The Thule Stowaway

I have reached these lands but newly
From an ultimate dim Thule
From a wild weird clime that lieth, sublime
Out of SPACE—out of TIME.
Edgar Allan Poe, “Dream–Land”

The Poet’s Tale

The dreamer, born bleak, invents an existence elsewhere. He tosses in his sleep, his hair tangled. His hands grasp at nothing, and his nightclothes oppress him. He roams a land of chill seas and stony cliffs, and when at last he arrives at a kingdom, he passes through its gate cautiously, seeking a fire, but finding only silvery surfaces surrounded by cliffs. It is a frozen place, no metal, no wood. It is a place where even the knives are made of ice.

There is a tower before him. The dreamer enters the tower and climbs the staircase.

In the tower there is a creature, and in the creature there is a heart made of lost love. The heart takes flight from the creature’s breast, and a raven rises against the frozen gray sky, over a coastline bordered in coffins, a world of women with bound hands and blindfolded eyes.

As the heart departs, the dreamer wakes a poet.

He stumbles to his desk and opens a pot of ink. He dips the raven’s feather in it and begins to write, sleep still half upon him, his mind full of creatures that fade as he commits them to paper, caging them line by line, his pen drawing their prison.

He wrings the night into dawn. He covers pages with calligraphed serpents, a poem twisting into a story filled with another story, a novel pushing against the edges of the paper. As he writes, his kingdom comes into being, and he breathes life into it, his fingers leaving prints on the pages, his companion beginning to take shape, an appetite made of points of light, a creature made of the hours of an insomniac.

If a man makes a monster, he wonders, is he responsible for it? If one is the master of the monster, what happens when the monster is left alone? Does it wander in wrath? Does it rage? The poet does not consider his monster’s future. He makes it and sets it free in his kingdom.

The poet is a young man when he begins to build the kingdom called Thule, and he builds for years.

He dreams alongside his dreamers, and in the waking world, he wanders, writing roads alongside his own, sometimes crossing them. A dream within a dream, he thinks. Thule and its king with his dark heart and longing for love, Thule and its ruler, its forests, its floods of ghosts. Dream–land, he thinks, embroidering the edges of a realm stitched in silver.

Into the drawer of the desk the poet puts his Thule, locked and keyed, while he goes into his own life, a marriage, a misery, years of scrimping and sickness, a beach, a bride, a breaking.

Thule continues about its business without its god, and when the poet returns to it and publishes a map of its boundaries, the companion he invented as a young man has been roaming the earth for years.

There has been a dead wife washed up on the shores of Thule, her name Annabel or Lenore, or…

Call this body Virginia. Call this, that was a girl, a ghost with violet eyes and black hair, dead at the age of twenty–four, consumed.

The poet opens his drawer, and finds his kingdom of grim comforts. He looks into the distance, seeking the raven–shaped heart, the starry skin, the sharp teeth, but the creature is nowhere to be found.

The poet remembers a ship left sailing into the line of the horizon, but he can’t recall the direction, not with a compass, not with the sun. Dim, the land he made as a boy, and darkness abutting the edges. But out of that land, in the brightness of the world, there is something he made, and he must capture it.

He writes a trap for the monster, a story filled with dreamers. A woman, a demon, a journey, a town by the water and something floating out in the harbor. He writes a tale for himself to inhabit, a dream within a dream.

This tale.

The Thule Tale

There are certain stories, any reader knows, that recur in towns boundaried by water. A captain’s wife stares into a gale, and suddenly her husband’s face appears in that green–gray miasma, a vision of his wrack and ruin. Ghostly sailors struggle from the waves, only to fall back again. Ships are found adrift, crews missing. Messages in bottles are discovered ten years after their sender’s drowning, inscribed with predictions of futures unlived.

I need not remind the reader, gentle or no, that these tales are fictions made of desire, that the act of missing a beloved may conjure miracles. For myself, I never held with such. I held with hope, and so I came to Providence for a worldly version of Salvation, in the year eighteen hundred and forty–eight, carrying an umbrella and wearing a long dress, my hem draggling in the mud.

No one turned head to look at me when I emerged from my carriage. I was no longer a girl, but a woman of nearly thirty–five. I’d had money, and then I had none, or at least none in hand. A cutpurse I never saw, and that was gone, though in the hem of my skirt I’d sewn enough to carry me. I was no innocent. By all accounts I was a lost cause and a fallen woman.

The mistress of the inn was slender, with bones that ridged through her skin in distinct knobs.

“I am Mrs. MacFarlane,” I informed her, with as much dignity as I could. “My husband is delayed on the road.”

She looked into my eyes and offered a tight smile. I felt certain that my ruse had not been accepted.

“And every husband is delayed on the road,” she said. “And every road leads to hell.”

It was not as though I had better options. The accommodations were homely but the linens were of a fine hand. The food was good and plain.

I’d come to Providence to make a portrait, a particular rendition of my own visage, and the man I meant to meet had no notion I was coming. It was a wild afternoon in November, and my arrival was veiled by weather. I had no wish to be recognized, and so the rain bothered me not at all, though when I ascended to my room, I hung my dress to dry and returned to the dining room in another gown, this one charcoal hatched with violet stripes, a changeable taffeta petticoat in rose and canary.

In the daguerreotype I planned, I’d look like a woman dressed in dark, but in truth, I was as a nightbird’s wing, flashing my colors. There was a whimsy in that, and though I had suffered, I still had enough humor to see the wit of a woman garbed in silk peacockery, appearing, when drained of color, to be a widow in mourning. I wanted levity in the daguerreotype, if indeed I would be carrying it with me for the rest of my life.

I sat at a small table with a plate of boiled meat, and the innkeeper kept my tea hot. There were curtains hanging all about me, toile printed with scenes of exploration in some unknown country, a legacy of a former life. They were of French manufacture, I believed, though this town was on the eastern coast of America. I ate quietly, contemplating my mission, considering the streets with their cobblestones, the daguerreotypist’s parlor, the items in my valise upstairs.

Eventually the innkeeper emerged again. She’d taken down her hair and drawn a muted paisley shawl about her shoulders. Her hair was an unlikely platinum, near enough to white that I’d thought her older than she was, and it was loose now, in waves down from her pins. It was beautiful, though she was not. It seemed to me that this mattered, though I’d known beautiful women dead in the same circumstances as those whose faces had less grace. Beauty, it seemed to me, was a lie told to girls, a fairytale of prospects and princes, and as my own face had aged, I’d come to wonder whether anything of it was truth at all. Whatever beauty I possessed had only brought me trouble.

