Category Archives: Author Post

Asian Monsters : Margret Helgadottir

The World Tour of Monsters

by Margrét Helgadóttir

I am so happy that Asian Monsters is now out from Fox Spirit Books, after one year of work. Asian Monsters is the third volume of the annual Fox Spirit Book of Monsters series. We started with Europe in 2014 and continued with Africa in 2015. Next stop will be the Pacific area in 2017 before we end the world tour at the continent of America.

This year we stop in Asia. We present you tales of beasties from the nights of urban Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Lahore to the monsters of the mountains and forests, told by fourteen authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to this wide stretching continent. We want to show the world not only all the great monsters but also all the wonderful authors in the world who tend to be ignored in the western popular culture. Who else should tell us about the monsters from their regions but the authors who know them best? Thus, from volume two (Africa) I have searched for authors from the region who can either tell a tale based on local folklore or even come up with a monster of their own. I also try to locate illustrators and graphic artists from the regions we visit but have not managed to have this hundred percent in the books.

Photo Credit Margret Helgadottir

What I have learned from the monster book series, is that every country and region in the world has wonderful dark and eerie tales of monsters, some of them really old, maybe even thousands, of years old. No matter where you are in the world, the monsters have been someone to blame when bad things happen (sudden death of dear ones, bad luck, ship wrecks) or a source to explain mystical things happening around humans (like thunder and lightning). Many monsters also challenge the humans’ thoughts and fears of what happens when you are dead, or the relationship between human and the animals in wilderness.

If you are familiar with the book series, you might have noticed that we were two editors on the first two volumes, yours truly and the lovely Jo Thomas, who knows 25 Ways to Kill a Werewolf. Jo had a special responsibility for the graphic stories and the art. In the last volume, African Monsters, Jo unfortunately had to step aside for parts of the production. Following up on this, we decided that I will edit the coming monster volumes alone. Then we’ll see. It wasn’t an easy decision, since the monster books are an idea and concept Jo and I created together three years ago, our baby so to speak.

Three years ago we demanded that something had to be done. We strongly felt that the monsters of this world are watered down and overused in the popular media, transformed into creatures which either long to be included in the human society and/or fall in love with a human girl. Also, some monsters have dominated the public scene in the last decades—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—and they have mostly been from Western popular culture.

So Jo and I both felt it was about bloody time to show the world all the marvellous monsters which lurk, sneak, jump, glide, wander or fly around this planet, or even under your bed (you know they are there!). We also dreamed about giving the monsters a renaissance as real monsters, a comeback so to speak, their fifteen minutes of fame, with gorgeous art and in the style of a coffee table book so they will achieve a central and visual place in the humans’ homes. 

Photo Credit Margret Helgadottir

The monsters in the Fox Spirit books of Monsters don’t sparkle or have any desire to be a human or part of the human society. These monsters have no interest in you except tearing you apart or putting terror in your heart. Bless them.

In the continent of Asia you find the shape-shifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. Also, what has struck me while editing this volume is all the spirits and ghosts who exist in much of the Asian folklore. Several of these spirits and ghosts are mischievous, some quite terrifying, many sad.

The stories in African Monsters were about place and origin, about immigration and going home—maybe a strong witness of how much the soil of Africa means to these authors. Home is an underlying theme in Asian Monsters too but here it’s not so much about the place but about the family itself and the strong relationships between loved ones, dead, living or not there.

This time we have managed to include one translated story, the lovely story by Xia Jia (translated by Ken Liu), something I am immensely happy about. Hopefully this is something I will also be able to include in the coming volumes and I am grateful for any recommendations of authors who tell great monster tales in other languages than English.

I have tried to be loyal to Jo and my mission with the monster books and hopefully I have succeeded in this with Asian Monsters. I wish to thank all who have made this book possible: Adele Wearing and her fantastic team at Fox Spirit Books, people who have helped out with research and local knowledge, Daniele Serra for his wonderful cover art, and all the amazing authors and artists. Thank you!

