The Beyondby Jeffrey Ford
Shunned by the village he saved and seeing no future in the ruins of the Well-Built City, the reformed physiognomist, Cley, ventures into the wilderness to seek forgiveness from a woman that he once hideously harmed. Wandering through this eerie land known as “The Beyond," he encounters ghosts, monsters, omnivorous trees, and more on his quest. Meanwhile,
Shunned by the village he saved and seeing no future in the ruins of the Well-Built City, the reformed physiognomist, Cley, ventures into the wilderness to seek forgiveness from a woman that he once hideously harmed. Wandering through this eerie land known as “The Beyond," he encounters ghosts, monsters, omnivorous trees, and more on his quest. Meanwhile, Cley’s demon friend pursues his own dangerous, drug-induced journey to seek out his own humanity. This is the conclusive leg in the bizarre life-journey of one of the most gripping and complex characters in the fantasy genre.
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Sheer beauty, violet elixir, medium of dreams...
To think that I once dragged Cley from this drug's clutches, haughtily crushing vials, and admonishing, with comic asides, against his desire to sleep his life away cocooned by its illusions. What I knew then was poison for him, I know now, in my desire to conjure him from the elements of the Beyond, is the sap that will drive his story from the root that lies buried in my mind, down my arm, across my wrist, through my fingers, out of the pen and into the sunlight of clean, white paper.
It bubbles my veins, ripples the convolutions of my brain and sets fire to the five chambers of my demon heart. Here, the first tendril of ink begins to sprout, curling inward and out, wrapping around nothing to define a spiraling plant that grows with the speed of light. It is everywhere at once, bearing heavy white fruit that splits open amidst the rushing wind of passing seasons, releasing a flock of screaming, blind birds. They fly upward with full determination to smash against the ceiling of the sky and vaporize into a thousand clouds that form one cloud. It rains, and the green land stretches, in mere moments, into a wilderness so immense that it is impossible even to conceive of crossing it.
There, like a tiny insect on the head of a giant whose brow is the mightiest of mountain ranges, is Cley, where I left him, in a clearing of tall oaks. Beside him, that insignificant black dot, is Wood, the dog with one ear.
Closer now and closer still until I can make out his broadbrimmed black hat, sporting three wild-turkey feathers, reminders of his first kill inthe Beyond. Beneath it, his chestnut hair is long and twisted together in the back to form a crude braid tied at the end with a lanyard that was once a demon's tendon. A full beard descends across his chest. Amidst this profluent tangle jut a nose and cheeks, the left scarred by the nick of a barbed tail. He stares northward with unnerving determination, as if he can already see, thousands of miles ahead of him, his destination.
I have seen scarecrows in the fields surrounding Latrobia who are better dressed than this hunter. Old brown coat, removed from a skeleton back in the ruins of Anamasobia, like the hide of some weary, wrinkled beast. The flannel shirt, dark blue with a field of golden stars, he found in the intact dresser drawer of one Frod Geeble's rooms, which lay behind the destruction of a tavern. A pair of overalls. The boots have been Cley's all along, and in the left one is the stone knife he assured me cut with more grace and precision than a Physiognomist's scalpel. The rifle, luckiest find of all, is for him like a marriage partner. He sleeps with it, whispers to it, cares for it with a genuine devotion. When it comes time to kill, he kills with it, his shot growing truer and truer until he can drill a demon in mid-flight, dead center between the eyes, at a hundred yards. His backpack holds boxes of shells, but the Beyond is limitless.
That dog, potential insanity on four legs, can be as calm as a dreamless sleeper until danger drops from the trees and then his placid, near-human smile wrinkles back into a snapping wound machine. The crafty beast learns to lunge for my brethrens unprotected areas-wing membrane, soft belly, groin, or tail. 1, myself, witnessed that hound tear off an attacking demon's member, slip through its legs, and then shred a wing to tatters in his escape. He has an uncanny sense of certainty about him in all situations, as if in each he is like a dancer who has practiced that one dance all his days. Wood reads Cley like a book, understands his hand signals and the subtle shifting of his eyes. There is no question he will die for the hunter, and I am convinced he will go beyond death for hima guardian angel the color of night, muscled and scarred and harder to subdue than a guilty conscience.
