Horror fiction has long celebrated and explored the twin engines driving human existence. Call them what you like: Sex and Death, Love and Destruction, Temptation and Terror. While many may strive to reach the extremes, few authors manage to find the beauty that rests in the liminal space between these polar forces, the shuddering ecstasy encased within the shock. And then there’s Livia Llewellyn, an author praised for her dark, stirring, evocative prose and disturbing, personal narratives.
Lush, layered, multifaceted, and elegant, the thirteen tales comprising Furnace showcase why Livia Llewellyn has been lauded by scholars and fans of weird fiction alike, and why she has been nominated multiple times for the Shirley Jackson Award and included in year’s best anthologies. These are exquisite stories, of beauty and cruelty, of pleasure and pain, of hunger, and of sharp teeth sinking into tender flesh.
Cover Art by Michael Garlington
Cover Design by Scott R. Jones
Praise For Furnace:
“Llewellyn’s mastery of psychosexual horror puts her in the conversation with Ballard and Tiptree, Jr. when it comes to fearless, ferocious, and important literature.”
–Laird Barron, author of The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All
“In Engines of Desire, Livia Llewellyn’s debut collection of short stories from 2011, reality was just another raw material to be stretched and reworked. Llewellyn’s follow-up collection, Furnace, is a slightly slimmer volume, but it doesn’t skimp when it comes to her distorted vision. Beautiful and hideous in the same breath, its 13 tales of erotic, surreal, existential horror pack a logic-shattering punch.”
-Jason Heller, NPR.org
Table of Contents
Wasp & Snake
Yours Is the Right to Begin
Lord of the Hunt
In the Court of King Cupressaceae, 1982 (original to collection)
It Feels Better Biting Down
The Last, Clean, Bright Summer
and Love shall have no Dominion
A potent protean voice, archaic and modern, evoking the wild and weird, the cosmic, the infernal and internal, with the aspects of lust and grotesque within a disquieting beauty and poetically intriguing hypnotically succumbing succulent prose.
According to Cambridge Dictionary
“a prison with cells (= rooms) arranged in a circle, so that the people in them can be seen at all times from the centre”
One to be warned adult content.
I have read for you can skip this one if concerned.
Memorable interlude into a …queen and a kingdom with poetically intriguing hypnotically succulent prose.
“Is this you? There is a place deep in the warehouse district, far outside the civilized edges of the city called Obsidia, where the population bleeds off into cul-de-sacs and dead-end roads, where only abandoned brick buildings and crumbling smokestacks remain. You have heard of this place solely by learning to phrase the questions as though they were snowflakes falling from the sky—questions outside your control, beyond your care or concern. Questions like that are answered in the passage of time, eventually: by cracked nails pressed against yellowing maps of long-dead subway lines, words parsed from veins of blood welling from a blossoming wound, grunts behind locked bathroom doors that echo out numbers, names. Answers, in the smoky plume of the dragon, the sour tang of the drug. And over the years and decades, you bead the collected answers onto the needle-fine wire of your need: gradually a map appears, a date, a time. You will not hold this information a second time: the invitation, like a comet, will pass from your view into the black of night, never to be seen in your lifetime again.
It never occurs to you not to go. In a way, you’re already there.
Is this you?”
“The afternoon is the caramel shade of fossilized saurian bone, hardened and inured to the passage of time. You walk down streets razed by wind and dust into thin crusts of cobblestone and tar, the destination always on the tip of your tongue like the taste of anthracite coal. Signs have long decayed into dust in this part of the city, and only ravens and dogs know the lay of the land. But the jewels of information gathered over the years are a crown, and for this single day you are Queen. And the kingdom waits.”
“You never left the subway train. You never wandered an abandoned kingdom of wonders, you never entered a hall of a million doors. You never received answers to all the questions you asked. You do not watch. You were never the audience. You were the space, the void.”
“Overhead, the slender pedestrian bridge stands fast against a saurian colored sky. Your painted, flaking pupils see it in slices, only through the rigid fingers of a hand—whose hand it is, you cannot tell. There are hands all around you, feet and torsos and heads, but you do not feel them as much as sense that they are there, jumbled about like autumn leaves. Like snow.”
