Posts Tagged "sarah monette"

To Die for Moonlight

by on Jul 2, 2013 in Short Fiction | 2 comments

I cut off her head before I buried her. I had no tools suitable to the task–only my pocketknife and the shovel–and it was a long, grisly, abhorrent job, but I had to do it, and I did. I could not leave the chance that she might return. I had been weeping when I started; by the time it was done, the last tattered string of flesh severed, I had no tears left in me, and my mouth and eyes and sinuses were raw with bile and salt. I stuffed her mouth with wolfsbane, wrapped a silver chain around her poor hands, placed silver dollars over her staring eyes. Then, at that most truly God-forsaken crossroads, under a full and leering moon, I began to dig Annette Robillard’s grave. § How, exactly, the Robillards were connected to Blanche Parrington Crowe, I never discovered. Cousins in some degree of her long-dead husband, but whether it was a Crowe daughter who married into the Robillards, or a Robillard daughter who married into the Crowes, the link was many generations in the past–surely not enough to count as kinship except in the genealogical sense. Nevertheless, I was informed, Mrs. Crowe considered the Robillards to fall under the umbrella of her family obligations; thus, when Marcus Justus Robillard asked for a cataloguer to come make sense of his family’s long-neglected library, Mrs. Crowe felt it incumbent upon her to send one. By which, I was further informed, she meant me. I tried to argue that one of the junior archivists–all of whom certainly needed the practice more than I did–would be both eminently suited to the task and far less disruptive to the Parrington in his absence, but Dr. Starkweather glared me into silence, and then said, “Mrs. Crowe was very specific, Mr. Booth. It appears that she trusts you.” The grim incredulity in his tone told me that if Mrs. Crowe could have been talked out of the idea of sending me to Belle Lune, the Robillard estate, he would have done it. He had been heard on more than one occasion to say, publicly and loudly, that I could not be trusted to come in out of the rain. “Then I suppose I, er, have no choice,” I said. “Does Mrs. Crowe anticipate…er, that is, is it supposed to be a long job?” “No,” Dr. Starkweather said, even more grimly. “I have been instructed to release you from your duties for a week. That will be sufficient, Mr. Booth. I trust I make myself clear?” “Yes, sir,” I said, and was occupied for the rest of the day in the unsatisfying tedium of preparing my office for a week’s absence. § It would be unwise to specify the location of Belle Lune. I will say only that it was in the mid-Atlantic states, close enough to the coast that the wind, when in the right quarter, would bring the smell of salt. Robillards had lived there since sometime in the seventeenth century, and the house had been expanded and remodeled so many times that nothing of its original character remained. It was more brick than wood, with the columns beloved of the Neoclassical Revival added to the front as a dowager pins a diamond brooch to her bosom, and it stood on the edge of a tarn. I call it a tarn, although there are no mountains in the vicinity of Belle Lune, because I do not know of a word that better conveys the secretive aspect–dark and uninviting–of its waters. The Robillards called it the Mirror, although I never saw it to reflect anything at all. I was met at the train station on Monday by a young man and a horse-drawn trap. He had apologized as he introduced himself: “Justin Robillard–I’m sorry about the antiquated transport, but my grandfather has an abhorrence of engines and won’t have them at Belle Lune.” “Kyle Murchison Booth.” His gloved grip was strong, but not punishing; I was glad to be released from it all the same. “And I, er, I have no...

