For over half a century, Richard Matheson has enthralled and terrified readers with such timeless classics as I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Duel, Somewhere in Time, and What Dreams May Come. Now the Grand Master returns with a bewitching tale of erotic suspense and enchantment….
1918. A young American soldier recently wounded in the Great War, Alex White comes to Gatford to escape his troubled past. The pastoral English village seems the perfect spot to heal his wounded body and soul. True, the neighboring woods are said to be haunted by capricious, even malevolent, spirits, but surely those are just old wives' tales.
A frightening encounter in the forest leads him into the arms of Magda Variel, an alluring red-haired widow rumored to be a witch. She warns him to steer clear of the wood and the perilous faerie kingdom it borders, but Alex cannot help himself. Drawn to its verdant mysteries, he finds love, danger…and wonders that will forever change his view of the world.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Richard Matheson (1926-2013) was The New York Times bestselling author of I Am Legend, Hell House, Somewhere in Time, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Now You See It…, and What Dreams May Come, among others. He was named a Grand Master of Horror by the World Horror Convention, and received the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement. He has also won the Edgar, the Spur, and the Writer's Guild awards. In 2010, he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In addition to his novels Matheson wrote several screenplays for movies and TV, including several Twilight Zone episodes.
Read an Excerpt
By Richard Matheson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2011 RXR, Inc.
All rights reserved.
I was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 20, 1900. The son of Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, and Martha Justine Hollenbeck. I had one sister, Veronica, younger than I, who died the same year these strange incidents began.
Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, was a swine. There, I've written it down after all these years. He was a total swine. No, he wasn't. He was a sick man. His brain was gnarled — shadow ridden, you might say.
Veronica and I (especially Veronica) suffered greatly at his hands. His discipline was iron based. The Navy spared him from being institutionalized, I believe. Where else could his near-demented behavior be permitted? Our mother, tenderhearted and emotional, died before she was forty. I should say, "escaped" before she was forty. Her wifehood was an extended sojourn in Hell.
* * *
I present a small example:
One day in March 1915, Mother, Veronica, and I received an invitation (an order) to attend a dinner on father's ship (a supply ship, I recall). None of us wanted to go, but there was scant alternative — Daddy's ship for dinner or, for refusing, several weeks (perhaps a month) of indeterminate punishment.
So we donned our respectful bibs and tuckers, and were driven to the Navy Yard, there to discover that Daddy's ship was anchored on the Hudson River, which, with driving winds, was being whipped into minor tsunamis.
Would any husband and father in his right mind have permitted his family to face such a perilous experience? I ask you, would any husband and father in his right mind not have canceled the entire crazy venture and taken his family to a decent restaurant? I answer for you. Of course he would. Did Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, behave as though he was in his right mind? One guess. We were scheduled to have dinner aboard the USS White — Swine, it should have been named. If we all drowned en route — what is it the ruffian set says today? — tough titties. Regrettable but unavoidable.
We stepped, lurchingly, aboard the Captain's gig — his private launch — and departed. The side awnings were lowered, Dad's concession to reality, no doubt. The wind, however, was blowing so tremendously that the awnings kept flapping open at their bottoms, spraying us with Hudson River. Needless to say — I say it regardless — the waves were more than choppy; they were semi-mountainous. The gig shuddered and bounced, tilted and rocked. Mother pleaded with the Captain to turn back, but he remained adamant, lips compressed and bloodless. We would be arriving at the ship "toot-sweet" — he actually used the phrase, or, should I say, butchered it? Mother held a handkerchief to her lips, no doubt to prevent losing any prior meals that day. Veronica wept. I take that back; attempted (in vain) to keep from weeping, because the Captain loathed her tears, making it abundantly clear that he did with many a dark critical glance.
Somehow, despite my conviction that we were all destined for the bottom of the river, we finally arrived — still alive but damp — at Dad's ship, which, dear reader, was scarcely the conclusion of our mal de mer nightmare. There were, you see, no convenient steps to the deck, only an exterior metal ladder, which, because of the leaping waves, was running with water. Up this slip-and-slide companionway climbed the White clan, totally convinced that death of one variety or another — by falling and/or drowning — was imminent. (Actually falling first, then submersion in the briny deep.)
