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“The Witch Hunter’s Account” in Nameless Magazine

Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Blog Posts, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Nameless Digest Issue #3 contains, among many other fine stories, my “Witch Hunter’s Account.”

Like “The Astrologer’s Telling,” published in Daily Science Fiction last month, “The Witch Hunter’s Account” was inspired by one of Lovecraft’s favorite authors, Arthur Machen, and is also a response to Lovecraftian cosmic horror, again with fewer tentacles and, I like to think, less xenophobia than Lovecraft. Hmm, actually, scratch that bit on the xenophobia (although I’m sure a conversation could get started on the refugee themes in “Astrologer’s Telling.” It may not have been a conscious screw-you to Lovecraft’s intolerance, but I’d be tickled if people read it as such). No, Witch Hunters aren’t exactly known for their open-armed acceptance of difference.

In “Harmony,” a story published in Kaleidotrope Issue #8 some years back, I made my first attempt to hash out a dichotomy or Harmony/Discord–not good/evil or order/chaos, but rather permissive-of-life-as-we-know-it/utterly-inimical. It’s not that Discord is objectively bad (there is no objectivity), it’s just…very easily made uncomfortable for us squishy organic lifeforms. But even here it’s not a clean cut. Because sometimes we want the rules of the universe to work differently, at least for a short while. A lot of the themes in “Harmony”–including the seductiveness of Discord and the “they who hunt monsters” elements hinted at beneath the surface–are further developed & examined in “The Witch Hunter’s Account.” Plus I got the chance to develop the culture of colonized, terraformed 31st century Mars, a place I certainly hope to return to with later stories.

An excerpt from “The Witch Hunter’s Account”:

Just before dawn—the dossier said she was an early riser—I drove up the cliff-hugging pink gravel road. The gates opened at my name although I knew I wasn’t expected, and I parked in a courtyard shaded by some of the most luxurious growth I had seen on Mars. A housekeeper, dressed in smart black, was passing a sprinkler over a bed of poppies in the shade of a vast palm.     
“Go right in, Mr. Saye,” she said. “The gate announced you. Ms Mao will see you in her study, right at the end of the hall.”     
The inside of the house was as comfortable and modest as the exterior, though again overgrown by plants spilling from urns and troughs set before windows, on tables, and even directly on the plush burgundy carpet, staining it with water around their bases. The hall was permeated with an unnerving feeling of good health. I hurried to the door at the end of it, and it swung open at my touch. Also unnerving, the way every door and gate seemed to yield to me.    
 The study wall opposite the door was taken up by a vast window overlooking the sea. A pale Martian sunrise polished the waves, and it was a moment before I looked away from the sight to see the woman standing at a narrow bookcase.     
“Ms Mao?” I said.     
She turned to me, sliding a book back onto the shelf. Theophania Mao had a slender body and a round face, unlined save for softening wrinkles at the corners of her dark eyes. Her hair, onyx-black, hung to her chin in a style graceful in its plainness. Her long red dress was tailored in the fashion of a business suit.     
“Mr. Saye,” she said, “would you like to sit down? And you would mind if I called you Jonathan?”     
Of course, she must have thought I was a client. A patient, I corrected myself—the file Edith Zann sent me said she didn’t charge for her miracles.     
But she did call them “miracles.” I took a seat with my back to the window.     
She pulled up a chair and sat across from me. “Can I get anything for you? Coffee? Wine? A glass of water?”    
 “No, thank you.” I realized I still wore my hat and removed it, with a nod of apology, wondering what about this case was making me so nervous.    
 “Are you certain?”    
 She asked with such insistence that I said, “Water would be fine, thank you.”     
She buzzed the order into her intercom with a small smile. The knotting in my gut unraveled, then rewound itself, as I considered her. She plainly enjoyed offering a helping hand, if only by offering refreshment to a stranger at her door. She had a generous spirit, the air of a person born for service. It disarmed me—while I knew some fell into Discord for noble reasons, it was academic knowledge; the only crusaders I had met were like Zann, on our side.    
 “I have something to ask you, Ms Mao,” I said.     
She bent forward in her chair. “Yes?”     
“I want to know how you do your healing.”     
Her eyes lowered, and she sat back like a reprimanded child. Her voice was firm but also apologetic as she said, “I can’t teach you how to do it.”     
I shook my head. “I don’t need to know for myself, ma’am. I’m curious about your own method.”    
 Her eyes narrowed. Anyone who might have taken her eagerness to help as a sign of weakness—or naïveté—would have been corrected by that look. “Why?”    
 “I have some interest in science,” I said. “I’m slowly forming a theory of how things perceived as miraculous—like your healing or Miguel Chapman’s levitation and walking on water—”  
 “Miguel Chapman’s performances,” she said, “are all charlatanism.”       
“I’m not so sure, ma’am. Either way, I’d like to see examples of your work, and try to fit it into established science.”

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