About the Author

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican by birth, Canadian by inclination. Silvia’s debut novel, Signal to Noise, about music and magic, won a Copper Cylinder Award and was nominated for the British Fantasy, Locus, Sunburst and Aurora awards. Her second novel, Certain Dark Things, focuses on narco vampires in Mexico City. It was selected as one of NPR’s best books of 2016 and is a finalist for the Locus and Sunburst awards.

Her third novel, The Beautiful Ones, will be out in the fall of 2017.

Silvia’s first collection, This Strange Way of Dying, was a finalist for the Sunburst Award. Her stories have also been collected in Love & Other Poisons.

She has edited several anthologies, including She Walks in Shadows (World Fantasy Award winner, published in the USA as Cthulhu’s Daughters), Sword & Mythos, Fungi, Dead North and Fractured. Silvia is the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press. She also co-edits The Jewish Mexican Literary Review with Lavie Tidhar and the horror magazine The Dark with Sean Wallace.

She has an MA in Science and Technology Studies from the University of British Columbia. Her thesis can be read online and is titled “Magna Mater: Women and Eugenic Thought in the Work of H.P. Lovecraft.”

Books by this Author
Gods of Jade and Shadow
Excerpt

Chapter 1

Some people are born under a lucky star, while others have their misfortune telegraphed by the position of the planets. Casiopea Tun, named after a constellation, was born under the most rotten star imaginable in the firmament. She was eighteen, penniless, and had grown up in Uukumil, a drab town where mule-­drawn railcars stopped twice a week and the sun scorched out dreams. She was reasonable enough to recognize that many other young women lived in equally drab, equally small towns. However, she doubted that many other young women had to endure the living hell that was her daily life in grandfather Cirilo Leyva’s house.

Cirilo was a bitter man, with more poison in his shriveled body than was in the stinger of a white scorpion. Casiopea tended to him. She served his meals, ironed his clothes, and combed his sparse hair. When the old brute, who still had enough strength to beat her over the head with his cane when it pleased him, was not yelling for his grandchild to fetch him a glass of water or his slippers, her aunts and cousins were telling Casiopea to do the laundry, scrub the floors, and dust the living room.

“Do as they ask; we wouldn’t want them to say we are spongers,” Casiopea’s mother told her. Casiopea swallowed her angry reply because it made no sense to discuss her mistreatment with Mother, whose solution to every problem was to pray to God.

Casiopea, who had prayed at the age of ten for her cousin Martín to go off and live in another town, far from her, understood by now that God, if he existed, did not give a damn about her. What had God done for Casiopea, aside from taking her father from her? That quiet, patient clerk with a love for poetry, a fascination with Mayan and Greek mythology, a knack for bedtime stories. A man whose heart gave up one morning, like a poorly wound clock. His death sent Casiopea and her mother packing back to Grandfather’s house. Mother’s family had been charitable, if one’s definition of charity is that they were put immediately to work while their idle relatives twiddled their thumbs.

Had Casiopea possessed her father’s pronounced romantic leanings, perhaps she might have seen herself as a Cinderella-­like figure. But although she treasured his old books, the skeletal remains of his collection—­especially the sonnets by Quevedo, wells of sentiment for a young heart—­she had decided it would be nonsense to configure herself into a tragic heroine. Instead, she chose to focus on more pragmatic issues, mainly that her horrible grandfather, despite his constant yelling, had promised that upon his passing Casiopea would be the beneficiary of a modest sum of money, enough that it might allow her to move to Mérida.

The atlas showed her the distance from the town to the city. She measured it with the tips of her fingers. One day.

In the meantime, Casiopea lived in Cirilo’s house. She rose early and committed to her chores, tight-­lipped, like a soldier on a campaign.

