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La Peau Verte by Caitlin R. Kiernan

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La Peau Verte by Caitlin R. Kiernan, appears in the collection Horror: The Best of The Year, 2006 Edition (edited by John Betancourt and Sean Wallace).


Plot synopsis: A down-on-her-luck artist and model finds herself taking an unusual modeling job for a very unusual client, and ends up losing herself in the part.


The story opens with the main character, Hannah, observing in a mirror her transformation--through cosmetics, paint and prosthetics--into the Green Fairy. The description is quite detailed, and the character finds it very hard to recognize herself. It's all part of a role-playing job that the down-on-her-luck artist has taken to pay the bills.


The story then leaps back to a series of character interactions between Hannah, her best friend Peter, and her psychologist. It is through Peter that Hannah gets the job role-playing the Green Fairy (and her introduction to our friend, La Fee Verte), while it is through her interaction with her psychologist that we learn of the traumatic death of Hannah's sister, and Hannah's brush with the Otherworld.


And, of course, there is the character's introduction to absinthe (which has it's own chapter in the story):


Hannah raises the glass to her lips, sniffs at it, wrinkling her nose, and the first, hesitant sip is even sweeter and more piquant than she expected, sugar-soft fire when she swallows, a seventy-proof flower blooming warm in her belly. But the tast is not nearly as disagreeable as she thought it would be, the sudden licorice and alcohol sting, a faint bitterness underneath that she guesses might be the wormwood. The second sip is less of a shock, especially since her tongue seems to have gone slightly numb.


There are references to Absinthe: History in a Bottle and Artists and Absinthe, with some detail given to Albert Maignan's The Green Muse:


Blonde woman with marble skin, golden hair, wrapped in diaphanous folds of olive, her feet hovering weightless above bare floorboards, her hands caressing the forehead of an intoxicated poet. The man is gaunt and seems lost in some ecstasy or revelry or simple delirium, his right hand clawing at his face, the hand open in what might have been meant as a feeble attempt to ward off the attentions of his unearthly companion. Or, Hannah thinks, perhaps he's reaching for something. There's a shattered green bottle on the floor by his feet, a full glass of absinthe on his writing desk.


She takes another sip and turns the page.


A photograph, Verlaine drinking absinthe in the Cafe' Procope.


Another, bolder swallow, and the taste is becoming familiar now, almost, almost pleasant.


Another page. Jean Beraud's Le Boulevard, La Nuit.


When the glass is empty, and the buzz in her head and eyes so gentle, buzz like a stinging insect wrapped in spider silk and honey, Hannah takes another sugar cube from the box and pours another glass.


I wouldn't classify this as a horror story, but as magical realism/fantasy; true, the scene by the well could be called horrifying, and the ending definitely invokes the Weird, but the story doesn't reach out and slap the reader like horror should, the way that Laird Barron's Probiscis does. Still, that's just my opinion, and I do consider this an excellent story.


Those interested in Ms. Kiernan's work might wish to visit her webpage or her journal.


"I am a drinker with writing problems." ~Brendan Behan

Edited by Zman

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