Evening's Empire

Evening's Empire

by David Herter

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Overview

David Herter's first novel, Ceres Storm, was recently published to widespread acclaim. "Distinctive and imaginative, Herter's tale moves to its own disconcerting logic: a debut of immense promise," said Kirkus Reviews. Now Herter moves from SF to contemporary fantasy and to a more literary mode of storytelling.

Evening's Empire is set on the Oregon coast, in Evening, a small town famous for its cheeses. Russell Kent, an opera composer from Massachusetts, lost his beloved wife there a year ago to a freak accident, and returns now to confront his ghosts.

Kent has been commissioned to write an opera based upon Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, whose story fills his dreams, and only in Evening does he feel himself able to return to work. There he also discovers many strange things (even beyond the cheese sculptures), finds new love and new friendship, and is initiated into a fantastic secret the whole populace is hiding in a cavern beneath the town.

In some ways reminiscent of the Newford stories of Charles de Lint, this is an ambitious fantasy by an important new talent from the Pacific Northwest.



At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429975384
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 04/05/2003
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 352
File size: 389 KB

About the Author

David Herter lives in Seattle, Washington.


David Herter is the author of Ceres Storm and Evening's Empire. He lives in Seattle, Washington.

Read an Excerpt

Evening's Empire


By David Herter, David G. Hartwell

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 2002 David Herter
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7538-4



CHAPTER 1

evening, oregon


He followed the road to Evening through stands of alder and weeping spruce.

For six days he'd been driving west from Boston, slowed by snow in the midwest, across the Rockies, into Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington, all of it ending as he crossed the Oregon plain, where autumn had returned with the gold-leafed trees surrounding the highway, and a pall of rain.

And here on the coast, even the rain was gone. This three-mile stretch, weaving from 101 to the main street, looked as it had during their first, and last, visit to town.

He remembered Anna sitting silently beside him, still upset over their argument; how, as this forest thinned and the first houses appeared, in grottoes of rhododendron, sunflower and ivy, her mood had changed. She'd been charmed by the architecture along the downtown stretch, by the brick shops, the wrought iron benches, and the elegant Queen Anne mansion aloof on its basalt bluff above the sea.

"Look at it!" Leaning into the breeze through the open window. Brushing damp hair from her eyes. "It's lovely!"

A short wooden sign rushed past him:

WELCOME TO EVENING, OREGON HOME OF EVENING CHEESES POPULATION 310


Suddenly, the forest was left behind.

The main street stretched before him, as it had more than two years earlier, the single and two-story brick buildings with awnings and overhanging plastic signs, under mostly blue skies.

To his left was the inland hill, with houses that seemed to float in the pine; to his right, a coastal bluff.

Russ pressed the brake pedal, looking for — finding — the mansion on the bluff, with its steep roofs and octagonal tower.

All as he remembered.

As he reached the first of the buildings — a red brick barber shop, a gas station with antique pumps — he recalled those days spent in a room made of music, scraps of notation taped to the walls, shelves, windows, spread across the floor; the struggle to capture that elusive sound, from a nightmare.

Another sign appeared, framed in lacy black iron:

Evening — by — the — Sea's Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Center Open from noon till five.


Behind it, a three-story Victorian stood against hemlock.

He pulled over to the curb, parked, and shut off the engine.

In the near silence, against the faint ticking of the engine, he set about straightening the mess on the passenger seat, refolding the Oregon map, putting pencils in the glove compartment, his comb, Kleenex, sunglasses in the dash tray, closing his notebook, aware of the town beyond the windows.

He slipped the notebook into his breast pocket.

Reaching up, he turned the rearview toward him, studied his beard, his chapped lips, his thick brown hair. He didn't look too haggard. Distracted, perhaps, but he'd often been told he looked distracted. Anna had said it was his gently rounded Welsh nose, his slight, bearded chin. Both conspired to give him a furtive look.

He drew a deep breath, then exhaled.

Now he simply resembled someone who'd spent five-and-a-half days on the road. A tired man. Distracted, perhaps.

In a real town, not a nightmare.

Only as he pulled on his sweater, lost within the heavy folds, did he realize his heart was pounding.

He stepped out into a cool breeze.

Ahead, people were walking by the storefronts; a dairy truck, its brakes squealing, was turning left; but this nearby stretch was quiet. He climbed the stairs to the porch. A door of rose-red glass admitted him to a foyer, and a large office. He stepped inside. A woman looked up from behind an oak desk. She was in her late forties or early fifties, wearing a blue blazer and matching skirt. She had short auburn hair, and plump cheeks that were attractive only when she smiled. And when she did smile, striding around the edge of her desk to shake his hand, he remembered her. She'd been at the house where they had taken him. She'd fetched a blanket for him, and spoken of shock.