***

Margrét Helgadóttir is a Norwegian-Icelandic writer and editor living in Oslo. Her stories have appeared in a number of both magazines and print anthologies such as In flight literary magazine, Gone Lawn, Luna Station Quarterly, Tales of Fox and Fae and Girl at the End of the World. Her debut book The Stars Seem So Far Away was published by Fox Spirit Books in 2015 and was shortlisted as Best Collection to British Fantasy Awards 2016. Margrét is co-editor for the Fox Spirit Books anthologies European Monsters (2014) and African Monsters (2015). African Monsters was also shortlisted (Best Anthology) to British Fantasy Awards 2016. She is also editor for the Fox Spirit Books anthologies Winter Tales (2016), Asian Monsters (Dec 2016) and Pacific Monsters (Nov 2017). Learn more on her webpage http://margrethelgadottir.wordpress.com or chat with her on Twitter (@MaHelgad)

Asian Monsters : Eliza Chan

The monster who breaks the ice with, “Where are you from?”

By Eliza Chan

“I’m from Glasgow.”

“No, where are you from originally?”

It’s the conversation opener that every person of colour has been on receiving end of. The persistent refusal to accept that I’m, as I say I am, Scottish. I bat it off, tell the asker that I’m from my mother’s womb, glare at them, pretend not to hear. But they don’t give up. They ask again, perhaps, I didn’t hear them the first time.

“Where were you born? Your home land? Your ethnic origin?”

I was born in a hospital just south of Loch Lomond. I have a West coast accent and I worked in a kilt shop when I was a student.

“Ah, you are from China,” comes the sage reply when I finally capitulate. As if, now that a neat label has been put on my ethnic origin, it makes everything better. That the unknown quality was worrying them too much to just talk to me. And the thing is, if they bothered getting to know me, it would come up. I talk about my mum with her Chinese traditions, my husband cooking Asian food, my terrible Cantonese and my trips to Hong Kong.

I always knew we were different. We lived in a commuter town near Glasgow, one of only three Chinese families in the local area. I convinced the kids at primary school that Jackie Chan was my uncle and that I could kung-fu paralyse them with two fingers. I was jealous of their Sunday roasts, going to church and having special spoons just for soup.

But guess what? The belligerent questions don’t just come from White-British people.

When I first went to university in Edinburgh, other Asian students kept asking me if I was a BBC. I shook my head, having no affiliation with the TV channel, until it was finally explained to me.

“You are. A BBC- British Born Chinese. A banana.”

The Asian international students saw me, and other British-Chinese people, as yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Bananas. I speak Cantonese like a 5 year old and I didn’t know the origins of the Dragon Boat or Harvest Moon festivals. I don’t believe in the healing properties of herbal soup, I have showers in the morning and sometimes, I even wear my shoes indoors!

There’s a spectrum within the British-Chinese community. Some are immersed in Chinese culture. Their friends are Chinese, they grew up watching wuxia dramas and singing Canto pop on home karaoke machines. On the opposite end are those who want to fit in with Western friends, who refuse to speak Chinese and reject Asian friendships. But most of us vacillate between the two. I found it difficult to make Chinese friends growing up. Within the already small community, finding people who love fantasy and geekdom was even more difficult. There didn’t seem to be space for reading, writing, crafting, philosophical debates with friends. The likelihood is, if I had stayed in Glasgow, I would have rejected most of my Chinese culture.

But I moved.

I moved to Japan because I loved anime and J-pop. But I also moved because I never tired of asking my mother how she had survived in the UK, 17 and illiterate, speaking not a word of English, and only learning how to use a knife and fork on the plane. She just got on with it. And I wanted to do the same thing. To challenge myself to live in a country where I didn’t speak the language.

Japan was a culture shock to me in a way it might not be to other gaijin. I had no problem with the daily rice meals, the unidentifiable meats, the chopsticks and noodle slurping. I had a problem with being invisible. Suddenly I went from being the one person of colour at most events, to another anonymous Asian face. My colleagues with their white skin got special treatment, strangers complimenting them, making allowances, whereas all I got was a confused look as I stumbled over Japanese words.

There are so many local events in Japan. From the onidaiko devil drumming festival in Sado to the belly button festival in Furano, traditions are still well and truly alive. Hello Kitty is seen in every souvenir shop with a different food or clothing to denote the local area and tourists flock to buy the regional foods as gifts.

