[For the previous Dark Carnival post, click here.]
“The Maiden” (1947)
She was wondrous fair. She filled his eyes and he looked at her continually and was in love with her. Tall she was, and beautiful, with the morning sun on her. Tall she was, and stately of limb, and she worked for him. He knew her every whim, he did. And he stroked and made love to her, but stayed out of her reach. He knew what she could do to men she loved to well.
An anonymous POV character fixates on a “maiden fatale.” In his eyes, the wanton object of his affection clearly has a mean streak: “Sadist that she was,” he thinks, “she loved anyone she could get hold of.” Halfway through this brief piece (which today would be classified as flash fiction), Bradbury reveals that the man is an executioner and the title “character” is actually a guillotine. At narrative’s end, the weary executioner lets the maiden’s terror reign down on him, offering himself up to a graphic decapitation.
The sexual explicitness–a quality that Bradbury isn’t exactly known for–of “The Maiden” is striking (in the final line, Bradbury writes: “a sexual spout of red blood jutted from his sundered neck; and the two of them, he and she of the blade, lay together in that scarlet orgasm even as the first star appeared…”). But while the story does warrant a quick reread to note the clever hints that the author sprinkled in (e.g. “the long line of her face”), “The Maiden” provides diminishing returns once the reader knows its semi-shocking secret. So it’s hardly surprising that this slight effort was never collected again by Bradbury after first appearing in Dark Carnival, and remained out of print for more than four and a half decades before Marvin Kaye included it in his theme anthology Lovers and Other Monsters.