The spotlight of the gig glared on — increasing our blind ascent — what with the ship's spotlight also on — and Mother went first, assisted (poorly) by a terrified sailor. To my amazement — and disbelieving relief — she neither fell nor submerged, achieving the deck, still damp but unscathed. Veronica went next. At that moment, I summoned a hope for guardian angels. Surrendering completely her effort not to weep and offend the Captain, she labored, assisted, up the puddling ladder, slipping more than once and shedding copious tears and sobs. I followed; gripping the cold ladder railing so rigidly, my hands went numb. No assistance for me. Father either assumed I was strong enough to manage on my own — or else harbored a secret hope that I would tumble to a watery grave and relieve him of an irritating son.
Whatever the case, I climbed alone, clutching the ladder railing with both hands. Above me — I tried not to look up but did, distracted by the wild flapping of Veronica's skirt, catching sight, at one point, of her underpants — a momentary glimpse of wetness. No surprise. I did the same. I wonder if Mother had, also, suffered alike. The weakness could not possibly have come from Father's side of the genes. If he had any weakness, it was a total inability to identify with other human beings.
At one point of the death-defying climb, Veronica slipped off the ladder completely, screaming in terror, the high heel of her left shoe (why didn't she wear mountain-climbing boots?) nicking the top of my head (why didn't I wear a fireman's helmet?), which began to drip blood. A chancy moment. Was Veronica to hurtle to the river? Was I to bleed to death?
Neither. Veronica, sobbing, stricken to the core, poor sweet dear that she was, regained her footing, assisted by the sailor who was with her, and was hauled up onto the deck by another sailor, a burly, redheaded, chuckling lout of a man. I followed, and so, to my chagrin, did Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, a thin smile on his granite lips. He was amused by the entire event. I'm sure Mother could have killed him. Ditto. Twice over.
A few words about my sister. Veronica was a truly gentle soul. Once, in a driving rainstorm, she picked up a bleeding puppy that had been struck (and deserted) by a speeding motorist. She carried it home — five blocks — in her arms. By a stroke of ill fortune, the Captain was not away that afternoon and ordered her to remove "that damned, whining beast" from the premises before it bled all over the handmade Chinese rug.
Only a hysterical, weeping fit by Veronica — and an atypical temperamental foot-stomping by Mother — not to mention a few choice verbal attacks by me, laced with impulsive profanities (for which I later paid a hefty price; I leave that to your imagination) persuaded the outgunned Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, to — stiffly — allow Veronica to take the shivering, silent — still bleeding — "mutt" to an unused corner of the cellar.
I went down there with her, disobeying the good Captain's injunction to "go to your damned room." (Another dereliction for which I paid hefty price number 2.) There I watched the dear, sweet, bless-her-noble-heart girl — still crying softly, gulping down body-racking sobs — care, with loving gentleness, for the puppy (she was, poor girl, a teenage Florence Nightingale), washing and bandaging, with household bandages, no less. ("Puppy needs them more than him." Revealing to me — as if I needed it — her detestation of our father.) Fixing the puppy's cuts and bruises, then kissing its damp head, crying anew when the puppy licked her hand.
Happy ending? You want a happy ending? Skip it. In the early morning, Veronica rushed down to the cellar to see if the puppy was all right. It was gone. She ran to question Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, and Mother told her Father had gone for the day to discharge his naval duties — probably beating some sailor to death with a chain. But I digress.
Crying helplessly, Veronica, suspecting the worst (most logically), hurried outside. To find the puppy on the back porch, curled up in an uncovered cardboard box. Needless to say — I am vengefully pleased to say — it was still raining, and the puppy was shaking uncontrollably and dying. Which it did that afternoon. I would like to describe the burial ceremony conducted by a heart-stricken Veronica, but the memory is too painful to relive in detail.
One more Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, anecdote. One more black star in his Book of Swinishness. Its conclusion? He castigated Veronica (severely) for ruining a blanket, using a box of household bandages, and digging an unauthorized grave in the backyard soil and, further, conducting an "un-Christian" funeral ceremony without express permission from the Church. Was he kidding? No.
