Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth

Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth

by James Dorr
Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth

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Overview

Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth by James Dorr

It had been a time when the world needed legends, those years so long past now. Because there was something else legends could offer, or so the Poet believed. He didn't know quite what—ghouls were not skilled at imagination. Their world was a concrete one, one of stone and flesh. Struggle and survival. Survival predicated on others' deaths. Far in the future, when our sun grows ever larger, scorching the earth. When seas become poisonous and men are needed to guard the crypts from the scavengers of the dead. A ghoul-poet will share stories of love and loss, death and resurrection. Tombs is a beautifully written examination of the human condition of life, love, and death, through the prism of a dystopian apocalypse.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781934501740
Publisher: Elder Signs Press
Publication date: 06/01/2017
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author


Indiana writer James Dorr's The Tears of Isis was a 2014 Bram Stoker Award® nominee for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection. Other books include Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance, Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret, and his all-poetry Vamps (A Restrospective). An Active Member of HWA and SFWA with nearly 400 individual appearances from Airships & Automatons and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine to Xenophilia and Yellow Bat Review, Dorr invites readers to visit his blog.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The Founding of Legends

What were legends? The Ghoul-Poet reflected: Legends were history that has stood through time.

But why seek legends? Because there might lie answers.

It had been a time when the world needed legends, those years so long past now. Because there was something else legends could offer, or so the Poet believed. He didn't know quite what — ghouls were not skilled at imagination. Their world was a concrete one, one of stone and flesh. Struggle and survival. Survival predicated on others' deaths.

Death was what ghouls ate.

But was that not itself a poetic thought, the Ghoul-Poet wondered, one based on abstracts? That one that eats corpses — because that's what ghouls did. Ghouls were the world's scavengers. That one who does that then in some way consumed death too?

The ghoul looked about him, at buildings fallen, at others still standing but long ago emptied. In what had once been a vibrant, bright city, not like the ruins that ghouls had always lived in. This was the New City, a stronghold of humans, but humans all deceased. And even their dead now were in short supply.

The Riverman's Daugher

What is love, if it will not find a way ... ?

*
IT WAS THE BREAKING hour of a night of the full moon — a Lovers' Moon, some say — that Towli first saw her. There had been a shout from the River Gate, even before the first sliver of moonrise, and that had aroused him with the others, the men and women who lived in the Tombs. Ghouls, was the first thought. Necromancers and robbers of graves — eaters of the dead — who might have circled round from the west, from the marbled wall that protected the Tombs from the ruins of Old City where, even by then, the first sparkles of blue lights were starting to be seen?

But the River Gate, too, was guarded. And even ghouls shunned the heat of daylight, even at twilight, especially as, as the years progressed and the sun waxed larger in the sky, the days grew ever hotter.

No, ghouls, like tomb-dwellers, spent the hours of the actinic sun beneath the ground's surface — or else, in the Tombs, in mausoleums shared with the most ancient of those that lay there protected by thick stone, or, in the New City, within the confines of tall, ever-lighted buildings or, if upon its streets, sheltered at least beneath brightly striped awnings. And New Citymen used the broad-arched causeway that led to the Bridge Gate to bring in their dead, leaving their offering coins at the gatehouse, then gently jangling the bell-pulls they found there, once for each corpse they had stacked on the tumbrel.

No, this was the River Gate — east and below the New City causeway, practically lapping the dark water's edge. And rarely used now, especially in summer. And then he saw her.

He, like the others, the ones of his digging crew, had arrived first at the angled, stone staircase that hugged the thick outer wall of their tomb-city. He, a historian during his spare hours, approached the guards first.

"What is it?" he called out, his words nearly lost in the harsh scraping sound of the iron river grating below them being raised.

"Gypsy boat, sir," the nearest guard answered. "Late for the season."

Late indeed, Towli thought. During the summer the river was low and stank of accumulations of poisons — the by-blows of magic such as the ghouls used, and others as well. Such boats as were left that plied the broad stream between the Tombs and the New City's commerce were usually gone north before the end of spring. Even now, though, he could see the shadowed form with its single, pole-hung bow lantern approaching the landing.

And then, a gentler scrape as it was pulled in, guards making its side-lines fast to the dock's stone cleats.

"Excuse me, sir," the guard said as he rushed back down to join them, his stout metal-ringed staff held at the ready in case it was some trick.