"You look familiar," she said.

He shook her manicured hand. "Russ Kent."

"Mister Kent, yes. Of course." Though it was subtle, recognition froze her smile. "I'm Peggy Chalmers, head of the City Council and Visitor's Center? I must admit, it's a surprise to see you."

She gestured to a chair, then resumed her place behind the desk and a nameplate reading Peggy C., carved from a piece of driftwood. "How long has it been? Two years? It was in September, wasn't it?"

"August," he said.

"Oh, it was awful. Just awful. I can only imagine what it's been like for you. How are you doing?"

While he told about getting over it, about getting back to work, he could sense behind her compassionate demeanor the obvious question: why have you come back?

"I've been given an important commission, for an opera. And I haven't been able to get much work done back home." He paused. "I need time to myself, to get it under way."

"But come back to Evening?" she asked, courteously enough. "I'd think this would be the hardest place for you to work."

"I had to see the town again." He paused, trying to remember what he had planned to say. "I had to ... put some bad dreams to rest."

She smiled gently. "My only thought is that you should have called. We could have made arrangements for you. That's what a Visitor's Center's for."

"I wasn't sure I'd go through with it. Not until I reached the exit off 101."

She lifted the pencil, then tapped her rounded chin with the eraser. "You realize we have no motels? The nearest is ten miles north in Port Rostov."

"Last time here ... I saw a sign for a bed-and-breakfast."

She nodded. "Miss Sumner runs it. But you know, I think she's closed now?" She glanced to the wall, and a gold-framed portrait of an old, white-bearded gentleman. Her grandfather? Or the town founder ... what was his full name?

A placard below it read Joseph Evening 1876–1959.

"Only because we never get any tourists in the winter," Peggy said. "Let me call her. It might not be a problem. How long were you wanting to stay?"

"A week. Maybe a little longer."

She wrote something down. "A price range?"

"Anything reasonable."

She patted the folders and loose papers on her desk, then lifted a slender black book. "Give me a couple minutes." She stood. "I'll use the other office."

Russ half-stood. "Do you mind if I make a call here?"

"Not at all. Dial direct."

She left the room, shutting the door softly behind her.

Somewhat relieved, he sat down, pulled the notebook from his pocket, flipping open the cover. On the third page, Ellie — Anna's former student and now his part-time assistant for the project — had written her phone number, and underneath: Call me every night!

She'd been upset about his decision to drive alone, and through such bad weather.

The line rang, clicked.

"Hello?" It was Brian, her boyfriend.

"Hey, Brian, is Ellie there?"

"Sure. Just a sec, Mister Kent."

It must be around 7 P.M. on the east coast. He'd probably caught them after dinner.

"Here she is, Mister Kent."

"Hi. So, you're there?"

"I've arrived."

"How're you feeling?" Her voice held a note of concern, and restraint.

"Like I need to stretch my legs."

"That's not what I meant."

"I'm okay. A bit tired."

"Did you find a place to stay yet?"

"Right now I'm at the Visitor's Center. I should know pretty soon. Listen, is there any news?" He forced his shoulders to relax.

"Not really. I photocopied those contracts, mailed them off to Schirmers and your agent, and sent a copy to Santa Fe. Oh, and Malcolm left a message. Hold on."

Russ nearly told her not to bother, but she'd already put down the phone.

Through the door he could hear the murmurous rise and fall of Peggy Chalmer's voice. Positive, pleasant sentences. Night would be here soon, and he didn't look forward to driving north to Port Rostov — though he would rent a room there, if he had to, and drive down to Evening, at least for a few days.

"Russ? He said to tell you 'spear carriers have been added.' He left his number. You're just supposed to call him. Do you want it?"

"I think I have it. The 219 number, right?"

"Yeah."

"Anything else? Anything from my Dad?"

"Nope. But I'm seeing him tomorrow."

"Well, if I get a room, I'll call you later tonight with the phone number. I'm sure he'll want it, too."

"Okay."

"It might be late, so turn the ringer down."

"I will, Russ. Take care."

"Thanks, dear. Bye."

He hung up, and tucked the notebook back into his pocket, wondering if he should've asked her for supplies. What had he forgotten? He'd brought blank score sheets, pencils, gum erasers. What else did he need?

Scores for inspiration? The Verne book?

The door opened. Peggy Chalmers strode back in, smiling. "You're in luck. Megan thought it would be just fine to put you up. She's asking a hundred a week. That's twenty-five off the normal rate, considering it's the off-season."

The relief was physical: he relaxed his shoulders and straightened in the chair. "Good. That's great."