“A sip for a storm,” the innkeeper said. I looked at her, feeling weary, though the fire blazed up, and it was warm enough in the room. I’d left New York scarcely recovered from the last fever, and from the ghastliness thereafter. This portrait and photographer were my only hope.

She sat opposite me. I could smell her perfume, a mixture of salts and camphor.

She poured sherry, her hand steady, and I could see her smile, though her head was bowed. It was a smile that said she knew my history. Some jilting, some man turned marauder, or perhaps wed to another lovelier than I. Perhaps she thought I’d promised myself to a sailor, and now waited in vain for his bones to walk out from the bay.

I saw her glance at my waistline, but there was nothing there to betray me. No, what inhabited me hid more efficiently than that.

Beneath my dress, I wore a strand of beads made of amber, the better to absorb the energy of the thing I carried. Sometimes at night I woke, chilled and sweating, gasping, unable to swallow, but I was here, was I not? I’d managed the journey. It had been a question, my body racked with spasms, curled against the hard leather seat.

I’d twisted my wedding ring seven times around my finger, and then taken it off and put it on a chain about my neck for fear of losing it. My father was certain I’d acquired it of a tinker, roadside shine bought as an additive to my delusions of a paramour. He understood nothing.

I’d reduced in weight during in the sixmonth I’d spent an invalid, plagued by visions and panics, surrounded by delicate pieces of dark. This in spite of the midnight meals I’d consumed—no, nothing to speak on, nothing to think on. They had not fed me.

Now I was here. This was a cure, or so a medium in New York had told me.

“Go to this daguerreotypist,” said the woman met in a district otherwise filled with stables and snorting animals, passing me a card with an address. She was in the upper quarters, a gown of dark pink embroidery, a face like a crystallized fig, all folds and sugary creases, poisonously edible. “Hire him to take your portrait.”

A photographer of ghosts. There was a fashion toward such things at that time, but this studio, that of Masury & Hartshorn, was particular. Both of the main photographers there were of unusual lineage, she told me. Messr. Hartshorn was a stag turned man by a jealous god two thousand years before, and Messr. Masury was the son of a ghoul, but, by all accounts, tremendously polite. They ran a specialist studio. There was a photographer there, this medium swore, who might use the camera to save my soul, if anything remained of it. His name was whispered in these circles, though it was not one the studio advertised.

That was why I had come here, at considerable peril, and this was my aim. A session that would save me. A portrait that would free me from the burden I carried.

The man I was to meet was called Edwin Manchester, an apprentice who had come to photography from the spiritual movement. He was well–known in the circles I’d come to rely upon, and had, according to the medium, purged one Miss Valpareille of a demon that had taken up residence inside the chambers of her heart. His method of photography extracted whatever creature had nestled within the person being photographed.

If there was a stowaway inside my body, this portrait would snatch it out. The portrait, then, would depart with me, and though it was necessary I keep it under lock and key, the stowaway would be trapped inside it for as long as the portrait existed. So I hoped and so I prayed. I could not spend my nights the way I’d spent them of late.

The mistress leaned back in her chair. I noticed a woven bracelet around her wrist, the same platinum as her own tresses, twisted into a complicated pattern, a mourning bracelet, but for the large gemstone at the center, wreathed in hair. A star sapphire. The star gleamed in the same way her eyes did. It was not from here. A sailor for her too, it seemed, someone who’d raided a faraway treasure, or traded with a woman for her jewels.

“Best to close the curtains,” the innkeeper said, calmly as though she were telling me she’d prepared hot milk to better my sleep. “Men may come out from the water at night, and you would rather they not see you, though if you desire you may look out from behind the drape.”

“Men?” I asked. “What men? The men from the town? From a ship?”

She spoke as though what she said was nothing strange, nothing the least unusual, and in truth, my recent history had convinced me there was nothing impossible in the world, that anything might happen, and to anyone.

“There is a ship anchored in the bay. Out of it come explorers, drenched and walking inland toward the light of the town. They carry lanterns, and come bearing maps, but the maps do not depict any place the barmen have heard tell of, nor do they reveal any mark in their topographical lines to remind one of anything near here. Drear, the men are, dressed in creamy silk waistcoats, and long black tails. With the dawn they walk back into the water.”

“I had not realized I was to hear of ghosts,” I commented, mildly enough, but the story, I worried at like a knot. I’d heard stories before, and some of them were true. I lived in the center of a narrative that no reasonable person would perceive as plausible. This one, that of a ship of the dead, chilled me. I had known other stories about ships.

I peered out into the street and saw all sorts of men with all sorts of countenances, all in their dark and drear, all with their eager eyes and long mustaches, but none of them came out of the bay.

“One always hears of ghosts at this time of the year,” she said, and shrugged. “The season is turning dark and the storms are upon us. The living walk beside things that would be stricken by sunlight. Now it is time for your tale, Mrs. MacFarlane, for it is clear you have one.”

I flinched, my sherry sloshing in my glass. The bones of my corset oppressed me and I felt as though I’d been caged inside a skeleton not mine own. Perhaps it was that of a whale, and I was a Jonah, adrift and punished by God. I put the glass to my lips and drank the balance.

“Tell me why you’ve come here, to this town on the water. The wind is cold, and the streets full of trouble, and no one comes without a reason. Will you sell your soul as a stowaway? Will you go to Thule?”

“Thule?” I asked, my heart racing with that word. “What do you know of Thule?”

She tilted her head, appraising me with the attention of a jeweler looking through a loupe.

“Tell me your tale, and I shall tell you.”

I had never spoken of Thule, nor had I heard tell of it from anyone but the notorious one who haunted me, the minder of my misery.

The innkeeper tilted the decanter, and sherry filled my glass again. I looked at her slender figure, her strangely ageless countenance, and though I had kept mine own counsel for twenty years, her mention of Thule persuaded me. I found myself confessing my sorrow to her.

“I will not sell my soul, no, for it is not mine to sell at present. To Thule, though, I may be bound.”

I had never told this tale to anyone, or no one beside the medium, and she only in the utmost desperation, my skin heaving and quivering, my burden boiling my blood. I would begin.

The Lady’s Tale, First Part

“This is my soul, then, and this the history of my trouble, the history of the Thule I know too well. My second cousin was twenty–five years my senior, and his announcement at my birth that I was to be his wife, and that he would devote himself to the welfare of the family, stirred my parents. On my fourteenth birthday, a carriage arrived at our house, and my mother stood on the roof of our building looking down as my cousin’s manservant settled me into the cushions, my small trousseau, my books and belongings.

I went to my bedchamber in his house uptown, dined with him twice, and then he was gone to his business, traveling by ship to the far North for the next year.”

