NEARLY PEOPLE

out of print

“The elegance of his narrative is unfailing. Like Hieronymus Bosch or M John Harrison, he is a painter of infernos, his torments always briskly inventive, his grotesquerie always delineated with flair; pure visionary acid. Nearly People is cruelly brilliant, a dagger in the vitals.”

Nick Gevers, Infinity Plus

“Conrad Williams delivers a tour-de-force experience with Nearly People. This is a tremendous piece of writing, destined for great things.”

David Howe, Shivers

“Nearly People is one of the best-written pieces of fiction I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended.”

Paul Lewis, Alien Online

“With its slipstream refusal to exploit genre conventions, and lack of definitive answers, Nearly People could be viewed more as emotional metaphor than as a standard SF/dark fantasy narrative of discovery and active response. Is the metaphor personal or universal, obsessive imagination or expressing the catastrophe that comes in the wake of revolutionary social change? Williams leaves it for his readers to conclude… if they can.”

Locus

Excerpt

How can he smoke if he has no lungs?

What was louder? Her feet clanging on the textured metal staircase or the thrum of blood in her ears? The zig-zag of black iron dipped and lurched sickeningly, a rending noise cancelling everything else out as the pins connecting it to this rotten brick worked loose. She had to stop and scrunch herself into a corner of the stairwell as a helicopter chattered past; fortunately, its cameras were trained on a different area of the street. Carrier glanced upwards, at the window she had vacated. A figure was hunched over the frame, looking across the city, a pall of blue smoke wreathing its head.

She continued down the fire escape. Not right. Not right. Not right. The words fit the rhythm of her feet on the risers. It helped her to put one foot in front of another, so she went on. Not right. Not right. It had been Kram she had seen bolted and splayed to the wall. Hadn¹t it? She forced her mind to return to that bloody spectacle, but it would only offload flashes of memory, as if the entire sequence were too much to relive again.

Kram riveted to the wall.

Kram¹s slack face, a pink froth of saliva dried to a glaze on his lips.

His eyes. His eyes.
It was Kram. His chest had been vacuumed clean and sealed shut with rough sutures. Broad black bruises spoilt his torso where the Tar Babies had performed their thoracic evacuation on him. Tar Babies invariably used tin snips, or some similar tool, to get at that sopping cargo.

It had been Kram. No question. She imagined those cold blue lips now, curling softly as he loosed his intoxicating promise into her ear… somewhere you can fly…

So what the hell was he doing stealing around the burned hospital? And after curfew?

Carrier snorted laughter and had to put a hand to her face to stifle any more. Rain had turned the street to a glassy film of blue orange. Studs of sodium light fizzed in the walls; blades of soft colour pushed through the dark, at times dazzling her. For a moment, she was disoriented. The black claws of buildings were like beggars’ hands beseeching passers by for coppers. Something with more death than dog in it worried a cluster of ancient refuse bins. Tin cans clattered and spun on the pavements. Someone screamed somewhere far away.

Pressing her hand against the drive in her pocket, Carrier struck out west, hugging the backstreets, keeping the knife loose in her hand, its blade coated with grease to kill its propensity to flash.

She noticed the moon, warped and muddied through the filthy synthetic enclosure, some three miles above the city. For a while, she watched it waxing and waning through the impurities in the domed roof, until a raft of high cloud smothered it. Now she moved again, more confident in this fresh darkness. She made a series of turns into crannies and nooks so narrow they hardly deserved a name, but their labels glowed in the mouth of every turning: Wasp Way, Priest Niche, Spinney Street, Hatchet Rise. She was making good progress, and was soon across the canal – a mere ten minutes from home – when, turning into Godless Arch, she was brought up sharp by a Mower eating its supper.

Oh… shit… Dead soft, the words sucked back into her lungs, on a carpet of frigid air. The Mower was trying to empty the contents of a human head onto the road. Mouthless, it pressed its food against its throat, where teeth were ranged horizontally, peeking out of the flesh. It was necessary to fling its head right back in order to expose as much of its throat as possible during meals. Its eyes were visible at these moments: dull, ochre orbs writhing with tics. Its face was dead flat; nothing so grand as a nose provided relief, just a few strings of wet flesh, guarding a supersensitive membrane, like bars. Carrier hoped that her scent would be overpowered by the gobbets upon which the Mower was gorging itself.

Retreating slowly, she circled back, retracing her steps to the canal, where she selected a different route. The alert on her wrist began squawking at her. Time turning against her, she ran.

© Conrad Williams

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