You feel for Thalia, empathy built within reader with your character that box is ticked by the author in this one.
In the middle of a block flats on the thirty-seventh floor lives Thalia she’s having a little catch and dispose of creepy insect problems and whilst dealing with her ongoing vertigo.
Trauma contained connected to spider and heights.
Time to move on I have a spare room.
Visceral orchestration and trepidation.
“Thirty floors above her, a small city pressing down. She felt it the most in this tight, windowless space, the gurgles of water and pinging of pipes, the crush of so many people above and around her, doing the exact same thing. She had wanted to live high above everyone, far away from the crowds.”
“The apartment glowed from the ambient lights of two cities in two states—one of the reasons she decided to rent the space, even if it was well beyond her means. From the long living room window, thirty-seven stories below, the Hudson River caught the spark and flash of Manhattan and pushed it away with the night sky, as if to say—how could mere galaxies and stars be more beautiful than this?”
“Outside, traffic and machinery hummed and throbbed its mechanical song to the autumn evening as if singing it down from the sky. Somewhere, wind whistled through an unsealed crack. The sound made her feel a million miles from nowhere. Thalia rose, and shoved some clothes in her gym bag. She just couldn’t bring herself to use the shower tonight. Tomorrow, maybe, after she’d calmed down.”
“Spiders love us,” her mother always used to say, when Thalia was young. “They want to protect us from all the bad things—that’s why they spin such large webs. The webs are a warning, that’s all, to keep you from going near those bad things. Don’t touch them, and they’ll leave you alone.” A child’s fairy tale, a flimsy bandage for so much unexplained trauma.”
“Thalia was reserved for the Charlottes of the world, for secret messages and images in the dots she could connect on her flesh, the maps and signs left in glistening strands against her pale bedroom walls.”
Wasp & Snake
Plenty sting in this one. Strange realm and character having you feeling one will never want to trouble this type of Wasp.
“The biomechanical finger sleeves are beautiful: bright copper filigree, each tip sharpened to points invisible, the better with which to dispense luminous poison hiding in the hollows, poison which will be secreted from her alchemically transformed flesh.”
“Her life will revolve around her hands, around this irreversible decision. Hasn’t life revolved enough already around things outside her own desires, the desires of others and the price they pay her to fulfill them?”
“She will become a scholar, a doctor, a brilliant beacon of light and an example to all women of France.”
The tale commences with a character named Olympie in Paris street fall of 1799.
She is smart and involved in scientific research with gullotines involved and diseased sauvages with copper bowl and notebook nearby.
Off with the heads time.
Dealing with grotesqueries and abominations not a job for everyone.
Grotesque gothic atmospheric tale.
“The nails on the heels of Olympe Léon’s boots are the only sounds in the silence of night’s chilly end. Click click click through indigo air, like the metallic beat of a metronome’s righteous heart. As always, when she sees her destination at the end of rue St. Martin, rising black and monolithic against the encroaching country and graying sky, her heart and feet skip beats. She thinks of each single drop of blood, spurting and squirting from the bright flat mouths of the necks, and her small calloused hands and wide bowls to catch them all.”
“The top two floors, merged long ago into a single high-walled prison, is where the Forbidden Experiment has taken place for over twenty years now, and only handlers are allowed inside. Thick-limbed men swathed in heavy layers of leather and chain mail, with animal-faced masks
and gloves of unyielding steel, unlock the doors to the top floor once every week, and venture into a metal bar-ceilinged warren of broken rooms and passages, untamed flora and small creeping fauna, a facsimile and perversion of the natural world, open to the elements yet contained and confined. And after a time, each handler emerges with a young boy or girl who howls and shits and pisses and bites like a wolf, a child who has had no interaction with the civilized world since birth. Les enfants sauvages.”
“Olympe, the brothel-raised daughter of a long-dead revolutionary and a long-dead whore, is very aware she will never be one of those women, those forward-thinking academic lights of France’s glorious new future, but at least she is more than what awaits her outside the double steel courtyard gates, and it never fails to thrill her. True, the great men who conduct these incredible experiments tend to recruit uneducated yet comely young women and men like herself, who don’t protest when a suck or two is requested of them, but Olympe is pretty and clean and always willing to comply. And she’s smart.”
