Release Day : Skytown

K.C. Shaw’s adventure of sky piracy and privateering is available now!

This is the first full length outing for returning favourites Lizzy and Jo from some of K.C. Shaw’s short stories. 

Cover art by Jenny Haines

Get yourself on an adventure

Opening paragraphs of Skytown

 

Lizzy had no more gold nuggets sewn into the lining of her leather coat, the one that looked like it was made from a dead sofa. ‘Check again,’ Jo said. They couldn’t be out of money. They’d had so much.
Lizzy didn’t check again. Instead she folded the coat and laid it on her bed. ‘That gold was supposed to be for emergencies. Did you think it would last forever?’
Lizzy as a rule didn’t have much of a temper; she indicated her disapproval with silences, glowers, and a certain falling intonation of her deep voice. Jo fought the urge to shrink away in apology like a little girl caught doing wrong. ‘I didn’t think we’d spent so much,’ she said.
‘We’ve spent it all. Now we have to get more.’
It was early morning, barely past dawn, but the room they shared faced east and Jo could see quite well. Lizzy’s skin was so pale she practically glowed in the dark anyway. Through the open window, the surf crawled up and down the beach.
Jo said, ‘We can head farther south along the coast, I suppose. I’d like to see more of the world.’
‘If you want to continue eating while we see the world, we need to find airships we can take.’
Jo nodded. She must be practical like Lizzy and not squeamish about the profession she had, after all, chosen willingly. ‘Yes. It would probably be best to tread lightly in Hule; we can use it as a safe zone in case of trouble elsewhere. Besides, I’d like to come back to this village when we have money again.’

Pacific Monsters Update

Pacific Monsters – table of contents

Asian Monsters is presently on the short list for the British Fantasy Society award for best Anthology and Chikodili Emelumadu’s short story Bush Baby from African Monsters made this year’s Caine Awards shortlist. 2017 has proven to be a good year for monsters. 

We are pleased to announce that Pacific Monsters is due out this November. Pacific Monsters is the fourth volume in our world tour exploring horror continent by continent, beginning in Europe. See more about the series and the monsters here.  

In this collection, we explore the old myths and monsters in the Pacific region with short stories, graphic stories and art from Australia, New Zealand and some of the Pacific Islands. Margrét Helgadóttir is once more the editor.

Our gorgeous cover series by Daniele Serra will continue for this fourth volume. Dani is a previous BFS Best Artist winner and is up for the award again this year.

 

Table of contents:

  • Tina Makereti: ‘Monster’
  • AJ Fitzwater: ‘From the Womb of the Land, Our Bones Entwined’
  • Rue Karney: ‘The Hand Walker’
  • Michael Grey: ‘Grind’
  • Octavia Cade and Dave Johnson (art) : ‘Dinornis’
  • Raymond Gates: ‘The Legend of Georgie’
  • Jeremy Szal: ‘The Weight of Silence’
  • Simon Dewar: ‘Above the Peppermint Trail’
  • Iona Winter: ‘Ink’
  • Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada: ‘All My Relations’
  • Tihema Baker: ‘Children of the Mist’
  • Kirstie Olley: ‘Mudgerwokee’
  • Michael Lujan Bevacqua and Dave Johnson (art) : ‘I Sindålu’
  • AC Buchanan: ‘Into the Sickly Light’

The book will have illustrations by Laya Rose, Lahela Schoessler, Kieran Walsh and Eugene Smith.

Monster Writing Contest Runner Up : Shona Kinsella

At the Water’s Edge

by Shona Kinsella

Anna swore as she stumbled over a tree root. Her ankle throbbed; she added it to her growing list of aches and pains. These stupid boots had rubbed her feet raw, the muscles of her legs ached, her shoulders burned from the weight of her backpack and her head was pounding. Why had she ever thought it was a good idea to come on this hike? She wasn’t an outdoorsy person. Not like Hayley. 

            Anna rolled her shoulders and tried not to think about the tall, blonde woman who had joined Jonathon’s walking group.

            ‘I hope she’s wandering around alone, too,’ Anna muttered to herself.

            It was all because she had gone to the pub with them last Friday. She had seen the hungry way that Hayley looked at Jonathon, and how he had leaned towards her when he was speaking. When Anna had taken his hand, he seemed surprised to be reminded that she was there. So, of course, when they started discussing this hike, she had to say she would come along.

            The worst part was that Jonathon had laughed; implied that she wouldn’t be able to go the distance. Of course, he was right. 

            Half an hour into the hike, she knew it had been a mistake. She had bought brand-new hiking boots and hadn’t had time to break them in properly. She wasn’t used to carrying all the equipment she needed and had no idea how to read a compass or a map. She ended up feeling like an idiot. A frumpy idiot, in her baggy combat trousers and old jumper, while Hayley swanned about in a vest top and jodhpurs, showing off her long, slim legs. Seriously, who even wore jodhpurs?

