Go out now and buy the book and you too can be full of envy. -- Sci-Fi Online, May 2006
Time slips by, people change, happiness is fleeting.
Neil Williamson's collection of bittersweet tales features eighteen stories of impermanence: from the ends of love affairs and the brief sanity of wartime convalescence, to the fading away of old languages and the dying of humanity itself.
An artist communicates solely through a bizarre mosaic, a father and his dying daughter seek hope in plague-ridden Scotland, a London pensioner's existence is inextricably bound to that of his pet canary, and in the jungles of Borneo a criminal searches for his missing son hoping for reconciliation before the end of the world.
This edition includes four bonus stories, including one written specially for this collection, and each story has a newly-written afterword.
"Emotionally complex and displaying a keen eye for detail, the stories in Neil Williamson's collection The Ephemera are a rich and rewarding read from a stylish new Scottish talent."
-- World Fantasy Award-winner Jeff VanderMeer
"Subtle, evocative and compelling, The Ephemera is a collection that shines with reflection and intelligence."
-- Liz Williams
"Every one of the stories in the book is a gem."
-- Sci-Fi Online
"Well-crafted, richly textured and utterly absorbing."
From the Publisher
About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
When Colin raised the window to replenish the living rooms baked air, he noticed the first specks of water on the pane. It was a fine rain, the kind that effervesces, prickles your skin. He watched the tiny droplets coalesce, gain enough mass to overcome the surface tension and stream down the glass. Each little river scintillated, distinctly pale amber in colour. An unnatural shade even for Glasgow. Even in a time like now.
Of course, it was only a trick of the light. The citys atmosphere was never that toxic. Inevitably, after so many days of unrelenting heat, a foundry of cloud had massed over the city, compressing the evenings remaining sunlight to the weak radiance of cooling ingots. Soon those foundry walls would break open, flash-firing the city with summer lightning, and cooling its inhabitants with such a deluge that the pavements would steam.
Down in the street a woman was crossing the road. Colin only saw her for a moment before she darted between two vans, but there was something about her. Her hair was different, the style of her clothing a strappy blue summer dress unfamiliar, and it had been, what, eight months? He almost didnt recognise her, but he was sure that it was Paddy.
When the door entry rasped he almost ran to let her in.
Paddy was soaked through, and immediately headed to the bathroom to dry off. To give himself something to do, Colin slipped a few slices of cheese on toast under the grill. He remembered to be liberal with the Tabasco.
"Smells good," Paddy said, sitting at the table. She had found his old black jumper. It had always suited her, the way it framed the old Goth-chic cosmetic pallor she had favoured back then. She looked good in it now too but in a different way. Shed allowed her hair to grow, washed out the wacky colours. Now it coiled loose around her face, strands clumped with some residual dampness shed failed to towel out. Her face too minus the habitual heavy application of eyeliner and the glittering encrustations of those once beloved piercings, she looked somehow both older and childish. At any rate, life appeared to be treating her well. The pallor gone, her skin radiated health. A sheen of perspiration anointed her brow, nose, cheeks.
"What?" she said.
Caught staring, Colin switched off the grill, and slipped the contents of the pan on to a plate which he placed in the centre of the table. "Its just a surprise to see you." He sat opposite her. "A nice one," he added, nudging the plate towards her.
She took a slice, chewed off a corner, trailing filaments of melted cheese. "Thanks, Col," she said at length, watching him pour two mugs of treacle-coloured tea.
"Thanks for what?" he said.
"I dunno " she stalled, brow creasing as she searched for the right words. Steam from her mug rose into her face. "I think I expected you to tell me where to go. But I should have known you wouldnt. You always were too nice by half."
Paddy closed her eyes, inhaled the vapour. "Its so difficult now to know about people," she said, opened her eyes, offered a tiny smile. "Thanks for still being you."
Colin shrugged, returned the smile. As if still being himself was nothing, had required no effort to reconstitute his personality from the mess shed left behind. As if still being himself could possibly have any kind of meaning. After five years with her, as a single entity sharing a life, a home, a tight band of friends. Then four months of slick, almost invisible unravelling. One splintered evening of mutual abuse, the subject of which: an itemised mobile phone bill and one particular friend. Alan. Half an hour walking the streets to cool off, mentally drafting plans of conciliation. Then coming home to Life Without Paddy.
Colin was surprised to find that the anger he thought he had been saving up had somehow leaked away. He wasnt even interested any more in how the Paddy and Alan thing had panned out. There was no longer any resonance of the fury and frustration. In recent months, his flat had become a place he came back to only to sleep, or more often not sleep. It had been too long since anyone but himself had as much as spoken aloud in these rooms. He was just glad she was here.
"So, can I stay?" Her voice cracked.
"Reading my mind again?" An old shared joke.
"Yeah, and its about as entertaining as that paper you work for," she rejoined. A spark of the Paddy he used to know. Funny how suddenly the flat felt a little like a home again.
The way it had felt when they were together.
Before the aliens came.