In the aftermath of the last great battle of the American Civil War, a disillusioned Union medic stumbles across a strange figure picking amid the corpses, and his life is changed forever . . .
In Strasbourg, years before the French Revolution, a church restorer is commissioned to paint a series of portraits that chart the changing appearance of a beautiful woman over the course of her life, although the woman herself seems ageless . . .
In Prohibition-era New York, an idealistic young Marxist is catapulted into the realms of elite society, and forced to assume the identity of someone who never existed . . .
In this critically acclaimed horror saga from award-winning author Ian R. MacLeod, an ancient, mysterious evil survives, thrives, and kills through the ages into modern times.
“By turns horrifying and hauntingly beautiful, this epic vampire story is the stuff of real nightmares.” —Tim Powers author of Forced Perspectives
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About the Author
Ian R. MacLeod is the acclaimed writer of challenging and innovative speculative and fantastic fiction. His most recent novel, Wake Up and Dream, won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History, while his previous works have won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and the World Fantasy Award, and have been translated into many languages. His short story, “Snodgrass,” was developed for television in the United Kingdom as part of the Sky Arts series Playhouse Presents. MacLeod grew up in the West Midlands region of England, studied law, and spent time working and dreaming in the civil service before moving on to teaching and house-husbandry. He lives with his wife in the riverside town of Bewdley.
Read an Excerpt
The Road to Sweetwater
He received the message from his old friend Morgan Callaghan after he'd been thanked by the people of Monasta, Missouri, for the two men he'd recently killed. Their withered bodies, one once-thin and the other once-fat, had been laid on doors in the draughty barn, which also served as the town chapel. Prayers were said, and hymns had been sung.
Then the people lined up.
"Good work you did, killin' them two beasts."
"Hope they didn't die easy. Easy ain't what they deserved."
"We are all most exceedingly grateful."
"Fully believe they are sufferin' right now, and that their sufferin' will be eternal, and praise the Lord."
"Thank you, Mister Haupmann."
"You've rescued us."
"You've saved our town."
But their voices trailed off, their gazes slipped away from his tinted spectacles, and their hands didn't linger long in the grip of his glove.
One of the townspeople, a plump woman named Prudence Van Heyke who'd lost her eldest daughter to the attentions of Timo Thacker and Elmer Buckley, went over to where their bodies were now laid. She looked at them in a way which didn't suit her kindly features, then attempted to spit on their greyed faces. Plainly, this was an action she wasn't used to performing, for the spittle ran down her chin.
Afterwards, they all stood outside for a photograph to be taken for the town weekly newspaper. October clouds roiled. A few thin trees bowed. The barn creaked as if straining to take flight. He stood at the back of the group and tipped down his hat. He could already feel the coming winter, almost taste the snow. When the photographer took the brass cap off the camera, he moved his head side to side. That way, all the picture would show of Karl Haupmann was a ghost.
It was then, just as the crowd was dispersing, that the lad from the Western Union office came running up the street with a yellow scrap of telegraph paper clutched in his hand. He took it from him and opened it up.
KARL STOP BELIEVE FROM RECENT REPORTS MIGHT FIND YOU HERE STOP OONAGH DYING STOP COME NOW TO SWEETWATER IF AT ALL STOP ALL BEST REGARDS AS EVER STOP MORGAN CALLAGHAN STOP
There'd been talk of fried chicken and poundcake that evening in the same barn, but these people of Monasta were more than happy to see their killing saviour gone. He collected supplies from the town store and visited the livery stables, where the hunchback old man would have none of his money, and offered a fresh pinto mare, maybe a year or two past her prime, but good and sturdy enough. The horse didn't take fright at him as he went over to stroke her mane either, the way that many did.
They all stood along Main Street and watched as he rode out. No waves or cheers. Just half-sideways glances and shivering shrugs. One girl ran out toward him clutching a posy of weeds, but her mother called to her with an angry yelp and drew her back tight to her apron. A crow hopped on the Western Union's tin roof, regarding him with a bright black eye before if flew off to join the sky's gloom.