            The group was supposed to be going about half-way up the hill – which Jonathon insisted was only a small one, but it looked enormous to her – and then looping around it and back down the other side to the loch. They had all strung out, as people teamed up with others at their own pace. Of course,Hayley, had attached herself to Jonathon and Anna, sighing or rolling her eyes every time Anna had to stop for a rest or to adjust her backpack.

            They had started looping around when the fog came in. It was so sudden; Anna had never seen anything like it. She had bent down to tie her shoe lace and when she looked back up she couldn’t see Jonathon or Hayley. She had called out to them but the fog muffled her words, making them sound quiet even to her own ears.

            Anna started off in the direction she thought they had been going. She figured Jonathon and Hayley must be just ahead and she would catch up with them within minutes but that had been over an hour ago. Of course, she couldn’t get a signal on her phone since they were at the backend of nowhere and only crazy people came here. She had no choice but to keep walking and hope she ran into them. 

            Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh.

            Just now she was struggling not to cry. She leaned against a tree and sank to her knees to rest her feet for a moment. From this changed vantage point, she noticed a glimmer between the trees. Water. The loch!

            She climbed to her feet again and limped on, careful to step over and around the roots that seemed to grasp for her feet. If she managed to keep the water in sight, she should be able to make her way down to the loch. The rest of the walking group should be there – or, if not, they should show up sooner or later.

            She stepped out of the trees and before her lay a gentle, grassy slope down to the water’s edge. The fog was burning off and Anna could feel a hint of warmth from the hidden sun. 

            Small for a loch, she thought, looking around. She could see around the shore; there was no sign of anyone. Anna frowned. She had been at the back of the group. How could she possibly have gotten here first? Where were the others? Could they have gone back without her?

Panic started to rise in her chest and she could feel her heart rate speeding up. This was ridiculous. Jonathon wouldn’t have gone without her. Whether he was making eyes at Hayley or not, he was the most responsible person she’d ever known. He would not go home until the whole group was accounted for.

Maybe they went back looking for you and you passed them in the woods?

No. He would have insisted that someone stay by the loch in case she came this way. There was definitely no-one else around, as far as she could see; but the far end of the loch was fuzzy from here. It was possible that some of those shapes she thought were bushes could be people.

The water caught Anna’s eye and she looked longingly at it, imagining the coolness against her tortured feet. Before she could stop herself, she had her feet out of the boots. She carefully peeled her socks away from the blisters that had burst, blood causing the wool to stick to her. She rolled up her trouser-legs and limped down to the water. She dipped a toe in and squealed at the cold but then stepped forward so the water came up to her ankles. Her blisters stung but the relief to the soles of her feet made it worthwhile.

Movement caught her eye, out towards the middle of the loch. She stood and watched for a few seconds but saw nothing. Probably a fish jumping for its dinner; still a shiver ran down her spine. It’s not like this place in big enough to have a Nessie, what are you worried about?

She turned back towards the far end of the loch and stopped short, letting out a small scream. Right in front of her, standing in the shallow water, was a horse. The most beautiful horse she had ever seen. Dappled grey, it’s colouring resembled the fractured sunlight on the surface of the water. It was wearing a bridle and reins but no saddle. Anna looked around for its rider but could still see no-one. Perhaps they had been separated in the fog like her and Jonathon.

The horse nuzzled her and Anna stroked its nose, looking longingly at its back. It had been a long time since she had ridden but it would be so much easier than walking back. Still, what would the horse’s owner say? More practically, could she even get on without a saddle and stirrups?

As if it could read her mind, the horse knelt, bringing its back to the perfect height for her to climb up. Anna chewed her lip and looked around. She could always ride around the loch and check for other people. She climbed onto the horse’s back and took hold of the reins.

‘No!’

Anna spun in her seat, looking for the source of the scream. The noise had frightened the horse, causing it to head deeper into the loch. Anna pulled on the reins to turn it back to shore but it wouldn’t obey.

‘You have to get off!’ It was Hayley – Anna could see her now, running out of the treeline further along from where Anna had emerged. 

‘I’m only going to ride around the loch,’ Anna called back. ‘You’re scaring him, you have to stop shouting.’

‘Get off!’

Anna hauled at the reins. Water rose up the creature’s flank, lapping against her knee. She looked down when something brushed against her leg and screamed. A body floated past, just below the surface. It was one of the guys from the hiking group. Anna tried to slide off the horse but found herself stuck.

‘It’s not a horse, it’s a kelpie!’ Hayley screamed. ‘You have to get off!’

‘I can’t!’ Anna called back, the water coming over the horse’s back to cover her thighs. ‘I’m stuck.’

‘The bridle! Pull the bridle off!’ Hayley was running into the water now.

Anna scrabbled at the bridle, her shaking fingers unable to find purchase. Another body floated past and Anna began to whimper as she managed to get her fingers under the strap of the bridle. In one, swift motion she pulled the bridle over the horse’s head.

Anna splashed into the water, the horse that been holding her gone, the bridle still in her hand. She went under and thrashed around in panic until Hayley grabbed her and pulled her to the surface, helping her back to shore.

