Welcome to Paradise, where the sun hasn’t shone for years and a callous, ritual-obsessed populace roams the decayed metropolis enshrouded in fog. The citizens are unhinged, murder and incest are praised, and madness reigns. Only a pair of twins, Felion and Smara, remains sane. But their sole hope of escaping the city is a mysterious ice labyrinth connecting parallel worlds.
Thus begins the sinister finale to the Secret Books of Paradys, in which three alternate versions of one city—Paradise, Paradis, and Paradys—are the layered canvas upon which twisted narratives unfold. In Paradis, Leocadia, a striking and eccentric painter, lives a hedonistic and unremorseful life. She is the sole heir to her uncle’s fortune, but the ease of life this affords her becomes a dizzying burden when her lover is murdered and doctors lock her up in an asylum called the Residence. Do the medics want to cure her madness—or do they wish to drive her insane?
Meanwhile, in Paradys, fifteen-year-old Hilde is a pale and perfect child with milk-white skin, ginger hair, and an obedient and loving countenance. But Hilde has a secret nocturnal life, budding sexuality, and lustful heart that becomes irrevocably engorged at the sight of a handsome actor with the face of a priest.
Written in author Tanith Lee’s signature style, The Book of the Mad breaks taboos, relishes horror, and conjures the perverse.
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The Book of the Mad
By Tanith Lee
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1993 Tanith Lee
All rights reserved.
There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead;
And when she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad she was horrid.
After the storm the wrecked ship lay on the beach, against the bright broken gray of the sea. From the ship's side spilled her cargo of smashed glass and oranges, like blood from a wound. Her sail hung, a snapped wing. In the sky, great white clouds massed.
Leocadia stepped back from the painting and put down her brush. She rubbed her hands on a rag.
Was the picture finished? Yes. Surely. And yet ...
Perhaps there should be a figure, hanged, depending from the ruined mast, with long black curling hair.
If she painted that into the picture, it would help them, would it not? Of course, they would say, because she is insane, she paints herself hanged from the ship's mast.
Leocadia shook back her long black curling hair, which fell almost to her waist. Her features were sharply clear as porcelain, and out of her feline face looked two black eyes. She had been admired before, and she had lost count of her lovers, of both sexes, only recalling a few with nostalgia or irritation.
There had always been enough money to do as she wished. To drink and fornicate and paint. She had never envisaged anything else, except perhaps one day a novel she would write, a lover who might truly pleasure or pain her, the possibility that alcohol might undo her. But not yet. She was thirty. Her parents, who had died when she was five, in a car accident on one of the vast new City highways, would normally have lived long. Life expectancy was quite high, and her family, especially its women, survived. There had been the two grandmothers – thin, healthy, wicked old women, vaguely resembling each other – one with hair that, at a hundred and three, was still thick with jet black waves. But the grandmothers were gone now, and the uncle, her guardian, had died in the winter (no one was invited to the funeral) at ninety years of age. He was incredibly, frightfully, frighteningly rich. That had never mattered. Then it turned out that it did.
Leocadia went into the little alcove, and opened the refrigerator. She took out a bottle of white transparent wine and uncorked it. The cold box was full of the things she liked, salads and cheeses, smoked fish, drink. She wanted for nothing. (They saw to that – was it their guilt?) Nothing but that amorphous element, her freedom.
"Imprisoned, poor thing." Leocadia spoke to the wine in the bottle. "Let me set you at liberty."
Her cousin, Nanice, had arrived at ten, on that morning in the past. She had not been alone. The man might have been taken for an escort, a boyfriend. Nanice was ugly, but she too had money. And anyway, the man was ugly also. They stood, uglily, on the steps below the old house which had, nevertheless, been fitted with an automatic door. The door relayed their images to the bedroom, where Leocadia was lying in the sheets with Asra.
Leocadia slept with women more from a wish for power than from lust. She loved their lips and breasts, but mostly she liked their helpless pleasure, and that they would tend to defer to her. Asra, though, was pert.
