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In the town of Castleview, Illinois, Tom Howard is murdered at the factory he manages—on the same day that Will E. Shields and his family, newly come to Castleview, arrive with a realtor in tow to see Howard's house. From an attic window, Shields glimpses the phantom castle that has given the town its name. They are discussing the house with Sally Howard when the police arrive bearing the dreadful news. Then, driving back to the motel, Shields nearly hits a gigantic horseman in the rain…beginning a series of collisions with the mythological that only Gene Wolfe could tell.
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|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|File size:||730 KB|
About the Author
Gene Wolfe has been called "the finest writer the science fiction world has yet produced" by The Washington Post. A former engineer, he has written numerous books and won a variety of awards for his SF writing.
Gene Wolfe is one of the most admired and respected living writers of SF and fantasy. He is the author of The Fifth Head of Cerberus, the bestselling The Book of the New Sun tetralogy, as well as among many others including Soldier of the Mist, The Sorcerer’s House, Home Fires, The Knight, The Wizard, Peace, and The Book of the Long Sun. He is also a prolific writer of distinguished short fiction, which is collected in many volumes over the last four decades, including The Best of Gene Wolfe. He received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Edward E. Smith Memorial Award, and multiple Nebula and Locus awards, among other honors. In 2007, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In 2012, he was awarded the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Award. He lives in Barrington, Illinois.
Read an Excerpt
By Gene Wolfe, David G. Hartwell
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1990 Gene Wolfe
All rights reserved.
THE HOUSE AT THE EDGE OF THE FIELDS
TOM HOWARD stood at the edge of the loading dock and stared out across the storage yard. It was raining, raining hard, and that made it hard for him to see. The first shift had already gone; there was no second now that summer had gone, too. The yard was clamorous with rain, cold drops that pounded the steel drums.
Yet he was certain he had seen something.
When he went down the dock steps, the rain pounded him as well, drummed upon the shoulders of his yellow slicker, drove hard against the brim of his rubberized hat. It was not dark enough yet — not quite dark enough — for him to require the black, five-cell flashlight he carried, but he switched it on just the same.
No one crouched between the rows of fifty-five-gallon drums. No one squatted behind the low stack of three-quarter-inch angle iron. As Tom splashed toward the scrap heap and the dumpsters, there came a sudden jolt that halted all thought. He fell face down onto the flooded gravel, but he never felt it.
Joy Beggs, "Your Real Estate Lady," regarded the old Howard place with an admiration that was not entirely feigned. It was by current standards much too large, and it had not really been modernized to the degree Joy would have liked. And it was wood, true. But it had been repainted in August, white not some crazy color, and its roof was only two years old. "A lovely old home, Mr. Shields," she declared with enthusiasm. "Didn't I tell you? And," she let her voice drop, "you can get it for a song. He's been promoted, and they have to move."
Leaning forward so that her mouth was at her husband's ear, Ann Schindler whispered, "Look at those flowers, Willie." Ann had retained her maiden name.
Her husband answered firmly, "We're not going to pay sixty thousand for flowers." He added, "No matter how wet they are."
Ann murmured, "But it shows they care."
Joy nodded approvingly. "You're absolutely right, and let me tell you, Mr. Shields, you're lucky to have this rain. Most folks looking for a home won't go out when it rains, but there's nothing sillier. With rain like this you can go up in the attic with a flashlight — I've got one — and look for leaks. Then there won't be any surprises the next time it rains."
Shields nodded and rubbed his jaw. He was a long lank man, and it was a long lank jaw that he rubbed.
"Aren't we even going to get out and look at it?" Mercedes Schindler-Shields griped from her place beside her mother in the rear seat. Mercedes was sixteen.
"Of course we are," Joy told her. "There's a black-topped drive around here somewhere, and I've got enough umbrellas for everybody."
They were golf umbrellas, striped orange and brown; Joy and Mercedes shared one, Shields and Ann the other. There was, very fortunately, a spacious front porch with a roof; Joy pressed the bell button. Above the pounding of the rain, Shields could hear chimes tolling slowly and almost sadly, somewhere far beyond the door.
Keeping her voice down, Joy said, "It's an old farmhouse. There's more than three acres still. Let me tell you, we call properties a lot smaller than this 'estates' in the real estate business."
"Room for a tennis court?" Mercedes wanted to know.
Shields folded their umbrella and banged the ferrule on the porch to shake the water out.
Joy told him, "When the subdividers get interested in this area — and they will — you could sell off a couple acres for more than the down payment on the house."
Seth Howard opened the door. "Come on in," he said. "You can leave your umbrellas in the hall."