‘Jonathon?’ Anna asked.

‘He went back looking for you. I stayed in case you found your way here. The kelpie got the others. We saw it.’

‘I’m never leaving the city again,’ Anna vowed.

Monster Writing Contest Runner Up : Richard Marpole

Waking Up Underground

by Richard Marpole

“I’ve started making a mental diary of my thoughts and impressions since I clawed my way out of my grave.  It seems like a sane and human thing to do, scientific even; I always liked science.

Day 1.

At first I thought I’d been buried alive.  

Which was ridiculous.  I am an old, old man and the disease that killed me was a serious one, it took no prisoners.  

The people you love have a particular way of looking at you when they know your time is finally running out.  My grand-daughter, my favourite human being in the world, looked at me like that just hours before I slipped away.  She is almost a woman now, but still too young to deal with death.  I reached up out of my chemical-scented hospital bed, held her hand and told her it was ok. 

That was the last lie I ever told.

It wasn’t ok, it hurt to die and it hurt even more to wake up in my grave. 

The impossibility of that awakening was followed by the insanity of my escape.  Even if the disease had left me with a heartbeat, even if the Coroner had somehow not noticed that I was still alive, even if I’d been able to breathe in that airless wooden box; I still shouldn’t have had the strength to smash its solid oak planks and dig through six feet of earth to the surface.  

But I did. 

Human minds are very good at ignoring the obvious.  It was only after I fought free of the earth’s embrace that I noticed the changes in the world, the changes in me.

…..

Day 2.

Night is nearly as bright as day now.  Full daylight is like staring into the sun.  During the day I have to bury myself again or stick to the shadows if I want to see what I’m doing.

I’m definitely dead and I’m definitely still here.  I still can’t breathe but I can walk and see and smell and taste and feel.

Mostly I feel cold.

And hungry. 

I’d like a steak; rare and red and dripping.  That’s a meal fit for a king.

Not that I like kings any more than I like priests.

…..

Day 3.

I’m quite sure that I don’t have a pulse even though I can’t prove it.  I tried pressing fingers to my wrists and neck over and over again, but my nerve endings don’t seem to work properly anymore; all I could feel was the dry rasp of dead skin.  I gave up when I realised that my fingernails, longer and sharper than I remember, were tearing my flesh open whenever my hands slipped, which was often.

Guess I’m lucky that my sense of pain is deader than the rest of me.

…..

Day 4.

I’m losing my memories of life. 

How did I convince the local authorities to let me be buried in the New Forest?  A donation to some charity or other?  A bribe?  Was I buried illegally?

I do remember why I wanted to rest here though.  I didn’t believe in any kind of afterlife but there was something peaceful about the idea of my bones ending up in a place that I’d loved so much in life.

What was my first wife’s name?  I know that she was as cruel as she was beautiful and that as a young man that had seemed like a pretty good deal to me.

Were her teeth sharp; like mine are now?  

Would she have watched the little squeaking creatures of the forest and drooled with suppressed hunger?  

Painted lips opening wide, perfect white teeth snapping closed on a terrified morsel; crunching through fur and flesh and tiny, tiny bones. 

No, that doesn’t fit my other images of her.

Not that I would eat the creatures of this forest.

The little rats are too fast for me.

…..

Day 6.

I lost myself for a bit there.

But it’s ok; I didn’t hurt anyone.

I could’ve.  There are backpackers and hikers and day-trippers in these woods.

They don’t see me.  I’m too clever and too quiet.

I wouldn’t hurt them.  But I don’t want to talk to them either.  What would I say?  

‘Can someone please tell me where I live and who with?  I promise not to bite them.’  

Or.  ‘Hello.  I shouldn’t exist so I’d like to donate my body to medical science.  Don’t worry, I’ll hold nice and still while the scalpels slice through my desiccated flesh.’

No.  Better to wait and watch.  Better to hide in dark corners and listen to the arrogant thrum of their hearts, taste the sting of their sweat in the air.

…..

Day 7.

One of the living bodies likes to watch as much as I do.

He smells awful.  Unwashed and bubbling over with bad thoughts; what my idiot son would have called sinful thoughts.

Usually it’s the young women he watches.  Perhaps he sees them as easier targets.  Wolves are like that; they go for the smaller and younger members of the herd.  Forget the nobility of nature; all predators are opportunists at heart.

…..

Day 9.

I am faster now.  The birds and bugs and other vermin cannot escape my hunger anymore. 

Nor can I.  The emptiness is a live thing, a beast gnawing at my belly.  Nothing satisfies it.

The other watcher is a poor hunter.  He catches nothing.

Perhaps I will catch him.

No; that would be insane.

I am still me.

…..

Day 12.

I heard something today that made me feel almost alive.

A high, pure perfect voice.

I slunk through the trees towards it.

A girl.  Her scent was familiar; her blood called to me and told me her names.

Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh.

Grand-daughter.