“What festivals do you have in Glasgow? What are your local foods? Your local costume?”

asian

For this first time, I was not questioning if I was Chinese enough, I was questioning if I was Scottish enough. I didn’t have all the answers. I had to Google some, shrug off the others. And perhaps no-one knows all the answers. Because my experience is Glasgow, and around Glasgow. I couldn’t speak for the islands, the Borders, the east coast. Heck, I couldn’t even speak for the south-side of Glasgow.

When I was in Japan, an American colleague said something that stays with me. Her husband was Japanese and they had several children together. She told me that in Japan, they call mixed race children “hafu”, much like we might say they were half-Japanese.  No-one was calling her children half of anything. “No,” she said. “My children are doubles.” Both Japanese and American, they have double the language, double the culture, double the joy.

And it’s only when I came to accept this dual identity that I stopped asking if I was enough of anything. The culture of the British-Chinese community is divergent from both Chinese and British. It’s not less, or half, it’s simply different. We have different words from Hong Kong Cantonese, different dishes in our restaurants. The big night out is Monday and weddings are often on Tuesdays, because the Chinese takeaways usually closed on Tuesdays. We all remember the worn VHS tape of a badly dubbed anime or drama, making its rounds through various families as the static lines grew with each rewind. We remember clingfilm on the TV remote and plastic on the dining room chairs. Christmas is widely celebrated by my generation but dependent on family, it has been lovingly hewn together like a delicious Frankenstein’s monster with fried rice instead of potatoes or roast pork instead of pigs in blankets. And even all of that is changing as more people get graduate jobs, find work outside of the takeaways, with people who have come from mainland China, Singapore, Malaysia and other countries.

Asian Monsters is a double, a Western-Eastern hybrid that has spawned something that new. And as much as I love folklore and mythology, I’m glad there is this creation, this monster still evolving as we evolve with it.

 

Asian Monsters : Eve Shi

In Which Doors Make A Great Analogy Tool

Eve Shi

In author interviews, one of the most frequent questions I receive is, “What got you interested in writing horror novels?”

Before December 2012, publishing horror novels—as in printed books that are available in Indonesian bookstores—was the furthest thing from my mind. My long fiction gravitates more toward fantasy and adventure. Then I heard that a certain publisher was going to accept horror novels for publication in 2013. For the record, the publisher is widely known for their romance novels, movie tie-ins, and gorgeous covers. I thought, why not? After all, it’s one of my favorite genres. So, during that December, I wrote a horror novel for the first time.

Since the novel is YA, my main concerns were—in no particular order—how to make the story scary, and how to depict relatable and fairly realistic teenage characters. (My own teenage days being a long, long way behind me) K-pop was extremely popular in 2012, so I peppered the story with K-pop references in the hope that it resonates with today’s teens. (Reading the novel, you could probably tell I had a casual interest in Super Junior)

The overall response to the novel seemed quite positive, considering I was an unknown. Since then, I’ve had four more novels published, not all of them of the supernatural bent. Thus, by challenging myself to write something I never had before, I opened a door of opportunity while expanding my writing repertoire.

I peeked through another door in 2015, when I dared myself to submit to paid English-language publications. That part of the publishing world had always seemed vast and intimidating to me (it still does). What’s the worst that can happen? I asked myself. Rejections, right? Okay, and maybe a bit of bruised pride.

vince-eve-shi

Unlike my novels, my short stories for English-language publications are based on local legends. Because why not use the opportunity to introduce Indonesian legends to a wider audience? Different medium, different purposes. For instance, what if those legendary figures are still alive today? What do they do, and do the events that once changed their lives still affect them? Exploring these themes was a new experience for me, and turned out to be a heap of fun.

In short, what got me interested in writing horror novels was an opportunity. Ditto about submitting to English-language publications, since many publications are open to the types of stories I enjoy writing. Walking through these doors has been eye-opening, and I’m ready to search for the next door.

Asian Monsters : Yukimi Ogawa

Our folklore monsters, yokai, are the way through which our ancestors tried to explain the aspects of the universe, otherwise unexplained at the time: mostly fear for the unknown. It’s dark, you want to reach the comfort of your home as soon as you can, but you find yourself unable to keep walking–if you feel something is trying to trip you, it might be a monster called sunekosuri, calf-rubber; if you feel as though something large is blocking your path, it might be nurikabe, the wall monster. 

sekienkokuri-baba

Image from _Konjaku Hyakki Shuui_. by Kokuri Babaa

Ghosts are categorized as yokai, too. People probably tried to explain *what happens* once you’re dead, by creating ghosts. Or perhaps tried to reconcile themselves with the fear for death, by imagining that something goes on after death of their body, even as monster.