That afternoon she had been entrusted with the scrubbing of the hallway floor. She did not mind, because it allowed her to keep abreast of her grandfather’s condition. Cirilo was doing poorly; they did not think he’d make it past the autumn. The doctor had come to pay him a visit and was talking to her aunts. Their voices drifted into the hall from the nearby living room, the clinking of dainty china cups punctuating one word here and another there. Casiopea moved her brush against the red tiles, attempting to follow the conversation—­expecting to be informed of anything that went on in the house in any other way was ridiculous; they never bothered talking to her except to bark orders—­until two shiny boots stopped in front of her bucket. She did not have to look up to know it was Martín. She recognized his shoes.

Martín was a youthful copy of their grandfather. He was square-­shouldered, robust, with thick, strong hands that delivered a massive blow. She delighted in thinking that when he grew old, he would also become an ugly, liver-­spotted wretch without teeth, like Cirilo.

“There you are. My mother is going crazy looking for you,” he said. He looked away when he spoke.

“What is it?” she asked, resting her hands against her skirt.

“She says you are to go to the butcher. The silly codger demands a good cut of beef for supper. While you’re out, get me my cigarettes.”

Casiopea stood up. “I’ll go change.”

Casiopea wore no shoes and no stockings and a frayed brown skirt. Her mother emphasized neatness in person and dress, but Casiopea didn’t believe there was much point in fretting about the hem of her clothes when she was waxing floors or dusting rooms. Still, she must don a clean skirt if she was heading out.

“Change? Why? It’ll be a waste of time. Go right away.”

“Martín, I can’t go out—­”

“Go as you are, I said,” he replied.

Casiopea eyed Martín and considered defying him, but she was practical. If she insisted on changing, then Martín would give her a good smack and she would accomplish nothing except wasting her time. Sometimes Martín could be reasoned with, or at least tricked into changing his mind, but she could tell by his sanguine expression that he’d had a row with someone and was taking it out on her.

“Fine,” she said.

He looked disappointed. He’d wanted a scuffle. She smiled when he handed her the money she needed to run the errands. He looked so put off by that smile, she thought for a moment he was going to slap her for no reason. Casiopea left the house in her dirty skirt, without even bothering to wrap a shawl around her head.

In 1922 Governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto had said women could now vote, but by 1924 he’d faced a firing squad—­which is exactly what you’d expect to happen to governors who go around delivering speeches in Mayan and then don’t align themselves with the correct people in power—­and they’d revoked that privilege. Not that this ever mattered in Uukumil. It was 1927, but it might as well have been 1807. The revolution passed through it, yet it remained what it had been. A town with nothing of note, except for a modest sascab quarry; the white powder shoveled out was used for dirt roads. Oh, there had been a henequen plantation nearby once upon a time, but she knew little about it; her grandfather was no hacendado. His money, as far as Casiopea could tell, came from the buildings he owned in Mérida. He also muttered about gold, although that was likely more talk than anything else.

So, while women in other parts of the world cut their hair daringly short and danced the Charleston, Uukumil was the kind of place where Casiopea might be chided if she walked around town without her shawl wrapping her head.

The country was supposed to be secularist after the revolution, something that sounded fine when it was printed as a decree, but was harder to enforce once push came to shove. Cristero rebellions bubbled down the center of Mexico whenever the government tried to restrict religious activity. That February in Jalisco and Guanjuato all priests had been detained for inciting people to rise against the anti-­Catholic measures promoted by the president. Yet Yucatán was tolerant of the Cristeros, and it had not flamed up like other states. Yucatán had always been a world apart, an island, even if the atlas assured Casiopea she lived on a verdant peninsula.

No wonder in lazy Uukumil everyone held to the old ways. No wonder, either, that their priest grew more overzealous, intent on preserving morality and the Catholic faith. He eyed every woman in town with suspicion. Each diminutive infraction to decency and virtue was catalogued. Women were meant to bear the brunt of inquiries because they descended from Eve, who had been weak and sinned, eating from the juicy, forbidden apple.

If the priest saw Casiopea he would drag her back to her house, but if he did, what of it? It was not as if the priest would strike her any harder than Martín would, and her stupid cousin had given her no chance to tidy herself.

