THE VERY BEST OF CAITLÍN R. KIERNAN preview: “Andromeda Among the Stones”

In celebration for the release of THE VERY BEST OF CAITLÍN R. KIERNAN, Tachyon presents glimpses from some of the volume’s strange and macabre tales by the “reigning queen of dark fantasy.”


Among the Stones

by Caitlín R. Kiernan

Dandridge lay very still in her big bed, her big room with its high
ceiling and no pictures hung on the walls, and she listened to the
tireless sea slamming itself against the rocks. The sea there to take
the entire world apart one gritty speck at a time, the sea that was
here first and would be here long after the continents had finally
been weathered down to so much slime and sand. She knew this because
her father had read to her from his heavy black book, the book that
had no name, the book that she couldn’t ever read for herself or
the demons would come for her in the night. And she knew, too,
because of the books he had given
her, her books—Atlantis:
The Antediluvian World,
World Before the Deluge,
and Atlantis
and Lost Lemuria
. Every­thing above the waves
on borrowed time, her father had said again and again, waiting for
the day when the sea rose once more and drowned the land beneath its
smothering, salty bosom, and the highest mountains and deepest
valleys will become a playground for sea serpents and octopuses and
schools of herring. Forests to become Poseidon’s orchards, her
father said, though she knew Poseidon wasn’t the true name of the
god-thing at the bottom of the ocean, just a name some dead man gave
it thousands of years ago.

I read you a story tonight, Merry?” her dead mother asked, sitting
right there in the chair beside the bed. She smelled like fish and
mud, even though they’d buried her in the dry ground at the top of
the hill behind the house. Meredith didn’t look at her, because
she’d spent so much time already trying to remember her mother’s
face the way it was before
and didn’t want to see the ruined face the ghost was wearing like a
mask. As bad as the face her brother now wore, worse than that, and
Meredith shrugged and pushed the blankets back a little.

you can’t sleep, it might help,” her mother said with a voice
like kelp stalks swaying slowly in deep water.

might,” Meredith replied, staring at a place where the wallpaper
had begun to peel free of one of the walls, wishing there were a
candle in the room or an oil lamp so the ghost would leave her alone.
“And it might not.”

could read to you from Hans Christian Andersen, or one of Grimm’s
tales,” her mother sighed. “‘The Little Mermaid’ or ‘The
Fisherman and His Wife’?”

could tell me what it’s like in Hell,” the girl replied.

I don’t have to tell you that,” her ghost mother whis­pered,
her voice gone suddenly regretful and sad. “I know I don’t have
to ever tell you that.”

might be different hells,” Meredith said. “This one, and the one
Father sent you away to, and the one Avery is lost inside. No one
ever said there could only be one, did they? Maybe it has many
regions. A hell for the dead Prussian soldiers and another for the
French, a hell for Christians and another for the Jews. And maybe
another for all the pagans.”

father didn’t send me anywhere, child. I crossed the threshold of
my own accord.”

I would be alone in this

ghost clicked its sharp teeth together, and Meredith could hear the
anemone tendrils between its iridescent fish eyes quickly withdrawing
into the hollow places in her mother’s decaying skull.

could read you a poem,” her mother said hopefully. “I could sing
you a song.”

isn’t all fire and brimstone, is it? Not the region of hell where
you are? It’s blacker than night and cold as ice, isn’t it,

he think it would save me to put me in the earth? Does the old fool
think it will bring me back across, like Persephone?”

many questions, hers and her mother’s, and for a moment Meredith
Dandridge didn’t answer the ghost, kept her eyes on the shadowy
wallpaper strips, the pinstripe wall, wishing the sun would rise and
pour warm and gold as honey through the drapes.

crossed the threshold of my own
accord,” the ghost said again, and Meredith wondered if it thought
she didn’t hear the first time. Or maybe it was something her
mother needed to believe and might stop believing if she stopped
repeating it. “Someone had to do it.”

didn’t have to be you.”

wind whistled wild and shrill around the eaves of the house,
invisible lips pressed to a vast, invisible instrument, and Meredith
shivered and pulled the covers up to her chin again.

was no one else. It wouldn’t take your brother. The one who wields
the key cannot be a man. You know that, Merry. Avery knew that, too.”

are other women,” Meredith said, speaking through gritted teeth,
not wanting to start crying but the tears already hot in her eyes.
“It could have been someone else. It didn’t have to be my

other child’s mother, then?” the ghost asked. “Some other
mother’s daughter?”

back to your hell,” Meredith said, still looking at the wall,
spitting out the words like poison. “Go back to your hole in the
ground and tell your fairy tales to the worms. Tell them ‘The
Fisherman and His Wife.’”

have to be strong now, Merry. You have to listen to your father, and
you have to be ready. I wasn’t strong enough.”

finally she did turn to face her mother, what was left of her
mother’s face, the scuttling things nesting in her tangled hair,
the silver scales and barnacles, the stinging anemone crown, and
Meredith Dandridge didn’t flinch or look away.

For more info about THE VERY BEST OF CAITLÍN R. KIERNAN, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover by Hannes Hummel
Design by Elizabeth Story