Now, the main character of my story “Kokuri’s Palace,” Crone Kokuri (kuri means the temple’s kitchen, ko- is a prefix meaning old), I think, falls in this “explaining the unexplained” category, too. In our folklore she is an old woman living in an old temple. She strips corpses of their skins, eats the flesh, weaves stuff with the corpses’ hair. This is, I think, how people tried to see where corpses go after they are buried. By making her find the use for hair, they even explained how the hair lasted longer than the flesh, and what became of it.

The part about Kokuri wearing the corpses’ skin is entirely my creation. She is always depicted as a horrifying, grotesque kind of a monster, and I wanted to imagine her finding entertainment, even in her solitude. And I hope she wouldn’t mind my tampering with her nature–after I die, I’ll be burned down to bones, and will have nothing I can offer her.

Winter’s Tale : How I owe The Wolf Moon to Boscastle’s Witch Museaum

A Winter’s Tale, or how I owe my story The Wolf Moon to Boscastle’s Witch Museum.

by Sharon Kernow

Diana, the huntress. Her mother called winter a time of silence. For Diana, most of her life is quiet, her only companions wolves. Known as a witch by those in the human settlement even her rare visits to town are unwelcome.

Gabriel, named after the angel; although he’s no heavenly messenger, he refuses to trap what the locals want him to catch. When he sees Diana, he’s on the hunt for different prey.

Two people, strangers to each other, both outsiders… A harsh winter is upon them, but when their paths cross it will take a little ingenuity to survive the coldest of seasons.

Shiver under The Wolf Moon, one of a collection of Winter Tales.

Many winters ago, more than I care to consider, I picked up a book called The Witches’ Almanac. I chose it for a love of all things mystical, but also owing to one of my numerous visits to The Witch Museum, at Boscastle, in Cornwall.

The unmistakable white and black building has housed the largest accumulation of historical witchcraft memorabilia and been a component of Boscastle’s landscape for fifty years. Originally founded on the Isle of Man by Cecil H.Wiliamson the museum’s survived various guises and displacements (at times Williamson received death threats and after nasty occurrences to encourage his ‘moving on’), until eventually finding its current situation sited right by the harbour. Many feared for its contents following the flood of 2004, but the collection survived that, too, guarded in recent years by a wicker representation of Pan.

I might not have looked at the Almanac if not for that visit and The Wolf Moon among other titles would never have come into being. The book inspired several stories, some of which I plan to publish individually in anthologies with the intention of creating a collection. As to how the idea of the story of Diana and Gabriel developed from nothing more than a title and a short list of items, it can be difficult to describe the process particularly when I’m a ‘pantser’ — someone who ‘flies by the seat of’ and often sits down with a vague notion with which to face an empty page.

My moniker Sharon Kernow (the cornish word for Cornwall) is something else that may never have come into being if not for my love of the county and all things mystical. It’s where my heart lies, where I long to live, and more a part of me than any other place I’ve visited. When deciding to brand my Dark Fiction there was no better name.

For those who can spare a few minutes to linger, here is some footage of the local area and the witch museum as it was in Cecil’s time.

Link to the film, embedding code below:

Winter Tales : On When The Trees Were Enchanted

by Masimba Musodza

Several elements make up my story, spanning my childhood to the present day, and two countries.

As a middle-class boy growing up in Zimbabwe, I was first exposed to British pre-Christian culture through the TV series Robin of Sherwood. I had already heard of Robin Hood, but this TV adaptation featured a magical character, Herne the Hunter. Since then, I have remained fascinated with these islands’ most ancient lore.

The fear of winter and darkness appears to have persisted through the generations, even to this age where every British home has central heating. I don’t think a lot of people from Zimbabwe would associate winter with fear. In our part of the world, it is a delay in the onset of the rainy season that is to be dreaded. It leads to hunger, which leads to death. Hunger leads to the breakup of families as people go off in different directions in search of a means to earn an alternative living. It takes people away from the land in ways that do not, on the surface, appear anywhere near as brutal as the Slave Trade but have the same effect of eventually detaching them from their culture and heritage.