The hunter whistled once, moving off into the autumn forest, and the dog followed three feet behind and to the left. In the barren branches above, a coven of crows sat in silent judgment while a small furry creature with the beak of a bird scurried away into the wind-shifted sea of orange leaves. From off to the south came the sound of something dying as they proceeded into the insatiable distance of the Beyond, their only compass a frayed and faded green veil.
The contents of Cley's pack as they were dictated to me by the Beyond: 1 ball of twine; 4 candles; 2 boxes of matches; 8 boxes of shells (1 dozen bullets per box); 1 metal pot; 1 small fry pan; 1 knife and 1 fork; thread and needle; a sac of medicinal herbs; a book, found among the charred remains of Anamasobia (the cover and first few pages of which have been singed black, obliterating its title and author); 3 pair of socks; 4 pair of underwear; 1 blanket.
The days were a waking nightmare of demon slaughter, for they came for him from everywhere, at any moment, swooping out of trees, charging along the ground on all fours with wings flapping. He felled them with the gun, and, when not quick enough with this, he reached for the stone knife, smashing it through fur, muscle, and breastbone to burst their hearts. Wild blood soaked into his clothes, and he learned to detect their scent on the breeze. Claws ripped his jacket, scarred the flesh of his chest and neck and face, and when he met them in hand-to-hand combat, he screamed in a fearsome voice as if he too had become some creature of the wilderness.
The spirit that fired his intuition so that his shots were clean and allowed him to move with thoughtless elegance when wielding the knife was a strong desire he did not fully understand and could not name. It forced him to overcome great odds and demanded with an unswerving righteousness that he survive.
Cley hid beneath a willow and aimed at a white deer drinking from a stream. Cracking branches, the prey bolted, a moment of confusion, and a demon dropped from above onto the hunter's back. The rifle flew from his hands as he smelled the rancid breath and deep body stink now riding him, searching for a place to sink its fangs. He supported the weight of his attacker long enough to flip the beast over his head. It landed on its wings as he reached for his knife. The demon whipped at his forearm with barbed tail, and the sting weakened his grip. The knife fell and stabbed the earth. The dog was there, seizing in his jaws the demon's tail. The creature bellowed, arched backward in agony, and this moment was all the hunter needed. He retrieved the fallen blade and, with a brutal slice, half severed the creature's head from its body...
Meet the Author
Jeffrey Ford is a writing teacher at Brookdale Community College and the author of The Empire of Ice Cream, The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Girl in the Glass, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuqu, and Vanitas. He is the winner of a Nebula Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the World Fantasy Award. He lives in Medford Lakes, New Jersey.
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Former Physiognomist Cley continues his quest to conquer his evil past with one last encounter left. Cley must travel to the center of the BEYOND to seek Arla Beaton, a woman he loved but who couldn¿t feel the same about him because of his malevolence. He scarred her face in an attempt to destroy her goodness. Still she taught him the horrors of his crime and now his quest to repair the damage he caused is nearing an end. Accompanied by his dog Wood, Cley finds a new set of adventures as he nears his final destiny. Demons, wraiths, and other creatures like flesh hungry trees and invisible malevolent beings want Cley stopped. Misrix the demon observes the trek from a distance and tells the tale, even while waiting human condemnation for allegedly killing Cley. Award winning Jeffrey Ford completes the Cley trilogy (see THE PHYSIOGNOMY and MEMORANDA) with the exciting adventure THE BEYOND. The story line continues the blending of fantasy and science fiction with Cley and a strong support cast making the trek itself fun to observe as the reader watches events through Misrix¿s distant observation. Although the lack of focus to Cley¿s final quest hurts the novel, THE BEYOND remains an exciting imaginative novel that will please readers who enjoy the intersection of science fiction and fantasy. Harriet Klausner