Read More

Welcome to the Reformation, Bitches

by on Feb 5, 2013 in Nonfiction | 12 comments

by Sarah Monette   At the end of the first act of Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark has a problem. Now, what you think that problem is depends on how you understand what has just happened. Let’s start with what we know. We know Hamlet, King of Denmark, is dead. We know that his brother Claudius has stepped into the king’s empty shoes in more ways than one: he’s taken the throne and he’s married the widowed queen. We know that the dead king’s son, Prince Hamlet, is not happy about any of this and is wandering around the court in extremely pointed black, irritating his uncle/stepfather no end. And we know that an apparition is stalking the battlements, an apparition immediately identifiable as King Hamlet to everyone who sees it. This apparition, let us be clear, is objectively real. All of the guards are scared out of their wits by it, and when they bring Hamlet’s friend Horatio up for a consultation, he sees it and recognizes it, too. So when Horatio mans up and brings Hamlet to the battlements, what Hamlet sees–and speaks to–is inarguably an apparition of his dead father. However. There’s a question here that modern audiences no longer know to ask, and it’s a question that has gotten Hamlet scholars in a lot of trouble, leading to the infamous, ubiquitous, and flat-out wrong assertion that Hamlet’s “fatal flaw” is indecision. From our point of view, it is baffling that Hamlet, at the end of Act I, doesn’t simply walk down into the throne room, like the Arnold Schwarzenegger Hamlet in The Last Action Hero, and blow Claudius the fuck away. His father’s ghost has told him that Claudius is a lying, cheating fratricide: what more can he possibly need? But that’s because we think we know what a ghost is. And what we think we know, and what Shakespeare and his audiences and his culture thought they knew, are two very different things. This is where we have to talk about the Reformation. Before the Reformation, there was a somewhat precarious but workable harmony in England between the Catholic Church and popular culture. The church said that spirits neither evil enough to be damned nor good enough to ascend to Heaven suffered in Purgatory until they had atoned for their sins. Their friends and relations still among the living could help speed this process along by, for instance, paying for masses to be said on the dead person’s behalf. This dovetailed nicely with what “everybody knew” about ghosts, which was that they were spirits which could not rest because of something they had left undone in life or a wrong they had committed–or, particularly with the ghosts of murder victims, a wrong committed against them. People understood that when they saw Uncle Watkin’s ghost standing beside the hearth, he was trying to tell them something. And they understood that by figuring out what Uncle Watkin wanted, they would be able both to put an end to the haunting and to help his spirit find peace. The two ideas–that of spirits in Purgatory needing the help of the living to ascend into Heaven and that of ghosts being spirits unable to rest until the living performed some task on their behalf–were not perfectly identical, but they fit together well enough for everybody and their Uncle Watkin to be happy. But all that changed with the Reformation. The Protestant reformers felt that Purgatory was nothing but a sham devised by Catholic priests to extort money from their parishioners. (Your Uncle Watkin is suffering unspeakably! And you can make his suffering shorter if you just pay us enough money.) And so they abolished it. No more Purgatory. But if there isn’t a Purgatory, how do you understand the ghost of Uncle Watkin? He can’t be a spirit descended from Heaven, because spirits in Heaven are already at peace and don’t need help from their mortal relatives. And if he’s a spirit come up from Hell…. Well, then your Uncle Watkin is a demon, and if you do...

Read More

Coyote Gets His Own Back

by on Jul 3, 2012 in Short Fiction | 4 comments

By Sarah Monette Luther shot the coyote bitch on Wednesday. She didn’t make a sound, just fell ass over teakettle into the defile, blood blooming across her neck and chest. She was dead—there was no doubt about that, then or later. It put Luther in a foul mood. He’s wild for trophies, is Luther Sibley, even just a skinny coyote bitch, but that defile had pricker bushes that thought they were gonna grow up to be barbed wire, and rattlers liked it. We lost a cow down there every so often—my granny, who was superstitious about that sort of thing, would have called it a bad place, and I didn’t like it myself. Even to Luther, a coyote bitch wasn’t worth it,especially since he had the pelts of probably half her kin already. So we went on and didn’t think no more about it. Saturday night, a coyote got into the hen house. You could hear Luther cussing clear out to the highway—but not about the hens. What put the bug up Luther’s butt was a coyote getting into a hen house he’d made coyote-proof with his own two hands. The next day was Sunday, and Luther having strong feelings about the Sabbath, everyone who worked for the Double Tree Ranch went to church. I sat in the pew and listened to the preacher and hoped next week would be better. But God must have had bigger fish to fry. Sun-up Monday morning, I came out and found something had knocked over the whole line of garbage cans behind the kitchen. I was still standing there cussing a pretty fair blue streak when Luther came howling out of the stables to say something had gotten in and spoiled the feed. And Aaron came and caught my arm and said, “Come look at this and tell me I ain’t gone out of my head.” So I went with him. “What was it? Mice? Raccoons?” “Be damned if I know.” He opened the door and watched while I took the smell full in the face and went staggering back. “What the hell?” I said when I could say anything. “You been keeping dead goats in here?” “Well, it sure smells like something crawled in there and been dead a week. But there ain’t nothing there. No dead goats. Not even a dead baby bunny rabbit.” We spent the morning emptying the feed room and scrubbing it down, and although the grain that’d been fine the night before was wet and reeking, half-fermented and half-rotted, Aaron was right—there were no corpses, no stashed carrion, nothing but a tuft of coyote fur to show there’d been anything there at all. Monday set the tone for the week. Tuesday, something spooked the horses as we were rounding them up. Billy and Travis swore up, down, and sideways that it was a coyote, although none of us had ever heard of a coyote acting like that. The mutter of rabies went round the hired hands, but nobody’d been bitten and none of the horses seemed hurt, and we hoped we were wrong. Luther called us a bunch of sissies, but he wasn’t happy, either. Wednesday, Travis heard the cows bawling while he was mending fences, and called Luther on his cell. Luther shouted for me, and we rode out, although it was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. Same damn defile where Luther’d shot the coyote bitch the week before, and the dead yearling heifer was draped over the lip of it like a woman half-in, half-out of her bath. Luther was already cussing when he shoved Whitefoot’s reins at me and went to look. The horses were nervous, shifting and stamping, but I put it down to the dead cow and the defile’s bad mojo, until a movement across the way caught my eye. It was that coyote bitch, grinning at me the way they do, with her chest torn open and her fur stiff and black with dried blood, and a light in her eyes that was as cold...