And then Towli saw her, still cloaked in the rich, dark folds of her day chador, with only the tips of her fingers and the depths of her eyes visible in the already star-spotted twilight. She saw him as well as she mincingly climbed the steep granite steps, her attendants behind her bearing heaped baskets of incense and precious beads, panniers of flowers and chests of etched brass coins.

"Are you the leader here?" she asked him when she had reached the landing at the top and stood before him. Her voice tinkled, bell-like, as if purest silver.

He bowed in the old way, as he had learned from his books of history. "No, my lady," he answered politely, struggling as he did to leave off his gawking. "Here in the Tombs we have no leaders. Only ourselves who tend the dead because we are born to it, following custom."

"I see," she said simply. "But you are a guide, then?" He bowed again, lower than the first time. "I can be that, yes," he said — but then his voice caught. She had shaken her hood back by now and he, who had been himself the son of a son of a riverman married into the Tombs, who even now feared to look in mirrors for what he might find there — who knew more than most from his forebears' memory the deformations that constant exposure to the river's vapors could cause, the blackened skin, the contorted, torn flesh — saw now ... a heat vision!

He thought it a heat vision. Hair of the darkest red cascading from her head as river water. Framing a face of the purest white ivory, of fine carven features. Lips vying with her hair in their rich crimson . ...

Lips that still spoke to him: "I am a riverman's daughter," she said. "That of a chief among the boat-sailors. Do you understand me?" "I — I think so," he stammered.

She nodded, her chador slipping a tiny distance more to reveal a perfect, rounded white shoulder. "My father died when I was scarcely more than an infant," she continued, "on a sea to the south. I have been told that his corpse was brought here, and, now that I am of age myself, the time has come that I make an offering on his grave."

And now she smiled, a smile of springtime, of summer's heat muted by winter's whiteness. She gestured behind her, to her waiting servants, and spoke once more: "As you can see, I can pay well to do this."

Towli nodded too, not quite a bow this time, but one of business. One must think of business. Yet....

He shook that thought from him. This was a noble lady, he thought, even if one of gypsies. One whose attendants clearly kept her well protected from the river's poisons. And yet — she was so pale.

But duty was duty. He gestured to some of those who had gathered to stand behind him to help her servants with their heavy baskets. He, a historian, knew of a grave where a riverman lay, an unusual monument for the Tombs insofar as those who plied the river generally cast their dead into its waters. Unless, of course, the bodies were those of chiefs, worthy of more respect — though even then, he dimly remembered, there were other ways as well. Other methods of honoring.

But it was not for him to question. He nodded once more, smiling back at the woman, not daring to trust his voice to speak again, and led her forward.

*
So passed June, and its Moon of Lovers, Towli tending the river chief's grave himself, not just because of the largess of offerings, but also because he wanted to for himself. And as he did so he often remembered how she had finally left, scarcely having uttered another word herself after that first businesslike conversation.

The moon had almost completed its course when she had finally returned to her gypsy boat with her attendants, gesturing for her men to push it again from the shore. She had then turned away, watching the river as the craft was caught in its current, south past the Tombs, before going herself to her cabin below decks and, just before she had disappeared, he had shouted a warning.

"Beware the ghouls if you sail to the south," he had called to her. "You'll pass through their city." And she had turned once more, her voice again tinkling as if with the sound of silver bells: "We of the river fear not ghouls, Towli"— she had learned his name while they searched out her father's grave, although he had not heard her own name spoken, either by her or by any of the servants with her. "Rather we fear the river's own creatures rending our flesh from us, even as we do theirs. As for the ghouls themselves, however, they maintain their own superstitions, one of which holds that our boats are bad luck, and so they avoid us. At least on the river."

Then she was gone, and her boat soon after, lost in the rising mist of the pre-dawn. Yet he had stayed there on the top landing plaza until the sun had almost risen, chancing its red-copper brightness against his skin, before he had finally retreated himself to his underground home that he shared with the dead from past generations.

And in the coolness of marbled corridors he found he could not sleep, at least not at first. So he searched out his history books, studying times when the world was new, before poisons and vapors had desiccated it, heating its air, polluting its waters. Before the sun grew huge. When people walked outdoors by day as well as in darkness, not fearing its brightness. And some sailed the river even for pleasure.

