Carrion comfort, p.1
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       Carrion Comfort, p.1

           Dan Simmons
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Carrion Comfort


  Carrion Comfort

  Also by Dan Simmons

  Drood

  The Terror

  A Winter Haunting

  Children of the Night

  Summer of Night

  Song of Kali

  Ilium

  Olympos

  Hyperion

  The Fall of Hyperion

  Endymion

  The Rise of Endymion

  World’s Enough and Time

  Lovedeath

  Fires of Eden

  The Hollow Man

  Summer Sketches

  Prayers to Broken Stones

  Entropy’s Bed at Midnight

  Phases of Gravity

  Darwin’s Blade

  The Crook Factory

  Hardcase

  Hard Freeze

  Hard as Nails

  DAN SIMMONS

  Carrion

  Comfort

  THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS

  ST. MARTIN’S GRIFFIN

  NEW YORK

  This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  THOMAS DUNNE BOOKS.

  An imprint of St. Martin’s Press.

  CARRION COMFORT. Copyright © 1989 by Dan Simmons. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

  www.thomasdunnebooks.com

  www.stmartins.com

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Simmons, Dan.

  Carrion comfort / Dan Simmons. — 1st St. Martin’s Griffin ed.

  p. cm.

  ISBN 978-0-312-56707-1

  1. Vampires—Fiction. 2. Psychic ability—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3569.I47292C37 2009

  813'.54—dc22

  2009031308

  First published in United States by Dark Harvest

  First St. Martin’s Griffin Edition: December 2009

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  This is for Ed Bryant

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Any book which successfully makes the Long Crossing to publication has been assisted by more minds and hands than the author’s alone, but a novel of this size and scope accrues more debts than most. I would like to acknowledge with thanks some of those individuals who helped Carrion Comfort defy tempest and tides and storms at sea to reach safe harbor at last:

  Dean R. Koontz, whose kind encouragement was as perfectly timed as it was generous.

  Richard Curtis, whose persistence and professionalism are appreciated.

  Paul Mikol, whose taste is impeccable and whose friendship is prized.

  Brian Thomsen, whose love of chess and respect for history is appreciated.

  Simon Hawke, Armorer in the tradition of Geoffrey Boothroyd.

  Arleen Tennis, typist extraordinaire, for those hot summer days spent dealing with the next-to-last versions of the revised revisions.

  Claudia Logerquist, for patiently reminding me that umlauts and diacritics shouldn’t be sprinkled randomly, like salt.

  Wolf Blitzer of the Jerusalem Post, for his help in tracking down the best falafel stand in Haifa.

  Ellen Datlow, who said there couldn’t be a sequel to the novella.

  And very special thanks must go to . . .

  Kathy Sherman, who enthusiastically entered into artistic collaboration on short notice and even shorter wages.

  My daughter Jane, whose patient wait for Dad to “finish his scary book” has stretched across two-thirds of her lifetime.

  Karen, who couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

  And finally, most sincerely, thanks to Edward Bryant, the gentleman and fine writer to whom this book is dedicated.

  INTRODUCTION TO THE

  TWENTIETH ANNIVERSARY

  EDITION OF CARRION

  COMFORT

  by Dan Simmons

  Reader, I hate to be the one to break it to you, but blood-drinking, form-shifting, bat-flying, kill-with-a-stake-in-the-heart, walking-undead vampires aren’t real. They’re purely fictional constructs. You’ll have to trust me on this. I’ve stalked Vlad Tsepes to his birthplace (in Sighisoara) and grave site on Snagov Island (it was empty) and tumbledown castle (the real one that the Romanians won’t talk about, not the tourist trap one at Castle Bran) in Romania and Transylvania and the Carpathian mountains and, I regret to be the one to inform you, Dracula and his blood-slurping ilk are make-believe.

  But mind vampires are real.

  Few if any of us get through life without being preyed upon by more than one mind vampire. Even children are not exempt from falling victim to these foul fiends.

  Mind vampires feed on violence, but the ultimate violence for them is the imposition of their will over yours. I long ago discovered that such an exercise of will and control of one person over another is a form of violence, and one we can all gain an unholy taste for if we’re allowed to.

  As adults, we suffer such mind-vampire attacks in almost all of our jobs— some petty, power-mad manager making our work harder and daily life miserable, some administrator or supervisor who revels in exercising arbitrary power over us and then lapping up the violence of that power as if it were warm blood— and we also encounter mind vampires in our daily lives, on the highways, in public places, in politics, and, sadly, in too many of our personal relationships.

  No one carries scars on their necks from actual blood-drinking vampires, but all of us have psychic mind-vampire scars that heal slowly, if at all. And once invited into our lives, a mind vampire can return whenever he or she or it wants. And they do. Always.

  Odds are great that you’ve met one of the rarest and most dangerous of the mind vampires that live among us, a seemingly normal human being with the Ability, and, if you have, odds are almost 100 percent that this mind vampire has used that unholy Ability to bend your will and to drink from your soul.

