Now available from EDGE Publishing is Danse Macabre: Close Encounters With The Reaper, featuring stores from Brian Lumley, Lisa Morton, William Meikle, Tom Piccirilli, Gabriel Boutros, Brad Carson, Suzanne Church, Dan Devine, Lorne Dixon, Tom Dullemond, Opal Edgar, Ian M. Emberson, Sabrina Furminger, Stanley S. Hampton, Sr., Brian Hodge, Nancy Holder & Erin Underwood, J. Y. T. Kennedy, Nancy Kilpatrick, Tanith Lee, Morgan Dempsey, Timothy Reynolds, Angela Roberts, Lawrence Salani, Lucy Taylor, Bev Vincent, Bill Zaget and yours truly.
The brainchild of editor Nancy Kilpatrick, Danse Macabre is inspired by the macabre art of 14th century plague-wracked Europe, those amazing woodcuts, sculptures, and paintings of the grinning, skeletal Grim Reaper whirling hapless mortals of every class and creed in prancing, strangely joyous dance of Death. The central theme of the anthology is the various ways in which mortal men and women might encounter Death as a personification.
My own entry, The Exclusive, is set in the 1880’s. A crusading newspaper editor finds himself eating his own words when a group of violent gunmen hired by a corrupt rancher smash his office, drag him out of town, lash him to his printing press and toss him in the river. When a strange, naked man apparently saves him from a watery grave, realization soon dawns, and he finds himself with a unique opportunity for a one on one interview with the most infamous killer the world has ever known.
For my own depiction of Death, I chose to elaborate on the Jewish fable of Lilith the first woman portrayed in The Alphabet of Ben Sirach, and her apocryphal love affair with the angel Samael, with whom she conceived the first demons and who in some accounts, became the Angel of Death.
Readers of my Merkabah Rider series will recognize this take on the story of Lilith and Samael’s doomed love affair – it plays an important role in those books. I saw this as an opportunity to expand a little on their story through the eyes of a character not tied up in the epic cosmic events of Merkabah Rider.
Here’s a short excerpt – – –
“I remember the last time I saw her, before they sealed me in this prison. She was clothed in animal skins. I had never seen such a thing. She was a fierce, golden spirit twice-wrapped in death. So willful. She would have stared God in the face if that act wouldn’t have burned her to nothingness. But she didn’t even look at Michael as he passed sentence. She looked at me. And there were tears running from her eyes. The blood of the human soul.”
They were quiet for a long time, Death and Twiggs. Death’s thoughts were inscrutable, but Twiggs’ were of Junia and the last time he’d seen her. It was the last time he would ever see her.
“For the first thousand years,” Sam said, “I punished you mortals. I tore your souls from this earth and shook you like babes wakened in the night by enemy soldiers. I flung you into hell wailing. I laughed to see you scream. I concocted new perversities to inflict upon every soul I was called to claim, and each one I think plummeted into hell a little less sane than the last. I think I was insane myself. I have danced with the dying, swung them around and around to music only I could hear only to cast them into the inferno on the last go ’round. I emptied my heart in hatred of you until I became a great scar. Then my sadism bored me, and I spoke little at all. All the crimes I committed were useless. No soul came to me dreading what I had done before. Each feared only the change I represented. Once I sat silently on the soul of a man for eight years, just to watch him gibber beneath me like an animal.”
“Well,” said Twiggs, “I’m glad you’re past that period, anyway.”
Danse Macabre features some amazing stories, and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it. Lisa Morton’s The Secret Engravings (about the plague artist Hans Holbein The Younger’s strange patron), Brian Hodge’s For I Must Be About My Father’s Work (a hitman who upon hearing a victim’s desperate prayers, decides to wait along with him to see if God intervenes), La Senora Blanca (an old Mexican woman’s confrontation with the goddess of criminals, Santa Muerte) by Lucy Taylor were particular standouts for me. I can’t recommend them enough.
You can pick up Danse Macabre here from the publisher http://www.edgewebsite.com/books/dansemacabre/dansemacabre.html
Or on Amazon.