There is a connection between this ancient lore and modern literature that many people may not always immediately recognise, especially in the speculative, fantasy and horror genres. In The Persistence of Darkness- Shadows Behind the Life of the Story, Michael R. Collings draws attention to how the plot summary of the Germanic epic Beowulf could as easily apply to Stephen King’s The Mist:

A handful of people have gathered in a building in the centre
of a small town. Inside, they have found safety….or at least
the illusion of safety. Outside, there are only darkness, and fear,
and death. Daylight is dying. With the night will come the
monster. The people huddle close for warmth, for comfort. They
know that by the time the sun dawns again, some, or most-or
all-of them may be dead.

Yet, the two cultures- the one I was brought up in and the one I have found myself in- had this much in common: a belief that invisible yet omnipresent forces can intervene to change natural phenomena such as prolonged heat or cold for the benefit of humanity. Another belief, which the British seem to have lost but still holds sway among Zimbabweans, is that some parts of the land are sacred to various gods. Out of respect to those various gods, such sacred spaces are never touched by the work of man, not even as much as litter. When The Trees Were Enchanted speculates on resorting to the ancient powers of those gods to protect their sacred spaces when modernity- environmental protection laws etc- has failed.

Middlesbrough, North-East England, has seen many open spaces built over. On the one hand, the town needs at least 40000 new tax-payers in order for the books to balance. So, homes are being built on every available space. I am a member of a group called Hands on Middlesbrough, which seeks to raise awareness of these issues. It was founded by Scarlet Pink, who led a spirited campaign to save the oak trees at Acklam Hall as the builders moved in. The Middlesbrough suburb of Acklam is mentioned in the Domesday Book as Aclun, “the place of oaks.” That such symbols of the region’s heritage should be uprooted to make way for progress is outrageous. I remember looking at those trees as I walked past Acklam Hall and asked myself: whosoever claims those trees should protect them.

Migration, a topical issue in Britain, also found its way into the story. The narrator is a Zimbabwean man married to a British woman. It is her heritage that we are mostly concerned about, but his- in the form of his paternal aunt- follows him to the part of Britain he has chosen to make a home in as an intrusion. She is an eccentric, possibly mad woman, left to her own devices in this new land. Still, she becomes the link between powers visible and invisible, the past and the present.

Other ideas swirled into the story, clearly, but these are the main ones that moved me to sit down and pen it. I wonder what else others will read into it.

Winter Tales : ‘Yukizuki’

by Eliza Chan

‘Yukizuki’ means snow lover.

Before I moved to Japan, I thought I knew what seasons were. In the UK we get a smattering of snow in winter and a glimpse of sun in summer. I never realised the true extremities that seasons can bring until I lived in Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan and here winters last from about November to April. Snow falls so thick that the snow ploughs only scrape off the surface layer and pile it up in metre high walls at the sides of the roads. And then when the snow finally melts, Hokkaido becomes the breadbasket of Japan: renowned for its dairy products, seafood, beer and fresh flowers.

These opposing forces are what I love about Hokkaido and about the yuki onna folktale. A yokai who is as cold as winter and yet in the most famous version of the tale by Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaiden, she also loves. She brings beauty and life but also death. Her tale has captured the imaginations of many for this same reason. I loved that she is reminiscent other Asian female spirits: Lady White Snake or the nine-tailed fox. But yuki onna is also the a version of the universal snow queen who exists in nearly every culture across the world that has a snowy season.

When I first moved to Sapporo, I loved the snow. Rather than the chance day or two we have in the UK, we were given guaranteed months and months of powder white. It was the snow you saw in children’s films and on Christmas cards. It made houses look like they should be made of gingerbread. But snow can also lower spirits. Nights were long and walking home after work on the slipping pavements lost its novelty. It became a chore, a hindrance to socialising, to getting places. I nearly started to dislike winter until I took up snowboarding. There were snow and ice festivals across Hokkaido but snowboarding was something I could look forward to at all those other times. The times it would have been very easy to stay at home and mope. I’ve never liked competitive sports or felt the need for speed therefore my friends going off-piste and trying tricks, soon grew bored of my leisurely curves as I would stop and admire the view.