Casiopea slowly walked to the town square, which was dominated by the church. She must follow Martín’s orders, but she would take her time doing so. She glanced at the businesses bunched under the square’s high arcades. They had a druggist, a haberdasher, a physician. She realized this was more than other towns could claim, and still she couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied. Her father had been from Mérida and had whisked her mother off to the city, where Casiopea was born. She thought she belonged there. Or, anywhere else, for that matter. Her hands were hard and ugly from beating the laundry against the stone lavadero, but her mind had the worst of it. She yearned for a sliver of freedom.

Somewhere, far from the bothersome grandfather and impertinent coterie of relatives, there would be sleek automobiles (she wished to drive one), daring pretty dresses (which she’d spotted in newspapers), dances (the faster, the better), and a view of the Pacific sea at night (she knew it courtesy of a stolen postcard). She had cut out photos of all these items and placed them under her pillow, and when she dreamed, she dreamed of night swimming, of dresses with sequins, and a clear, starlit sky.

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Mexican Gothic
Excerpt

1

The parties at the Tuñóns’ house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folkloric skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy. Their chauffeurs, rather than waiting outside the Tuñóns’ house in vain, had systematized the nights. They would head off to eat tacos at a street stand or even visit a maid who worked in one of the nearby homes, a courtship as delicate as a Victorian melodrama. Some of the chauffeurs would cluster together, sharing cigarettes and stories. A couple took naps. After all, they knew full well that no one was going to abandon that party until after one a.m.

So the couple stepping out of the party at ten p.m. therefore broke convention. What’s worse, the man’s driver had left to fetch himself dinner and could not be found. The young man looked distressed, trying to determine how to proceed. He had worn a papier-­mâché horse’s head, a choice that now came back to haunt him as they’d have to make the journey through the city with this cumbersome prop. Noemí had warned him she wanted to win the costume contest, placing ahead of Laura Quezada and her beau, and thus he’d made an effort that now seemed misplaced, since his companion did not dress as she had said she would.

Noemí Taboada had promised she’d rent a jockey outfit, complete with a riding crop. It was supposed to be a clever and slightly scandalous choice, since she’d heard Laura was going to attend as Eve, with a snake wrapped around her neck. In the end, Noemí changed her mind. The jockey costume was ugly and scratched her skin. So instead she wore a green gown with white appliqué flowers and didn’t bother to tell her date about the switch.

“What now?”

“Three blocks from here there’s a big avenue. We can find a taxi there,” she told Hugo. “Say, do you have a cigarette?”

“Cigarette? I don’t even know where I put my wallet,” Hugo replied, palming his jacket with one hand. “Besides, don’t you always carry cigarettes in your purse? I would think you’re cheap and can’t buy your own if I didn’t know any better.”

“It’s so much more fun when a gentleman offers a lady a cigarette.”

“I can’t even offer you a mint tonight. Do you think I might have left my wallet back at the house?”

She did not reply. Hugo was having a difficult time carrying the horse’s head under his arm. He almost dropped it when they reached the avenue. Noemí raised a slender arm and hailed a taxi. Once they were inside the car, Hugo was able to put the horse’s head down on the seat.

“You could have told me I didn’t have to bring this thing after all,” he muttered, noticing the smile on the driver’s face and assuming he was having fun at his expense.

“You look adorable when you’re irritated,” she replied, opening her handbag and finding her cigarettes.

Hugo also looked like a younger Pedro Infante, which was a great deal of his appeal. As for the rest—­personality, social status, and intelligence—­Noemí had not paused to think too much about all of that. When she wanted something she simply wanted it, and lately she had wanted Hugo, though now that his attention had been procured she was likely to dismiss him.

When they arrived at her house, Hugo reached out to her, grasping her hand.

“Give me a kiss good night.”

“I’ve got to run, but you can still have a bit of my lipstick,” she replied, taking her cigarette and putting it in his mouth.

Hugo leaned out the window and frowned while Noemí hurried into her home, crossing the inner courtyard and going directly to her father’s office. Like the rest of the house, his office was decorated in a modern style, which seemed to echo the newness of the occupants’ money. Noemí’s father had never been poor, but he had turned a small chemical dye business into a fortune. He knew what he liked and he wasn’t afraid to show it: bold colors and clean lines. His chairs were upholstered in a vibrant red, and luxuriant plants added splashes of green to every room.