"We'll leave them on the porch," Joy told him. "They'll be okay." They trooped inside. The hallway was wide for a private house, high-ceilinged and dark.
"Mom's in the kitchen. You want to see her? Dad's not home yet."
Joy said, "That won't be necessary. I'll show the house. Just don't pay any attention to us."
Seth followed them anyway, mouse-quiet in athletic shoes. He was seventeen, nearly eighteen, tall already, and dark, with his father's blue Norman eyes. Mercedes lagged somewhat behind her parents, and soon she and Seth were walking side by side, neither speaking until she asked, "Where does this little door go?"
"To the turret — want to see it? It's kind of cool, but it'll be cold up there."
"Sure," she said. "I noticed the turret from outside." I am, she thought, ohmyGod, a twelve. What the heck would he want with a pig like me?"
"Okay." He opened the door, disclosing a steep and narrow stair. "All the rest of the house is two stories, but this's three. There are windows, and you can see pretty far." He led the way, to Mercedes's infinite relief.
High in the attic, Joy Beggs apologized. "I'm afraid it's terribly cluttered right now. They'll be moving a lot of this out. Anything they leave will belong to you folks, and you can do whatever you want with it."
Shields nodded absently, staring around. He looked first at the underside of the roof, because it was where Joy played her light; but reason suggested that she would not have been so eager to bring them here if she had thought there was a chance of a leak, and he transferred his attention to the contents of the attic, mostly boxes, old trunks, and stacks of books. He had a sudden premonition that the Howards would move none of it. All this would be theirs, if they bought this house — his to explore slowly, on rainy Sunday afternoons.
"You could convert this into more bedrooms," Joy suggested. "There are eight of these big dormer windows, and they let in plenty of light when the sun's out, even with all this junk in front of them."
Ann murmured, "Or a study. Willie, I could write up here — I know I could."
"Oh, you're a writer!"
"Only cookbooks," Ann told Joy.
Shields said, "She's had three published so far. Arkin and Patris in New York — they're her publishers." Proud of her, he wanted to say that it was not just some church group printing a few hundred, though he did not know how to do it without giving offense.
"Cooking with the Lake Poets, that was my first one. And then I wrote Cooking with Abe and Mary, and Cooking for George Bernard Shaw. That's Irish-English vegetarian. What are you looking at, Willie?"
Shields had been peering through the grimy glass of the nearest attic window. "Nothing," he said. "Nothing at all."
Rain drummed unceasingly on the roof.
In the turret, Mercedes looked out of each gray window in turn. "Boy, I like this," she said. "Wonder if my folks will let me have it."
Seth asked, "Are they going to buy the house?"
Mercedes shrugged. "We've got to live someplace."
"You're just moving to Castleview?"
"My dad's bought a dealership here." There was a window seat, and Mercedes sat down, careful to leave room for Seth if he wanted it.
She shook her head. "No, cars. He's been the manager at a Buick agency ever since I was a little kid. Now he's bought his own agency here."
"Oh, yeah. I know the one. It's been for sale." Seth did not sit down.
"You don't mind that we're maybe going to buy your house?"
"What for? We've got to sell it. We're moving to Galena. My dad's been promoted, and he says we can't afford two places. Only my great-grandfather built it, and I've lived here my whole life. See that little picture?" He pointed toward a watercolor framed behind glass, the only decoration in the small, hexagonal room. "My grandmother painted that."
"No kidding?" Mercedes rose to look. "Where's Galena? Is it very far from here?"
"About thirty miles."
The watercolor showed a line of rugged hills, fringed with scarlet-and-gold maples. Slender stone towers, faint and even ghostly, loomed above the treetops.
"Then you could come over," Mercedes told him. "I mean, if you wanted to see the house again. That is, you could say you were coming to see me. We could walk around, and you could tell me about stuff."
Down in the kitchen, Shields and Ann shook hands solemnly with Seth's mother, Sally Howard having first wiped her flour-powdered hands on a dish towel, and Shields having washed his somehow-dusty hands at the sink.
Ann said, "We didn't feel it was polite to go all through your home without ever meeting you."
"Besides," Joy added practically, "they ought to see the kitchen."
"It's a lot of steps," Mrs. Howard said, sighing, "but I'm going to miss it when we move. The kitchen in the new place is a lot smaller."
Ann smiled. "And I'll bet it doesn't have an avocado-green phone, or half as much cupboard space."
"No, it doesn't. Have a look inside if you want to. You folks aren't from around here, are you?"
Shields shook his head, and Ann said, "We're from Arlington Heights. It's northwest of Chicago, about twenty miles from the Loop."