“Outside, the world is quiet and calm. She hears the muted roar of the furnace far behind her, all the machinery hidden within the building that keeps it alive to gobble up all in the name of Science.”
Yours is The Right to Begin
Many rules and there is one in charge I mean even books are forbidden they are asking a lot.
He needs to stop the demands.
I like this Queen of Lies but when it’s feeding time need to be invisible.
“Drip, drip, drip go the sounds of my thoughts under each little tick of the watch, each unspoken word welling plump from the dark woods and rushing waters and starry void of my mind, staining red all the untouched pink flesh of your soul.”
“Outside, insects chattered and buzzed incessantly in the heat. So many creeping things, and not a single bird left to cull them. Cows dying and crops fallow in the fields, and only that one lush mound of the valley blossoming like a poison-soaked paradise, whilst all the land around it cowered and waited.”
“Books are forbidden, as is music and all the forms of the arts. You must learn to find stories in wind, knowledge in thunder and rain. Your thoughts will no longer be yours to write down, your little diaries and letters shredded and burned.”
“Do not ask what it is he looks for, what undiscovered truths he seeks in the dark calligraphy of tears penned by your horrified eyes.”
“You must break, and you must heal, and you must break, and you must heal. Sisyphus, never resting at the summit. Icarus, never reaching the opposite shore.”
“They speak and spin stories of such aching beauty and pain, yet the words and emotions that pour from their fang-tipped mouths, the shifting forms of their flesh, the touch of their pliant hands are mere traps to catch flies.”
In the Court of King Cupressaceae, 1982
Well that was a ride, lyrical and visceral potency with one woman, not your average woman, Severin, whilst not at school and studies, amidst the magic of Knox, two worlds, and “numinous transformations.”
“Severin flicks off the light switch. The tiny room plunges into darkness, but their reflections remain bright in the silver glass, skin like pale moths, hair like flame, eyes like fireflies. Slender green threads of electricity travel up and down the spikes of their mohawked heads.”
“Gradually, as though waking from a deep, antediluvian dream, the world blossoms back around her, above her, below. Stars studding the kodachromatic skies, winking and whispering their radio emissions across the velvet-green lands. The warm ocean of air, eddies and currents combing through the thick trees and caressing her face with its cedar-scented waves as it flows through the clearing. Crickets, cicadas and frogs, their songs of loneliness and love rising and falling, rising and falling. Fireflies, sparking and humming like miniature Tesla coils.”
This small life..”This small house. This small life. This cage. She can’t do it anymore. The clock on the bookcase chimes ten.”
One can empathize with her and existing.
An encounter with black static awaits.
Great cosmic horror tale by a wondrous potent protean voice.
“She turns the page. More photos and ephemera, all the things that over the years have caught her eye. But all she sees is the massive palm, lush and hard and tall, the woman’s back curved into it like a drowsy lover, the empty space around them, above and below, as if they are the only objects that have ever existed in the history of time.”
“Ruth rubs her eyes. She’s used to this, these hitches of lost time. Monotonous life, gloriously washed away in the backwater tides of her waking dreams. She stumbles out of the car, swaying as she clutches the door. The world has been reduced to an iron gray bowl of silence and vertigo, contained yet infinite. Mountains and space and sky, all around, with the river diminished to a soft mosquito’s whine.”
“Every day in this colorless town at the edge of this colorless land is like the one before, indistinguishable and unchanging. She doesn’t remember waking up, getting dressed, making coffee. And there’s something outside, a presence, an all-consuming black static wave of sound, building up just beyond the wall of morning’s silence, behind the plane’s mournful song. She furrows her brow, straining to hear.”
“Everywhere, black static rushes through the air, strange equations and latitudes and lost languages and wondrous geometries crammed into a silence so old and deep that all other sounds are made void.”
Town is dying ashes are falling.
A thirteen year old voice on the precipice of adulthood with feelings in a world dying and topsy turvy.
Cold town, dying towns, a world brought alive with haunting evocations, memories, a childhood lost, and the joyful turned foul.
Time is relevant.