He read farther on about how some who had fished the river's waters had in time adapted to the world's changes, placing first canopies, then thick-roofed cabins over their boats' decks — insulators in which were packed cargo, protecting further the dimness of their holds. Even as those of the Tombs had adapted, descendants of sextons and priests and gravediggers coming to live themselves in the underground caves they created, just as the New City dwellers built their structures ever higher, with awnings and covered bridges between them to ward off the sun's rays. How even the ghouls, the outcasts of old — become scavengers, destitute, forced to seek out such livings as they might from others' refuse — had, as the centuries progressed, made their own grisly adaptation.

He read, fascinated, as the nights passed from the Moon of Lovers to Ratcatchers' Moon and the days grew hotter with July's sweltering, of the customs the river people then took on, their funeral arrangements by land or by water, their rituals and beliefs, and, as he read on, a dark implication began to take form concerning the riverman's daughter's offering.

And it was then that she entered his dreams.

*
He knew from his readings into her culture that, among the rivermen, dreams were warnings. Portents of evil — but sometimes of good, too. The first time he dreamed of her she was within her boat, shaded and cool in its underdeck cabin, surrounded by cushions and sheer silken tapestries, shot with golden thread.

She was disrobing, her daytime chador already cast from her, and he saw what he had known already from only one glimpse of an ivory shoulder. That she was beautiful.

Under that chador she wore bright silks in the river fashion, clinging to limbs that were well-formed and perfect. He saw her waist, slim and firm, hips round and soft-curved, hair tumbling over the fall of her back and the spread of her buttocks, glowing blood red in the cabin lantern's dim phosphorescence, and he knew another thing. One more thing that he had suspected already.

And that was: he loved her.

Yet night finally came and, with it, the time to wake, and so she left him. The Bridge Gate's bell-pulls were already jangling, a new load of dead from the New City causeway, and he had his duties. There was ground to be cleared off, new graves to be started. New earth to be broken, baked hard in the summer's heat.

And one plot also he kept his eye on, as, searching, he found locations for other graves. Because, as he knew, dreams could be portents.

The second time, then, when the night's work was over, he dreamed that she loved him. That she had picked carefully among all the men who had stood at the landing above the river when her boat had docked there, and chosen him alone. That she had studied him, side-glancing with her eyes, as he had conducted her through the tomb-yards, seeking her father's grave. That she had watched him despite his life-long aversion to mirrors for fear of what he might see, and learned his name purposely.

This he had not known but, dreaming, he wondered if deep down perhaps he had. If, perhaps, only he had feared to admit it — to even hope it. And now he knew her name, too, even though she had had yet to speak a single word, neither in this dream nor the one before it.

Her name was Olann.

And yet, when he woke this time, wending his way through his nighttime duties, digging the graves deeper for the last night's cargo, smoothing their bottom planes, helping his crew to lower in the caskets, to spread the bright petals of flower and leaf offerings, to light the incense and post the ghoul-guards, he feared the moon's setting and what would then become the next morning's dream-time.

Because dreams were warnings.

And Olann had yet to speak — to speak the words that would confirm their love. Or he to answer.

And when, finally, within his marbled tomb-home, sleep forced itself on him and, will it or nill it, the hour for dreams came, he dreamed what he feared the most. What he knew he would dream because he had read of the rivermen's beliefs and rituals, and knew what it meant for the time to come for a daughter to make offering over her father's corpse.

He dreamed now of his fear before, when they had first met, when he had first glimpsed her face and her shoulder, that her skin was too pale. He dreamed now of her cabin-lamp's phosphorescence turned low by her servants, of her form lying supine alone on its pillow bed. Of her lips forming– No, forming no word now because this dream was one of incense and solemn chantings, of black-waxed candles. Of river fevers, swift in a morning's heat. Poisons and mists that not even silken screens always protected from.

And when he woke he knew that which he had known as well, before he had even slept.

Olann, this night, was dead.

*
It was some nights later, at the first sliver of what would become the Goldsmelters' Moon — the low, dull moon of August — that the river's watchers first spied the boat coming. Towli was up the instant he heard their call, but, even then, by the time he had reached the upper landing, mute attendants were already carrying their burden up the angled, stone stairs, laden with jewels and flowers and true-gold coins. Others followed with incense and lanterns, and yet more offerings, fish from the river, and bones and glass necklaces, aromatic seaweeds and water krill. Small bells and silken cloths, draperies and sandalwood.

