A disturbing fantasy of clashing realities from a Hugo- and World Fantasy Award-winning author
Tarburton-on-the-Moor – just another sleepy Dartmoor village. Or so it seems to Joanna Gard when she comes to visit her elderly aunt here, until the fabric of the village begins, like her personal life, to unravel. The villagers become less and less substantial as she watches, the local church degenerates into a nexus of terrifying malevolence, siblings of a horrifyingly seductive family pull her inexorably towards them, elementals play with her terrors on the midnight moor … At last Joanna is compelled to realize that a duel of wills between eternal forces is being played out – that nothing, herself included, is what it seems to be. In this uncomfortably disturbing tale of clashing realities, Hugo- and World Fantasy Award-winning author John Grant skilfully juggles a strange, fantasticated cosmology with images from the darker side of the human soul.
Bonus Novella: “The Beach of the Drowned”
He thought he was booking himself in for a day’s idle sailing and lovemaking, and it would all have been fine except then a storm blew up out of nowhere, his girlfriend suffered a horrible death, and finally he himself was sucked under the waves. But death eluded him. Instead he found himself drawn to the beach where all drowned folk go, a place outside normal existence where the few people who retain their intelligence band together in the hopeless hope of finding their way back to the living world again. After all, legend says it was done once before …
That night, hot though the night itself hadn’t seemed to be hot, Joanna dreamed.
She was in a place where the sky was always light, a single mass of brightness that arched all the way from one horizon to the other. She knew quite a lot about her situation in this place, but not really enough altogether to explain it. There was a sun somewhere in the dome of radiance, but it was lost in the general brilliance: the sun never set, and it touched the atmosphere of this world into shining with the same unremitting vigour as itself.
There was no escape from the light. Here and there rocks stuck up out of the desert, and there were one or two scrubby-looking plants, but they cast no shadows. The radiance was not especially hot, but it was so bright that it burnt her as painfully as red-hot tongs, seeming to flay away the cornea of the single eye that seemed to be the entirety of her body’s upper surface.
She slithered. It was the only way she could move. She could extend pseudopodia – indeed, she didn’t even have to think about doing so: it just happened – and then drag herself a few painful centimetres across the abrasive desert surface, looking for shadows that were not there so that she could hide in them from the light that would not permit her to hide. It was silly to go on searching, she knew that; but she was unable to take the decision just to stop where she was, to give up the hope. It was as if, wherever this hell was, she’d been condemned to spend the rest of eternity hunting for a relief that would never be granted.
It was a while before she realized she was not the only one here: although she couldn’t see anything out of her single upturned eye except the lurid fire, sometimes shadows moved at the extreme periphery of her vision. Once she’d observed a few of these she realized that she’d always known there were others of her kind. She was of the Wardrobe Folk, as were they; and it was the doom of the Wardrobe Folk to dwell in this arid misery forever.
Unless the Girl-Child LoChi could come among them.
But Joanna, in her dream, didn’t know who the Girl-Child LoChi was, and didn’t know how she could find out. Lacking that knowledge, she was sapping the strength of her people in their attempts to bring the Girl-Child LoChi to their aid. She was at fault – every extra second that she and the other flat creatures like herself spent here was partly her responsibility.
Guilt. Too much of it for her mind to stay here.
She woke screaming in a tangle of bedclothes to find light pouring in through the bedroom window. She screamed at that, too, until she realized it was only the morning sunshine, and that she was in her own bedroom in Ashburton-by-the-Moor.
A few minutes later she was giggling unconvincedly. Just a nightmare. The Wardrobe Folk – next it would be the Pantry People or the Cupboard Under The Stairs Collective.
But the cold sweat all over her and the sheets and the blankets didn’t go away just because her rational mind was taking over its rightful functions once more.
She pulled herself out of bed.
Later she’d tell Aunt Jill all about this, and the two of them would laugh together at the silliness.