Read More

The Yellow Dressing Gown

by on Dec 6, 2011 in Short Fiction | 0 comments

By Sarah Monette Of all the curators at the Samuel Mather Parrington Museum, I liked Michael Overton the least. He was a loud, bustling, back-slapping man, red-faced and brash and quite, quite stupid. There was, I believe, no particular malice in him, but there was no particular good, either, except possibly in his odd but entirely sincere devotion to his work. It was the last thing one would expect of a hearty, manly man like Overton, but his specialty was eighteenth-century textiles, with an emphasis on women’s clothing. We were all indefatigable trophy hunters when it came to acquisitions, but none was as indefatigable as Overton, who spent every weekend attending estate sales and combing through antique stores, and who spent many of his weekdays arguing with Dr. Starkweather about the budget for Decorative Arts. Overton made up in brute persistence what he lacked in intelligence, and I believe he was nearly as sore a trial to Dr. Starkweather as I was. Perhaps even more so—I did my best to stay out of the museum director’s way, while Overton bounded into combat like a particularly muscular Christian hoping for a worthy lion. The trouble with Overton, as Mr. Lucent said once, was that he was good at his job. He had a special gift for finding clothes that had been worn by famous, or infamous, persons—mostly but not exclusively women—and that, of course, was the best way to make eighteenth century textiles palatable to the general public. Eighteenth Century Afternoon Dress was of interest only to specialists; Eighteenth Century Afternoon Dress Worn by New York Poisoner Deborah Duffy was of interest to everyone. Overton’s provenances were sometimes sketchy (Eighteenth Century Riding Habit Believed to Have Belonged to Notorious Actress Mary Raphael Spence), but they never descended as far as dodgy, and Overton himself worked like a maniac—and drove his junior curators like slaves—to improve them, even after an item was acquired and displayed. Overton never gave up. We clashed, Overton and I, because Dr. Starkweather’s habit, when Overton’s financial importunings became too much to bear, was to allot him more of the junior curators’ time. This practice had several benefits, only one of which was that it would silence Overton for as much as a fortnight, but it meant that when I stupidly broke my wrist, it was Overton I had to fight for Mr. Sullivan’s time. Miss Coburn and Mr. Lucent were staunch seconds—especially Mr. Lucent, as otherwise it would be his thankless task to take dictation from me for six weeks—and poor Mr. Sullivan would have stood on his head and recited Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner in its entirety to get away from Overton, but it was I whom Overton blamed. He seemed to feel I had broken my wrist on purpose to pry Mr. Sullivan away from him, and I believe he came to dislike me almost as much as I disliked him. This animosity did not, however, prevent him from positively haunting my office, trying to lure Mr. Sullivan back. Overton had the true obsessive’s tunnel vision; he could not believe that other persons did not find eighteenth century clothing as endlessly fascinating as he did. Thus, he would “just stop by” to tell Mr. Sullivan about his newest find, or the really clever work Mr. Grice had done on the provenance of something-or-other, and he never once failed to ask if Mr. Sullivan had made any progress in the matter of the dressing gown. I was keeping Mr. Sullivan sufficiently busy that on most days he barely had time for lunch; thus his answer was uniformly “no.” At which, Overton would scowl at me and disappear again, causing both Mr. Sullivan and myself to heave sighs of relief. The particular quality of that relief was such that it was several weeks before I asked what, exactly, the matter of the dressing gown was. Mr. Sullivan sighed, not in relief, and said, “Mr. Overton has a bee in his bonnet.” “Several,” I said before I could stop myself. My wrist ached, sometimes dully, sometimes throbbingly, and...

Read More