  I hadn’t planned to write an introduction for this Twentieth Anniversary Edition of my 1989 novel Carrion Comfort and, as things have worked out, I have a single day in which to write this. But I welcome the opportunity. With that brief amount of time, this introduction may contain something that most writers, including me, try to avoid in introductions— brutal honesty.

  I almost never write about the writing side of my novels or stories in any introductions I do (and I tend to avoid introductions in the first place), and even on those rare occasions when I’ve commented on the creative side of writing, I’ve always avoided the business-anecdote side of any novel’s history. But in this case, my epic tale of mind vampires living among us and the oddly (or absurdly) epic tale of the writing, sale, editorial struggle, and publishing nightmare of the original versions of Carrion Comfort overlap and interact in a way that might almost be described as meta phorical.

  There’s an ugly spiderweb in this true telling that is both fact and meta phor, and being enmeshed like a fly in a deadly spider’s web is very much the experience too many of us have felt when encountering those real mind vampires of which I speak. Carrion Comfort started as my second attempt at a novel and it ended as an epic, personality-defining, life-and career-determining struggle with real mind vampires.

  So with little art and less polishing, but with a rather unusual level of authorial honesty, I’m going to tell you the true tale of the creation of Carrion Comfort and the mind-vampirish spiderweb of nightmare that this book led me into over a period of several wonderful and intensely painful years.

  Carrion Comfort is the only published piece I’ve done based on a dream image.

  Now, it’s rumored that some writers base their fiction on dreams, although I haven’t met many of those wr
iters. (I tend to hang around professionals, who tend not to depend upon dreams, drugs, or inspirations.) Many readers and nonliterary sorts just assume that we writers are constantly finding inspiration in our dreams, but save for the occasional vivid image, dreams are an unreliable energy source for plotting and tale-telling and I for one have never depended on them.

  But with Carrion Comfort, the seed crystal came from a dream. In truth, it was just a dream fragment— a little disconnected dream-vignette—that got me hooked. No plot, not even a nonsensical dream plot, just an image.

  I dreamt I was watching as an elderly woman ran through a dark forest. The trees were close together and the old woman was not moving quickly— she was too old to move very quickly— but she was obviously fleeing something. And that something was making a terrifying roar of a noise. It seemed to be twilight in the dream, after sunset or just before dawn, and the forest was thick and dark and filled with that growing unearthly roar as the old woman fled. And then I saw that the roar was coming from a large, black helicopter moving sideways above the trees. The helicopter was obviously hunting for the fleeing old woman and as I watched her I had the sudden impression that she was not a victim, not a persecuted innocent soul, but something both more or less than human and that those unseen killers in the helicopter should find her and should kill her. I had no idea what made this kindly faced elderly woman a monster, but I was certain— in the dream— that she was and that she must be destroyed.

  And then I awoke.

  This dream happened sometime in the summer of 1982, when I was writing my first novel, Song of Kali. It had nothing to do with the novel so I filed the image away and forgot it for the time being. In those years I was a full-time school teacher so I had to write any novels I might have in mind during my less-than-three-month summer vacations. It’s good training for a future full-time novelist who will spend the rest of his life under constant deadlines.

  I’d begun writing professionally the year before, in 1981, just after I’d given up my dream of writing for publication. When my wife told me that year that she was pregnant, I’d given up my brief (three-year) struggle to get published. As a swan song, I went off to a summer writers’ workshop just to hear some writers that I’d always enjoyed, George R. R. Martin being one of them. But one had to submit a piece of fiction even to attend this writers’ workshop so I paid my dues that way. And then I met Harlan Ellison who critiqued that short story I’d had to submit amid a day of Ellisonian critiquing that none of us there will ever forget.

  That encounter with Harlan has, in its own modest circles, become something of a legend (you can find it in both Harlan’s and my introductions to my first collection of short fiction, Prayers to Broken Stones) and I admit it can be inspiring to young writers who think it will take a miracle to get them published. Harlan, in his unique monster/mentor way, was that miracle for me.

  After he told me at that workshop that I had no choice, that I was that rarest of things—a writer— and would always be so whether I disciplined myself to write for publication or not, I went back to work writing even while I continued to teach. That fall of 1981 I sold a story to OMNI. Also that year, before the story was published in OMNI, I was informed that the story I’d dragged to the workshop where I met Harlan, “The River Styx Runs Upstream,” had tied for first place in Twilight Zone Magazine’s first short-story contest for previously unpublished writers. Harlan, it turns out, was one of the four judges— the others being Carol Serling (wife of the late Rod Serling), Robert (Psycho) Bloch, and Richard Matheson— and if Harlan hadn’t disqualified himself when he saw my name and story, I would have won the thing outright rather than tied. The Twilight Zone Magazine editor at the time said that they’d received more than fifteen thousand story entries in that contest.

  It seems that people were hungry to be published. And they still are. So in the spring of 1982 my contest story “The River Styx Runs Upstream” appeared in Twilight Zone Magazine and weeks later another story, “Eyes I Dare Not Meet in Dreams,” (which later became the source for my novel The Hollow Man) appeared in OMNI.