"Good God, who are those awful creatures?" said Asra.
"I don't know." And Leocadia had touched the intercom. "Who are you?" she asked.
"I am your cousin, Nanice le Vey. And this is Monsieur Saume. May we come in?"
"Lock the doors, load the cannon!" cried Asra.
"It's a little early," said Leocadia. She had felt nothing but mildly annoyed. No premonition.
"It's after ten," Nanice had said with strange smugness. "And we've come such a long way."
"Why?" said Leocadia.
"Do you mean to be uncivil?"
"If we must, we'll wait elsewhere, and return later."
"I repeat, why?"
Nanice preened herself, the redundant gesture of a well-but-ill-dressed, unattractive person.
"It's about Uncle Michelot."
Nanice frowned. "Yes, I know the poor old gentleman is deceased."
The images from the door were incoming only, and Leocadia rose naked from her bed. Yet Nanice seemed to sense this, and she frowned more heavily.
"I will let you in," said Leocadia. "Wait in the salon downstairs. The service will bring you anything you want."
It came to Leocadia that the salon, which was often quite tidy, dusted by the house service, and the floor polished, accented by fresh flowers, was on that day disheveled. The previous evening she had allowed Asra to have a sort of party, and the service had not yet been summoned to clear up the mess. The ashtrays overflowed with the stubs of cigarishis, the pictures were crooked, bottles and books lay everywhere, the light was still on, and someone, probably Robert, had been sick in a vase.
Leocadia laughed. She visualized the stiff visitors in the midst of chaos as she went to the shower. Asra lay in bed, complaining: She hated people, they had had enough of people the night before. Leocadia, who had been stupid enough to have relatives, must make them go away.
Leocadia went down half an hour later to the salon. She wore a cream silk housedress, her hair was wet, and she was barefoot. In one hand she bore a tangerine, which she was eating, flesh and peel and pips together, and in the other a tall glass of white vodka.
The visitors were perched in the midst of chaos, as anticipated. Monsieur Saume stood, his hat in his hand, and Nanice teetered on a chair as if afraid it must be dirtying her skirt.
The room smelled thickly of smoke and drugs and perfume, thankfully not of vomit.
Leocadia pressed a button and the windows opened.
Outside, the spring day was warm yet brisk, and the gray streets of old Paradis curved and climbed among the ancient plane trees.
"So," said Nanice, "this is how you live."
She looked happy, and quickly smoothed her expression back to one of discomfiture.
Leocadia curled her toes about a black bottle lying on the rug, and picked up the glass with her foot.
"Yes, luckily you came at a quiet time."
"Quiet! My dear Leocadia – what are you doing to yourself!" exclaimed Nanice. Her protestation was so insincere, that even Monsieur Saume seemed embarrassed.
"I am," said Leocadia, "existing."
"And there is," said Nanice to Monsieur Saume, "a young woman in the bedroom, as you heard. And in that glass – don't think it's water."
"Would you like a vodka?" asked Leocadia. "I suppose you'd prefer something less pure; tea or coffee, I expect."
"No, nothing, thank you," said Nanice.
"Then perhaps you'd tell me, at last, why you are here."
Nanice lowered her eyes.
Her falseness was so utter, so unflawed, that Leocadia was fascinated.
"You have no guardian, now Uncle Michelot has died. I know," said Nanice, "you haven't seen him, been near him, for years –"
"No one has," said Leocadia. "He was a recluse. He disliked intrusion. One wonders why."
"Oh, I tried to see him," said Nanice. "One could try. Cousin Brand and I were constantly making approaches. But as you say, either he was a very private man, or else ..." Nanice looked momentarily laughably cunning, as if she could hardly credit how clever she was being. "Or else someone put him against us. Against all of us."
