"Poignant and punchy." The New York Times
Three friends go looking for treasure and find horror in Jeffrey Ford's The Twilight Pariah.
All Maggie, Russell, and Henry wanted out of their last college vacation was to get drunk and play archaeologist in an old house in the woods outside of town. When they excavate the mansion's outhouse they find way more than they bargained for: a sealed bottle filled with a red liquid, along with the bizarre skeleton of a horned child
Disturbing the skeleton throws each of their lives into a living hell. They feel followed wherever they go, their homes are ransacked by unknown intruders, and people they care about are brutally, horribly dismembered. The three friends awakened something, a creature that will stop at nothing to retrieve its child.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
JEFFREY FORD is the author of the novels The Physiognomy, Memoranda, The Beyond, The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, The Girl in the Glass, The Cosmology of the Wider World, and The Shadow Year. His short story collections are The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant, The Empire of Ice Cream, The Drowned Life, Crackpot Palace, and A Natural History of Hell. Ford’s short fiction has appeared in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies. Both books and stories have been translated into nearly 20 languages worldwide. Ford is the recipient of the World Fantasy Award, Nebula, Edgar Allan Poe Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, the Hayakawa Award, and Gran Prix de l’Imaginaire. He lives in Ohio in a hundred and twenty year old farm house surrounded by corn and soybean fields and teaches part time at Ohio Wesleyan University.
Read an Excerpt
SHE PICKED ME UP at sunset in that ancient lime green Ford Galaxie she'd rebuilt and painted two summers earlier when she was into cars. It came around the corner like it'd busted out of an old movie. She sat there behind the wheel, leaning her elbow on the door frame. There was a lit cigarette between her lips. She wore a white men's T-shirt and her hair was pinned up, but not with any accuracy. Every time I'd seen her since we'd left high school her glasses were a different color. This pair had pink lenses and red circular frames.
"Get in, ya mope," she said.
"What's up, Maggie?"
As I slid into the front seat, she leaned over and kissed me. I gave her a hug. When I'd turned to her, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that there were two twelve packs of beer on the backseat.
"Are we going to a party?"
"No. Guess who we're going to see."
"The Golem of Arbenville? Russel Flab Cock Babcock?"
She smiled, took a drag, and hit the horn. We were on the road out of town, and I wondered where this meeting was going to take place, but I didn't ask, leaving myself open to the night. I'd seen neither her nor Russell since the winter holiday break. We'd been friends in high school, but each of us was now away from town most of the year attending separate colleges. I talked to Maggie on Skype maybe once a month, Russell, usually much less.
It was early in the summer following our junior year, and we were some distance along the path of going our separate ways. During a busy semester, dealing with classes and my current scene, I sometimes longed to be back in Humboldt Woods, lounging on the creek bridge, passing a joint in the heat of the afternoon.
"How's school going?" I asked her.
"Changed my major."
"That's like the third time since you started."
"I'm interested in something else now."
I laughed. "That's a vow-of-poverty major."
"What, unlike English?"
"Let's always be happy and broke."
"I've got the broke part covered."
"Are you writing a novel?"
"Basically, I'm dicking around."
"You need a plan."
"It's not the way I work. That's good for you. You're an ace planner. I take my hat off to you. I'm more ..."
"Fucked up?" she said, stepped on the brake, and turned off the road. The car slowed, and I looked out the window to see where we were. We'd driven out toward the state park on a winding road through the flowering trees. It was only then that I noticed the cumulative smell of spring, a cool evening, a light wind. It was supremely dark, although if I looked up through the branches above the dirt path we traveled, I could see stars.
"You're taking me out in the woods?"
"Yeah, I'm gonna lock you in a cabin and put a gun to your head and make you write a book."
"Of course not. No one gives a shit if you write a book or not."
She patted my knee and the car came to a halt.
"Where the hell are we? I can't see a thing."
"The Prewitt mansion." She pointed through the windshield.
A ball of orange light came from out of the darkness, and after a few moments of my eyes adjusting, I could see that it was someone carrying a lantern. An instant later the behemoth form of the house emerged out of shadow and into the dim glow. Whoever held the lantern lifted it above their head and swung it back and forth three times. Maggie flicked her plastic lighter three times in response.