The door to the office was open, and Noemí did not bother knocking, breezily walking in, her high heels clacking on the hardwood floor. She brushed one of the orchids in her hair with her fingertips and sat down in the chair in front of her father’s desk with a loud sigh, tossing her little handbag on the floor. She also knew what she liked, and she did not like being summoned home early.

Her father had waved her in—­those high heels of hers were loud, signaling her arrival as surely as any greeting—­but had not looked at her, as he was too busy examining a document.

“I cannot believe you telephoned me at the Tuñóns’,” she said, tugging at her white gloves. “I know you weren’t exactly happy that Hugo—­”

“This is not about Hugo,” her father replied, cutting her short.

Noemí frowned. She held one of the gloves in her right hand. “It’s not?”

She had asked for permission to attend the party, but she had not specified she’d go with Hugo Duarte, and she knew how her father felt about him. Father was concerned that Hugo might propose marriage and she’d accept. Noemí did not intend to marry Hugo and had told her parents so, but Father did not believe her.

Noemí, like any good socialite, shopped at the Palacio de ­Hierro, painted her lips with Elizabeth Arden lipstick, owned a couple of very fine furs, spoke English with remarkable ease, courtesy of the nuns at the Monserrat—­a private school, of course—­and was expected to devote her time to the twin pursuits of leisure and husband hunting. Therefore, to her father, any pleasant activity must also involve the acquisition of a spouse. That is, she should never have fun for the sake of having fun, but only as a way to obtain a husband. Which would have been fine and well if Father had actually liked Hugo, but Hugo was a mere junior architect, and Noemí was expected to aspire higher.

“No, although we’ll have a talk about that later,” he said, leaving Noemí confused.

She had been slow dancing when a servant had tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she’d take a call from Mr. Taboada in the studio, disrupting her entire evening. She had assumed Father had found out she was out with Hugo and meant to rip him from her arms and deliver an admonishment. If that was not his intent, then what was all the fuss about?

“It’s nothing bad, is it?” she asked, her tone changing. When she was cross, her voice was higher-­pitched, more girlish, rather than the modulated tone she had in recent years perfected.

“I don’t know. You can’t repeat what I’m about to tell you. Not to your mother, not to your brother, not to any friends, understood?” her father said, staring at her until Noemí nodded.

He leaned back in his chair, pressing his hands together in front of his face, and nodded back.

“A few weeks ago I received a letter from your cousin Catalina. In it she made wild statements about her husband. I wrote to Virgil in an attempt to get to the root of the matter.

“Virgil wrote to say that Catalina had been behaving in odd and distressing ways, but he believed she was improving. We wrote back and forth, me insisting that if Catalina was indeed as distressed as she seemed to be, it might be best to bring her to Mexico City to speak to a professional. He countered that it was not necessary.”

Noemí took off her other glove and set it on her lap.

“We were at an impasse. I did not think he would budge, but tonight I received a telegram. Here, you can read it.”

Her father grabbed the slip of paper on his desk and handed it to Noemí. It was an invitation for her to visit Catalina. The train didn’t run every day through their town, but it did run on Mondays, and a driver would be sent to the station at a certain time to pick her up.

“I want you to go, Noemí. Virgil says she’s been asking for you. Besides, I think this is a matter that may be best handled by a woman. It might turn out that this is nothing but exaggerations and marital trouble. It’s not as if your cousin hasn’t had a tendency toward the melodramatic. It might be a ploy for attention.”

“In that case, why would Catalina’s marital troubles or her melodrama concern us?” she asked, though she didn’t think it was fair that her father label Catalina as melodramatic. She’d lost both of her parents at a young age. One could expect a certain amount of turmoil after that.

“Catalina’s letter was very odd. She claimed her husband was poisoning her, she wrote that she’d had visions. I am not saying I am a medical expert, but it was enough to get me asking about good psychiatrists around town.”

“Do you have the letter?”

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