He followed the ditched road which led north and west. By the time he looked back, Monasta, Missouri, had vanished in the gather of evening.
He found a hollow that night in the lee of the wind and lit a brushwood fire. Not so much for its light and heat, as for how it pushed away the growing sense of winter, and of things lost.
He saw to the pinto then made coffee over the fire and swallowed some dry biscuit and strips of jerky until his stomach felt full. He ungloved his hands, unhooked his spectacles, and took out the telegram from his top pocket, studied it as if searching for some extra meaning in the flicker of the fire, then folded it back. He sat there for a while so still that the night seemed to soak into him. Then, suddenly switching alert in a way that caused the pinto to whinny, he unflipped his saddlebag and removed a package in black cloth, which revealed two boxes and a calfskin-covered notebook.
The notebook was, or had been, well made. Battered now, but with a supple binding and good stitching, with an inscription on the inside page he paused to read — Somewhere for you to set down all those ideas, Karl. Warmest wishes Oonagh — before flicking on past scrawled and crossed-out lines of execrable poetry, amateurish drawings of landscapes and a woman's face seen in profile, then others, somewhat better executed, of the innards of anatomy and then effects of a .69-calibre lead ball on various parts of the human frame, the pages more stained here, thumbed and bloodied, then, after a greyed and splattered gap, and in a stronger and almost entirely different hand, came lists of ideas, symptoms, records of modern atrocities and ancient horrors, and clippings from the papers on the latest theories on the transmission of disease, interspersed with other scraps dealing with types of possession and insanity, all ornamented with vigorous annotations and oddly elegant sketches of gargoyle-like faces and scraps of carved stone, the notations ending with neat columns of figures, dates, and dosages set beside symbols to indicate the phases of the moon.
He then opened the smaller of his two boxes and uncapped an inkpot and took out a pen. Pausing for a moment, glancing up at the sky — which was shrouded tonight; a sheer black dome — he let the calculations settle in his head. Then he wetted the brass nib, made tonight's entries, blotted and closed the page and turned his attention to the larger of his two boxes, which breathed out a sweetly medicinal smell.
His hands moved more quickly now. Objects tinkled. Powder was tapped from a blue glass bottle to be measured on a set of unfolding scales, then transferred to a polished copper bowl, to which was added a thimbleful of mild acid. A flint sparked. A small wick flared, briefly struggling against the pull of the wind until he snuffed it out and poured the dissolved fluid through a funnel into the mouth of a syringe. He undid the studs on his shirt cuff. His left forearm now exposed, his right hand looped a twist of rubber piping above the crook, he tightened it with the grip in his teeth until a worm of artery rose. Then he drove the needle in.
The year was 1859.
Foucault had determined the speed of light, slavery would soon be abolished, Richard J Gatling had invented a new kind of rapid-firing gun, and Karl Haupmann was a freshman at Harvard. To be in Boston and studying to be a physician was his own act of rebellion against his father's insistence that trade was the only way to earn a living, and New York the only sensible, profitable place for a man to live.
It was in a lecture on natural sciences, with Professor Heely droning on about the foolishness of the so-called catastrophe theory, that he found himself uncharacteristically speaking out.
"Did exactly the right thing, his friend," said a hearty voice as the students trooped from the theatre. He knew it was Morgan Callaghan before he turned, and was expecting to be made the butt of some joke. Morgan was hardly Karl Haupmann's crowd, in that he had any kind of crowd at all. Morgan was money. Morgan was old-world Boston privilege. Morgan's japes and pranks were as celebrated as the Callaghan family name. But that broad, boyishly handsome face beneath its shock of dark-brown hair bore a guileless grin.
"Karl Haupmann, isn't it? You really put that old duffer Heely in his place. Have you ever examined the evidence of the stones of Pozzuoli? Have you read Lyell's Principles of Geology? Of course you have. But have you considered where you and I might take lunch?"