Leocadia shrugged. From her uncle and former guardian she had received adequate funds, and once a year, on her name day, she had been sent some gift, always simple, never very expensive, but infallibly strange. The news of his death had jarred Leocadia. She had scanned the letter bordered in black, slightly puzzled by its wording, which seemed to say, euphemistically, that he had gone to better things. The letter told her, too, that Michelot had made provision for her, and she was glad of that. She had never known him, beyond a glimpse or two in childhood. He had chuckled, apparently, when she was expelled from her school, and provided her with private tuition. He seemed to understand her well enough, and did not insult her with feigned affection.
Nanice, of course, would have wanted much more. Family gatherings of hugs and kisses, rich presents, and now, obviously, some remuneration that was, presumably, absent?
"He left you out of his will?" asked Leocadia, pouring more vodka and ice into her glass from the entering service tray, and from a silver pot a cup of delicate, slaty tea.
"His – oh, Leocadia. You know quite well that he left out all of us. This wasn't what I came here to discuss, but if you insist. All twenty-three of his nearest and dearest were discounted. His kindred. All but you, and – well, this is very odd – two other cousins no one has heard of and who cannot be traced. They are mentioned as your inheritators. But frankly, we think he made them up."
"Oh dear," said Leocadia. "Is that why Monsieur Saume is with you? In case I've been invented too?"
Nanice looked abruptly flustered.
"Monsieur Saume is – my companion."
"And he has no tongue," said Leocadia. "What a shame. A man's tongue has so many wonderful uses."
Nanice stared. Then she colored. Monsieur Saume did not alter. He had not moved at all, like a skillful lizard on a rock when predators are nearby.
Leocadia took a sip of tea, then a sip of vodka, and let the bottle drop from her toes.
"I still don't see what you want from me. Are you asking me to make you some sort of bequest? I will if you like, but your own lawyers must see to it. Such matters are very boring. I have things I like to do instead."
"Paint horrible nightmarish pictures and sleep with lesbians!" cried Nanice in an explosion of true venom. "And drink your brains to slop. Oh, I know. We've been watching you –"
"Mademoiselle le Vey," said Monsieur Saume.
Leocadia was surprised. At the final response of the silent Saume. And at the idea that someone had been watching her. It was true, Leocadia was used to being stared at: She was both striking and eccentric and did not much care what she did before others. But to be the object of a spy?
"Why have you watched me?"
Nanice compressed her little mouth into a littler line, like a zip.
It was Monsieur Saume who said, "There has been some concern, mademoiselle."
Leocadia raised her eyebrows.
"Well, it can stop now. As you see. Here I am."
"It can hardly stop," said Nanice. The zip wriggled vindictively. Again, Nanice seemed happy.
"But I," said Leocadia, "say it must stop."
And as others had done, confronted by Leocadia's anger, Nanice looked alarmed.
"Monsieur Saume," she cried, "you see she's quite unstable, like her paintings we showed you –"
There had been a recent exhibition of Leocadia's work at the First Gallery on Clock Tower Hill. Some pieces had been sold for quite extravagant amounts of cash. Did Nanice resent this, too?
Refilling her glass of white wine now, in the alcove of the refrigerator, Leocadia understood quite well that Nanice had wanted Monsieur Saume and others like him to note the content of the pictures, not their cost. The centaurs with the heads of swordfish, the horses in ballgowns, the women in the arms of women, men in the arms of men, winged cats and burning mansions.
But then, that day in the salon of the old house near the antique City wall, Leocadia had lost patience, and so rendered Nanice invaluable assistance.
"I'm afraid," said Leocadia, "you must get out. You're wasting my time. If I lay eyes on you again, Nanice le Vey, I'll have you thrown, down, off something, into the river. Do I make myself clear?"
Nanice sprang up. And her look now was of real terror mixed with great satisfaction. As she moved toward the door she knocked into the vase Robert had used, which broke on the floor, splattering her with sick and dead ferns.
Monsieur Saume, hat in hand, bowed to Leocadia before he effected his leave. She might have guessed from that, and maybe she partly did, that he had taken an interest in her.
