…If he concentrates on shaving, maybe he can stave off the memory of what they found at the end of that hallway and, a little later, huddled on the roof. The sight of those bodies, and the smell.

It’s actually a number of species of fungus existing together in a symbiotic mass, Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, often referred to by a more colourful and more pronounceable moniker, zombie fungus. It attacks a particular family of tropical ants, known as camponitids, or carpenter ants, entering the hosts’ bodies during the yeast stage of its complex reproductive cycle. The fungus spreads through an ant’s body, maturing inside its head—and this is where things really get interesting. It eventually takes control of the infected insect, forcing it to latch on to the underside of a leaf and bite down in what we call the grip of death. Then atrophy sets in, quickly, completely destroying the sarcomere connections in the ant’s muscle fibers and reducing its sarcoplasmic reticula and mitochondria. At this point, the ant is no longer able to control the muscles of the mandible and will remain fixed in place. The fungus finally kills the ant and continues to grow as hyphae penetrate the soft tissues and begin to structurally fortify the ant’s exoskeleton. Mycelia sprout and securely anchor it to the leaf, at the same time secreting antimicrobial compounds that ward off competition from other Ophiocordyceps colonies.

….And get this, okay? These doomed ants, these poor dying bastards, they always climb to a height of precisely twenty-five point twenty plus or minus two point forty-six centimeters above the jungle floor, in environments where the humidity will remain stable between ninety-four and ninety-five percent, with temperatures between twenty and thirty Celsius. And always on the north side of the plant. In the end, sporocarps, the fungal fruiting bodies, erupt from the ant’s necking, growing a stalk that releases spores that’ll infect more ants. It’s evolution at its best and, yeah, at its most grisly, too. Mother Nature, when you get right down to it, she’s a proper cunt.

But these weren’t ants. These were human beings.

Well, sure, and this isn’t Ophiocordyceps, either. We’re not even sure if it’s an actual fungus. No one’s ever seen anything like it. Jesus, if I didn’t know better, I’d say it came from outer space….

Caitlín R. Kiernan
Agents of Dreamland

communication

March 27, 2018

Language is a poor enough means of communication as it is. So we should use all the words we have.

Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Drowning Girl

always safe in here

March 18, 2018

And all the shelves rising up around her like book-lined walls of a fortress, safe in here, always safe in here from the world, guarded by books and all the secrets inside them, all the things hardly anyone else will ever care to learn.

Caitlín R. Kiernan
Threshold

piss on the corpse

March 17, 2018

To paraphrase Truman Capote, finishing a novel is like taking a child out behind the house and shooting it. To which I would hasten to add, that makes critics a bit like a stranger who come along later to piss on the corpse.

Caitlín R. Kiernan
Trilobite: the writing of Threshold

a convenient construct

March 16, 2018

Labyrinth by snugsomeone

No story has a beginning, and no story has an end. Beginnings and endings may be conceived to serve a purpose, to serve a momentary and transient intent, but they are, in their fundamental nature, arbitrary and exist solely as a convenient construct in the minds of man. Lives are messy, and when we set out to relate them, or parts of them, we cannot ever discern precise and objective moments when any given event began. All beginnings are arbitrary.

Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Drowning Girl

Politics…

February 5, 2016

RingBilledGullsFoodFight

Watching people argue politics puts me in mind of gulls fighting over dead fish. It’s ugly, and it makes me glad I have better table manners.

Caitlín R. Kiernan
Dear Sweet Filthy World

vamp

“Wake up,” she whispers, as ever she is always whispering with those demanding, ashen lips, but I do not open my eyes. I do not wake up, as she has bidden me to do, but, instead, lie drifting in this amniotic moment, unwilling to move one instant forward and incapable of retreating by even the scant breadth of a single second. For now, there is only now; yet, even so, an infinity stretches all around, haunted by dim shapes and half-glimpsed phantasmagoria, and if I named this time and place, I might name it Pluto or Orcus or Dis Pater. But never would I name it purgatorial, for here there are no purging flames nor trials of final purification from venial transgressions. I have not arrived here by any shade of damnation and await no deliverance, but scud gently through Pre-Adamite seas, and so might I name this wide pacific realm Womb, the uterus common to all that which has ever risen squirming from mere insensate earth. I might name it Mother. I might best call it nothing at all, for a name may only lessen and constrain this inconceivable vastness.