She loved the New Forest as much as I did.  Perhaps that was why she was my favourite.

I don’t want her to see me like this.

But I cannot stay away.

I’ll just watch.

…..

Day 17.

In life I demanded reasons for everything.  Why does this happen?  Why should I accept that on faith?

Now I think that I will never know why I rose from the dead.

Maybe I didn’t.  Maybe this is some kind of hell.  

…..

Day 19.

She has come again.  Tripping through the woods with her friends.

There is a hint of sadness to her; she has not forgotten who showed her these paths.  I wish that I’d never brought her here, never shared my love of nature.  Then I would be safe from her and she from me.

…..

Day 24.

I nearly killed an old man today.  I was so hungry.  But he stopped to rub his aching hip the way I used to and some shred of human feeling pulled me out of the leap that would have taken his head.  He never even saw me.

Stupid old man.

…..

Day 26.

Today was different.  She came back but so did the watcher.

The sickness in his mind was so thick that I wanted to chew it right out of his head.

He followed her.

Stalked her.

Waited until her friends had gone ahead.

Jumped out from behind a tree and knocked her down.

He loomed over her and she stared up at him, too stunned to scream.

“It’s ok.”  He told her.  “You want this.  The devil is in you.”

I was on him in the space of a living heartbeat.  We fell together, our limbs tangled.

Such a sweet struggle.  I sank my teeth into his throat and his blood danced across my tongue.  It tasted like steak and champagne and the heat of a woman’s mouth. 

He shook and cried but I held him tight.  I whispered to him between bites.  “It’s ok, it’s ok.”

When he died my hunger died with him.

For that moment I was warm and happy and content; lost in bliss.

When I came back to myself; she was looking at me, face bruised but eyes bright. 

At last everything made sense.  This was why I was brought back.  Some god I didn’t believe in had given me the chance to save the most precious person in the world.    

I almost reached out to her.  

She spoke to me.  “Grandpa?  Is that you?  What’s wrong with your face Grandpa?”

Too many questions.  

Too many hurtful truths.  

I snarled.

She screamed.

I ran from her and she from me.

…..

Did I really come back to save you, Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh?

Then why am I still here?

No matter.

Still dead.

Still cold.

…..

You better not come back here, Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh. 

I’m getting hungry again.”

 

Monster Contest Winning Story

Momma’s Embrace

by Heather Johnson  

“My teeth,” she groaned loudly through barely parted lips. “They hurt too much. Can’t read today.” Muriel was never entirely sure the creature understood. Its response to most of her speech was to cuff her rudely on the ear. “Need green stuff again for teeth. Munch-munch, all better.” She mimed chewing on a handful of invisible herbs.

The creature snorted and then growled softly, “Murrr. Uhhnn,” as it rose, hunched at the peak of the ceiling. “Rooowm!” it rumbled as it squeezed out the door. From her corner of the dark room, Muriel counted to five hundred before slipping out into the thick woods. If she were lucky, she would pick the direction opposite of the creature’s destination.

She thought of it as a dream more than a memory. A memory would be too much to bear. Her stomach could never settle with that memory in her brain. The dream began with Muriel perched on a stool and reading aloud while her mother cooked dinner. Sunshine streamed in through the window above the sink. And then the back door of their home burst inward and a wall of musk, teeth, claws, and pale yellow fur stomped into the kitchen. An arm like a timber hit Muriel in the chest and knocked her off the stool. She lay face down on the tile for a moment as her breath returned. She felt the thud of her mother’s body hitting the floor. The mother grunted and screamed to her, “Muriel, run! Get up and run n–!”

Muriel pushed herself up just in time to see the beast twist off her mother’s head as if it were opening a new bottle of ketchup. It seemed to smile as its mouth opened impossibly wide and it took a bite. Clawing her way up the fronts of the cupboards, Muriel stood at last and ran for the front door. She heard the house shaking, counting 1, 2, 3, 4 booms behind her before she was picked up by the back of her sweatshirt. The beast dropped her onto the slippery kitchen tile. It tapped a giant unripe-banana toe on the book she had been reading. “Uhhhnnnn!” It grunted, lips dripping with thick blood. It kicked the book toward her. “Uhhhnnn! It insisted, smacking Muriel’s head with a giant paw. “Uhhhhnnnn!” It nudged the paperback, it’s cover now heavy and dripping, into her lap with one horrible toe. 

And Muriel thought she understood. The beast sat. It twisted off an arm and crunched away as Muriel began to read in a surprisingly steady voice, “Today we is not believing in snozzcumbers…” It was dark by the time the beast was done with its meal. The pot on the stovetop had long since boiled dry and she’d gotten to the part about the queen. The beast was full and sleepy. Certain she would be dessert, Muriel gathered her courage to get up and run once again for the front door. She grabbed the hot pan with the sleeve of her sweatshirt and threw it at the beast’s head. It let out a grunt as if inconvenienced. But this time after the beast took a few lumbering steps toward her, her recapture was punctuated with a strong blow to the head. She didn’t even remember being shoved into or carried in the old seed corn sack she eventually woke up in.