All of them halted when their procession had reached the stone plaza Towli waited on. The leader among the attendants bowed once, a single time only, but that was enough to signal the others to lower their burdens, the litter with Olann's corpse covered with offerings, the full, heaped baskets the others bore up as well, silently at his feet.

Then the lead attendant spoke, glaring full at Towli's face: "You will do her honor," he said. "As you can see, we have paid well that you shall do this, to choose from the customs of both your and our people to find the best for her."

Towli bowed back — never in his life had he seen such a profusion of offerings for a single burial! — but the lead attendant and all the others had already turned to descend the narrow steps back to the river's edge. Blinking tears, Towli watched as the riverboat pushed back to mid-stream, then, raising its sails, tacked painfully north upriver, leaving, he knew, the Tombs forever.

He blinked back his tears again, then called his fellows, assigning the strongest of them to lift what the river-chief's daughter's attendants had left them. He pointed upward, up toward the broad streets and twisted alleys that led to the grave of Olann's father, and upward from that, too, to the plot he had already selected. He had them carry her up to a hill looking north to the New City with its bright night-lights of red — like her hair's red — and yellow and purple, green and turquoise, reflecting off the great river's surface. And, starting to dig the new grave with his own hands, he had them put her down.

They helped him, of course, but it was early August, and the ground was baked hard. One foot they dug, then a foot-and-a-half, but by then the nascent moon had already sunk west toward the Old City, glimmering blue with its flickering corpse-lights, while, to the east, dimly, the first glow of pre-dawn was already starting to make its appearance.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Tombs"
by .
Copyright © 2017 James Dorr.
Excerpted by permission of Elder Signs Press.
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

I. THE FOUNDING OF LEGENDS,
THE RIVERMAN'S DAUGHTER,
THE BEAUTIFUL CORPSE,
FLUTE AND HARP,
II. LIFE, DEATH, AND LOVE IN THE WORLD OF THE "TOMBS",
THE LOVER OF DEAD FLESH,
THE FEMALE DEAD,
MANGOL THE GHOUL,
THE LAST DANCE,
SARGASSO,
III. INTIMATIONS OF FUTURE DISASTER,
CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS,
MIASMA,
ENTR'ACTE,
MARA'S ROOM,
IV. THE FUTURE BECOMES NEAR,
CITY ON FIRE,
THE ICE MAIDEN,
THE WINGED MAN,
V. APPROACHES TOWARD RECONCILIATION,
RAISING THE DEAD,
THE FLOWER,