Somewhere, on a gondola perhaps, or admiring the view on a solo ride, the yuki onna came back to me. I wrote a traditional retelling of the tale at first, set in feudal Japan. But it felt wrong. Like most folktales the motivation for what the characters did was sparse. I wanted to fill in those gaps, give them a life before and after the story ended. And for me, yuki onna became more than a woman. The restrictions that had been placed on her were a human conceit. If she was a spirit, it did not matter what form, what body she possessed. She is simply the winter.

Winter Tales : Under your Skin

by Amelia Gorman

I have a poem in Fox Spirit Books’ Winter Tales anthology, edited by Margrét Helgadóttir! It’s a beautiful book, with a fun mix of fabulism, sci-fi, stories with only the smallest touch of speculative elements, poetry, all kinds of stuff. I’d like to share the things that I think are great that inspired my particular piece.

There were two specific ideas I had been kicking around for months, trying to work into a poem or story when I saw Fox Spirit’s call for Winter Tales.

The first was a ballad in a book of poetry I stumbled across at the library. I think I was looking for the book “Monsters of the Sea” but this rebound, simple book of poetry grabbed my attention. It had classics like The Mermaid by Yeats, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, many more modern pieces and a few inspiring strange anonymous ballads I had never read before.

(Weird. I want to say it was Penguin Random House’s Poems of the Sea because most of the pieces I remember being in the book EXCEPT the relevant poem is listed on the table of contents. Oh well, that looks like a nice book of poetry about the sea too.)

The best ballad that caught my attention was The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry.

An earthly nourris sits and sings,
And aye she sings, “Ba lilly wean,
Little ken I my bairn’s father,
Far less the land that he staps in.”

Then ane arose at her bed fit,
And a grumly guest I’m sure was he,
Saying “Here am I, thy bairn’s father,
Although I am not comely.”

I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie in the sea,
And when I’m far frae every strand,
My home it is in Sule Skerry.”

“It was na weel”, the maiden cried,
“It was na weel, indeed” quo she,
“For the Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie,
To hae come and aught a bairn to me!”

Then he has taken a purse of gold,
And he has laid it on her knee,
Saying, “give to me, my little young son,
And take thee up thy nouriss fee.

It shall come to pass on a summer’s day,
When the sun shines hot on every stone,
That I shall take my little young son,
And teach him for to swim the foam.

And thou shalt marry a proud gunner,
And a very proud gunner I’m sure he’ll be,
And the very first shot that e’re he shoots,
he’ll kill both my young son and me.”

I found a number of things in this poem sticking with me. First of all, most selkie stories about women and their lives of shedding their skin, marriage, children, and usually returning to the sea. It was strange to read a story where the mythological creature was the father. Beyond that, the entire contents of the poem were just bizarre. He buys his son back? Especially knowing what’s going to happen? Is that a prophecy at the end or just him being sarcastic?

I wanted to tell a slightly more compassionate story, so I wrote about the difficulty of a formerly absent father adopting his son after the death of the mother.

Gorman - WInter Tales - blog picture

The other topic that fascinated me at the time was the Weddell seal, especially as presented by David Attenborough in the polar seas episode of Blue Planet It was almost too easy to anthropomorphize the seal’s fascinating life into something deeply lonely and tedious. The Weddell Seal is forced to gnaw open a single air hole alone all winter long so as to not run out of oxygen. In fact, its life span is shortened by its decreased ability to feed after dulling its teeth during the winter. I turn to nature documentaries for a lot of plots, the lives of animals contain so many bizarre, rich events that don’t take much work to twist into narrative structures.

Anyway, once I realized I wanted to combine those two ideas I wrote the poem that appears in Winter Tales. And along with that, I’m happy to share a very interesting ballad and one of nature’s great stories of survival, both of which are worth spending a little time with.

Copyright information for the quoted poem:
From Ballads Weird and Wonderful from 1912. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vernon_Hill,_The_Great_Silkie_of_Sule_Skerry,_1912.png.  Ballads Weird and Wonderful, 1912 can be checked up on here – https://archive.org/stream/balladsweirdwond00choprich#page/n39/mode/2up

Winter Tales : Among Wolves

by B Thomas

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I am infatuated with dark fiction. I’m not alone in this or King wouldn’t be one of the most iconic writers of all time, Gone Girl would not have been a smash success, and not one of you will get this next Brad Pitt reference: “Oh God. . . What’s in the box?” (I know some of you did.)