Thus far, my story was nothing strange to the innkeeper, a trouble known to women, perhaps not terribly different from her own.

“He was lost at sea?” she prompted.

“Not in the usual fashion. My husband returned to me a hard shadow of his former self, mustache white, though it had been black when he left New York. He came into the house, and I came down the front stairs to meet him. I was there when he opened his trunk. Something unfolded out of it, stood in the center of our foyer, and looked at me with burning eyes.

“I am dreadfully sorry, dear Cousin Annabel,” said my husband to me, and there was no emotion in his voice. “But on my voyage, I have made the acquaintance of a new master.”

I looked at my husband, and at the thing standing beside him. It was tall and slender, with an excess of fingers, dressed in a long black coat, which I remembered as having belonged to my husband. There was the pale blue monogram I had embroidered, on the collar. Beneath the hem of the coat I could see hooves, and a lashing tail, somewhat feline, somewhat… else.

Had my husband met the devil at sea? I did not love my husband. I scarcely knew him. He was an old man and I was only a girl. This, though, was nothing I desired for him, nor for myself.

“What, praytell, is the name of your companion?” I managed to ask. “Will your friend be staying here long? Shall I tell the servants to prepare a room?”

“My companion’s name is Night,” my husband said, as though I ought to know already.

The thing looked at me, and it glittered like a sky full of stars, but it was a lacunae in the center of the darkness, a place where a star had died, and beyond the edge of the dark there was something much worse, a roiling red planet, hidden behind a thin black veil.   

“And where did you meet?” I asked, my voice that of a polite hostess. I had in my hands a tray of cordial, and I could hear the glasses rattling, but I held myself as steady as I could.

“Thule,” said the thing, its voice a hiss containing an unlikely mellifluence. I felt myself sway at its sweetness. “Thule was my kingdom, but I am banished by a mortal dreamer. I was the ruler of Thule, and now I shall bide a time with you while I seek for the dreamer who dares injure me.”

“I found my friend on the ship,” said my husband seemingly oblivious to the creature’s foulness. “A stowaway, fled from the land of dreams. And oh, that such a one could be hidden amongst coiled ropes.” He turned to look at the creature, and on his face there was nothing but worship.

I turned and walked back up the stair, feeling eyes on my spine. I went directly to my own chamber, and locked the door behind me, pressing my back to the wood, gasping.

I was the ruler of Thule. The creature said again in my mind, and the words resonated terribly inside me, over and over.”

I looked at the innkeeper, and her eyes were on mine, steady. She nodded.

“Thule,” she repeated. “I thought as much.”

I continued.

“From that night forward, I listened to the sound of whispers, but I never knew what they discussed. My husband took to drink, and the stowaway took to meat. The butcher brought us wrapped packets, tied tightly with red string, and in these late days, whenever I saw any red fabric, I thought of this, the way that string had unspooled down our front staircase, twisting like intestines on the white marble of the floor.

It was not long before my husband was dead. I looked into his open grave on a snowy day in February and saw something at the bottom of it, dozens of long and tangled arms embracing the coffin. Inside it, his frozen body bore the marks of hooves. In the official version, he died of drink.

My woe continued with my husband’s death, for though he left me his fortune, he also left me the stowaway. I spent my evenings sitting in the dark, opposite a pair of glowing eyes. And so went my misery, nearly twenty years of it.

The creature was neither husband nor companion. We shared the house, but that was all. The stowaway did not visit my bed, nor did it seem eager to woo me to any unsavory realm. It went about its own business, sometimes leaving a trail of blood or of thick, black fluid. In the night, I’d wake to sounds I couldn’t parse, shrills and moans, a music like a piano being dragged down a flight of metal stairs, the scuttlings of animals both small and large, but the stowaway did not speak to me with its honeyed voice, nor did it touch me with its burning fingertips.

It did not, that is, until one fateful night six months prior to this evening. That night is the reason I am here now.”

I looked to my audience. She had leaned forward in her chair, drawing her shawl more tightly about her shoulders.

“Go on,” she said eagerly, but I could not. The knowledge of the thing I carried had overwhelmed me, and it was necessary I retreat to my chamber. It was too dark. Night had fallen, and I no longer trusted myself to remain among humans.

“I have heard many tales,” the innkeeper said. “It may be that I can assist you, whatever it is.”

“Tomorrow,” I told her. “I will tell you the rest of my woe, and you will counsel me, if indeed you can. For tomorrow, I may be liberated from the misery that has haunted me.”

“A sleeping draught,” she said, offering me a hot cup, though sleep was beyond me. I could not allow myself true unconsciousness, not with my burden.

In my bedchamber, a brick at my feet, I sat up in my wrapper, a feeling of possibility in my chest. I was feverish, yes, and my skin was damp with it, but tomorrow there would be a portrait, and the portrait would save me. The portrait would free me.

At last, fearing dreams and the consequences of same, I removed certain items from my case: chains, locks, a key. I twined the chains about the posts of the bed, and around my ankles, and locked myself into place. The key, I threw to the cushion across the room, out of my reach, and thus secured, I allowed my eyes to close. There could be no more dawns like the ones of the past sixmonth, waking to find myself alongside the river, the pale gray light, my hands clutching at small mementoes, but nothing more to tell what I had done. I could not allow that to happen here. There would be no wandering along the bay, no waking choking in an alleyway, my mouth wet and my clothing torn, not from the outside, but from within, the seams stretched and the bones bent.

In dreams I walked, and in dreams I stalked, and in dreams I did things I would never do in the waking world.

Inside my heart, the stowaway whispered endlessly in verse, a sad lament and a hunger for words. Inside my skin, the monster languished, longing and lonely, but nothing of its loneliness was kind. It sent me dreams of ghosts and of ladies walking into the ocean. It sent me dreams of death.

The Stowaway’s Tale

The monster is invented on a whim, a ruler for a kingdom of woe. Night, sitting enthroned in a dark city, looking out over stones and water, decreeing all those who wake to wander blind within Thule.

Now, Night walks with ice inside it, seeking heat. Night moves between dreams and not, through the corners of gazes, out the edges of windows. There is no place a shadow can’t bide, and it hides in lockets and scent bottles, in barrels full of salted fish. The monster is resourceful. It flattens itself between folds of an overcoat, and when the coat is donned, the monster latches on, its mouth full of teeth, enough to consume a man in moments. A long night can make an explorer lost, and this night is long. This is an Arctic evening, twenty hours of darkness, and with each hour, the night devours ships, crews, husbands, captains.

Night is disappointed, consuming wishes and letters, consuming last words, but none of them the words of its maker. It hungers for even a faint lantern lit on deck during a storm. Night was king in Thule, and then its maker fell in love, only to wreck on a shoal far from the northern clouds.

