“A deliciously creepy and atmospheric mashup of old myths and new twists, Headley and Howard’s lush, sinister novella is a guaranteed treat for fans of the fantastic.

- Book Riot

THE END OF THE SENTENCE: A NOVELLA

by Maria Dahvana Headley & Kat Howard

 

NPR Best Books of 2014

BookRiot's favorite book covers of 2014

 

It begins with a letter from a prisoner…

 

As he attempts to rebuild his life in rural Oregon after a tragic accident, Malcolm Mays finds himself corresponding with Dusha Chuchonnyhoof, a mysterious entity who claims to be the owner of Malcolm's house, jailed unjustly for 117 years. The prisoner demands that Malcolm perform a gory, bewildering task for him. As the clock ticks toward Dusha's release, Malcolm must attempt to find out whether he's assisting a murderer or an innocent. The End of the Sentence combines Kalapuya, Welsh, Scottish and Norse mythology, with a dark imagined history of the hidden corners of the American West.

 

Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard have forged a fairytale of ghosts and guilt, literary horror blended with the visuals of Jean Cocteau, failed executions, shapeshifting goblins, and magical blacksmithery. In Chuchonnyhoof, they've created a new kind of Beast, longing, centuries later, for Beauty.

 

I drove into Ione again, late at night. Moon up, yellow and thin as a toenail clipping. My granddad had been a captain working in the Gulf of Mexico, but early in his career, he’d been second mate on a Norwegian freighter. I thought about a story he’d told me once, about a ship made of the nail clippings of the dead. I heard him again like I was six years old, sitting with him on his porch in New Orleans.

 

“Naglfar, they call it,” said my granddad. “The nailship. At the end of the world, Naglfar comes loose from its mooring. You have to trim the fingernails of the dead, boy, or they go to build that ship. You don’t want to leave a deadman with his fingernails long.”

I saw my granddad’s white beard, his dark skin, and his glittering eyes. He stretched his fingernails out to show me. Trimmed to the rind. He looked at my face, and then laughed.

“Your gran told me not to tell you those stories anymore, or you’ll wet the bed, won’t you?”

 

“Will not,” I said. But I did, later that night, imagining the nail ship making its way through some terrible ocean, an anchor chain made of toenails, and a hull made of fingernails torn from their beds. I had nightmares about Naglfar for years. Now I was having waking nightmares about iron growing out of bones and I couldn’t make sense of them. I imagined nails, iron nails. I’d read a story years before about a woman who grew fingernails instead of hair, and I imagined that for a drunken moment, a miserable creature covered in hard, sharp, scales.

On the steering wheel, I looked at my own fingernails. For the first time in years I’d let them grow beyond their edges. What kind of fool thought he wasn’t five minutes from dying?

 

Subterranean Press, Limited edition hardcover and trade. (33,000 words.)

 

Here's a fantastic review from NPR's Best Books of 2014.

 

Here's a great list-format review by Jenn Northington of Word Bookstores: THE END OF THE SENTENCE: How I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways

 

 

Here's a lovely review from the Bookmaven, Bethanne Patrick, on her Literary Advent Calendar: (excerpt below)

 

How to succinctly describe this elegant, eerie, deeply meaningful book? (Or did I just do so?) Dahvana Headley and Howard collaborate so seamlessly that after less than a page I’d completely forgotten there was one author, let alone two: The voice of this mythologically tinged ghostly murder mystery captures the reader immediately, and the rest is less a matter of that voice not letting you go than you holding on for dear life.

 

 

WHAT THERE WAS TO SEE: A NOVELLA

Summer, 2014

 

A 19th-century history of the first corneal transplants, along with rabbits, and German bears. What There Was to See combines the real-life events and innovations of early ophthalmalogical surgery with speculative elements.

 

Beate Abendroth is seventeen years old the summer her parents take her to the clinic of Doctor Arthur von Hippel, in the forest outside Giessen. She's been blind - or nearly so - since she was a child. Beate sees ghosts, and the dead are everywhere. The daughter's blindness has ruined everyone's life. The revolutionary corneal transplant surgery of von Hippel is their last resort. Beate receives the corneas of a rabbit, and what she sees after she does may be more frightening than the dead she already knew. 

 

There was something white in the center of the great lawn. She walked toward it, slowly. A chicken, possibly, caught by a fox. Or one of those rabbits.

 

She picked up her husband’s pajama trousers before she knew what they were, and found dirt on them, their edge partially dug into a divet in the grass. Then his shirt. She found, not thinking, no, not thinking, a ragged tear in it. She looked around, turning slowly in a circle. There was nothing else. No one. No Fritz. Here were his slippers, his pajamas, his robe.

 

Johanna turned to run back to the house, to tell someone. What would she tell them? That he’d shed his clothes and run into the forest? She paused, stepping over the place the pajamas had been.

 

There was something watching. She felt it. She looked around frantically, dread rising in her, her throat clenching, her fists closing. Something was all around her. And a horrible smell, dense woods, rotting meat.

 

As she stood, paralyzed, shaking, something tore a slash in her wrapper, long and jagged, and she felt a searing pain in her rib, the flesh opened by something sharp as a knife.

 

Subterranean Online Magazine. (19,000 words.)

 

 

 

A fine piece of horror. Except for making it clear that the bear-ghost is not merely a bear, the author leaves much about this ghost as a mystery—how, for example, it is able to reach into the physical realm, and why it targeted Beate’s father. This deepens the ominous aura of the story, as we can never be sure what the unpredictable apparition might do next. The conclusion is also unusual. While most of the story is told primarily from the several points of view of the characters, near the end it turns remote and flat, reflecting the style of an academic report. We already know that for Dr Von Hipple, Beate’s original attraction was as an experimental subject; he exhibited her to medical conferences as well as in his report, under the anonymizing label B A. What we see at the end is that in the story the author has rescued her from this anonymity, as well as all the others, and rendered them as living individuals.

- Locus Online

"Headley and Howard manage to throw Malcolm and the reader headfirst into the darkness while making it feel like a gradual, incremental journey into the bizarre worlds of Chuchonnyhoof’s letters and Ione itself. Even the pleasant things—the friendly librarian Lischen, the house spirits who leave Malcolm food and drinks—feel ominous in the coauthors’ stark but lyrical prose. Ultimately Malcolm and the reader must decide whether this is dark magic or something stranger altogether."

- Publisher's Weekly

"The End of the Sentence only really represents an evening’s reading, but be prepared to feel the fallout of this fairytale—perfectly formed from a hodgepodge of half-forgotten mythologies—for far longer than the few hours it takes to unfold."

 

- Niall Alexander, Tor.com

 

"This novella is as dark and rich as European drinking chocolate, both in the story it tells and in the way it's written...Kat Howard and Maria Dahvana Headley's separate styles blend beautifully here, as do myth and folklore, in this intricate and elegantly forged plot." - K. Tempest Bradford, NPR Best Books of 2014