"I see. Well, this kitchen was meant to feed the farmhands and such, as well as the family. At harvest, there'd be three or four women working in here and ten or twelve men eating at a big table outside."
Ann spun around. "Cooking for the Harvesters! That'll be my next one! What was in season, and how it was prepared."
Joy said proudly, "Mrs. Shields writes cookbooks."
"By Ann Schindler," Ann corrected her absently.
From Ann's expression, Shields knew she was already deep in the planning of her new book. He said, "I've been wondering why this town's called Castleview."
Mrs. Howard glanced toward a kitchen window. It was quick, no more than a flicker of her eyes; yet Shields felt sure he had seen fear.
Joy stepped in. "It's really quite romantic. They say you can see a castle in the distance, sometimes, just at sunset. I have to admit I've never seen it, and I've lived here seventeen years plus. But lots of people have, or say they have. It's an illusion, not a hallucination — a few people have taken pictures, although they don't usually turn out very well."
"We're looking east here, aren't we?" Shields asked. He crossed to the window.
Tonelessly, Mrs. Howard said, "That's right."
"Technically, they call it a Fata Morgana," Joy told him. "Heaven only knows what that means, but my kids had to study about it in school."
"It means 'Morgana the Fairy,'" Shields explained absently. "Morgan le Fay." He was staring out at the rain.
Ann said, "Willie was a lit. major. It was very handy when I was doing Lake Poets and Cooking for Shaw."
"Anyway," Joy continued, "it's supposed to be some kind of funny atmospheric effect that takes something way off and makes it look close. My guess is that people are seeing the skyline of Chicago. That would look like a bunch of towers and things, because it is a bunch of towers and things."
"When was this town settled?" Shields asked.
Sally Howard said, "In eighteen-fifty. We're really pretty historical here. My family — I'm a Roberts, and we were with the first group, the pioneers. Tom's family, the Howards, came here in sixty-six, after the Civil War."
"And was it originally called Castleview?"
"I believe so. You might find out something about that at the County Museum."
Ann said, "It's charming, isn't it, Willie? Like having a family ghost. Should give me some lovely touches for my book."
Turning to face the three women, Shields nodded. "What did you say the price was, Mrs. Beggs? The asking price?"
Joy shot Mrs. Howard a swift look. "It's not ethical —"
Mrs. Howard said, "It's not up to me. Tom will have to decide."
"Perhaps if we went into the living room...."
Ann nodded agreement. Shields followed them down the wide, shadowy hall and into a big, high-ceilinged room nearly as dark, where Joy switched on a floor lamp with an old-fashioned fringed silk shade. "This is what they called the parlor when the house was built. Your friends and acquaintances paid calls on Sunday, and this was where you received them."
"After church," Ann said eagerly.
"Yes, I suppose so."
The women were still standing, so Shields remained standing himself, fidgeting and listening to the rain. After a minute or two he heard feet on the stair; the tall boy who had admitted them came in, with Mercedes close behind him.
"There you are," Shields said. "I've been wondering what happened to you."
Mercedes threw herself into a leather armchair. "Seth's been showing me around. I like it. Can I have the tower?"
Shields nearly said, "If you're still a virgin, Merc." He decided it would not be funny and substituted, "We haven't made an offer yet."
The telephone in the kitchen rang, one long peal.
Seth shrugged. "No phone in here. Just in the kitchen, and across the hall in Mom and Dad's room."
Another peal, this one cut short. Shields could visualize Mrs. Howard wiping her fingers before picking up the handset.
Joy said brightly, "I hope that isn't another buyer. I'd hate to see you lose this place."
Ann hissed, "It's just sixty thousand, Willie. That's all they're asking."
They could hear Mrs. Howard's voice, faintly, as she spoke in the kitchen, the click when she hung up, then her slow steps in the hall.
Seth said, "I bet it is another buyer, Mrs. Beggs. Mom's coming to get you."
Her face was not precisely white when she entered the room. Makeup takes care of that, Shields thought afterward; even women baking, in the big kitchens of old farmhouses in little country towns, wear makeup now while they work.
She glanced at him first, for some reason. Then at Joy and Ann, and last of all at Seth. She did not look at Mercedes, or perhaps did not notice her.
She said, "There's been an accident at the plant."CHAPTER 2
JOY RETURNED Shields, Ann, and their daughter to the real-estate agency, where they transferred themselves wetly into their own car. Mercedes grumbled, "I sure hope it doesn't rain like this all the time."
"Of course not, darling. It's fall — it always rains in the fall."
"It's dead here, Mom. It's absolutely dead."