Look at that beach made of broken bones, look at that sea made of ink, look at the way Thule can expand and shrink again, the unknown country vaster than any other. Look at this country of ghosts. They are all ghosts here, all but Night, who lives on fire and blood. Night is the loneliest ruler, on a black throne, and up the throne’s sides rise dark water.

At last, Night flees, killing ghosts and leaving them in their white shrouds, seeking another ending to the story. There is no joy in Thule, not written, not lived, and in Thule the monster is in misery.

The monster slips into a ship leaving Thule for the world. Dream trade and export, slaves imported in again. There are those in the waking world who never wake, shanghaied onto ships of sleepers, corpses crimped.

Night stows itself in a crow’s nest and pretends to be a raven, perched on the basket to look out over the sea, and when the crew ascends, they see only a bird. Night hides in black feathers. The Thule ruler revises itself, a secret hid amongst coils of rope.

It finds a man who looks like its maker, and wraps around him, hidden in the lining of his coat, and when it discovers the man is no poet but only an invention of a poet, it presses the man down in the darkness of the drive and drinks his dreams.

Night inhabits a house, hidden in closets and beneath beds, and when the world is in shadow, it wanders the streets, seeking its god and his pen. It finds only the young wife, an invention herself, her skin pale and her hair black, her eyes violet. It binds itself to her body.

Annabel, Night hisses, or Lenore, or Virginia. It calls her every version of the names its creator has called his loves. It hides in her hair, plaited among flowers, and in her skin it anchors, a ship full of the lost souls of Thule. It makes its way into the world with Annabel, this creature, and to a city it finds familiar. It feeds on poets, amputating sentences, lyrics, love letters, but none of them are the right ones.

And then.

The Dreamer’s Journey

The poet writes in a frenzy, in an attic room in a city by the sea. There is sun, but he denies it. The world he belongs in is a world of rain, and the only climate is one of mist and dim. He writes a ship in a harbor, and on the ship a crew of sleepers. He writes a sail made of paper, and written on it is a poem about a kingdom burning. He writes himself, swimming in water made of something that can catch fire. He closes his eyes, dreaming the dream within the dream, and in it, he dives, the water filled with nothing but hunger, the sea below him ice and skeletons. He swims to shore in evening dress, shivering, shuddering, chasing the raven that fled his companion, chilling and killing the poet by the sea, dreaming and drafting a story of a stowaway captured.

He thinks of years spent following love, and of years spent losing it. Shaking at the desk in the dark now, the dreamer watches snow falling into the world he’s made. He spins a net of words and weaves sentences into rope.

Now he is in a hotel in Providence. His mind has moved him from city to city, along the rails and to this place. He has built and sold imaginary kingdoms and now, at the end of his life, he is responsible for monsters.

All this he writes over the head of the innkeeper, a woman living between worlds, her hair pale and about her neck a gemstone mined in a pretender’s place.

Poe is broken with drink and disaster, and something has bitten him in a street, a rangy dog with blood in its eyes and foam at its jaw. He doesn’t mind it. Things have bitten him all his life. He is a man born of dreams, and in dreams he remains, the child of actors, and all his life a play.

He wanders as he writes, pacing the room in Providence, here to no end but his own. The world of his dream and the world of his story are entwined now, and he walks real streets in imaginary places.

Somewhere out there is his companion, invented as a cure for pain. Somewhere is a beast made of morphia, a soothing icy hand on the forehead, something that will cure his pangs and fevers, something that will walk with him when he walks toward the land of the dead. Though it is a monster, it is his monster.

He writes it into this hotel, and places it in hiding in a woman he’s made of words. He writes himself into the sea, and feels it rising in his rooms, the water green and salty, the cuffs of his trousers drenched, his belt sopping, his shirt transparent and floating, his white ascot tightly tied about his throat.

Edgar Allan Poe swims in a sea of ink.

The Lady’s Tale, Second Part

Sometime in that night at the inn, I saw movement outside my window.

Phosphorescence, I thought at first, a ripple cresting a hidden shoal, but then it was more, a man in a cream–colored waistcoat and black string tie, emerging from the water, drenched and heaving. He crawled up, and I sat up in bed, drawing my wrapper more tightly about myself. A long black mustache and long black hair, his eyes desolate and his face forlorn. I dared not move. He looked rather like my former husband, and he shared with that man a visible despair. I wondered how long it would be before he was dead, if he were not already.

He stood beneath my window looking up at me, and his gaze did the opposite of burn. I did not open the window, but I found my fingers stretching toward the sash. Only the chains kept me from reaching it.

Wake, he whispered, but I did not know how.

I must have fallen into sleep, for an insistent bell woke me at dawn, and the innkeeper entered with a tray. There were no burning eyes in my memory, nor was my body tender. I did not feel pains in my body that might suggest a night walk, nor did my mouth taste of metal. Within my body though, I felt the telltale motions of the stowaway, swimming in a tight circle.

“What is this?” asked the innkeeper, looking at my chains.

I looked at her with as much dignity as I could muster, and I said, “Might you release me? The key is on the pillow, just there.”

She placed the tray on the bed and fetched the key.

“How am I to know if freedom suits you?” she asked.

“My agonies occur only at night,” I told her, for the stowaway took no notice of the innkeeper. It did not wish for women, nor did it care for daylight. It slept within me when the sun was high.

“Will you continue your tale?” the innkeeper asked, unlocking my chains with less caution than I might have imagined she’d use. She poured a cup of coffee and delivered it into my shaking hands.

I indicated that I would, and the innkeeper withdrew long enough that I might tidy myself. Back then, to that sitting room downstairs, with its view of the silvery bay, a pot of coffee rather than tea, to increase my strength for the day ahead.

The innkeeper sat opposite me. “The night six months past,” she said, prompting me back to my tale.

I ate a spoonful of porridge and sipped my coffee, feeling the heat in my body, a healthy heat, not that of the stowaway. For a moment I felt hopeful.

“Though the stowaway’s presence prohibited guests to my house, I was at liberty to leave it. The stowaway seemed to see me as a gentle pet, a cat who might play about in the garden while its owner remained in the house. Thus were my days spent, with concerts and the usual occupations of a lady. It was not, despite the trouble in my house, a terrible life.

On the evening in question, I sat at the piano, picking out a song, and as I did, I noticed a stirring in the wall. I withdrew my fingers from the keys, fearing a mouse or moths, never imagining—”

I looked around the sitting room, fearing eyes and ears in the walls, but there was nothing visible here.