"Grab the beer," she said.
I did as I was told and she used her phone as a flashlight to illuminate our path. We followed the retreating lantern around behind the remains of the enormous wreck of a home. As little light as there was, I was still able to distinguish signs of the place's demise: shattered windows, shards reflecting back the lantern's glow, the leprosy of its three roofs, and a cupola that dimly appeared to have been bitten in half the long way by Godzilla.
"What's going on here?" I asked.
"Rot and degradation," she said.
We caught up with the lantern, which turned out to be held by Russell James Babcock, all-state linebacker from Arbenville High. He set the light down at his feet and came forward to catch me in a bear hug. "Greetings," he said, and squeezed me till my ribs squealed. I dropped one of the twelve packs. Russell was a good-spirited monster, Pantagruel with a crew cut. Last I'd talked to him he'd told me he was in perfect football shape at 320 pounds. If I remember correctly, he'd just changed his major as well, from business to something even more boring, like economics.
Maggie pointed out some overturned plastic milk crates a little farther back in the yard and waved us toward them.
Russell put his arm on my shoulder and asked, "Did she tell you why she brought us out here?"
"Wait till you hear this shit."
I took a seat, as did they, and handed each a beer. Took one from the box for myself and set it down. Maggie lifted a small glass jar next to her and held it while she turned her phone on and shone it at a pile of sticks and rotten logs that lay in the middle of the circle we sat in. She tossed the contents of the jar onto the pile and immediately I smelled gasoline. A moment later, she lit a match and tossed that after it. A whisper of an explosion followed, a whoosh, and then flames burst into life. Russell clapped.
We sat in silence and watched the fire. Finally, I said, "So how long are you guys home for?"
Russell was about to answer, but Maggie cut him off. "Let's cut the chitchat till later," she said. "This is what I've got in mind."
"Nice transition," I said.
"Check this out," said the linebacker, and nodded toward her.
"Okay," said Maggie, "ten feet behind you." She pointed at me. "There are the untouched remains of an old outhouse pit. I was here this week with a soil core sampler testing the ground. I know it's down there; I read it in the dirt I brought up. And I know it's lined in brick."
"A soil core sampler?" said Russ.
"We're going to dig out this old privy and reveal its hidden treasures."
"What do you mean by 'We're'?" I asked.
"The pit probably goes down a good ten or fifteen feet. I can't dig all that out by myself."
"You're just assuming we're gonna help you?" She nodded.
"Tunneling through old shit isn't exactly what I had in mind for this summer," said Russ.
I raised my beer in agreement. "I'm digging enough contemporary shit. I don't need any of the old stuff."
"You're both helping me whether you like it or not. Really, Henry, you're sitting on your ass all day at the Humboldt House, guarding three dozen dusty paintings no one's wanted to see for decades and making minimum wage. And you, blockhead, you're over at the dairy farm shoveling shit in the mornings and working out for football in the afternoons. Not exactly what I'd call a tight schedule."
"Are you saying that's not work?" he asked.
"All I'm saying is that you two need to do something besides work for the summer. Something cultural."
"Which means me and Russell should spend our spare time digging you a hole."
"It's probably my last summer to see you guys," she said. "Next summer I'm going to Patagonia with this internship through school to participate in a dig near Quilmes. Who knows where I'll go after graduation? I may never see you again. Or maybe when we're really old I'll pass you on the street one day and we won't recognize each other."
"Jesus," said Russell. "Now that you put it that way ... No."
"My parents are away this summer. The pool is open. You can come over and go for a swim after working out every day if you want. Deal?" "Deal," he said. "But there have to be nights off. Luther's coming down once every few weeks for a day or two."
"Okay," she said grudgingly. "I can't really stand in the way of romance; I'd look envious. What about you, Bret Easton Ellis, are you in or out?"
"What do you hope to find down there?"
"We could find something really valuable. People have found all kinds of old bottles, watches, coins, dolls, false teeth, a wooden eye."
"We split the worth of everything we find?" I asked.