* * *
Veronica was never very healthy, much less robust. Mother drove her — a long, inconvenient drive — to a naval hospital for treatment. Captain You Know Who would not permit Veronica — or Mother or me — to be treated by a local physician. He was a naval officer (by God), and treatment for a naval officer's family must (repeat, must) by administered by a naval hospital or clinic. (By God.)
Veronica grew weaker by the year. By the time the influenza epidemic landed on the United States, she was primed for the blow, hardly resistant at all. Poor, dear, sweet Veronica. I still miss her and weep for her unhappiness.
The Captain had his brutal effect on me, mostly in my preteen years. A Pisces (it has been labeled "the trash bin of the zodiac"), I, too, cried a lot before I was fifteen. Then my rising sign, whatever it may be (actually, I know), must have risen strongly and declared itself, for I began to shut myself off from Captain B. S., USN. He no longer "got" to me. If I'd been the happy owner of a loaded pistol, I would probably (I do not say "undoubtedly") have shot him many times over. For Veronica. For Mother. For myself. No guilt involved. I knew that much. More like a sense of grinning justification.
* * *
I have avoided, long enough, the transmission of my "terrible tale." (Remember, of course, that it is, as well, a wondrous tale.) You know, already, that I have been too emotionally bound up to convey it for more than sixty years. So if I forget myself and allow my Arthur Black commercial overstatement to leak through, kindly take pity on the blind-eyed, money-seeking element in my elderly author persona. I promise you that what I am about to tell you did not ooze from my diseased brain. It happened.
* * *
Return with me to 1918. I was eighteen years of age. World War One was in full swing. Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, wanted me, naturally, to join the Navy; he would see to it that I got a "proper" position. Does it surprise you to read that I demurred? I enlisted in the army. I cannot adequately describe the intense pleasure I experienced when I witnessed the look of utter revulsion on his face when I told him the "good news." (I was going to war for Uncle Sam!)
So there I was, an army enlistee, no doubt destined for a journey to France.
It was not the exact beginning of my nightmare-to-come, but it was certainly a good start.CHAPTER 2
On April 16, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. What a "declaration" of war means, I have no idea. I suppose it means, "We will now fire shells and bullets at you and fully expect reciprocation." Or, "You are no longer our friend, and we hereby declare that we regard you as our enemy." Or some such nonsense.
On June 7, National Draft Day, I enlisted and eventually became a nonentity in the 111th Infantry, Twenty-eighth Division, AEF (American Expeditionary Force). I have already told you about dear old Dad's reaction to my back-turning on the U.S. Navy. After I'd related the news to him, he retired to the bathroom, there to expel at least a two months' supply (probably more) of bile at the displeasing information.
Later, I discovered that conscription applied to any young patriots between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one. So I could have waited. What, and deprive myself of the pleasure of viewing the Captain's face curl up with disgust? No, I did it at the right moment. So I could have been killed sooner. No matter. Actually, I could have been killed, anyway.
In July, I was shipped by train (I was merely a package to be shipped from pillar to post) to Camp Kearny in California, where I cut a dashing figure in my rumpled garb and Boy Scout hat, no leggings, three weeks in overalls. For sixteen weeks, I learned the skills of open warfare, part of which was trench warfare. General Pershing did not approve of it — he preferred offense attacks.
I was defined as a "rifleman." Due to supply shortages, our rifles were made of wood; we got real ones only on the shooting range. We were also taught the "operation" of the bayonet. I came to the assumption that the victim of a bayonet insertion would require an operation, Major. We were also instructed in camouflage. As though it would be of value in the trenches.
Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, would have been gratified by the fact that there were no "Nigras" in my company; they served exclusively in a segregated regiment. They were later (Capt. would not have been gratified) completely integrated in the French army, issued French helmets, rifles, and other equipment. Those blacks who remained in the AEF performed such prestigious services as grave digging and onion peeling.
Why were we called "doughboys"? I was told that soldiers marching in Southwest deserts were covered with so much sweat-stained dust that they and their uniforms took on the appearance of adobe coating. "Adobe" was, presently, altered to "doughboy." Probably not true, but as good as any explanation. The soldiers' blouse buttons resembling lumps of fried dough? Dubious.