“A man emerged from the wallpaper, hair silken as fur, eyes like seaglass. Out of the floral pattern he came, his suit patterned with falling leaves, and I knew I could not trust a man who arrived that way, but there was no help for it. He stepped into the room, hung his coat on the tree, and walked across the carpet making no sound at all. I looked down at his feet, and they did not touch the ground.

He nodded at me, implying that I continue to play. I did, though my playing was nothing to be proud of, neglected in my duties as the keeper of a dead man’s house. When, at last, I stopped, the man looked steadily at me.

“Who are you?” I whispered. “Have you come to deliver me from my stowaway?”

He looked at me, and said “I am a dreamer come to save you from darkness, Annabel MacFarlane, if you will be saved.”

Why should I not allow the haunting, I thought. Why should I not give myself over to a dream? I had been alone for a very long time, and it seemed no harm to invite air into the house.

The dream gave me a ring, bent of a length of gold wire. He ran icy fingers over my skin—”

I hesitated.

“—and my nights became other than they’d been for nearly twenty years. For weeks, the stowaway stayed to its own side of the house. I heard the usual sounds of animals, of wind, of whispers, but nothing came through my chamber door. I thought the man in my house was, if not my secret, a guest the stowaway had no objection to. Indeed, I sometimes believed that he was an illusion, and that my joy was only something manufactured by waking dreams. I did not ask the dream who had sent him, and indeed, I did not dare to, for what if he came from the same realm as the stowaway? I did not wish to know.

The white marble of our staircase was sometimes marred with red footprints, and the rail as well, the marks of hands attempting to cling to the bannister. I had known of the stowaway’s habits these long years, but though I read the papers, I saw no sign that the stowaway preyed upon the unlucky of our region. It may seem cold, my failure to investigate the nature of the victims, but I was as frightened of the stowaway as any prisoner of a jailor, and I did not. I wished only that the beast be fed, and not by myself.

One night, though, there was a thunderous sound and down the hall outside my rooms ran a thousand hooves. Boar? Horses? I could not say. There was a wrenching creak, and a roar from no animal I’d ever imagined.

“Go!” I whispered to the man beside me, but he did not. The stowaway stood in my doorway, eyes flicking over the chamber. I stayed still in the bed, coverlet drawn close about my throat. The stowaway inhaled deeply, and then dropped to the floor, undulating until it reached the wall through which my husband had arrived.

Up the wall the stowaway seeped, leaving an ichorous ooze, and the leaves and flowers on the paper, previously verdant, began to wither. Night began to fall over the green kingdom from which my dream had entered, and slowly I saw stars beginning to reveal themselves, cruel points of light in a sky that had been day.

The stowaway looked at me briefly, eyes glowing red, and the printed plants withered and blackened.

“Come,” the stowaway said, and took a step toward me.

It was only then that my dream revealed himself, emerging from beneath the bedsheets. In his hand he held a pistol, and he aimed it at the stowaway, shouting.

“I am a hunter of Thule, and you will return to your prison!”

The stowaway’s eyes glowed brighter, and it growled the growl of a lion over an antelope. Its entire flesh was stars now, and its tail whipped as it leapt at the man who had been my own true love, and covered him as though the skin of the sky had slid down and over the land.

“I am stronger than I was,” the stowaway hissed. “You will not take me.”

The man I’d chosen as a husband was gone, hidden by pulsating dark.

The stowaway flowed over the carpet toward me, bringing cold, but also bringing fire. I felt my edges crackle.

“Annabel,” said the stowaway, its voice still the honey it had always been. “You have betrayed me. You might have spent your life dreaming, but you’ve made yourself hostess of a nightmare. Now you are mine, and I am yours. You will hide me in your skin, and together, we shall seek for my creator.”

It took my hand and pressed its lips to my flesh. I felt the points of its teeth like lightning striking, and the stars of its skin glowed brighter. With a rush, the entirety of the creature was absorbed into me.

The stowaway is no longer visible to the world, but I can feel it. The physician I visited in the city told me I carried nothing at all, but I know him to be wrong.

“Hysteria,” my father insisted, and the diagnosis was that. There was a movement from the men in my family to send me to a sanatorium, and though I resisted, I knew it was only a matter of time before they overpowered me. Hence my flight.

“This story explains my presence here, in your inn,” I concluded at last. “To no one’s satisfaction, not my own, nor yours. Yet am I here, and here I will remain until the stowaway is gone.”

The innkeeper looked steadily at me, seemingly aware that I’d omitted certain terrible facts, certain shameful aspects of the possession. I could not speak them. I would not. My mouth watered, even still, and my ribs ached. One morning I’d awakened with claw marks rending my garments, and traveling up and down my torso, and another I’d woken in the river itself, drenched and half–frozen, clutching a bloody fingerbone. In the papers, I began to see notices of disappearances, men of letters, men with dark dreams. Their bodies were not found.

I knew where they were.

“Guests come here to die, some of them. Perhaps you are one of them?” she asked.

“I mean to be saved,” I said. “I mean to save myself from this creature. I will not offer it harbor. It is a criminal fled from the land of dreamers, and it is a nightmare.”

“Thule,” she said. “That is the origin of the ship in the bay, in and out of our waters these twenty years,” she said. “There have been men from aboard it here. Those curtains came from a Thule trader, once, long ago, and this sapphire as well. There are beautiful things to be had in the land of dreams, as well as horrid ones. The ship is a ship of explorers, hunting something fled here years ago. I believe you may know all too well what it is they seek.”

I looked at her. Her skin glowed pale and her eyes shone, and I wondered when she had lost her own ghosts, or whether she boarded them here in hope of being transported one day to their realm.

I glanced at the curtains. I’d not examined the toile the night before, and today I saw the pattern was quite other than I’d imagined. Explorers, yes, their spears raised and pressing into the flesh of something without edges, a blot in the fabric speckled with stars. Another scene of the darkness taking them, dead men in the snow. Another of ships filled with vague forms, their faces stricken, and beneath them, the water itself made of night.

I shivered. What was it I contained? Would I be free of it?

“What shall I do?” I asked her.

“If it emerges,” she said, “you must wrest it back into the land of dreams. Only then will you be free.”

I went out into the city, trying to calm myself for the portrait. It was a silly thing, to attempt beauty in a portrait such as this one. It did not matter, or so the medium said. All that mattered was the method.

Half to the studio, worrying that perhaps my fever had returned—the stowaway heated my body to an uncomfortable degree—I felt a presence behind me.

