We’re thrilled to reveal the cover and an exclusive excerpt from Gwendolyn Kiste’s Reluctant Immortals, coming August 23rd, 2022!
For fans of Mexican Gothic, from three-time Bram Stoker Award–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a novel inspired by the untold stories of forgotten women in classic literature—from Lucy Westenra, a victim of Stoker’s Dracula, and Bertha Mason, Mr. Rochester’s attic-bound wife in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre—as they band together to combat the toxic men bent on destroying their lives, set against the backdrop of the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury, 1967.
Reluctant Immortals is a historical horror novel that looks at two men of classic literature, Dracula and Mr. Rochester, and the two women who survived them, Bertha and Lucy, who are now undead immortals residing in Los Angeles in 1967 when Dracula and Rochester make a shocking return in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.
Combining elements of historical and gothic fiction with a modern perspective, in a tale of love and betrayal and coercion, Reluctant Immortals is the lyrical and harrowing journey of two women from classic literature as they bravely claim their own destiny in a man’s world.
Gwendolyn Kiste is the Bram Stoker Award–winning author of The Rust Maidens, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, Pretty Marys All in a Row, The Invention of Ghosts, Boneset & Feathers, and Reluctant Immortals. Her short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Tor Nightfire, Vastarien, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Unnerving, Interzone, and LampLight, as well as Flame Tree Publishing’s Gothic Fantasy series, among others. Originally from Ohio, she now resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts. You can also find her online at Facebook and Twitter @GwendolynKiste.
Here’s the beautiful, psychedelic cover – scroll down to read a haunting excerpt.
Outside, the air is sweet with summer, the pungent scent of chlorine leaking in at the edges. The pool glitters in the moonlight, the shape of a teardrop, blue and spotless as a phony lagoon from a movie set. There are girls everywhere, the same as inside the house, but I see him immediately, the man they’re all performing for.
He’s standing at the rim of the pool, next to a row of plastic lawn chairs, each one filled with another vacant-eyed girl. Where does he find them all? Or worse yet, do they simply find him?
He’s older than the rest, maybe thirty-five, with thick eyebrows, a square jaw, hair the color of midnight. A stern face like a military father, a face without pity. He’s holding a drink, a bourbon on the rocks or some other nostalgic man-in-the-gray-flannel-suit nonsense. As I move toward him, he turns to look at me, seemingly pleased with what he sees.
I smile, even as I wish him dead. “They tell me you’re in charge.”
He waves me off. “Nobody’s in charge here,” he says, his dark gaze piercing into me like a blade. “We’re in this together.”
“Really?” I nearly laugh in his face. “Because I met your girls in the bedroom. They don’t seem to be in charge of much.”
“Are they still waiting for me?” he asks, and I can tell by the curl of his thin lips, how pleased he is about that.
They’re not the only ones waiting on him. Nearby, a couple girls in lawn chairs are watching me, their eyes darting up when they think I’m not looking. All these women, they’re flocking to him, competing with the others, each of them trying to prove they’re worthy of his attention. There are no other men here but him, and I wonder if this is an audition of sorts, a strange kind of cattle call.
And maybe he wants to screentest me too, because he won’t stop looking at me. “I don’t think we’ve had the pleasure of meeting yet,” he says and extends his hand like a gentleman. I don’t take it.
“I’m only passing through,” I say. “We’re looking for someone.”
He scoffs. “Who isn’t?”
The girls from the lawn chairs are standing up now, their willowy figures creeping closer. A few partygoers are climbing out of the pool as well, their faces obscure in the moonlight, and though they dry themselves off with fuzzy towels, everything so cool, so nonchalant, they’re getting nearer too.
I try to track all of them at once, but there are too many. My chest constricts, and I hold Daisy’s bag a little tighter, gripping the urn inside, and that’s my mistake, because he notices.
“What is that you’ve got there?” he asks, closing the distance between us.
I wrench away. “No,” I say, a word he isn’t used to hearing. Instantly, the crowd goes quiet, and they don’t pretend anymore. They’re all openly watching me now, their eyes faded and unblinking, waiting on a command from him.
But he doesn’t give one. He just shrugs. “All right,” he says, and his voice is all hard edges, cold as steel, jagged as thorns. “I won’t force you.”
With a sneer, he starts to turn away, but I can’t let him go. Not yet.
“One more thing,” I say, and he glances back at me. “Where’s Jane?”
His body heaves a moment. “Who?”
“Your wife,” I say. “Your second wife. Where is she?”