On December 7, 1917, the United States declared (that word again) war on Austria-Hungary. No way out of it now.
I was shipped overseas on a small British liner. We slept on a lower deck, officers getting upper berths. The food, to be charitable, was god-awful, the smell even worse, the water barely drinkable — there were moments when I almost regretted not taking the Captain's offer to assist me. Almost.
It took thirteen vomitous days to arrive in Brest. There, empty of stomach, we were transported in French "forty and eights." (Box cars — forty hommes, eight chevaux — horses.) Traveling in said style, we were taken to the British sector and, there, driven in small, old, rattly, drafty trucks to "the Front" — euphemism for Death Zone. There, bolstered by cheap French champagne — seventy cents a quart at that time, five dollars a quart when demand exceeded supply, or when the French discovered that we had more money than we knew what to do with and didn't want to get blown up with currency in our pockets. At any rate, we paid it.
Thus, in late December of 1917, I "entered" the trenches. That was how they expressed it. "Entered" the trenches. As though it was a stage direction. Which, in a way, of course, it was. The problem being that the play was a one-act tragedy-farce starring us. With no hope of a happy ending. And, conceivably, no performers remaining to take final bows. Until the next season, when an all-new cast was called upon to emote — or die.
So, physically, mentally, and militarily unprepared, I entered the trenches.CHAPTER 3
How do I describe "life" in the trenches during World War I? Historical-Pastoral? To quote Polonius: Tragical-Historical-Comical? Pastoral-whatever? Who knows? I am not the Bard of Avon. I'm Arthur Black. Perhaps Hamlet plus Macbeth plus King Lear plus any other gory play penned by Shakespeare. Too bad he didn't write The Inferno. That would have come closer.
I won't go into many details here. I'll save them for later in my story. Correction: my account. All I'll say, at this point, is "By golly, it was fun!" Minus a few small elements. A thousand rats, for instance. We shot them, pounded them with shovels, et cetera. Not too many, mind. They did warn us of impending bombardment: They vanished beforehand.
Speaking of bombardments — another element I'll sketch in at this moment. Where we were had been, so I was told, woods and farm fields, which were soon artilleryized (my own word) to a forest of splintered tree trunks.
Excerpted from Other Kingdoms by Richard Matheson. Copyright © 2011 RXR, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Quick read that catches you from the very beginning and doesn't let go.
I have only read one other Richard Matheson book (Hell House) but this was a great read. I couldn't put it down. The voice of the narrator really pulls the reader through the story and makes you want to read on. Pick this one up!
My first reading experience of Richard Matheson was 'I Am Legend', a piece of work that deserves all of the praise it has received. I loved that story and, although I did not read anything else by Matheson for a few years, I was under the assumption that he was a masterful storyteller of horror and strange happenings.Then I read "Earthbound." That was about a man who cheats on his wife with the ghost of a young woman. That book is full of what I imagine an older man perceives as pervy sex while having not much plot. I thought that this was a fluke on Matheson's part, one bad story.Recently I read this book, "Other Kingdoms." Once again, it's about a man who is seduced by a wicked woman (a witch rather than a ghost), way too much sex, and bad plot. The character types of women in these last two books I've read by Matheson have left a bad taste with me. I've seen two stereotypes for his women: evil and loose or child-like and innocent.If you're thinking of picking this up because you liked 'I Am Legend', I have one word for you: Don't.
This tale of witchcraft and faerie is charmingly set in a remote British village at the very end of the Great War. The supernatural beings with whom the narrator mingles require only minimal suspension of disbelief. On the other hand, the narrator himself is something of a dolt, albeit one who is seemingly irresistible to unearthly females. The book's great weakness is repeated disregard of Chekov's dictum about the gun over the mantle. Here there are firearms (speaking metaphorically) over the mantle, on top of the couch, scattered across chairs, littering the floor - and not one of them ever goes off. Maybe this steady disappointment of expectations is a literary device; if so, it's not a good one.
