“Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint” by Caitlin R. Kiernan
From A Book of Horrors edited by Stephen Jones
Cemetery Dance/PS Publishing, 2012
Caitlin Kiernan’s contribution to A Book of Horrors is a creepy little tale of misdirection and hidden intentions. In it we meet Billy, a young man who picks up a cute girl hitchhiking all alone on a dark road. She says her name is Aiden, but we learn that she’s had other names in the past, like Blaise. We also learn that her past stretches back farther than even she can accurately remember – all she remembers for sure is that there has always been fire.
As the two ride the highway together, Billy begins to notice little things about Aiden, like the way she smells faintly of woodsmoke, and the way she seems to know every myth and story there is about fire. In fact, their conversation is decidedly one-sided as Aiden fills the night with a virtual monologue about all things combustible.
Through it all, Kiernan is building up a palpable sense of tension and dread until Billy (and the reader) is in desperate need of some form of release. When he suggests getting a motel room for the night, he (and, again, we the readers) might think we know what form that release is going to take, but Kiernan is too clever to take the easy route. It turns out Aiden still has more fire stories to tell – and that there is a very specific reason for her to tell them.
“Charcloth, Firesteel and Flint” is a wonderfully mysterious little story with an ending that is both surprising and satisfying. It’s the second strong entry in A Book of Horrors, which is batting a thousand so far and building up some serious momentum as we move deeper into its contents.