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.”
by Caitlín R. Kiernan
York City (May 1935)
wasn’t hard to find her. Sure, she had run. After Szabó let her
walk like that, I knew Ellen would get wise that something was
rotten, and she’d run like a scared rabbit with the dogs hot on its
heels. She’d have it in her head to skip town, and she’d probably
keep right on skipping until she was out of the country. Odds were
pretty good she wouldn’t stop until she was altogether free and
clear of this particular plane of existence. There are plenty enough
fetid little hidey-holes in the universe, if you don’t mind the
heat and the smell and the company you keep. You only have to know
how to find them, and the way I saw it, Ellen Andrews was good as
Rand and McNally when it came to knowing her way around.
first, she’d go back to that apartment of hers, the whole eleventh
floor of the Colosseum, with its bleak westward view of the Hudson
River and the New Jersey Palisades. I figured there would be those
two or three little things she couldn’t bear to leave the city
without, even if it meant risking her skin to collect them. Only she
hadn’t expected me to get there before her. Word on the street was
Harpootlian still had me locked up tight, so Ellen hadn’t expected
me to get there at all.
the hall came the buzz of the elevator, then I heard her key in the
lock, the front door, and her footsteps as she hurried through the
foyer and the dining room. Then she came dashing into that French
Rococo nightmare of a library, and stopped cold in her tracks when
she saw me sitting at the reading table with al-Jaldaki’s grimoire
open in front of me.
a second, she didn’t say anything. She just stood there, staring at
me. Then she managed a forced sort of laugh and said, “I knew
they’d send someone, Nat. I just didn’t think it’d be you.”
that gip you pulled with the dingus, they didn’t really leave me
much choice,” I told her, which was the truth, or at least all the
truth I felt like sharing. “You shouldn’t have come back here.
It’s the first place anyone would think to check.”
sat down in the armchair by the door. She looked beat, like whatever
comes after exhausted, and I could tell Szabó’s gunsels had made
sure all the fight was gone before they’d turned her loose. They
weren’t taking any chances, and we were just going through the
motions now, me and her. All our lines had been written.
played me for a sucker,” I said and picked up the pistol that had
been lying beside the grimoire. My hand was shaking, and I tried to
steady it by bracing my elbow against the table. “You played me,
then you tried to play Harpootlian and Szabó both. Then you got
caught. It was a bonehead move all the way round, Ellen.”
how’s it gonna be, Natalie? You gonna shoot me for being stupid?”
I’m going shoot you because it’s the only way I can square things
with Auntie H and the only thing that’s gonna keep Szabó from
going on the warpath. And because
you played me.”
my shoes, you’d have done the same thing,” she said. And the way
she said it, I could tell she believed what she was saying. It’s
the sort of self-righteous bushwa so many grifters hide behind. They
might stab their own mothers in the back if they see an angle in it,
but, you ask them, that’s jake, cause so would anyone else.
that really all you have to say for yourself?” I asked and pulled
back the slide on the Colt, chambering the first round. She didn’t
even flinch … but, wait … I’m getting ahead of myself.
Maybe I ought to begin nearer the beginning.
For more info about THE VERY BEST OF CAITLÍN R. KIERNAN, visit the Tachyon page.