“Monster!” Muriel had screamed when she found herself alone with the beast inside a dark one-room shack. The horror of everything fell on her. She screamed hysterically, nonsensically. When her voice began to give out, she whispered accusingly again and again: “Monster. Monster.” The creature tapped its chest with a paw, producing a heavy thump. It seemed to smile, although the rows of finely pointed teeth and enormity of the mouth only made its appearance more terrible. “Maaamaaa.” It stated, swatting her in the side of the head. “Maaamaaa.”

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been with the creature. The seed corn bag, now barely a bag, was her mattress in the corner of the mossy cabin that leaned inward on itself. Much had happened in the meantime too. She was sure she was quite a bit taller. Many of her teeth had fallen out. Some of them had grown back in. She knew how to avoid getting hit or dragged by her mat of hair: compliance. She ate the food, lumps of raw meat. She stayed inside. If she had to call it something, Muriel called it Mama, although in her head, she spelled it M-o-m-m-a. Mama had been the word she wrote on cards and Christmas presents.

Momma seemed to live for eating and stories. Certainly grooming was not a priority. Muriel was grateful for the mercy of no longer being able to smell its stench. She was certain that she smelled the same way. Every day, sometimes several times a day if the beast was not out hunting, Muriel read stories aloud from a pile of books. Over and over, by flashlight. The bottom of the pile was damp and molding on the mud and moss floor. Some were too damaged to read properly, so she improvised as she turned the mildewed pages. New flashlights would appear regularly. New books too. Less often, an article of rumpled, blood-spattered clothing would be waiting for her when she woke up. Muriel had taken to shoving the dead flashlights into the gaps in the wall. Lacking Momma’s thick fur, it was often too cold to sleep.

When she felt, once again, on the verge of losing her mind, she worked up the strength and courage to run away. Muriel had no hope that she would truly get away. Momma always found her. There would be consequences. Bruises, maybe broken bones. She’d lie in her corner again, consumed by the physical pain. She would heal. Read. Plot. This process had played out six times. She knew the count only because she’d started keeping track with tick marks on the wall after the third time.  

Her seventh foray into the woods began with a step that landed on a sharp stick. It sank into the tender arch of her bare foot, but she didn’t have time to acknowledge it. She limped farther into the woods, cautious of her noise, her smell. Momma’s senses were finely tuned. It was, after all, a skilled hunter and stalker. Muriel wondered if the wind had already betrayed her. She paused, not breathing for a moment, listening for heavy footsteps or shaking trees but hearing only her heart and the involuntary grinding of her teeth. 

In the past, with the hope of getting away for good, she had rubbed herself with wild ramps, mud, and damp leaves to try to mask her scent. This time, her goal was merely distance and time away. She pushed through the thick brambles as quickly as should could, as straight as she could. She imagined a clearing ahead. Maybe a house or a convenience store. A bait shop. Her face and arms were covered in scratches but she tried not to think about Momma’s ability to smell blood. She focused on getting through to whatever was beyond the woods. The squirrels scolded as she pushed through the brush. She wished she could strangle all of them into silence. The birds too. Who knew what they were telling Momma with their songs? Muriel imagined its massive body stooping to rip herbs from the ground, and then turning its propane-tank-sized head to the sky to sniff the wind and listen.

And then she spotted a shade of orange she hadn’t seen for a lifetime. She moved closer, cautiously through the woods. She discovered a gravel road, just yards away. On the opposite side of the road, a woman in an orange vest bent to pick up trash with a spike. She hadn’t seen another person in a lifetime either. The woman in the vest looked up in Muriel’s direction and briefly scanned the woods before getting back to work.

Muriel squinted down the road in both directions. There was no car in sight. No house. Just a gravel road, one person, and more woods. But surely something was nearby. Maybe something useful. Maybe near enough. Will I scare her? Muriel wondered. I might look like a monster. I do look like one. Will she run away? Muriel imagined the woman’s fate if Momma found her.

The familiar shaking of earth and treetops and the breaking of branches interrupted her thoughts. It was inevitable. She’d never really planned to get away. Muriel took one step backward toward the steady booming. She briefly pictured the cabin and the moldy books, recalled the stench and the memory-dreams of Momma’s brutality. Muriel stepped back toward the road, where the woman looked past her, gaping. “The end,” she whispered to herself, dashing onto the road with her arms open wide.

 

Congratulations to Heather, we hope she enjoys her swag.

Monster Writing Contest

WINNER OF THE MONSTER WRITING COMPETITION
The mission with our Fox Spirit Books of Monsters book series is to give the monsters their comeback, to reestablish their dark and grim reputation, and to bring into the spotlight the monsters hiding in the far corners of the world. We published volume three of our Fox Spirit Books of Monsters: Asian Monsters last November and Margret Helgadottir is now editing volume four: Pacific Monsters, to be released this November. 