It’s also more than safe to say, that I have a deep respect and love for animals of all kinds, particularly wolves. Their elegance, their pack mentality, and the way they look at you with their heads low and their eyes unblinking. Sadly, though, they are also hunted, trapped, and facing endangerment. (That’s all the preaching I’m going to do, be assured). I knew several years ago that I wanted to write a story involving wolves, and our desperate need to get back in touch with nature. But the killer question was: in what way would this scenario be plausible? Easy: hello apocalypse.

The thing with apocalyptic fiction is that there are certain tropes that are nearly impossible to avoid. I.E – warring factions, groups of people who revert back to a barbarian-like state, etc. While I knew these were going to be present, I didn’t want that conflict to take away from the point that I was trying to get across. I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not I achieved this, but if anybody—even only one person who reads it thinks: maybe humans don’t know everything, then I will consider it a victory.

After three drafts, I submitted Among Wolves to the annual Writers of the Future contest where it earned an honorable mention. While I was happy about this, it didn’t change the fact that there it sat: unpublished and wanting to be read. Then I stumbled across Fox Spirit’s Winter Tales call for submissions: Frost pierces through everything. Your bones ache in the icy wind. Harsh winter storms rage and the sun is leaving, not to return for many months. . .

I was ecstatic. . . And nervous. Response times are brutal for any writer, and even though Fox Spirit had a rather short wait time, it was still excruciating. I wanted Among Wolves to belong in this collection and have the opportunity to work with a press that had been named the 2015 Best Small Press by the British Fantasy Society. My thanks to them are endless, along with my gratitude to Margaret Helgadottir for being such a communicative, insightful editor, and my trusted beta readers, some of you having read Among Wolves more than once. Thank you again.

Several months after my acceptance into Winter Tales, I embarked on a trip I had wanted to go on for a couple years. Along with my girlfriend and a few friends, we went out west to visit the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center, a nonprofit sanctuary for wolves and other wild canines. It was incredible. We were given the opportunity to interact closely and personally with the animals and everything I desired to get across in my story had been reaffirmed a thousand times over.

If you are so inclined you can stop by my webpage at https://bthomas7.weebly.com or follow me on twitter @jigsawkid7

African Monsters : The Tokoloshe by Nick Wood

Why the Tokoloshe?

Have a look at Penny Miller’s (1979) wonderful ‘Myths and Legends of Southern Africa’ or, if you’re more academically inclined, try Nhlanhla Mkhize’s (1996) ‘Mind, gender, and culture: A critical evaluation of the phenomenon of Tokoloshe “sightings” among prepubescent girls in Kwazulu-Natal’ – via http://www.criticalmethods.org/bodtwo.htm

penny

But, as for me, if you want the truth, the little monster called me to watch him…

*****

The Tokoloshe smelt someone coming, even as the late afternoon air hummed with hot sun and clouds and a rainbow arch crumbled into a million dying pieces above his head.

Still, the river flowed strongly, swirling logs and leaves and dead fleshy things past him.

He stepped up onto the river bank to sniff the air, and he could smell the coming human was a she.

He grinned then, licking his sharp teeth, flicking fur out of his eyes and twisting his only garment, a leather strung hip pouch, into ready position. His witch would be pleased. The thick riverside bushes bustled with movement.

Ooh, a young smell. She whom he served would be very pleased.

He slung his penis over his left shoulder and fumbled in his pouch for his stone, but there was no time. The bushes burst apart and a skinny, dishevelled girl was staring down at him.

She looked tired and her trousers were torn, with both her legs bleeding.

I know, fuck those thorn bushes, he thought, but the girl’s eyes opened wide in shock and she shrunk against the bushes.

He licked his teeth again, slowly, waiting for her to turn and run.

But she stood firm, returning his gaze.

He grabbed his penis, flailing it like a warning whip.

Still, she did not run.

Brave or stupid?

Either way, she was dead meat.

He leaped forward to grab her…