from it being dangerously foolish, it felt like cheating. Like he’d be diluting the experience. And if he did that, would he ever see the moon again?
He shook his head to clear it. None of that was important now. Bringing Lucy home safe and sound was all that mattered.
From the window I can see them coming and going. They’re not the same people as before. Most of them are men, though I’ve counted two young women. They’re working in the marked space in front of the house, the safe space, the space inside the ropes. Where the big lawn used to be, and where they won’t get blown up. First they laid out poles on the ground, and then put them together into a low framework. Then they dragged a big canvas all the way over; it took ten of them to do that. Now they’re all at the corners, winding at handles and calling out to each other. And as they wind the big marquee is slowly rising up, like a circus tent.
So much happening. Nothing ever happens here. It’s no wonder I can’t take my eyes off them.
I’d love to get closer, but I can’t. I can’t leave the house unless it’s to go into the garden at the back, which has a wall around it. I can’t go past the walls. Don’t ask me why. If I ever knew, I don’t remember.
So I watch.
At the Threshold
of Your Bedchamber
on the Fifth Night
It didn’t happen the way you think it did.
Stop crying, please, you don’t need to—I’m not going to die. I know you think I’m going to die if you let me in, but I won’t. I’ll live, and I’ll marry you.
Let me explain. Your father told me. He told me the first night, the first banquet, the one where you welcomed me to your dinner table with those big beautiful sad eyes, and you looked at me with all the pity a butcher shows a goat. It’s alright, my love, my Amalia, don’t cry, I know you didn’t mean to look at me like that. I know you didn’t mean any of it.
Are you sure you won’t let me in?
Always Going On
It’s been thirty-seven years since the death of Philip K. Dick, which is hard for me to comprehend. When Lovecraft had been dead that long, I was already a confirmed Lovecraft fan! In any case, I remember Phil Dick very clearly, and in fact I was (like most college students!) keeping a journal during most of the time I knew him, and a fair number of the entries involved him.
For instance, I noted that on March 2, 1977, he called me and said that he had figured the universe out.
“No kidding?” I said. “How does it work?
He told me it was far too complicated to just rattle off over the phone. So I told him to write it down, and that I’d come over to his apartment after work. And I added, “Could you write it out as a limerick?”
He said no, but he called me back a few minutes later and read me two versions of a limerick he’d just written.
The version for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays was:
Determinist forces are wrong,
And irresistibly strong;
While of God there’s a dearth,
For He visits the Earth
But not for sufficiently long.
And the version for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays differed in the last three lines:
…But of God there’s no dearth,
For He visits the Earth,
But just for sufficiently long.
That’s great!” I told him. “It’s pithy.”
“Yeah, but it’s a downer,” he said.
I recall that another time he called me and told me that his philosophical and theological researches had led him, the night before, to the conclusion that he could forgive sins. I asked him whose sins he had forgiven, and he said, “Well, nobody’s. This morning I decided I was mistaken, and last night you weren’t home when I called, and Jeter got all huffy and said he didn’t want his sins forgiven. So I just forgave the cats’ sins.”
- Dave McKean
- 240 pages
- United States
- In Print