I spun on my boot heel, but saw no one. It was full daylight, and there was no reason to suspect another thief, but I walked on, shifting toward a busier street, listening for steps behind me. I knew better than to rove alone, even at this time of morning, a time not unreasonable for any lady to be unaccompanied. I wouldn’t be mistaken for any of those nightingales who’d be swaying toward their rooming houses at this hour, rather than away from them, but something possessed me to keep on my own path, to pass quickly by any carriages for hire. I had a horror that if I looked to the drivers I’d see a series of monsters leaning forward over the reins.

How many could there be of the creature that plagued me? Where had my first husband found the stowaway? I’d scanned map after map, but on none of them could I find the country called Thule. No, all that was on those maps was a vague area of nothingness with that label. Had it come aboard as cargo, hidden in a barrel of sugar, a secret folded in the silk? Had it pretended to be rope? My husband had been an importer of trade goods, but what had he gone to dreamland to acquire? He had filled his hold with a devil, and now the devil held me.

There were no steps in the street behind me, but only the sound of a cane, tapping, tapping, each cobblestone scratching beneath it, and the sound of splashing as well, as whatever wraith it was moved over the stones. I readied myself to scream, to run, but there was no need.

“Lady,” a weak voice whispered. “Lady, will you hear me? I am a broken man, and not long for this world. The mistress of the inn sent me after you.”

I turned and saw him for the second time: the man who’d walked out of the bay, still drenched, his waistcoat dripping, his black suit hanging on him as though he was a cadaver. He was correct in his assertion. Blue shadows bruised his eyes, and his cheeks were gaunt. He looked as though he’d climbed from out of a tomb.

“Where have you come from, Sir?” I asked him. The Sir was an afterthought. He was not demon, not ghost, but not whole either.

“A ship,” he said, and I knew him to be deranged, but who was to say that I was not? He was a kindred spirit in that fashion, and so I let him speak. “I swam from a ship that floats there still—on the border of Dream–land—”

He extended a trembling finger toward the horizon, as though I would see his ship. There was nothing to be seen. “—and up again into the light.” 

“And what is your name?”

“Edgar,” he said, and swayed, leaning heavily on his cane.

I felt the stowaway twist inside me, and I flinched, bending at the waist. My corset was laced particularly tight, some vain hope of caging the creature and keeping it still. It did not wish to be still.

“Are you well?” he asked.

“I am not,” I said.

“Nor I,” he said, and gave me a look of profound sympathy. “Not since the death of my wife.”

I was reminded of my ghost husband. There were no men made of anything more than trouble in my history, and this one was no different.

“My name is Mrs. MacFarlane,” I said.

“What is your Christian name?” he asked. He was no threat, his body wizened like that of an ancient, though he could not be much older than I.

“Annabel,” I told him. Recognition flickered on his face for a moment.

“Ah, then it is true,” he murmured. “Annabel. I have heard your name in passing, yes, in passing through the night. I have heard it whispered in a dream I had.”

“Are we acquainted?” I asked. He was oddly familiar to me, it was true, more so than just the vision of him staggering up from the sea.

“No, no. We have never met in the waking world,” he said, and the alert look he’d had was gone again. I smelt the alcohol on him, and more than that. He smelled of the sea, of salt, of blood. “I am a dreamer destined only for sorrow, Annabel, and there is one more thing I must do before I end my days.”

Was I entranced by his suffering, so akin to my own? Or his handsome face, his history of loss. Some part of my heart, one I had not noticed in some time, felt enticed to compassion for one so miserable.

“I thought that I was destined for death as well,” I told him recklessly, “but I refuse to accept it. I am to the portraitist. Will you accompany me, sir? I dislike undertaking the journey alone.”

Quite unexpectedly, he smiled.

“You would take me to a photographer?” he asked. “This broken poet? Four days ago, I attempted suicide on a train. When I woke, it was on a ship in this bay, and I knew the crew of tattered men, and I knew the captain. He hunts the night for a beast he cannot find, a thing from his own sleeping kingdom which has fled to this one. He has sent me into the town to seek on his behalf, Annabel, to seek the beast. Have you seen it?”

He stood, his hands hanging, a pleading expression on his face. And here was I, containing the beast he sought. Here was I, an unwilling case for a spirit I’d never invited in.

“I have not,” I told him. I could not trust him yet. I’d met handsome men before. I’d met a handsome ghost, a betrayer of my body.  “I do not even know your full name,” I said.

The man before me winced.

“Edgar Poe,” he said. “I am a writer of horrors. It is only reasonable that I should end in horror myself. I have spent my life a dreamer, and now my dreams haunt me in daylight.” He lifted his shoulders and his expression was that of profound regret. “It was a dream I made, long ago, and I worked at it, night after night, inventing its appetites. The dream made itself flesh and escaped the boundary of the land I’d made for it. After that, I know not where it went, though I am told there have been tales of its takings. I did not imagine I would be held here to reckon with my imagination, unable to die unless I captured it.”

I felt faint, but still more resolved. The lacings of my corset bowed behind my back, and I gasped, pulling my own flesh in as the stowaway pressed against it. I felt the bones bend, and the silk threads, in the claws of something horrid.

“A dreamer,” I said, thinking of my own miserable, missing nights. “That does not matter. What one does in the dark is not a thing one must own in the light.”

“If that were the truth of things, then murders might be done at midnight and never a murderer jailed for them,” Poe said.

I thought of fingerbones, of a ribcage, of a man’s wedding ring I’d found in the bosom of my dress. I thought of pocket watches and ink pens, of men I’d never met, of a black silk tie undone and knotted again about my wrist. I thought of a carved ivory cane I’d found beside my bed, the knob carved into the shape of a skull. All these things could have belonged to a man like the man before me, and too, he resembled a man I’d known once, long ago, a man who had been my husband.

I thought of the true reason I’d fled, a sudden waking in the darkest hours, finding myself far from home. I thought of the man I’d found before me, on his back, a man who looked enough like this one to be a twin to him. This one was not dead, no, but moaning on the platform of a train, swearing up and down that he was not waking but dreaming, insisting that he was doomed. It was too early in the morning for a crowd, and I leaned over his face and heard my own hiss, my own voice honeyed and covetous. I felt my body hum at proximity to the man and to his mind, but he was drugged and nearly insensible, and the lights in the station were beginning to be lit. I fled. My body was nothing human at all. I had torn his papers from his case, and rifled through them, hunting I know not what. What did the stowaway want? A maker? A parent? The man who had created it? What did it want with me, but a vessel? I’d been too long a vessel for this monster. I’d been too long hungry for meals I did not wish to consume.

“Take it away from me,” I said to the poet. “Can you do that?”

“Perhaps,” the poet said. “That is my aim.”