The doctors came at five o'clock (seventeen hours, by the old, unfashionable time scale). Sometimes there were two, sometimes three or four doctors. There were no women among them, and Leocadia had long suspected that this was due to some notion that she would be able to seduce and subvert a woman more easily than a man. Or perhaps because all the men were hideous.
Sometimes even Saume came to see her.
They never stayed long, nor did they arrive every day. She never knew when they would come. Possibly this was meant to disorient, but it only irritated her.
Frequently, she took no notice of them, but now and again they played tricks.
One brought a cat, which Leocadia saw was clockwork. Even so she had liked it, and when they were all, apparently, sure of that, they bore it away and never brought it back. She was not allowed animals. She might "hurt" them. Leocadia explained that it was human things she disliked.
Another time a doctor had left her an orange. When she experimentally peeled it, it bled.
So now she kept an eye on the doctors when they appeared in her apartment.
"Mademoiselle. How are you today?"
"Anxious to leave."
"Ah," playfully, "mademoiselle."
They – there were now two of them, Saume and Van Orles – advanced on her painting.
"It's finished." They stared at the wrecked ship.
"Perhaps," she said.
"And what does this represent?"
"What do you think?" said Leocadia.
"A broken heart?" inquired Doctor Van Orles lubriciously, leering at her.
"No," said Leocadia. "Have you considered glasses or lenses for your eyes?"
Van Orles laughed. "Now, now, Leocadia."
"A ship," said Saume.
"Well done," said Leocadia. "A ship run aground."
"Oranges?" asked Van Orles. "Why is that?"
"Why not?" said Leocadia.
"There has been a storm," Van Orles explained to her carefully. "And the cargo has been lost."
"As I have lost my mind? I'm not," said Leocadia, "full of oranges."
"But of broken glass?" asked Saume.
"You're rather ignorant," said Leocadia. "The ancient ships carried smashed glass for recycling."
"Are there monkeys?" pressed Van Orles. "Perhaps the captain kept some." He seemed excited by the painting.
"Give me a model," said Leocadia, "a monkey to pose. I'll add a couple."
"And how much have you drunk today, Leocadia?" asked Van Orles.
Leocadia looked at him. "I don't count."
"But you should count, Leocadia. This is so bad for your health."
"All the better, I'd have thought. Maybe I'll die, and then the cousins won't have to pay for my place here. One less annoying little expense."
She had wondered, at first, if they might poison her, and of course they did, but only in subtle ways that would not be disallowed. Beams of light that penetrated the brain, and sounds she could not, or could barely, hear. Some nights, all through the dark, a slender bell chimed far away.
The walls of the room were a pale, soft dove color, restful, but against them, when her eyes were tired, she saw things in the fluid of her sight, disturbing and worrying, which, against a jumble of objects, textures, and colors, would not have been visible.
They destroyed her, inch by inch. Meter by meter. But she would not be destroyed. She must rebuild what was chipped away.
"There are no figures at all in your painting," said Van Orles.
"Alas," said Leocadia.
"Should you care for visitors?"
"Visitors put me here."
"Surely there's someone you would like to see?"
"I'd tell them how you torture me."
"Now, Mademoiselle. You're thinking of terrible crimes of the past. The old asylum. You mustn't dwell on that."
"There are drugs in my food. Unseen lights and unheard noises crisscross this room. I'm kept so docile."
"You? Mademoiselle, you? Docile?'
"You sedate me," said Leocadia, offhand. "How else is it I don't fly at you with my palette knife, my fork, the file for my nails?"
"Because you are civilized," said Saume, "and you don't wish to sully your art, your food, or your person by an artifact used in murder against, merely, us."
She regarded him. He was sometimes quaint and caught her attention.
"I shall need another canvas," said Leocadia.
"Oh, yes," said Van Orles. "It will be arranged. Everything for your happiness."
"Then let me out."
"Oh. Dear mademoiselle."
Excerpted from The Book of the Mad by Tanith Lee. Copyright © 1993 Tanith Lee. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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