Monster Tales : Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada

All My Relations: Shark Stories

by Bryan Kamaoli Kuwada

The ocean is a dangerous place, and despite our touristic reputation as some sort of paradise, the seas around Ko Hawaiʻi Pae ʻĀina (the Hawaiian Islands) are no different. Sometimes when you are bobbing around on the surface of the ocean, whether surfing or swimming, you get the eery feeling that something is there in the dark depths, that you are still part of the food chain.

And it’s true. Manō, or sharks, actually abound in our waters. If you ever want to lose sleep, take a look at the tiger shark tracking website and see how many are swimming around, and those are just the ones that have been tagged. The spot I surf at has had two attacks and multiple sightings in the last month alone. It makes us cautious, but it doesn’t keep most of us out of the water. For Hawaiians, the call of the ocean is too strong, and we have a long history with sharks.

Tiger shark image from http://www.pacioos.hawaii.edu/projects/sharks/ where you can also see distribution maps

Some of our more well-known moʻolelo (story/history/account) regarding manō feature sharks who can become men, and those men often wear cloaks or capes of leaves or feathers to hide the shark jaw that is between their shoulder blades. One famous shark would meet travelers along the path to the sea and then warn them that the ocean there is particularly shark-infested, and if they did not heed his warning, he would take a shortcut to the beach and devour them once they went into the water.

The Hawaiian-language newspapers of the nineteenth century have accounts of Hawaiian sailors returning to shore holding onto the fins of sharks. There are also accounts of fisherman and divers fighting off aggressive sharks with the Hawaiian martial art known as lua. There is even the story of a dog jumping in the water and biting a shark. And before you begin to think that the Hawaiian sharks are just more laid back, the newspapers have traditional accounts of people being killed by sharks as well. An elder I used to hang out with from Niʻihau even said that when they would catch sharks to dry for food, you could always tell the maneaters because their meat would melt in the sun and not be good eating. Recounting all of this is merely to say that sharks are a common part of Hawaiian culture, both contemporarily and traditionally.

But luckily, according to our traditional moʻolelo, the people of Oʻahu, the island I live on, are protected from man-eating manō by the shark goddess Kaʻahupāhau and her brother Kahiʻukā who live in Puʻuloa, the area some know as Pearl Harbor today. This protection came about after Kaʻahupāhau killed a haughty chiefess named Papio in a fit of rage after Papio mistreated one of Kaʻahupāhau’s family attendants over the tribute of a lei being prepared for the goddess. The chiefess’s blood still stains the sands of Keoneʻula in ʻEwa until this day, but after killing her Kaʻahupāhau felt remorse for her hasty act and declared that everyone would be safe in her waters from that day forward.

That declaration was tested, however, by other man-eating sharks who came from the other islands to fight Kaʻahaupāhau and Kahiʻukā. Kepanilā was the most daunting maneater; his name meant Sun Blocker because he was so large that if he swam above you, you would only see darkness. If he had taken part in the war, Kaʻahupāhau’s side may not have been victorious because of his strength and ferocity, but he was so large that he ran aground in the channel between the islands and could not make it to the battle on Oʻahu. But even without Kepanilā, it was a terrible battle, and sharks switched between different forms to get the best advantage, but Kaʻahupāhau became an unbreakable net, ensnaring the maneaters and tossing them upon the shore to be killed by her human allies.

Kaʻahupāhau ended up victorious and defeated the maneaters, ensuring that her proclamation of safety in the waters around Oʻahu remained in force. Some say that that proclamation came to an end, however, in 1913 with the collapse of the Pearl Harbor drydock. The stated reason is underground pressure, but there are many accounts aserting that when construction was taking place, the elderly kahu (attendant/guardian) of Kaʻahupāhau warned the Navy to stop construction because they were building on the home of Kaʻahupāhau. They laughed him off. Some say that after the drydock collapsed, a large stone-lined cave was found below with the remains of a large shark inside of it.

