Eddy C. Bertin is a Belgian writer, the story My Beautiful Darkling was originally written in Dutch and was featured in his collection Mijn Mooie Duisterlinge named after this particular story. Bertin translated the story himself into english for the Year’s Best. No stranger to these collections, he was featured in the first three edited by Richard Davis, skipped collections edited by Gerald W. Page, and is back in this collection by Karl Edward Wagner.
The title of this story comes from Les Fleurs du Mal by Charles Baudelaire :
Lorsque tu dormiras, ma belle ténébreuse
Au fond d’un monument construit en marbre noir…
When you’ll sleep, My Beautiful Darkling
In the depths of a tomb built of black marble…
After opening with this quote the first two thirds of the story are a police recording of an older man picked up for masturbating in the middle of a fairgrounds. The police tape is his ravings about being a psychic of sorts who goes to fairgrounds to experience the emotions of others. He says, “The real fair was inside my head, spinning in all the rainbow’s colors against the bony insides of my skull. Emotions flapping on bat wings, opening up to me like beautiful dark flowers, shrieking their madness at me inside my head. I was alive!”, another allusion to Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. One night by chance he detects another person like him, yet different in some ways. A chase ensues and the two of them end up in a secluded section of the fairgrounds. Without needing to speak the two communicate through emotions and the narrator is brought to ecstasy by this being, this Darkling named…Cathy. In exchange, we get the idea, she is draining his life. Time passes and the narrator gets weaker, Cathy becomes less and less interested until one night she does not show up at the fairgrounds. He is in a panic, racing around the fairgrounds looking for her and the fulfillment she gives him, when he is picked up by the police. Eventually his psychiatrist comes and calms down his raving enough for the police to move him to a cell.
The police tape ends and the last two sections are from the POV of the psychiatrist. In a very Psycho way he explains what was going on with the narrator and how it’s all based in repressed memory etc. At this point of the story I got upset, I knew there were only two pages left. To have the rug pulled out from under us as readers with a story explaining things away was not going to do it for me this time. Gladly Bertin didn’t disappoint as the psychiatrist cuts through the fairground after leaving the station.
“He stood still. Something was moving in the darkness there, a shadow moving forward. The hesitant, distant streetlamps threw a softly fearful light on the legs of a young women. She wore boots. She was standing on the exact edge of light and darkness, her face and the upper part of her body hidden in the shadows.”