Ann snorted. "How many people would you see on the street back home in this rain?"
"I asked Seth about this high school," Mercedes continued. "You know how many kids go there?"
"I've no idea."
"Two hundred and seventy-three. That's the whole darned school — freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Just two hundred and seventy-three kids."
"I think that's perfectly marvelous, darling. You'll get to know everyone. It'll be just like a little club."
"And Seth won't even be there!"
Shields muttered, "I wouldn't be too sure of that, Merc." He turned a corner. The Red Stove Inn was on Old Penton Road, and he thought he might have glimpsed a sign for it, though in the downpour it had been impossible to be certain.
"On account of the accident, you mean, Dad? Mr. Howard's just hurt. He's not dead."
"Dead or dying," Shields muttered.
Ann turned to look at him. "Willie, what're you saying? Willie, I want that house!"
Mercedes leaned in, her head between her parents'. "Well, she said he'd only been hurt."
"I saw her face," Shields told his daughter. "Do you think she'd tell that boy his father was dead in front of a bunch of strangers?" He caught sight of the fiery neon through the rain, a small electric-blue VACANCY flashing below it.
Ann lowered her voice, a signal to Mercedes that she would be expected to behave as though she had not heard. "This is my money, Willie — mostly mine, anyway — and I want that house. They put it on the market, and we made them an offer in good faith."
"Which they haven't accepted," Shields said practically. "Until they do, there isn't even an oral agreement."
The dark figure of a horseman appeared on the road before them as though it had fallen with the rain. Shields hit the brakes. The Buick skidded, its rear axle slewing left. He steered into the skid, pumping the brakes, his body braced for the crash.
Back at the Peak Value Real Estate Agency, Joy Beggs hung up her dripping raincoat and ducked into the tiny toilet to try to do something about her hair. A glance in the mirror showed her it was hopeless, and it was close to quitting time anyway. She put on a little powder and touched up her lipstick.
Fred Perkins, who owned the agency, inquired, "Were you showing?"
Joy nodded wearily. "The old Howard place."
"How's it look?"
"Good, at first. But —" The telephone on Joy's desk rang, and she picked it up. "Peak Value, Joy Beggs speaking.... The house in Galena? Don't worry about it, Sally. Nobody's going to force you to move if you don't want to.... Oh, Sally! Sally, I'm so sorry. God, how tragic! ... How awful for you.... What can I say? ... Is there anything I can do? Anything at all? ... Well, technically, I suppose financial counseling's out of my line, but a lot of the work I do involves financing.... No, certainly it's not too late. Sally, you're a friend.... Stew and dumplings will be fine, whatever you've fixed. I take it there isn't much of an estate? ... What about life insurance? ... Sally, you don't have to worry, you're sitting in the middle of sixty thousand dollars; compared to that, paying off the car's chicken feed.... I'm on my way."
Excerpted from Castleview by Gene Wolfe, David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 1990 Gene Wolfe. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 - The House At The Edge Of The Fields,
2 - Castleview,
3 - Cars And Horses,
4 - The View At Night,
5 - Marauders,
6 - The Castle Chasers,
7 - Broken Glass,
8 - Hitchhikers,
9 - The Stowaway,
10 - Shots In The Night,
11 - The Imperial Dinner For Two,
12 - The Buyer,
13 - Fortune Cookies,
14 - Houseguests,
15 - Lucie,
16 - Dr. Von Madadh,
17 - The Haunted Car,
18 - Wrangler's Hat,
19 - The Number You Have Reached,
20 - Hide And Seek,
21 - In The Trap,
22 - The Assassin,
23 - The Tower By The Sea,
24 - Tom's Target Pistol,
25 - Rosary Cheesecake,
26 - From The Daoine Institute,
27 - Saturday,
28 - Flying Islands Of The Night,
29 - The Castle By The Sea,
30 - Will,
31 - Rescue Party,
32 - From Stone,
33 - The Furious Army,
34 - China Knight,
35 - Hitchhikers,
36 - The Land Of Apples,
By Gene Wolfe from Tom Doherty Associates,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
(This nook book is 630 pages.) Gene Wolfe's books are like a lottery - sometimes you win big and sometimes they're so bad you can't get past the first chapter. The was just in the middle. My main issue is all the loose ends. It's hard to find the plot but the story is fast moving. It was meh. But it kept me engaged for over 600 pages. And it's definitely unique.
I've read other works by Gene Wolfe and enjoyed them (Wizard and Knight). This, on the other hand, was very different. I found it disjointed and bizarre. Like some Mel Brooks farce written by a schizophrenic psycho who was high on LSD. Don't spend your time or your money on this one.