"Megan Sumner's not a native, but she's still one of my favorite people in town. And the house is one of our most grand. It's at the south end of town, at the top of Alder. A Second Empire with a view of the sea. Here ..." She wrote directions on a slip of paper-left-handed, holding the pen at an extreme slant — and passed it up to Russ.

He stood up, eager to leave, eager to get this room, this place in town.

Coming around the desk, she shook his hand again and said, "I hope you enjoy your stay, Russ. We're being given a chance to start over. We the town, I mean ... to prove ourselves again."

She walked with him to the front door. "The sea gets quite moody. We get wonderful storms. Blustery, but not destructive. And the perfect inspiration for an artist." She reached out as if to touch his elbow. "You should come to our Winter Gathering. Or at least consider it. It's this Saturday, up at the Evening mansion. Don't decide now, just keep it in mind. Your new landlady will have all the details."

Thanking her again, he turned away and walked down the stairs, into a cool breeze and flecks of late afternoon sun.


In the most vivid reoccurring nightmare, he finds himself in the mansion, overlooking the town where Anna had died.

The exact location varies. Sometimes it's a room of dark wood and carpeting, with a desk and sofa, bookcases, cordoned off from a hallway with velvet rope; sometimes a high-ceilinged dining room, likewise restored to the 19th century; sometimes the tower.

The remnants of First Street stretch below, lost in blackberries and wild flowers. Seagulls wheel above an inland hill dense with spruce and hemlock. The town has been deserted for years. Yet if he stares toward the hill — and he always does — there will be a flash of yellow, a sly sidewise movement between the houses.

Anna, in a yellow dress, stepping out against the distant spruce.

She's too far away for him to see her face, but everything about her is familiar. The blond of her hair, the set of her shoulders. She stands tentatively, as though she might vanish as easily as she appeared. And she will.

Through the glass comes a sound, something between Anna's real voice and a cor anglais, murmuring in B flat. Music has been color for Russ since he was a child. Her voice, like her dress, is yellow.

She steps back and disappears.

In a sudden overwhelming silence, he resists the urge to look for a door, a way out; there is none. Eventually he finds himself at the western windows. Below, the cliff drops to a basalt shore, which terraces down to pools of green and silver; a drained seascape, stretching out and down, in jagged tiers, to the blue-black mountains of the ocean deep.

Nothing moves. But he watches, listening. Then the windows hum with it. No color, every color. Elusive.

Stepping close to the window, he looks down to where her body lies broken on the rocks, her limbs laced with seaweed, her head crowned by a luminous band of water.


The downtown was a half-mile clutter, with a bank, a hardware store, a beauty salon, a grocery, other shops passing too quickly for their signs to register. Compared with the quaint seaside towns he'd visited, like Astoria, or Pacific, Evening was low-key. The side streets were lined with modest Craftsman-style houses and cottages, while the main street offered wares and services for the town itself, rather than for the tourists; though the Evening Cheese Outlet store was quite visible in the center of town, its windows decked with bright yellow crepe and posters proclaiming the various brands of Evening cheeses.

Toward the south end, beyond the last of the town's three flashing red lights, he paid closer attention to the street names. Spruce. Burle. Aberfoyle. Alder.

He turned left on Alder and accelerated up the steep hillside. As Peggy Chalmers had promised, the house was at the top, on the corner of Alder and Seventh, and easy to spot — a dark green Second Empire with a mansard roof and bay windows on either side of a porch.

He parked the Volvo by the curb, pulled out the keys. Stepping out, he was aware of the hillside behind him, roofs and trees dropping away, and the sun sitting just over the sea.

An old blue Suburban was parked in the driveway.

He followed a path of stepping stones across the lawn, between modest flower beds, and climbed the porch stairs. A fanlight of green glass crowned the door, which stood open. He knocked on the edge of the screen. "Hello?"

There was movement inside, far back.

"Megan Sumner?"

"Yes. Just a sec." A glancing voice. "It's open. Come on in."

He opened the screen and stepped into an entry hall, facing a staircase. Flagstone underfoot. The air smelled of moist earth, with a hint of cinnamon. He called out: "Thanks for taking me without notice."

To the right was a rec room occupied by a Ping-Pong table stacked with clay pots and vases, bags of topsoil and bark.

"You must be Mister Kent." She appeared in the living room to his left, wiping her hands on a towel.

She was nearly as tall as him, slender with long, dark brown hair tied back; she wore a beige shirt with the sleeves rolled up, jeans and tennis shoes.

"Russ. Thanks again."

"Well, I never completely close down." She was younger than him, late thirties, perhaps. "Things are a little messy. I apologize. I had kids from the school over to help with the garden. C'mon, let me show you around."