"Sure. I just want to experience what it's like and practice using some of the tools of the trade. Actual archaeologists would be pissed with amateurs doing this dig, but this place has sat abandoned for nearly a hundred years and no one's taken the opportunity. I figure Arbenville is pretty much nowhere, and this place is hidden in the woods at the very edge of Arbenville. Don't hold your breath waiting for a team of archaeologists to swoop in."
"I've got nothing else to do but write a novel."
"In other words," said Maggie, "you've got nothing else to do."
She and Russell laughed and I couldn't be mad at them. That scenario Maggie mentioned about us passing each other on the street someday when we're old and not recognizing one another stuck in my thoughts.
I lit up a joint and listened to her go on for a while about the wonders of unearthing the past. She was endearing but nutty, super smart and single-minded in her pursuit of whatever her current interest was, honest to a fault with everyone but herself. As for Russell, when he was playing football, he was a beast. At home, he kept a pair of powder blue parakeets, Charles and Susan, who flapped around him all day, perching upon his beefy head and shoulders as he sat on the couch watching his favorite show about hoarders.
There was another lull as the fire began to burn down, and I asked Maggie about the place. "You called it the Prewitt mansion?"
"That's all I know about it," she said. "I don't even know how old it is. I looked at it during the day, and it looks like it must be from at least the late eighteen hundreds, maybe early nineteen hundreds. I'm gonna have to do some research on it as context for any items we find."
"Seems a beautiful beat-up old place," said Russell. "I think I vaguely remember my mother or grandmother telling me something about it when I was small."
"I bet that house is full of stories," said Maggie. "Henry, you should write about this dig."
"Chapter one," I said. "They shoveled old shit. Chapter two: they shoveled more old shit."
"Do it," she said.
For the next hour or so, well after the fire had died down, we traded stories from the old days. Russell talked about the four weeks in senior year that Maggie was obsessed with the singularity.
"Do you remember that?" he said to me. "I had no idea what the fuck she was talking about."
"Torrents of obscure bullshit," I said.
"AI insurrection," she corrected.
Russell and I burst out laughing and she gave us the finger. "You're a couple of idiots. You'll see someday."
The breeze came up and I shivered awake. Through the dark, I saw the cherry glow of Maggie's cigarette. I couldn't recall where my thoughts had been, but time had passed; not a spark was left of the fire. I heard Russell whisper, "You gotta quit smoking, Maggs."
"Fuck off," she said. "I hope you two have shovels."
I WENT TO WORK WITH a hangover the next morning and watched the dust balls roll across the polished wooden floor of the Humboldt family parlor, noticed the wallpaper peeling in the study, and encountered an infestation of ladybugs in the third-floor bathroom. I dutifully guarded the paintings no one wanted to see, and slept for an hour after lunch on Karrick Humboldt's ancient four-poster, laying right in the spot where the wealthy old charlatan gave up the ghost. It was said the place was haunted, but I'd never seen anything in all the hours I spent there waiting for the visitors who rarely came. It was on the state registry of historic sites, and I was actually a state employee. That day, when I left in the late afternoon, I realized that I was the only thing haunting the place.
"How was work?" my father asked as I came in the door. He asked every day from behind whatever paperback he was reading. Science fiction, fantasy, or horror from the 1970s and '80s. He sat in the corner, in his comfortable chair, a standing lamp next to him. A cloud of smoke from his constant cig habit hung above him like a blank thought balloon.
"'Work,' in this instance," I told him, "is a state-of-being verb."
"Glad to see my tax dollars well spent."
"What's for dinner?"
"It's every man for himself," he said, and went back to reading. After my mother had died and he'd been laid off from his machinist job over in Milton, he'd retreated into near silence and the print reality of other worlds. Connection was tough for him and only getting tougher as he aged. Maggie asked me once if the reason I wanted to become a writer was to somehow make contact with him.
I put together a ham and cheese sandwich, ate it, and drank a beer. Went upstairs to my room and blew a joint out the window. It wasn't officially summer yet, but I put on gym shorts and a T-shirt and boots. A few minutes later, I was in the backyard, getting the shovel from the shed. Flat-edged spade or a pointed job? I couldn't decide so I grabbed them both. I went around front and sat on the curb, thinking about A Midsummer Night's Dream, the play we'd covered in my Shakespeare class before the semester ended.