To celebrate the monsters, we have had a writing competition the last months, inviting authors to send in their best monster flash stories. We are thrilled to see that authors still know how to tell a good monster tale. We know it is quite challenging to both write a good monster story and to tell it with few words. 

Margret has now read all the flash stories and selected the winning story and the two runners ups. She says it was a really tough decision and that there were so many good stories she sadly had to put aside. 

She has picked the dark story “Momma’s Embrace” by Heather Johnson as her favourite, you can all read it here on the blog tomorrow morning. Heather will receive a copy of the three first monster volumes, plus a Fox Spirit Books Tote bag with our awesome new notebook and pen. 

As the two runner ups, Margret has picked the two stories “Waking Up Underground” by Richard Marpole and “At the Water’s Edge” by Shona Kinsella. We will publish these two stories here tuesday. Richard and Shona will both be sent a tote bag with our cool Fox Spirit note book and pen.

Congratulations to all three authors! We wish to thank all that sent in their stories for the chance to read them. 

The stories will later be added to the free fiction page for people to carry on enjoying. 

Launch Day

The Hobgoblin’s Herald is now available!

Andrew’s debut is a fantastic fantasy adventure for lovers of traditional fantasy and those looking for something a but different. 

Cover art by Tabatha Stirling

There are monsters in the forests of Katahia, and not all of them are human…
 
When a poacher’s daughter saves one of their chieftains, she is drawn into the twisted world of the dreaded hobgoblins, where life is cheap and pity is weakness. Together, the girl and the malignant beasts must cross a realm on the cusp of dynastic civil war, in search of a land where they might thrive, or else be eradicated in the coming conflict.
 
As the road before her grows ever darker and her allies ever stranger, Mallory must choose which side she owes loyalty, and what she is willing to do in order to survive.

Read the opening paragraphs here 

Find the book on Amazon uk here

Contact me at adele@foxspirit.co.uk if you are interested in reviewing The Hobgoblin’s Herald or interviewing the author. 

Cover Reveal : Hobgoblin’s Herald

This summer has a couple of fantastic new releases coming. One of which is the fantasy novel ‘Hobgoblin’s Herald’ by A.R. Aston. 

The book will be launched on 1st July so there will be plenty of time to grab a copy before Edge.Lit and get Andrew to sign it. 

In the mean time, here is the cover by the fantastic Tabitha Sterling mudlarkdesign.tumblr.com and for your enjoyment, the Prologue. 

‘The fetters of the Aelf were made of sapphires, the walls of their cells silver and ivory. It was nothing like the dank black dungeons of menfolk, or the festering oubliettes of Hezra Half-Gremlin. This cell was bright, and cold and austere. It hurt her eyes to look upon the mirror-polished star metal that entombed her here. And so the Herald dangled in a darkness of her own imposing, eyes screwed shut.
Her shackles rubbed unpleasantly against her flesh, and when she cried out, the sound was without echo. The walls
seemed to consume her screams and nullify her protests. Her captors had no desire to listen to her entreaties. Everything she said would be considered a lie by the Fated Ones. Thus she was doomed to suffer an ignoble, yet relatively painless death by their hands. She had days at most, but it was impossible to judge just how long that would be, for days were meaningless in a realm without night to mark the cycles.
They’d taken her bone-threaded war braids, and stripped the Herald of her rune-etched armour of boiled leather and
foraged steel. Upon capture, they’d even scrubbed her face of the blood marks, leaving only the silvery scars that formed their base behind. Like a cat declawed, the Aelf divested her of her scimitar, her daggers, and her sling. Now she wore a simple habit of pale blue silk, but this did nothing to disguise the fact she was a reviled heathen fated to die. She dangled from the ceiling by her hands, a flank of beef hung for smoking. Her bare feet dangled helplessly beneath her. They were the palest they’d been in years. The Aelf could not tolerate filth, not a single gram of it, not even caking their prisoners’ soles.
They had kept her fed with bland wafers and crystal still water, which seemed to sap her strength and will to fight with every mouthful. They could have poisoned her by slipping something odourless and colourless into the daily rations, but she suspected not. They simply had no need to nourish her or poison her. That was the worst thing of all, they didn’t hate her. She meant nothing to the tall, gleaming nightmares. She was an obstruction to remove and her captors would carry out her sentence with a workmanlike efficiency.
The Herald wondered where her allies were now. Were they even alive? She didn’t even entertain the notion they’d
be coming to save her. These were not those kinds of allies. Polder might have helped, but that passive psychotic was next to useless in a scrap.
The Fated Ones would kill her, unless she fought for herself. That was always the way it went.
Each day, she felt her resolve weakening. Her will was maintained now by hate and fear. Curse them for their indifference! 
With her eyes closed, she dreamt of the spiralling nightmare which had brought her to this ignominious terminus.
The five-limbed leviathans of Ashebos, the flying cities, the incandescent Lance of Rael, the black naga, the Djinncallers, the Eater of Names; all these things she had seen, all that pain and wonderment she had experienced, had sprung from a singular event, back in a different life, a different world.
It had been an act of mercy, for one who did not deserve an ounce of it.
She heard the whisper-quiet footsteps of her gaoler in the corridor outside. The lock on the door rattled, as simultaneously the bolts barring it were thrown open one by one. The prisoner clenched her fists, bared her teeth, and drew her feet up to her chest, like an animal tensing for the pounce. She spat bloody phlegm on their pristine floor, which made her smile. If the Aelf wanted her dead, they would need to get their hands dirty. She’d tear at them like a mad shrike. She’d make them work for their kill. She would teach them hate.’