He followed her into the living room, with its plush green carpet (Russ almost remarked aloud on the theme) and a brick fireplace. Couch, chairs. Filigree shelves stocked full of seashells, sand dollars, glass globes, gleaming bits of bronze and silver.

The room looked quite comfortable.

"I wish more people would pass through in the winter," she said. "The land looks its best now, entirely green and lush. Kitchen's back there, but ... this way, let's go upstairs."

At the top of the stairs, five doors opened onto a landing. Four bedrooms and a small bathroom with a claw-footed brass tub. "That's original. From the 1890s." She ushered him to the right, to the front left corner bedroom. "The view is gorgeous from this one."

The room was small with a hardwood floor. A bureau was immediately to his left, and farther along the wall, set in the corner, were an old oak desk and a spindle-back Queen Anne chair; beside them was a not-too-small bed.

He walked to the desk.

Two windows bracketed this corner. One faced south, and the other west, so that someone sitting here could look over the crest of Alder Street at the sea.

With the rheostat beside the door, she dimmed the overhead light, bringing out a sunset in ribbons of pink and purple that faded halfway up the sky.

"I love it," he said, to say something.

Across the street was a blue and white Italianate, its top three windows rounded like sedate eyes. While he watched, a gull alighted onto the iron cresting. It shuffled back and forth then drew in its wings, and in that moment seemed to disappear, to transform, its silhouette just another decoration on the fanciful roof.


During a simple spaghetti dinner, at the pie-crust table between the living room and the kitchen, Megan told him about teaching part-time at the school. "I help out with reading to the younger kids. I'm also the school bus on Mondays and Fridays."

"Just one school for the town?"

She nodded, sipping some water. "Some of the older kids go up to Rostov. Otherwise it's K through 12." A moment later she added, "Or K through 11. There's nobody in grade 12 this year."

Eating, Russ was happily aware of how comfortable he was, how different things were from what he'd expected, during the long drive. How different from the nightmares, those long nights in snow-bound motels.

"So what's it going to be about?" she asked, adding, "Your opera?"

The question momentarily surprised him.

"If you don't want to tell me ..."

"Captain Nemo," he said. "It's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea."

She smiled. Her brown eyes warmed with it. "Really? Sounds like perfect material."

"I agree." A moment later, he added, "Though I probably wouldn't have chosen it on my own."

"Who did?"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Evening's Empire by David Herter, David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 2002 David Herter. 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

Contents

Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
acknowledgments,
part one - the reign of the vertical,
1 - evening, oregon,
2 - nemo,
3 - the warp and weft,
4 - Anthem and Processionals,
5 - Old crick,
6 - earth dances,
7 - the winter gathering,
8 - the view from above,
9 - tom carver,
10 - the a.c.l.,
11 - mysterium,
12 - the two stans,
part two - the celestial country,
13 - Hesperus,
14 - Joseph's empire,
15 - fantaisies symphoniques,
16 - strange signs,
17 - the snowstorm,
18 - psychopomp,
19 - captain nemo,
20 - the great ice barrier,
21 - a lecture about cheese,
22 - want of air,
23 - evening and under,
part three - the mask of orpheus,
24 - crane fly music,
25 - a shifting reef,
26 - some figures,
27 - evening, oregon,
28 - ghosts,
29 - the romance of the moon,
30 - festival of evening,
31 - aegri somnia,
32 - a walk on the bottom of the sea,
33 - mobilus in mobili,
34 - preparations for the journey,
35 - in the evening tunnel,
36 - to the new world,
37 - evening's empire,
38 - a hecatomb,
39 - die tote stadt,
40 - captain nemo's thunderbolt,
41 - the black river,
42 - entra'acte,
Copyright Page,

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Evening's Empire 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Russell Kent had been commissioned to write an opera based on Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. He traveled to the Oregon coast, a town called Evening. A year before, Russ had lost his wife, Anna, in Evening. She had fallen to her death from a cliff, a freak accident. In Evening Russ planned to face his past ghosts and create the opera. What he found was a chance at love anew by the owner of the local B&B, Megan Sumner.

The town of Evening had a secret. Something everyone kept quiet about and secretly worked on, unknown by the rest of the world. Quietly, the population of Evening hid a fantastic secret in a cavern beneath the town and only referred to as 'downstairs'. After many decades of work, and several deaths, the secret was about to be revealed!

***** This story seemed to flow as smoothly as mellow music. A small bit of curiosities to begin with, followed by a constant undercurrent of tension. The story kept me guessing as to what the big secret was. Even as my imagination ran wild, I never came close to the truth. David Herter has masterfully created a novel that will keep its readers on the edge of their seats! Recommended! *****


Reviewed by Detra Fitch.