He feigns an innocent look, though it doesn’t suit him at all. “I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
“Sure, you do,” I say, and we hold each other’s gaze for a long time. Too long. He wants to make me uncomfortable, but I won’t give him the satisfaction. I won’t say his name either, though I know it anyhow.
Edward Fairfax Rochester.
I’ve never met him before, but I could recognize him anywhere. From what Bee’s told me, from what the movies have told me too. He’s kept his accent, the same as Jane, and he’s kept his old habits too. This is exactly what he used to do at Thornfield—hold lavish parties, invite everyone he knew. There was music on pianofortes and people pretending to be civilized. Now it’s music on high-fidelity turntables, but otherwise, it’s all the same.
There’s another dead giveaway too. The silence in his chest, the emptiness within him. Though to be fair, I doubt a man like him ever really had a heart.
Behind me, the patio door creaks open. Rochester barely looks up.
“Bertha, my love. How are you?”
“It’s Bee,” she says, but he already knows that. He just doesn’t care.
“I’ve been trying to reach you.” He grips his highball glass tighter. “Been calling and calling. You never answer.”
“That should tell you something,” Bee says, and she’s standing next to me now near the rim of the pool. Something’s shifting in her, her gaze like fire, her voice like stone. This is a side of her I don’t know. A side that maybe he alone has seen.
“Well,” he says and finishes his drink in one ragged gulp, “we’re glad to have you both here. Welcome to Dahlia Hall.”
I stare at him, incredulous. “You named this house too?”
“Why not?” He exhales a harsh laugh. “If it’s mine, don’t I deserve to claim it?”
At this, his eyes shift to Bee, watching her in a way that makes me squirm. It never ceases to amaze me how obscene some men can be without ever lifting a finger.
But Bee’s used to him by now, and she doesn’t miss a beat. “Where’s Jane?”
Rochester flashes her a slimy smile, and at last, he’s found an expression that looks good on him. “She’s not here,” he says. “Anyhow, I thought she was on her way to find you.”
Bee doesn’t answer, her lips pursed, her face looking ready to crumble, and though she doesn’t say it, Rochester guesses the rest.
“That girl just can’t make up her mind, can she?” He shakes his head ruefully, as his acolytes draw closer. There are more of them now, some even shifting outside through the main patio door to join the throng. These girls in their flowing cotton dresses, their backs stiff, their mouths rigid and downturned.
We’re outnumbered by a mile, and Rochester knows it. He’s got nothing to worry about. Men like him never do.
Still grinning, he rattles the ice in his glass. “I’m sure Jane will be back soon, Bertha. In the meantime, why don’t you make yourself at home?”
Then he waits a long, hateful moment, his grin tightening, before adding, “Pity we don’t have an attic. I know how much you love those.”
Her hands curled into claws, Bee starts toward him, but the others are right there, flanking him in an instant. They’re everywhere, they’re unrelenting, and in the dark, their eyes are all I can see.
I put a hand on Bee’s arm. “Jane isn’t here,” I whisper, and though the rage is still quivering in her, every muscle in her body constricted, Bee nods.
We back away from the crowd, edging toward the side of the house. That’s the only chance we’ve got—to shortcut around, not through. It isn’t safe to walk back into that party. But as we pass the side door, it jerks open, and the three girls from the bed emerge, blocking our path.
“Leaving already?” they ask, their voices in unison. They smile at me, everything about them so serene, as they refuse to budge an inch. Their heartbeats flutter a little faster, and I fall back a step, not because I’m worried about them, but because I’m worried about me. I might be able to hold them back, to hold everyone here back, but with my hunger burning brighter, I’m not sure I can hold myself back.
Rochester watches us before shaking his head. “Such a shame,” he says.
Bee glares at him. “What is?”
“You.” His eyes are on her. “I’d always hoped you’d turn out differently.”
A rueful laugh. “And how did I turn out?”
“Exactly like your infamous mother.”
Something in Bee’s face cracks, just a little, just enough that he sees it. He knows her, knows the thing that will hurt her most.
She scoffs, trying to play it off. “You haven’t changed a bit, Edward.”
“But you have, Bertha.” He crosses toward her, closing the distance in a flash, his long shadow draped over both of us. “Do you remember when we met in Spanish Town? The way you dazzled me?”
A memory flickers in Bee, as he reaches out and runs his fingers softly through her hair, before whispering, “How did you ever get so old?”
And there it is again: that rehearsed laughter, all the girls pretending he’s so very funny. I hate them for it, for how they’re mocking Bee, but Rochester’s reveling in this moment, reveling in his power, so this is our chance. I squeeze Bee’s hand, and together, we run.
Excerpted from Reluctant Immortals, © 2022 by Gwendolyn Kiste.