Caitlín R. Kiernan
In the Dreamtime of Lady Resurrection

Belated Burial…

February 18, 2015

Widowweed

Being buried when one is fully conscious and keenly aware of the confines of her narrow house and the stink of cemetery soil, these things are terrible, but, as she has learned, there is always something incalculably worse than the very worst thing that she can imagine. Miss Josephine has had centuries to perfect the stepwise procession from Paradise to Purgatory to the lowest levels of an infinitely descending Hell, and she wears her acumen and expertise where it may be seen by all, and especially where it may be seen by her lovers (whether they are living, dead, or somewhere in between). So, yes, Brylee objected, but only the halfhearted, token objection permitted by her station. And then she did as she was bidden. She dressed in the funerary gown from one of her mistress’ steamer trunks, the dress, all indecent, immaculate white lace and silk taffeta; it smells of cedar and moth balls. Amid the palest chrysanthemums and lilies, babies breath and albino roses, she lay down in the black-lacquered casket, which is hardly more than a simple pine box, and she did not move. She did not make a sound. Not breathing was, of course, the simplest part. Miss Josephine laid a heavy gold coin on each of her eyelids before the mourners began to arrive, that she would have something to give the ferryman.

Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Belated Burial

Lady Resurrection

January 28, 2015

candles

“Wake up,” she whispers, as ever she is always whispering with those demanding, ashen lips, but I do not open my eyes. I do not wake up, as she has bidden me to do, but, instead, lie drifting in this amniotic moment, unwilling to move one instant forward and incapable of retreating by even the scant breadth of a single second. For now, there is only now; yet, even so, an infinity stretches all around, haunted by dim shapes and half-glimpsed phantasmagoria, and if I named this time and place, I might name it Pluto or Orcus or Dis Pater. But never would I name it purgatorial, for here there are no purging flames nor trials of final purification from venial transgressions. I have not arrived here by any shade of damnation and await no deliverance, but scud gently through Pre-Adamite seas, and so might I name this wide pacific realm Womb, the uterus common to all that which has ever risen squirming from mere insensate earth. I might name it Mother. I might best call it nothing at all, for a name may only lessen and constrain this inconceivable vastness.

Caitlín R. Kiernan
In the Dreamtime of Lady Resurrection

LOW RED MOON

August 17, 2014

Narcissa

“It rained all afternoon and I listened to The Doors, mostly “The End,” “Riders on the Storm,” and “Touch Me” – I often wind up with a song on repeat, not realizing that I’ve been letting just that one song play over and over and over again for an hour. That would drive a sane person mad, right? But, anyhow, rain and four hours’ worth of The Doors and in the end I had the prologue of Low Red Moon, which, at least for now, is called “Providence…”
Caitlín R Kiernan.
( Low Red Moon Journal 18th Dec 2001)

Yes, here there is a prologue – and it reads like a solemn hymn to violent death – an incantation to old, dark Gods: those powerful, supernatural forces beyond our ken, who delight in pain, suffering and blood, because, boys & girls, Madam Terpsichore desires “the busy, secret whispers passed between them…” (her dark, chuckling, Ghoul-like creatures) “…like scraps of flesh and gristle”. Here, yes, we listen to the poetry of rendered flesh and viscera…

“It was a surprisingly unsavoury beginning, even for my stuff, taking me a little off guard, and I was left feeling disoriented and jumpy and in need of a long, hot shower. That doesn’t happen very often, fortunately. That I write something which actually upsets me while I’m writing it (or afterwards, for that matter).”
(Low Red Moon Journal 18th Dec 2001)

Thus commented Caitlín Rebekah Kiernan, authoress and chronicler of urban decay, creator of disturbing visions and dark fantasies, whose subterranean creatures and changelings originate in “those eons of time that proceed the short span of human history…” Low Red Moon, like its predecessor, feels part narcotic hallucination, part an explication of the unreliability of perception, of understanding and the very nature of reality. It is, ultimately, a novel of “existential shock”.

But this prologue is like a suspended tick of time between a cycle just past and one about to begin. It is in effect a sort of overture of blood…And narrative movement begins again in chapter one with the cop’s voice…

“You feeling any better, Mr. Silvery?”

So, sometime after the events depicted in “Threshold”, we find Chance and Deacon have married…

Deacon Silvey, you’ll recall, is a psychic who helped the Atlanta police with some of their cases. He is an unemployed drunk who is currently on the wagon…but only just. He uses his gift, his psychometric skills to help the Birmingham police and “sees” an inhuman killer…

Meanwhile Chance, a paleontologist of some renown, is expecting a baby, and begins observing (hallucinating) stigmata on herself, first in a public restroom; then later witnesses flowing blood from the replica of a Megalopseudosuchus at an exhibition, the blood dripping from its mouth and the “lungfish trapped between its plastic jaws”…

Chance doesn’t believe in husband Deke’s abilities. As far as she’s concerned he experiences good old fashioned hallucinations, maybe DTs, the bloody phantasmagoria of his visions a simple chemical imbalance of his ill-used mind. Either that or he’s lying…To himself and to others. Chance isn’t sure which of these is the case. She’s torn between her own bloody nightmares and the fear that Deke is gradually succumbing to his own demons…And somehow we know, as readers, there’s going to be no living happily ever after with this tale.

And why the hell should there be? Let’s hear from Ms Kiernan.