 

Not The Fox News: Digital House Gods

Let’s talk about immortality.

It’s the early 1990s and I am living on the Isle of Man. I am a teenager. I am a geek. I am an idiot. I am a walking open wound working his ass off to be the best student possible, keep his parents’ stress damaged psyches together and  not look the fact his best friend is looking at a third go round with cancer in the face quite yet. My adolescence is trench warfare. I am holding the line. It sucks.

I’m 15? I’m 6’1.  I can pass for 18 comfortably. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t smoke.  There are two videos stores nearby. And on one of my many forays there I find the first collection of War of the Worlds: The Resurrection.

This is the 1990s so it’s basically the dark ages in terms of entertainment deployment systems. What you get is three episodes on a VHS cassette released every couple of months. I watch the pilot until its threadbare, do the same with the rest.

The reason is twofold. The premise of WW: The Resurrection is PEAK 1990s and more importantly peak Me. In the wake of the Grover’s Mill assault depicted in the 1950s movie, the Martians are sealed in barrels and presumed dead. Their technology is mothballed, mass hysteria is assumed to be the cause of the event and everyone settles in to really enjoy the cold war.

Until nuclear waste wakes the aliens up. With all new, all-gore spattered bodysnatching abilities they set out to conquer the planet again and only an elite crisis response team can stop them. Let’s go say hi.

Look at that epic ’90s hair. Back left is Colonel Paul Ironhorse, a Native American, hyper-right wing soldier and veteran.  Next to him is Norton Drake, A paralyzed computer hacker and high end martial artist (Philip Akin would go on to be given MUCH more to do in the excellent Highlander TV series). Bottom right is Doctor Suzanne McCullough, a microbiologist and extremely disciplined precise scientist. Also a single mom.

And bottom left is Doctor Harrison Blackwood. A pacifist, vegetarian who was raised by the hero and heroine of the original movie after his parents were killed in the first attack.

So basically, Clever People Versus Aliens: The Series

There are two take homes from this; the first is that the 1990s were MUCH better at diversity and yet still tropey as Hell than a lot of current TV. The second is that Doctor Blackwood, all 6’2, gangly, over articulate nerd of him, was one of the first times I saw myself.

Harrison was kind, weird, funny and open-minded. He was endlessly enthusiastic, endlessly positive, a Doctor Who in a plaid shirt with none of the hand wavy nonsense or bow breaking decades of continuity. He was a hero who was clever. He was a hero who was BIG and clever. To me, trapped in a meatsuit that seemed three sizes too big and that automatically put 5 years on my perceived age and 10 points off my IQ in the eyes of strangers, Harrison was a lifeline, a message in a bottle:

It’s okay. There are people in the world like you. There are people in the world you can work to be like.

The show was occasionally brilliant, there’s an especially fun return to Grover’s Mill episode that I can still hit pretty much every plot beat of. It was also frequently gloriously, exuberantly bad in the most wonderful 1990s way possible. Hilariously gory, filled with stereotypes and written in a way that meant vital stuff often happened between episodes.

I LOVED it.

I missed it for a long time.

I may have sketched out a reboot or two.

And  I never forgot Doctor Harrison Blackwood or the effect he had on me. Like Egon Spengler, Jack Killian, Chris Stephens and Henry Rollins he showed me there was a place for me in the world and helped me to get there.

Jared Martin, who played Harrison, died last month. He wasn’t the only one.

Adam West, the single greatest Batman of all time passed away last week. Sir Roger Moore died recently too. As did Andy Cunningham (Bodger and Badger for life, yo) and Peter Sallis, the voice of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. We lost Glenne Headley this year too, an actress so great she stole a movie out from under Steve Martin AND Sir Michael Caine.

We’ve lived long enough to see our heroes not live long enough. And, in the middle of two of the most turbulent, often horrific, emotionally draining years so far this century, that can be very hard to deal with.

But not impossible.

It’s cold comfort at times but the truth is these people and the effect they have on us never quite fade. I still write characters that could be Harrison Blackwood. I still, aspire to be him. Every time we need them these people, these household gods of the digital age, are there for us. We live in an ocean of signal, an age, despite our best efforts, of miracle and wonder. None of us will live forever but all of us, especially the artists we’ve loved, are just a little immortal.  And, for now at least, that’s enough.