I felt the stowaway longing for something, but what I knew not. It did not want me, though it accompanied me. It had never wanted me. It wanted a man, or a friend, or a companion other than I. Where had it come from? The country beyond the wall? The ship anchored in the bay? The place where night slept when the sun was in the sky?

If I could not be rid of my monster, I would go to Thule myself. If it was death I courted, so be it. I glanced up at the angle of the sun. Still enough time in the day for safety. The stowaway slept.

“Accompany me,” I said, and the poet looked at me. The stowaway clasped and unclasped my fingers, stretched itself inside the borders of my body. It had been days since I’d fed on the meal the stowaway wished for, and I knew I had only hours before it would overcome me.

Poe took my arm and I felt him trembling. Together, we walked to Winchester Street, three beings, each breathing and longing, each desirous of its own story.

The Poet’s Annotation

And now the story of the poet and the story of the lady and the story of the stowaway converge into one line, fiction and fact pressed too closely together to tell one from the other. The waking world and the sleeping one are the same, each engineered by dreamers of one kind or another. The poet writes an obituary for himself. The poet writes a tale of grief, his wife lost, his love dead. The poet is in a pit, and above him a pendulum. He will not marry again. He will be denied, and with that denial will come the rest of his life, the last year on earth. He writes on, the monster beside him, and the lady he’s made of all the ladies he’s lost. He writes himself down Winchester street, walking with a companion who may or may not be visible to anyone else in Providence. There will be no record of anyone named MacFarlane, nor of anyone met at a hotel. There will be nothing but this poet walking through the streets and to a portraitist, in the worst week of his life.

Is he raving? He is raving. Is he drunk and damaged? He is. Has he been bitten by a dog and does he wish to drink the ocean itself? Does he wish to transport himself to Thule by sipping the boundary between the imagined and the real, drinking it down until all that lies between his words and his life is a tender desert?

He does.

Annabel Lee is a child and he is a child (he is not a child) and Lenore is nevermore. Virginia is coughing and singing at a piano, blood spattering the keys, and then she is drunk on charity wine, and then she is dead, her cheeks flushed a color that cannot appear in Thule. Made of ice and gray is the heart of the poet, and in his kingdom, on his dark throne, he sits, as all of it melts into a bath of silver nitrate and acid ink.

He wishes himself extinguished.

The Portrait

The studio of Masury & Hartshorn was on the second floor, and we made our way up the stairs, my companion half–collapsing as he climbed. Inside my body, I felt the sleeping stowaway dreaming of meat. I would not feed it. I would resist. The stairwell smelled of chlorine and chemicals, a bracing scent that revived me to the task at hand. I had a body that was my own still, despite its inhabitant, nostrils that could burn and a throat that could close. I glanced at the man beside me, and wondered. Could I deliver him? Could I deliver us both?

We entered through glass doors into a room suffused in blue light, a sort of greenhouse with an intricate mechanism of shades and shadows. The walls were papered in cobalt, and the ceiling was a skylight with reflecting mirrors set at an angle beneath it. There, we found a young man polishing a silver plate with a soft cloth. He looked up at us through thick glasses, and raised his eyebrows at the spectacle before him. It was little wonder. A woman in a gaudy dress accompanied by a man on the brink of death. I could see the photographer considering us as subject.

“Messr. Masury?” I asked. I brought out the card the medium had given me in New York.

“No. I am Edwin Manchester,” he said. I could not believe my luck.

“You, then, are the man I am seeking,” I said, and passed the card to him. He read its contents, and looked more closely at me. He took my hand and weighed it in his own, and then pinched my wrist between two fingers. My flesh was denser than it ought to be, I well knew. I felt as though I contained sand, and indeed, I did. The night was made of sand and stars, and all of it was too heavy for a human body to bear.

“I see,” he said. “And your companion?”

“This is Mr. Poe,” I said.

The photographer’s eyebrow raised higher. “It is an honor,” he said. “A man of your stature in the spirit world.”

“He suffers a similar malady,” I said. “I believe it is related to the kingdom from whence my trouble came.”

The photographer looked closely at Poe.

“He has suffered a loss rather than a weight,” he said. “You have more than you require, and he has less.”

“I have enough in my purse to pay for both portraits, if you might assist him as well as I.”

“I will need no payment for his image,” Manchester said. “It will be displayed in this shop as advertisement of our services.”

“I am not possessed,” Poe said. “I am in debt. I have left something aboard a ship as collateral.”

“I see as much,” said Manchester. “You are missing your soul rather than carrying another within your body. I can assist in this as well.”

The daguerreotypist took off his apron, placing the silver plate on a table. I looked into it and was startled by the mirror it presented, my hair in disarray, and for a moment, my eyes glowing the way the stowaway’s eyes glowed, my skin a sea of stars.

I glanced at the portraits on display in the studio, the way their subjects seemed to float, each in their own transparent darkness, their faces made of gilded dust. Did some of those portraits contain demons and ghosts? Were some of them exorcisms, or were they only portraits of the wealthy? I could not say.

“You will be first,” Manchester said. “Mr. Poe after. The sun is bright enough today.”

Poe nodded. I felt his fingers clench my arm more tightly, but he did not waver. Inside my skin, the stowaway extended sleeping fingers to touch those of Poe, but I did not acknowledge it.

Manchester gestured me onto a staircase, a platform with a small chair at its center, and I ascended, feeling my skirts draping down the stairs. Was I climbing to heaven?

“Stare into the sun,” Manchester told me, positioning me in a brace, my head supported by a stand, my skirts spread so that I seemed to be airborne. “I will remove this burden from you, but you must stay perfectly still for sixty seconds.”

I looked down at the poet, whose face was hopeful, though the evidence of years of despair was written on it, a cloth pleated by pain.

My spine convulsed where the stowaway wrapped about it, and I saw Poe glance at me, his face concerned, as Manchester aimed the camera at the tableau vivant he’d arranged.

A dark cloud passed over the sun, and a raindrop splattered on the glass panes above me. The monster moved.

Ten seconds. Twenty. My heart quivered in my breast and the stowaway stretched. Thunder outside, and the building rattled. Darker still.

Thirty seconds, and something began to shift inside my skin. I began to feel night falling over my body, stars appearing on the tips of my fingers, coming into light all over my flesh, beneath my dress and up and down my arms, brilliant points of pain and fire, and myself an indigo woman curtained in silk and satin. I heard my own voice cry out as the stowaway began to emerge.

“Stay still!” Manchester shouted. “Do not let it move you!”