“Do I continue to struggle to write literate, meaningful dark fiction, because that’s what I do, and because all writers should strive at all times to do their best and only their best, and because there’s so little of quality dark fiction in the world? Or do I accept that very few people want literate, meaningful dark fiction, and cave in to the whims of the no-brows who have made this Age of Irony what it is, in the faint hope that I’ll sell more books if I only write stories that are easier to read. Stories with pretty, simple, flawless, easily loveable people who face the Big Bad Thing, making the world once again safe for soccer moms and leafblowers, all wrapped up with the gaudy pink bow of the cherished Happy Ending?”
Caitlín R Kiernan.
(Low Red Moon Journal 30th Nov 2003)

Yeah, way to go. Psychotic Narcissa Snow is after Chance and her baby. She’s an escapee from one of H P Lovecraft’s worse nightmare’s, a killer who listens to her victims voices locked up inside her head, and who wishes to ascend to the ranks of…Of what exactly? Because poor bloody Narcissa could be as delusional as…Well, as delusional as Deke or his young wife. And face it, boys & girls, if they aren’t delusional then there’s something pretty nasty creeping round the corner!

So Narcissa craves acceptance. She’s a hybrid. Not quite one thing or another. She feeds copses to ghouls who chuckle ‘their ugly dog-bark laughter…’Yeah, and as if that weren’t enough this wonky hybrid, crazy as an shitehouse rat, is being hunted by Scarborough and Mary Jane, a pair of nothing kids looking ‘like rejects from a Tarantino film’, the boy ‘tall and thin as a pole, his leather biker jacket hanging loose on bony shoulders’; while ‘the girl is pale and pretty…’

Described the way I’ve described the plot here, it all seems perhaps a tad juvenile? But trust me it isn’t. Ms. Kiernan’s prose is pure electric fire:

“The sun comes up slow and cold, heartless blue-white light to worm its way through the trees crowded close about the old house on Cullom Street and find Narcissa still squatting naked on the floor in front of the remains of the dead rat. A deep gouge in the wood from the bullet, and she’s picked the rat apart with her nails, has spread its innards and bones, its fur and teeth, like a deck of tarot cards. A meaning to every drop of blood, unspoken significance in each speck of flesh or tiny vertebra, and she has squatted there for hours teasing understanding from the gore. And finally, their intentions revealed to her in the torn membrane of a kidney, the acute angle of a femur to a rib, their intentions and their names, and, what’s more, that they had gone to the seer. Narcissa grinds her teeth and stares at the morning light, then licks a bit of rat off her thumb and looks back down at the mess on the floor.”

Visceral, powerful prose, its immediacy almost intimidating. Ms. Kiernan is a writer of spectacular talent. Here’s what she has to say about writing:

“It’s almost painful sometimes. I can see it in my head. Perfect. And then I have to tear it all apart, these perfect, intricate, fluid images, and put it back together in clumsy, faltering words. The worst part, though, is the end of a day like this, knowing that I have to get up at eight o’clock and do it all over again, start where I finally gave up and quit today, after reworking much of today’s prose until I’m halfway happy with it, and then slog on ahead, hoping that it’ll get easier.”
(Low Red Moon Journal 17th Feb 2002)

Boys and girls what on the surface appears simple is in fact complex. Great thought, “blood, sweat and tears” went into the creation of this novel. Ms. Kiernan’s genius here brings together references to William Blake, whose eidetic memory surviving the transition from childhood to adulthood, providing him with visions of other realms more real than…well, than reality! C G Jung, Lewis Carroll, Charles Fort, Lovecraft and others. Ms. Kiernan lays open the soft underbelly of society, allows us to witness obsessive-compulsive thoughts and actions, individual addiction and frailty, madness, violence and urban squalor and decay. Hers is undoubtedly the poetry of Apocalypse…

“Anyway, what they never told me, because they couldn’t have known, was that if I ever got my wish, I’d discover that writing books was not fun or exciting or romantic or any of the other things I imagined it to be. It’s simply hard. Mindnumbingly hard. That people who write books spend most of their lives alone in small rooms staring at blank pages or, as it would turn out, computer screens, for hour upon hour upon hour, occasionally getting lucky and finding a sentence to fill some of that damned white space with. They couldn’t have told me about the stress or carpal tunnel syndrome or writer’s block. How you start to forget that there’s a difference between day and night because you rarely go outside. How you ultimately reach a point where that one thing that drove you to ruin your life and your eyes and your nerves, the simple joy of reading, would itself become annoying because, after all, it’s really work.”
Caitlín R Kiernan.
(Low Red Moon Journal 24th Nov 2001)

If you haven’t already encountered Ms. Kiernan’s novel Low Red Moon, I would urge you all, boys & girls, to run out and get a copy NOW! It’s an experience you’ll not regret…Nor forget!