 


Alasdair Stuart is a freelancer writer, RPG writer and podcaster. He owns Escape Artists, who publish the short fiction podcasts Escape PodPseudopodPodcastle and Cast of Wonders. He writes for Tor.com and MYMBuzz and blogs enthusiastically about pop culture, cooking and exercise at Alasdairstuart.com, and tweets @AlasdairStuart.

Waxing Lyrical : Asexuality in Fantasy

Images added by Aunty Fox, also check this out for some illustrations of asexuality and dumb things people say.

Asexuality in Fantasy

By Joel Cornah

Writing characters is so often about letting the reader know what they are, rather than what they are not. In our world, so much of how people’s identities are perceived is bound up in ideas of sexuality and romance that, in the words of comedian Charlie Brooker;

We’ve become so accustomed to seeing characters pairing off with one another that it’s now almost impossible to see a man and a woman together on screen at once without internally speculating about whether they’re going to have sex or not.”

 Indeed, the trope of having two people (often of different genders) who do little but argue and despise one another but end up falling madly in love is incredibly prominent. I might even go so far as to say that for a lot of people, seeing two characters bicker has become an almost sure-fire way of predicting if they’ll end up together. But even in these cases, the writers will often tie them together through some reconciliation scene that ends with physical intimacy of some sort. Just to hammer home the point.

When it comes to writing asexual characters, those who lack sexual attraction, it can be somewhat jarring to audiences who are used to characters getting off with one another simply by being in the same room. I think this might be the source of some anti-ace feeling some publishers may have, especially as a sexual or romantic subplot is expected of most stories as a matter of course.

With the world I created for The Sea-Stone Sword and The Sky Slayer, I decided that prejudices based on sexuality were not really a thing in most societies. It made the writing process a lot more open and gave me much more creative freedom. Openly gay and bisexual characters are comparatively easy to show through the relationships and romances the characters endure and pursue. The age old ‘show don’t tell’ rule runs smoothly in these cases. But when it comes to asexual characters it’s much harder to make it explicit.

So how do you address it in a way that can be easily grasped? Is it as simple as having characters who just never experience sexual attraction or is it something we should actively point out in a character? Should they internally reflect on their lack of attraction, should they explain it to others, should it be discussed openly or simply allowed to exist.

I have one ace character in The Sea-Stone Sword, but it is not explicit because the issue doesn’t come up. She is quite young, and there were also other aspects to her character that were a lot more active and so became the focal point.

For asexual characters, the temptation for me was to simply never address it at all, and to delve into nonsexual aspects of their relationships. I wanted to explore the friendships they made, the loyalties they formed and causes for which they fought. It was important to me to flesh them out as characters and how they related to others and have that be the focus.

However, asexuality is, perhaps by its nature, something of an invisible identity. Easily overlooked, easily ignored. As such, many of us feel decidedly alone, left out, and isolated. Rarely do we see explicate representation of people who feel the way we feel and experience the world as we do. Part of this is down to social assumptions where we automatically expect characters to be sexual in some way. This worried me as I continued to write.

In my second novel, The Sky Slayer, there is another ace character, but this time I made it explicit. She’s a smartass, a sarcastic brains-of-the-outfit who pulls everyone’s strings. As a result, other character slowly start asking her advice. Once you get past the put-downs and jibes, she can be quite wise, so it made sense to me. This I immediately saw as a way in to give her sexuality some notice. When asked for relationship advice, she raises an eyebrow and informs them, “Ask the Doctor. I have no interest or experience with these carnal matters.”

It was also important to me that the character accept this, rather than pressing her into something with the old ‘go on just try it!’ routine. When another character shows an interest in her, they are told, “She doesn’t feel that kind of attraction.” and all parties accept this as a real answer, rather than objecting or insisting on pushing her.

I think it is important to have multiple ace characters, to explore the variety of ways asexuality can be experienced. As with any demographic, the less characters within it you have, the less fairly you will represent it.

But even these examples from my own work sometimes make me cringe a little and I feel uncertain about whether I took the right path. On the one hand, I want it to be respected and given a real place in a characters’ identity. But on the other hand, I don’t want to bring it up for the sake of bringing it up. So how do we tackle this issue?

Being asexual myself, it isn’t an issue that comes up terribly often. I don’t have conversations about it, I don’t go out and tell my story precisely because, so often, if feels like there isn’t a story to tell. How many ways can you say, ‘nothing happened’ and have it be interesting? Except by way of contrast to the expected norm, it has rarely felt like an aspect of my life that is ripe for creative exploration.

The obvious answer is to look to other people’s experiences. Talking to other asexual people from different background and cultures grants a view into the wide range of stories that are there. The struggles and triumphs, the attitudes and fears, and the whole spectrum of people. That is where the spark of creativity lies.

I think this allies to a lot of aspects of writing, not just regarding sexuality. Our own life can seem mundane to us simply because we experience them every day and end up thinking they are unremarkable. The remarkable only becomes so when compared to other things, and if we don’t seek out other experiences and stories, we might not find the spark at all.

 

Links for books;

The Sea-Stone Sword

The Sky Slayer