I resisted the urge to let my body fall down the stairs and upon him. Not only upon him, but upon the innocent Poe. Their blood and bones, their organs like bright ink on a page made of snow. I would write the story of Thule with their flesh, I would—

Darkness slithered over my eyes, and I held them wide, trying to keep from doing what Night wanted me to do. I tasted metal where I’d bitten my tongue, and I heard myself hiss. A sound a dreamer might make whilst wandering a long passage, the way a scream might transform, in the voice of that sleeper, into a song. All these nights of invisibility, a wandering swath of stars falling upon the unlucky, all these nights, a woman made of nothingness.

There was a crashing sound, and there, before me, was Poe, his face pale as the moon, his eyes no longer anguished, but purposeful.

“TO ME,” he roared, and lurched up the staircase, his hands reaching for mine. He spun to face the camera as the shutter closed, his ungloved hand still clasping my own.

I felt the stowaway leave my body and rush out, into the air, into the camera, away.

The thunderclouds fled the sun, and the sky brightened. Night receded. I drew in a ragged breath.

The daguerreotypist withdrew the plate from the camera and darted to the developing room, donning a set of India rubber gauntlets as he went, but I could only look at Poe. He would not meet my gaze. What had he done?

Manchester emerged from the developing room.

“View it,” he said, and gestured us into the room. “It is not as you imagined it would be, and yet.”

A gleaming tray of mercury, held over a spirit lamp, and fumes that felt golden upon inhaling. The plate rested above the heated mercury, an image emerging in salt on its face, delicate as dust on a butterfly’s wing.

I watched it, praying that I’d see what ought to be in the daguerreotype and not something else. Hoping to see my image containing the stowaway, and all of it trapped within this plate of glass.

But as it emerged, I did not see the creature, nor did I see my own face. It was dark shadows appearing and then shifting through red and blue to black again, the eyes first and then the rest.

I saw Edgar Allan Poe, and within him, all around him, Night. The image was of the poet, suspended in the darkness of the background, and I could see myself in ghostly silhouette behind him, my face covered in stars, my eyes glittering, my fingers laced in his own.

The poet looked at me, and reached into his jacket. He removed a pot of ink, looked at me tenderly, and opened it. I watched him, uncertain, and then, suddenly, he flung it over me.

“Thank you,” he said.

Darkness. A blotting out, a removal from view.

The Thule Daguerreotype

The original Poe portrait, taken in desolate circumstances in the year eighteen forty–eight, the year before the poet’s death, is, over the years, lost and found, discovered in the possession of a traveling hypnotist, fallen from a drawing room wall, set on fire. It lives in legend, copied and etched, discussed, tattooed, made the subject of academic texts.

After the image was taken, the subject wandered the streets, visiting the home of a woman he had proposed to, and raving that he was doomed, that he was done for good. He screamed for his soul.

The daguerreotype depicts a man in a half–buttoned black dinner jacket, a rumpled white shirt, an ascot tied and wrapped tightly enough to suggest that it is keeping his head from tumbling off. He has a high white forehead, a dark mustache, tousled hair, and eyes sunk deep in a face lined with grief. He is a year from dying, but in the Ultima Thule portrait, he appears to have emerged from his tomb, and indeed, the image depicts the poet four days after his failed suicide by laudanum.

If one looks closely, with the proper knowledge, it is possible to see the figure behind him, a spectral form, a radiance draping over one of the man’s shoulders, an image of the missing, left in dust on a silver plate. Perhaps it is a woman, or perhaps it is something else entirely.

The business of portraiture is one of silver and gold by the ton, and the miserable face of the poet is immortalized in precious metal. The presence behind him is a stain rendered in darkness, silver nitrate, an abyss that reflects light.

This is a saint’s icon, Edgar Allan Poe’s image pressed like a kiss to a ground glass windowpane, and the form holding him is a glittering ghost, mutable as frost over a view of a city at night. Does it hold him as a lover or as a captive?

What is left inside this portrait?

That is one way to look at a photo of a ghost. Another way is to look at both figures, this portrait, this imaginary kingdom and its creator flickering in and out of the light, and see it as a record of more than one event, the moment when a poet’s soul was removed, the moment when a man counted down the seconds remaining in his life.

He counts them in syllables. He counts them in sentences. He counts them in stories. All that we see or seem, he writes. Is but a dream, within a dream.

Open the glass panes that house the portrait and blow, a single breath, and the image is only imagined again. Press a finger to the face of this ghost and watch him become thin air.

The Lady’s Last Tale

I felt myself disappearing, but I remained scored into the world, my skin a page with lines on it, my hair streaked with silver, my dress still as bright as it had been, but now obliterated.

The photographer faded as I faded, and the studio as well, whether they had been there or no. An imaginary Providence or a true one, I could not say. The blue wallpaper was night, and I was part of it now, and the mercury bath was stars, and I was part of that as well.

Thule was before me then, a white landscape of cliffs and women shrouded, a body—was it my body?—washing up on a coastline made of bones. I was the sea and I was a ship, and I was a city of ghosts.

I did not disappear from the world, though it seemed I might. I stayed, and this kingdom by the sea stayed. I climbed the stairs in a tower, I in my black dress, its lining like the inside of a redbird’s wing, my magpie–feathered stripes, my bosom spattered in ink. There was a throne there, and then there was myself seated in it, reigning over the great and frozen unknown.

I ruled over a kingdom I had not made, but would not surrender, and out there, in the mist, there was no ship and there was no sinner. There was no poet with his quill, writing my world.

Here in Dream–land would I love and live forever. Here would I contain the soul of the poet, transferred to me in silver and in ink, even as I traded to him the creature I’d harbored.

I was Annabel Lenore Virginia MacFarlane, and no one would ever find me again.

(Editors’ Note: Maria Dahvana Headley is interviewed by Julia Rios in this issue of Uncanny Magazine.)


Maria Dahvana Headley

Maria Dahvana Headley is The New York Times–bestselling author of the novels Aerie, Magonia (one of PW’s Best Books of 2015), Queen of Kings, and the memoir The Year of Yes. With Kat Howard she is the author of The End of the Sentence, one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014, and with Neil Gaiman, she is co–editor of Unnatural Creatures. Her short stories have been included in many year’s best anthologies, including the 2016 edition of Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Karen Joy Fowler and John Joseph Adams, and have been finalists for the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Awards.

Upcoming from editor Sean McDonald at Farrar, Straus & Giroux are The Mere Wife—a novel melding Beowulf to Revolutionary Road, and a short story collection. For HarperCollins, she’s at work on The Combustible, a queer superhero and supervillain story, as well as another YA novel. She’s also in development on the theatrical musical The Devil’s Halo, with Emmy Award–winning composer Lance Horne. Find her at @MARIADAHVANA at Twitter, or

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