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I cannot now recall where or when or why I first conceived of Dancy Flammarion. But then I can say the same thing about almost all of my characters, regardless of how fond of them I may (or may not) be. Almost inevitably, that moment when they initially occur to me is lost. Only later, after a story or two, after a novel or three, do those original thoughts take on any significance, and by then it's too late and I've forgotten. Hindsight's a bitch.

But the earliest mention of Dancy in my notes for Threshold is dated September 16th, 1998. I describe her simply as a "creepy little 'Boo Radley' albino girl." Also, I know that I first came across the name Dancy that summer, while I was collecting fossils from the Upper Cretaceous of western Alabama. If you look at a map of the state—if you look very closely—you can probably find the "town" of Dancy on State Highway 17, a few miles east of the Mississippi line in southern Pickens County. It had a post office, once upon a time, and might have been named for Dr. Edwin C. Dancy (b. 1810). I was there one blistering afternoon in July or August, and the name stuck in my head, as names often do, and so maybe it's fair to say that's where Dancy Flammarion began.

Now, more than eight years later, I've written a novel, four short stories, and a novella about Dancy, though I'd genuinely never intended to go back to her after finishing with Threshold. But in the summer of 2001, while compiling material for Trilobite: The Writing of Threshold, I was glancing through the novel and lingered on this passage from the end of Chapter Eight:


This is the ravenous stone face that Dancy's dreamt of so many times, the same yawning, toothless mouth and those vacant, hollow eyes. Face of the thing that killed her mother and the vengeful ebony thing that came to take its body back into the swamp, the face of the smiling man from the Greyhound bus and the auburn-haired woman in Waycross with stubby, writhing tentacles where her breasts should have been, the pretty boy in Savannah who showed her a corked amber bottle that held three thousand ways to suffer, three thousand ways to hurt, before she killed him. All of them dead because that's what the angel said, and she's standing here holding tight to these iron bars so she doesn't fall, too weak to stand and the mountain looming above her, because this is where the angel said she had to go. (p. 134)


Suddenly, I wanted to tell one of these stories. Specifically, I wanted to know exactly what had happened to Dancy in Savannah when she met the pretty boy with the deadly amber bottle, and I began work on a story called "Les Fleurs Empoisonnées," which I intended to include in the chapbook. But then it proved to be a rather longish story, and Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press proposed it be published on its own as a small hardback. I asked if I could get Dame Darcy to illustrate it, as one of her drawings had been a very important inspiration, and he said sure, but would I change the title to something that wasn't French. I agreed, and "Les Fleurs Empoisonnées" was released as In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers in March 2002. We were even able to use the Dame Darcy piece that had given me the ghoulish women of the Stephens Ward Tea League and Society of Resurrectionists for the book's end papers.

And, as it turned out, by the time In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers was in print, I'd already written a second Dancy story, a strange little piece about her childhood in the swamps of Okaloosa County, Florida. Titled "The Well of Stars and Shadow," it was written at the very tail end of October 2001 (thank you, Spooky) and appeared first on on the twelfth of that November. It was also included in Trilobite: The Writing of Threshold (which, for one reason and another, wasn't released until 2003). Only a few months later, in March 2002, I wrote my third Dancy short story, "Waycross," which was released as a chapbook by Subterranean Press, beautifully illustrated by Ted Naifeh (those four illustrations are reprinted herein). Like "Les Fleurs Empoisonnées" before it, "Waycross" grew out of that paragraph from the end of Chapter Eight of Threshold, elucidating another of the episodes I'd begun to wonder about. In August, as I was finishing with Low Red Moon, I wrote in my online journal (9/17/02), "I know I still have one more Dancy story left to write, a prequel to 'Waycross,' but it may be months before I have time to write it." I suspected it would be titled "Bainbridge," and by this point Bill Schafer was asking about doing a collection of Dancy stories.

But then on March 18, 2003, roughly a year after I'd written "Waycross," I wrote an unanticipated piece called "Alabaster." Again, I refer to an entry from my online journal (these things can be very convenient): "...I did something I've never done before. I conceived of and finished a short story on the same day. I'd never even begun and finished a short story on the same day before. It's a very short piece, only about 1,000 wds., for the Camelot chapette book, titled 'Alabaster.' A brief glimpse at Dancy Flammarion on her way to 'Waycross,' set before that story, Threshold, and In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers." In 2004, as I began to plan for the Dancy collection, I expanded "Alabaster" into a full-length short story, which appears in print for the first time in this collection.

The final short story in this book, "Bainbridge," which I believe will be the last time I write about Dancy, was begun in December 2005 and completed just after the New Year. I'm not going to say much more about it, as it has a few surprises (I know they surprised me) which I don't want to spoil. Among other things, the story deals with Dancy's mother, Julia Flammarion, and her attempt to drown herself off Pensacola Beach in December 1982.

Also the reader will note that, as with Tales of Pain and Wonder, I have provided the reader with a second Table of Contents, for those who wish the read the stories in chronological order rather than the order in which they were written (my personal preference).

It seems as though I ought to have more to say here, something more substantial than this simple litany of dates. Dancy has been in my head for a long, long time now. I've returned to her again and again. The word avatar comes to mind, and its original Sanskrit meaning—the incarnation of a god in animal or human form. Dancy has certainly been that, though I think I'll leave the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about the ultimate nature of the god or gods that Dancy Flammarion might be made incarnate. And, of course, Dancy has also served as an avatar for some dark splinter of my own being, the incarnation of my own seemingly bottomless fury at the world around me, the splinter which wants no part of tedious Reason and Compromise, the angry, seething splinter that would be a lot happier addressing this or that perceived injustice with a carving knife than settling for mere words. There's a paradox here, of course. While I doubt I'm quite monstrous enough to ever show up on Dancy's hit list, I'm also pretty sure she'd have about as much use for me as she did for those wicked Ladies in Savannah. That doesn't make me love her any less, though. Like the Gynander and Sinethella, I have no illusions about my own monstrosity. It only makes it harder for me to consider the trails I've seen fit to visit upon Dancy.

I think this is all about mirrors, more than anything else, mirrors and lost innocence. I think it's also about the terrible consequences of misguided belief. And insanity. And there's still something more, something I can't quite seem to get at, like a last bit of marrow in some inconvenient crevice of a shattered bone. Maybe you'll see it for yourselves, or maybe I'm only jumping at shadows.

My thanks to Bill Schafer, because I never would have written this book without his enthusiasm and encouragement. And to Spooky, who hides the knives from me. And to my agent, Merrilee Heifetz. A big thank you to Ted Naifeh for making much more of this book than my words, and to Dame Darcy, for inspiration and for her work on In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers. And I'm sure there are other people who should be thanked. There always are. But now it's time to start the show. Someone get the lights...


Caitlín R. Kiernan
16 January 2006
Atlanta, Georgia

...abasht the Devil stood,
And felt how awful goodness is...

John Milton, Paradise Lost

Every angel is terrifying.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies


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