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Tombs: A Chronicle of Latter-Day Times of Earth 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
ChristineRains More than 1 year ago
In the distant future where land and seas are polluted, an eater of the dead searches old stories for legends. This ghoul-poet, rare among his kind, seeks to learn more than heroics. The times are dismal, needing something much more powerful. Sharing with us tales of love and loss, life and death, the poet examines the human condition on a planet that is heaving its last breaths. This is a mesmerizing collection of short stories all set in our distant future where the sun is frying Earth and many humans left are ill or mutated. The Tombs is the place where people bring their dead, a massive walled cemetery and city. There are those that work and live in the Tombs, serving the dead and protecting them from ghouls. I was fascinated by this dystopian world, the various people and their cultures. Every story brings the reader deeper into the world, unveils something beautiful and horrifying. Those two things are twined intricately here as we dance with gothic tales of life and death. My favorite stories include "The Beautiful Corpse" as I did wonder if Gombar was loved as much as he loved. "The Female Dead" with the embalmer who so loved that he did everything he could to protect a beauty's corpse from the ghouls. There were only a few survivors in "City on Fire" and one was a woman who made the final trek for the man she loved.
TheGehennaPost More than 1 year ago
Greetings from the Ethereal Plane, World building is perhaps one of the most important aspects of science fiction and fantasy, often solely deciding the imaginative depths and intricacies that define the genres. It is often difficult for authors to craft a unique world, let alone accomplish such a feat in a seamless manner. TOMBS is an unexpected, enigmatic piece that author James Dorr spent years creating. The world is visually stunning, the layers and depths of the universe never faltering in their ability to not only captivate the reader, but to also offer a lending hand in an escape to a world full of wonder and astonishment. From the Old City to the Tombs, every setting is flawlessly illustrated with language poetic and frequently romantic. Dorr crafts his universe with talent unrivaled and unparalleled. Told in a series of short stories that chronologically build upon the previous chapters, and in the vein of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, TOMBS holds many tales of disturbing events, that question standards of morality and cultural norms. Dorr daringly attacks topics many may find to be unsettling, but does so in a manner that will lead readers to question their own stances on such concepts. The bravery Dorr exhibits in his prose is both foreboding and admirable. The legends of this dystopian universe offer a bleak and dark outlook for mankind’s future, while maintaining a constant theme of hope that derives from a consistently referenced mystery, that being of love. The characters grasp onto their humanity in a world that is unforgiving, changing, and most importantly, hopeless. There is no cure for the ever-changing climate of the Latter-Day Earth, no wishful thinking for a better and less-toxic atmosphere. Rather, the characters choose to do what mankind has always been known to exceed in, more than any other species; this being the ability to adapt. Romance and death intertwine into a stunning and macabre work of art that will take veterans of darker literature and newcomers alike to worlds unfathomable, glistening with imagination and magnificence. There are no cheerful times in this novel, desperation consistently at the cusp of all characters’ motives and actions. Deep down in the recesses of TOMBS, the antechambers of the Old City echo with memories from our narrator, the Ghoul-poet, offering an interesting and unique point-of-view and further cementing the legendary foundations of the novel. Several scenes in TOMBS left us disturbed and unsettled, especially any setting where the Ghouls took precedence. These beings on the outside are grotesque, snarling beasts, but the more in-depth one reaches into Dorr’s realm, the more sympathy and understanding one will gain for these monsters, yet again revolving back to the central themes of humanity, preservation, love, and death. As readers, we found Dorr’s novel, TOMBS to be breathtaking and macabre in all of the most perfect ways. We highly recommend this novel to any fan of pieces with a darker tone. If you enjoy grimdark, fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, transhumanism, post-humanism, body horror, horror, or any subgenres or combinations of these genres, we think you will find yourself hooked from the opening tale, gripping white-knuckled with anticipation for the next chapter of morose and beautifully-executed storytelling. --The Gehenna Post
chickangell More than 1 year ago
After spending the evening trying to organize my thoughts, and still struggling, this is not going to be as clear and concise as I had hoped. Man, the synopsis is perfectly written, though. James Dorr does a remarkable job tying together 16 seemingly disparate tales of life, love, death, and the human condition. The first few stories were quite shocking, with some rather graphic and questionable content. (The Beautiful Corpse, The Lover of Dead Flesh were titles that might have given me some hints.) but the behavior treated as common, and the reflection of why it was acceptable (which, of course, I did!) based on our current society and how it is developing led to some rather disturbing self-reflection. After addressing more commonly shocking issues (sexuality, female positioning in society, how we care for our dead, and other interesting issues.) the stories take a unique twist, going from primarily told by the people charged with caring for the dead (Those who run the Tombs, telling us how to view Ghouls, New City Dwellers, and The River People.) then we shift our perspectives and get stories and views from these other peoples themselves who view their position in society as natural and appropriate, and the other's as different/ bad. Just when you think you know what to expect, the next tale twists what you think you know and gives you a new angle and perspective to consider. And when you take that and compare it to our real-world counterparts, it creates a rabbit hole that is easy to leave you caught in a thought-provoking stupor. For anyone participating in #ReadProud reading challenge (or one similar, focusing on stories about LGBTQ.) There are several stories in this Novel-in-Stories, like Flute and Harp, The Ice Maiden, and The Winged Man that all highlight how Mr. Dorr perceives the LGBTQ issue in a distant future, which in a way, I found quite comforting despite the uncomfortable future this tale predicts. Yes, despite the uncomfortable and dark future predicted in this future world, key elements, like love, money, and humanity's ability to carve out some sort of life in even the direst circumstances carries on with a heart-broken tinge of hope and legends. I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes to think deep thoughts about what they read. For anyone who has an interest in politics, social issues, climate issues, anthropological studies, biomedical, and for the curious who like to imagine how the world could turn out. For me, this was more realistic an outcome than the Divergent series, Hunger Games, or Maze Runner, though definitely not for the same audience. This is a grown up's view for grown-ups of what a dystopian world could potentially provide.