“Everyone knew our town was dying, long before we truly saw it. There’s a certain way a piece of fruit begins to wrinkle and soften, caves in on itself around the edges of a fast-appearing bruise, throwing off the sickly-sweet scent of decay and death that always attracts some creeping hungry thing. Some part of the town, an unused building sinking into its foundations, a forgotten alleyway erupting into a slow maelstrom of weeds and cracked stone, was succumbing, had festered, had succumbed: and now threw off the warning spores of its demise.”
“In hindsight, we should have been more vigilant, more aware that these were the places of a town where septicemia and putrification creep in first, those lonely and familiar sections we slipped into and through every day without concern or care—not the seedy crumbling but flashy edges where decay was expected, and, from a certain element of our small society, even accepted and encouraged. These quiet streets of lonely backwater districts, these were the places we never gave a single thought about, because we thought they would be here forever, unchanging in the antiseptic amber of our fixed memories. These quiet streets of lonely backwater districts were always the first to go.”
“And after a while, no one remembered what day it was, or what week, or whether the season was fall or winter or spring. It was all the same season, the same day. I woke up to the same ghostly, lifeless images on the television as the day before, dressed for a school day I wouldn’t recall going to by evening’s end, when I sat at my desk, looking through books and papers for homework I never found.”
“I’ve lived in this southernmost town for many lifetimes now, having lived in many other towns, each further south than the last. But all of the towns of this world have succumbed, as I knew they would, and there are no more towns beyond this one. There is nothing beyond this one, except the vast southern ocean, fields of ice, cold skies, colder stars. Here, winter is a diamond-hard fist, and summer an impossible dream. Or so it used to be, when I first made my way here, centuries or eons ago.”
“Everyone has known that the town is dying, long before we could see it.”
The Grand is sending for them, it may not be good.
A crucible and nightmarish world.
“—This is how it used to be, she tells me over and over again. —When I was a child, we didn’t have electric lamps. We didn’t have radios. There were no televisions or computers; we weren’t compelled to entertain ourselves all day. We were self-contained. Everything we needed came out of ourselves, out of our own family. This is how it was in the world. This is how it will always be for me.”
“The days are worse. I can’t hide in my room forever, and so I venture out into the house, wandering like a restless ghost of myself through the still rooms. Everywhere, vestiges of the life I had before, of my sister and me as children, of my mother and the father I too briefly knew.”
“Outside the house, days have come and gone. Months have bled away. Within these walls, the universe pauses to watch.”
“Together we look up, and up, and up, and from our starry perch we see the deep woods of all the worlds, the labyrinths and groves, we see the satyrs and stags and bulls and the wolves and women and men. Masked and naked, they dance and contort around frightened fires, they chant their prayers and pleas into the shadowed cracks of the world, they laugh and crash together in god-fevered horror and cry out as the sparks of their devotion float up and wink out with their ecstasy. They gyre together and pull apart transformed, endless variations of monstrosities kaleidoscoping out of their frenzied couplings. And I am the night, and out of the night and the woods their god comes to them, into them, into her, in the strike of lightning and the shuddering of the earth, in the terminal vastation of his song.”
A submission and a wild endeavour.
“…one thousand one…
There’s a dream I once had long ago, a girlish fantasy I’d almost forgotten—and now I’m remembering it again, today of all the lonely days I’ve lived. I stand alone on the flat dirt of an arena. The flame-eyed stallion stares me down, foam-flecked lips curled back. He rears, slams his weight into the earth: I don’t move. I know that by seeming not to see or care, I make myself the unattainable, the thing he longs for most in all the world.”
“Of course, there are no feral things in this world. There are no flame-eyed stallions, no dragons to bestride. Nothing wild exists; and I’m old. Twenty years of bad jobs and nothing to show for it, except to turn tail and run across America, back to my old hometown. I’ll fall into the void of my twilight years, and no one will remember me. At least, that’s what I’m thinking as I drive the long curve of 97 into I-90. The hills part, and Ellensburg appears in the valley, backlit by the gold of the setting sun.”
About Livia Llewellyn:
Livia Llewellyn’s fiction has appeared in over forty anthologies and magazines and has been reprinted in multiple best-of anthologies, including The Best Horror of the Year, Year’s Best Weird Fiction, and The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. Her short fiction collections Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors and Furnace were both nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, and “One of These Nights” has been nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Short Story.