  That summer of 1982 I wrote my first novel, Song of Kali, which was to become the first first-novel ever to win the World Fantasy Award. That autumn, retrieving the memory of the frightening old lady fleeing the helicopter in the forest, I wrote my novelette or novella (I always forget the precise length of those forms) “Carrion Comfort” and sold it to OMNI. I believe it was the first two-part continued piece of fiction published in OMNI up to that time.

  There was no forest and no helicopter in the tale yet— the original story was set in Melanie Fuller’s house in Charleston, S.C., over one weekend reunion for the old mind vampires— but at least I’d discovered why the old woman in the forest in my dream seemed so frightening to me. She was a mind vampire.

  Life was rich. In February of 1982, on the same day that my first published story appeared in the Twilight Zone Magazine, our daughter Jane was born. That summer I wrote Song of Kali and delivered it to my new agent and friend, Richard Curtis, and while no one wanted to buy the novel, that wasn’t my problem. I trusted Richard to— someday—find a home for it. Meanwhile, I was still a sixth-grade teacher who loved and celebrated teaching as much as I always had. I wrote short fiction in the evenings, in the early mornings, on weekends, and— especially—during those wonderful summer vacations that school teachers receive as a bonus.

  By 1984, Song of Kali still hadn’t sold— its view of Calcutta and tragic tone actively frightened away publishers— but I’d earned a new day job of working with three other teachers to design a new K–6 gifted/talented program for our huge school district. The job was staggering in both scope and our own expectations (two of the four teachers on special assignment to design the program and identify students out of a K–6 population of thousands and then write the curriculum and then teach it literally had nervous breakdowns and left teaching over the next year) but the other survivor, Frank, and I pressed on and created the program called APEX, Advanced Programs for Excellence. [The the school board demanded an acronym and weren’t amused at my suggestions of GANDALF (Gifted and Able Learners Forum) or LPOP (Little Program on the Prairie.)]

  APEX was designed to serve thousands of high-end kids, both on the kindergarten through sixth-grade level in nineteen scattered elementary schools and (most excitingly) on the third-grade to sixth-grade level at the APEX Center where a round robin of new courses appeared every eight weeks. Any child in the district that met the age requirements could apply and take the half-hour DAT (Demonstrated Ability Task) that was the key to finding those kids who could work from three to fifteen years above “grade level” in those areas— literature, history, science, art, music, “show-biz,” math, oceanography, biology, social studies, etc.— and every eight weeks or so another several hundred self-selected students came flowing into a whole new roster of APEX Center courses. A few kids qualified for all five mornings of APEX courses and were receiving several years’ worth of truly differentiated gifted/talented advanced programming in eight weeks of long morning sessions and some astounding in de pen dent work between those sessions.

  One of my courses was Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, using curriculum written for college-level courses but also more extensive curriculum I’d written for it, all on the post–high school science level, all for a class of powerfully capable fifth-and sixth-graders who were never labeled gifted or talented or anything else. In what I believe to this day was the most successful advanced-learning G/T program in the nation, the hundreds upon hundreds of students flowing through APEX Center produced work, projects, and levels of thinking that would astound even master teachers around the nation.

  Designing and administering and teaching APEX was the most creative thing I’d done in my life to that point and now— after publishing twenty-seven books— I still rate it as the single most successful creative thing I’ve done. For three years I was putting in a hundred hours of work a week on APEX— meetings, constan
tly reviewing and applying research in the field, writing advanced curriculum, designing new courses, designing the all-important Designated Ability Tasks that found these kids, training others to do such design, training others in the group holistic assessment the DAT’s required, in-servicing more than eight hundred teachers on gifted/ talented issues and classroom teaching options, carrying out all the administrative duties that flow from running a program serving thousands of kids in a constantly revolving basis, meeting with parent groups and others . . . and all through that period, I didn’t begrudge the constant overtime one bit. It was exhilarating. Given the quality of kids I was honored to work with and the unparalleled height of our goals and expectations met, it was the teacher equivalent of mainlining heroin. I loved it.

  In 1985, I received a phone call at my APEX office from my agent Richard Curtis. Song of Kali had finally sold. After being “Almost, not quite” rejected by Doubleday and Random House and Bantam and many other houses, a new publishing house called Bluejay Books, begun by a certain James Frenkel, was willing to take the risk on this dangerous tale by this unknown novelist. Bluejay would pay me $5,000 for the book.

  When I got home that evening, Karen and I literally danced around the kitchen in joy. Three-year-old Jane, lifted up first by Karen and then by me, was part of the dance, whether she wanted to be or not. Life, I thought, doesn’t get much better than this.

  The tease on the back of the 1990 Warner paperback of Carrion Comfort says it all and should have been a premonition and a warning to me in 1985—

  All humans feed on violence. But only those with the Ability have tasted the ultimate power.

  Ordinary vampires possess the body. But only those who use the living can violate the soul.

 

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