A few minutes later, Russell pulled up in his SUV. I stowed my shovels in the back along with the one already there. As I got in, he said, "We're Maggie's pawns. If you could bottle her enthusiasm, we could initiate the singularity."
"We're the rude mechanicals."
He told me about his morning at the dairy, I told him about my haunting snooze in Humboldt's bed. We drove out of town through the twilight. It was going to be another clear, cool night. I tried to note what route Russell took in case I had to get there by myself sometime. He told me the tricky part was finding the path into the woods when it got dark. Just as he said that, he hit the brakes and had to back up to make the turn off the main road. The headlights lit the mansion.
"I think this place is even bigger than the Humboldt place. Looks like it must have been built around the same time," I said.
"Yeah, Magg told me that Prewitt was a politician of some sort. You know that's where the money is."
We got the shovels out of the back and went to meet Maggie. We found her in the glow of two lanterns, already in the outline of the old privy pit, digging away. She wore a red sports bra and a pair of loose blue pants with elephants on them. In addition to her red glasses, she had a Detroit Tigers baseball cap on her head. We were about five hundred miles due east from Detroit, and I don't think she'd ever watched a baseball game in her life. I noticed she wore work gloves, which was a good idea.
When she saw us, she said, "'Bout time." She stopped digging and leaned on the shovel handle.
"You look like you're doing just fine there," said Russell. "Do you really want me and Henry to fuck things up?"
"I need you," she said, pointing at him, "to shovel what I've shoveled out and toss it a little farther off. We don't want to have a giant pile of dirt right next to the hole in case it gives way and all that slides in on top of whoever happens to be digging."
"I hate when that happens," I said. "Exactly how safe is this?"
"Well, you know, for starters, what we're doing is against the law. That's why we're out here at night. You're supposed to have permits for this stuff. Other than that, this pit looks pretty sturdy. These people had money, and so their privy pit is lined with good brick. This is a real work of craftsmanship."
"Have you run into any old turds?" asked Russell.
"Just you two. Get to work. Henry, I want you to go through the dirt he tosses off over there in the new pile and keep an eye out for shards of glass or bottle caps, chicken bones, whatever. Once we hit a certain level, we're going to have to forgo the shovels and dig with trowels and finer tools."
We worked steadily, in near silence, with the exception of Russell whistling "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Maggie went at that dirt like a human shoveling machine. The big man was a little more relaxed, and I was downright lethargic in my search for shards of history. A half hour later, Maggie called for us to take a break. She'd gotten about two feet down into the six-by-five rectangle of the pit.
"Where's the top part of it, the wooden seats and all?" I asked.
"There was nothing but a few planks left," she said, stepping up out of the hole. "I broke all that up with a sledgehammer and dragged the remains back farther into the woods."
"Are we switching?" asked Russell.
"Yeah," said Maggie, wiping her forehead with the back of her arm.
"I'll go pit," he said.
"Henry, you toss the spoil dirt like Russell was doing, and I'll go through it and see if there's any signs of life."
Excerpted from "The Twilight Pariah"
Copyright © 2017 Jeffrey Ford.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Quick read... interesting characters... but too short to really stick with you... the author is clearly trying to set up for a series with this as the first installment.
Isn't the cover absolutely ominously stunning? I have to admit that part of the reasons for me to want to read this book was the cover and of course the fascinating blurb. Who doesn't love a devil child, and brutally murders? Well, not everyone perhaps, but I love horror books like this. I especially liked the historical part of this story, when Maggie, Russell, and Henry learn more about the horned child skeleton that they found when they started to dig around the house in the woods. What I felt the story lacked, however, was a chilling vibe. The story is definitely interesting and well-written. I just felt that it never really hooked me or got my pulse racing, in the way I want when I read a horror tale. I was fascinated, but I also felt a bit disconnected with the characters, which can be because of the shortness of the tale. I was never really worried about them, they never got under my skin. They are not flat, but neither do they flesh out properly. The same problem did I have with the victims in this story if there had been more interactions, then I would have felt more for them. With other words, if the story had been longer, then perhaps it would have gotten to me more. Nevertheless, it's definitely is a story I would recommend and I do want to read more books by Jeffrey Ford.