The name Richard Matheson didn't mean anything to me. I saw this novel in the top 10 for sci-fi books and figured it was worth a shot. Then, I glance at the back cover. Stephen King and other authors I love to read are praising this Matheson saying he's their favorite. Nice, I thought. I scan the list of previous works and realize I'm an idiot. Although I hadn't recognized his name I sure did his works such as Terror at 20,000 Feet, I Am Legend and What Dreams May Come. This one is also quite the tale. Young man can't wait to leave home to escape an overbearing father. Goes to war and bonds with a fellow in the trenches. After the war, he ends up traveling to his friends home town in England. Weirdness ensues. Witches and fairies and mythical creatures. Oh my. The 80-something year old narrator goes off on tangents quite frequently in his recollection of events. I wasn't sure if that was the way of his writer-self or if it was old age as he described. I'm just not sure if I can believe that after everything this kid goes through, he'd become a productive member of society. Let alone a sane one.
Somewhat disappointed in this one. Considering "What Dreams May Come" is one of my all time favorite books, I think this fell short of my expectations.
This is a strange book, defined by what it's not more than what it is, the paths it could have gone down but didn't.I'll step lightly here. As usual, Matheson is brief and the cover blurb covers the first third of this short novel.We start out with the narrator detailing his horrible home life under the oppressive rule of Captain White, United States Navy. But Alex flees home to serve in WWI. There he meets the charming Harold, an English soldier in the trenches. And Harold dies but, with his dying breath, he urges Alex to go to Gatford, his hometown. He also urges him to avoid "the middle" - a warning Alex thinks about a lot in the first half of the book and not so much in the second because, like much else here, things shift in importance and emphasis frequently. The war shifts from immediate to background horror. This is not a horror of war novel.Alex's welcome in Gatford, particularly after showing around a lump of gold inherited from Harold, is not what he expects. There is dark talk about the source of the gold, the faeries in the nearby wood. But this is not a mystery about whether the woods are haunted by little people.And, when the beautiful Magda saves Alex from an invisible menace in that wood, the book doesn't go down the paths the reader expects.And it's not just the twisting plot that is unexpected. It's the tone. White's narration breaks up any sustained tone of horror. He frequently points out the errors of his eighteen year old, callow, lying self. He can't help pointing out those "Arthur Black touches" - frequent alliteration - in his oral history-like account. He lays on the foreshadowing thickly, quite consciously, but, at novel's end, the horrors he predicted may not be those we anticipated. Despite all the terrors and magic and talk of astral bodies and scrying and psychic projections and wiccanism, this book is, at its core, the sad reminisces of a man in his 80s talking about his life's one great, pure love.Was I disappointed? Not really because I didn't really want to go to any of those places I thought I was being taken to, and Matheson is always concise enough a writer that even his missteps don't feel like a waste of time.
In 1918, more to escape from his abusive father rather than any sense of patriotism, Alex White joins the army. He is quickly sent to the trench warfare in France where he meets Harold Lightfoot who is from Gatford, England. When Harold dies, Alex finds gold in his duffle bag instead of Harold's bag. Alex instantly decides to visit the place Harold called the most beautiful village in the world. Alex crosses the Channel, but soon realizes locating the rustic quaint village is not easy as if Gatford does not want to be found by just anyone. He rents Comfort Cottage using the money he received by selling the gold. The owner is shocked when it turned to dust; this is the beginning of the travails he finds in the village where the townsfolk believe the Faerie live in the nearby woods. They warn him never to leave the path and to avoid Widow Magda Variel the witch. Alex fails to heed the sage advice as he and Magda begin a relationship and encounters Ruthana a beautiful Faerie. Both women want him exclusively, but the more time Alex spends with Magda, the more ne becomes wary of her actions. He enters Faerie, but life there proves dangerous there also as someone wants him dead. This is a chilling DNA helix-like twisted historical love story as a female uses her power to keep the male object of her obsessive affection at her side while her rival is willing to sacrifice her desire for his safety. Told in the first person, Other Kingdoms draws the reader into Alex's account starting with his enlistment, but mostly his time in Gatford and the surrounding areas as he believes he has fallen in love with two diverse women. Harriet Klausner