Morgan's friendliness, Morgan's frankness, Morgan's expansive generosity, swept him into a world far away from the cold rooms of his New York childhood. Here, people greeted each other with kisses and broad hugs. Here, drink wasn't stored in a locked medicinal cabinet, midnight was just the start of the evening, and there was excitement in every dawn.
Then there was Oonagh Callaghan, Morgan's older sister by almost a year, although they could just as well have been twins. Oonagh was as pretty, everyone agreed, as Morgan was handsome. No, she was far prettier. Possibly even cleverer as well.
Oonagh attended lectures. Oonagh wrote papers. Oonagh asked questions, held soirées, and took her many admirers and followers out on long, discursive walks across the Common. Even though, as a woman, she couldn't sit for exams or attain any of the professions, she railed against these antique restrictions, and was relentlessly involved in Harvard's intellectual and social life. Oonagh Callaghan was charming and beautiful and brilliant. Much secret poetry was written about her. Many fevered dreams were dreamt.
Karl Haupmann held no hope of being anything other than a dim planet distantly orbiting Oonagh Callaghan's radiance. Women had been strange and unknowable creatures to him since own his mother's early death, and Oonagh seemed to belong to an even more exalted species than all the rest.
Dances were occasions he particularly disliked. Big, stupid gatherings where people exchanged inanities, then dragged each other around to the accompaniment of squeals of shoe leather and false delight. But attending at least some of these occasions was compulsory for all Harvard students, and one such gathering took place in the colonial pile of pillars and baroque ceilings known as the Old State House in the spring semester of his second year.
He borrowed a suit, which was far too short in the leg, and shoes, which bit like pincers on his walk across town. Then he stood there for the required number of hours as the ridiculously dressed figures stumbled and turned whilst the music roared. As soon as midnight arrived — a limping, unreluctant, Cinderella — he made his way back out across the dark lawns.
"Karl, is that you? What happened? Why are you going so early?"
He stopped and turned to look back.
Oonagh Callaghan was standing alone on the wide portico at the top of the Old State House steps, and she was so entirely lovely that he could never properly remember the details of how she looked that night, nor what she wore. It must have been some sort of ballgown, possibly of darkish blue and bare at the shoulders, and also perhaps scooped toward the bosom, then maybe picked out in pearl.
"Why didn't you ask me to dance?"
He must have shrugged, perhaps spoken of an essay that needed attending. But she was holding out her bare arms.
"You're so silly, Karl. So charming. Why don't we just dance out here?"
Next thing he knew, they were dancing together across the dewwet lawn outside the Old State House, which in itself was something impossible, seeing as he could scarcely tell a waltz from a jig. But Oonagh was humming, and his arms were miraculously around her, and she was gorgeous beyond all beauty, with her brown eyes shining in the dimness and her long dark gown falling loose. Were they dancing to the music that was playing inside? Was there any kind of music playing at all? It seemed more like some chorus of distant voices, or the night air singing in his ears. Eventually, they broke apart.
"You see, Karl, you can dance, if somebody just leads you. All you have to do is follow the song." Then she turned back toward the Old State House and was swallowed by light and noise.
All sorts of thoughts and premonitions came upon Karl Haupmann in the weeks which followed. Stupid thoughts. Wistful thoughts. The kind of thoughts he supposed that any healthy man might have about a woman he yearned for, although he was often ashamed.
He saw himself and Oonagh Callaghan holding hands. Saw her sitting with him before a fire in some pleasingly substantial house. He awoke from fierce dreams feeling the tickle of her breath. And in the real world of coffee house crowds and evening meetings of the various societies to which they both belonged, their relationship did seem to grow more close. Oonagh sought out his opinion on current matters, and looked at him slyly sometimes when they sat with other people, as if sharing some private joke.
He often wondered if there was some kind of special bond between himself and the Callaghans. They, too, had lost their mother at an early age, although their father had died not long after, whilst his was still alive and thriving in his own cynical way back in New York. It must have been a lonely existence — brought up under the eyes of a series of lawyers, nannies, tutors, and trustee relatives, with no house that they could call their own until they reached majority and gained control of their assets.
Of course, it was expected that Oonagh would marry into another family of Boston Brahmins, with perhaps a rewarding pastime in the natural sciences to keep her occupied in the times between bearing children. And he was Jewish by birth and blood, for all that his father enjoyed renouncing every kind of religion, whilst Oonagh was sincerely Roman Catholic despite her advanced views. Not a match made out of the workings of ordinary life, perhaps, but what price, in this new and ever-changing age, could be put on hope, and love?
The year was 1861.
Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as president, Elisha Otis had patented the steam elevator, and South Carolina's separation from the Union had been followed by several other Southern states. That summer, Karl Haupmann and Morgan Callaghan and all the other graduates cheered and threw up their hats in the Harvard Yard, then headed off to enlist in a true and simple cause which would probably be settled by fall, and almost certainly by Christmas.
Much though the sun stung his eyes, he still chose to travel by daylight. The days brought an increasingly bitter wind. The nights, a crusting of ice. He lit fires and forced himself to eat dry bread and jerky in the amounts he calculated a man of his age and weight should need, although the stuff sat like gravel in his gut. Each night he reread the telegram before administering the huge dosage of morphine necessary to keep his contagion at bay.
He rode on in the direction of the west and the north. At some point he must have passed into a land which the maps had called The Great American Desert or Unknown Land or Unorganised Territory — at least, until recently, when Kansas had been declared a state. To him, such words were redolent of the dunes and mirage places of the tales of A Thousand and One Nights, which his mother had shared with him as a child, but this landscape was wild and open and bleak. Morgan had shared his dreams with him too, back in the opulent house that he and Oonagh then rented on Devonshire Street during their years of study in Boston. Deals to pacify the Indians. Lines drawn by Congress across seeming nowhere. Proposals to knit this divided nation into something whole.
On the tenth day of his journey out, the stone-graven clouds flickered and broke in a damburst of sleet. He rode as best he could, but as dark started to settle he caught the aroma of woodsmoke, and a mingled stench of human and animal shit. The pinto whinnied and turned, and would have fought him if he'd tried to head her away. He submitted more for her sake than his own.
He followed the scent until he came to a snakerail fence. He dismounted, lifted the rail, and led the pinto on until he found a muddied path set between winter cabbages. Then he caught lanternlight shining through the storm-glitter from a single-pane window, and the hunched outline of a low house with a sod roof. All so real and simple and domestic.
He was about to turn back toward the prairie when the barrel of a long-nosed musket nosed from a crack in the door.
"Goddarn it ... This thing ..." The barrel wavered. "What in hell do you want? I know you're out there."
"Just seeking shelter."
"Better come close so I can see you." A woman's face emerged to study him and his pinto standing out in the rain. It was craggy. Neither old nor young. "Suppose you may as well come in." Her voice had a coarse burr. "Night such as this ain't fit for Satan himself, and you don't look to be him ..."
The house was long and low and dirt-floored, and shared by an ox and hog at the further end. The central fire smoked. Rain leaked through the roof. It would be a struggle to make any kind of living here, but the woman, who announced herself as Mrs Knox, had big strong hands and a broad, if stooped, back. Her husband, though, sat useless in the corner on the only proper chair. His jaw was crusted with stubble and food. His wet lips moved as if he was speaking, but no proper words came out.
"There's no safety on these plains." Mrs Knox ladled fat-scummed liquid from a pot chained over the fire, after he'd seen to the pinto and shaken off his wet outer clothes. "Things were better before the railroad. The Injuns didn't care about a few trappers and settlers. They're less forgiving now."
"Where are you from?" he asked, taking the bowl.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Red Snow"
Copyright © 2017 Ian R. MacLeod.
Excerpted by permission of Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc..
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
The Road to Sweetwater,
The Réparateur of Strasbourg,
Dealing with the Dead,
What Lenin Would Have Done,
Natural Science in a World of Ghosts,
House of Mirrors and Glass,
Moon Over Manhattan,
About the Author,
Also by Ian R. MacLeod,