If you have been to Hawaiʻi, you can feel the power of our moʻolelo written on the land. Our winds and rains still bear the names that they have for hundreds of years. Our place names tell stories of our ancestors and our gods, and it is likely that Kaʻahupāhau and the sharks from our old moʻolelo still roam the seas around Ko Hawaiʻi Pae ʻĀina and transform into human form to waylay unwary travelers. There is a lot of power in our old moʻolelo, but we are creating new moʻolelo all the time. And remember, every time you are floating in the dark depths of the vast ocean, what we call Moananuiākea, and you get the eerie feeling that a shadow made up of teeth and speed is swimming below you, stalking you from just out of your sight, be comforted that this is your chance to take part in a brand new shark story.

 

Monster Tales : AJ Fitzwater

Spine of the Dragon

by AJ Fitzwater

Walking on dragon backs and swimming in their tears is a large part of my history.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island of New Zealand, a series of waterways stretching between Cloudy Bay and Tasman Bay. My grandfather was a builder, and during weekends and holidays I’d often join him on his rounds on his boat, or as a family we’d stay in a bach (holiday home) belonging to one of his clients.

Swimming, fishing, being on the water, golden sunshine; all taken for granted. In my child’s imagination, the water valleys weren’t created by plate tectonics – the Alpine fault that stretches along the back of Te Waipounamu (the South Island) terminates off the northeast coast – but sleeping dragons, the humps of hills their backs, the peninsulas of the bays their snouts dipping into the water. The small earthquakes I experienced living in that area was them rolling over and grumbling in their sleep. The Māori mythology I absorbed, imbued with taniwha and Papatūānuku (the earth goddess), strengthened my fantasies.

The South Island, image via www.niwa.co.nz

I am Pākehā, New Zealand European, white. I recognize my colonizing roots, and that I walk on stolen land and benefit from its fruits. I recognize the weight my voice has been given in telling a story with Māori mythological roots, and hope to do my best by the people this land belongs to. As a white writer, it is my duty to understand and interrogate how colonial interference has changed the structures of mythology. If I have failed anyone in any way, I accept this criticism and will work to better myself. In my story, the figures of Papatūānuku, Ranginui, and Rūamoko are all part of Māori earthquake mythology while the character/dragon E is purely fictional.

I did not intend earthquake themes to become such a large part of my writing, but the events of February 22, 2011 came only 18 months after I began my writing journey. Brought up in an earthquake prone area (Marlborough), living right on top of the large Alpine Fault, the geography of the area and earthquake drills were an integral part of my schooling.

When the big one of my generation happened, it wasn’t the overdue Alpine Fault. Previously unknown faults broke to the west and south of Christchurch, 6.3 in magnitude. 18 months of aftershocks followed, including at least half a dozen of equal and larger magnitude.

The Alpine Fault eventually did move. Arterial offshoots to the west of the island’s back caused a 7.8 on November 14, 2016, badly damaging the coastal Kaikoura area, uplifting seabed by over a metre, and disrupting major road and rail arterial routes.

I have lived in Christchurch for 20 years, and 6 of those has been disaster and post-disaster conditions. Of course, this would work its way out through my writing.

In my story “From the Womb of the Land, Our Bones Entwined,” I wanted to examine the cowardice that sometimes erupts in the face of trauma. Often, heroic stories are about strength, physical and mental. But what do the heroes look like who walk away, who take time to find their way through, often in unconventional ways?

Sometimes that journey is a no win situation, as my character Hine discovers. It’s merely a negotiation with your monster, finding level footing, to stop the ground from moving under you for a while so that win is simply a little bit of peace, a place to breathe. Unfortunately, your monster will come back to haunt you, bigger, nastier, more powerful, unless you find a way to rein it in or come to terms with it. Sometimes your monster needs love, a little feeding, some recognition. If one is stuck with your monster, one should make the best of it, even if in the strangest ways.

The story also examines themes of found family and queer identity in a post-colonial society. Our indigenous people have strong connections to whanau (whether biological family or the wider community) and the land. The way our colonial society has sought to mould people to the white ideal is to breach these connections, often violently. This can be seen in Hine’s disconnection from her language and mythology, her fear of her aunty’s mental health, and her distaste for a power she feels doesn’t belong to her and an anger she doesn’t believe she is allowed.

The earthquake monster E took the form of a sinuous dragon, it’s long body the spine of Te Waipounamu and the great fault, the arterial faults that fan out to the coast like whiskers, tendrils, or grabbing fingers. I chose a dragon-like form because of the ouroboros relationship I have with them. I am in equal measure fascinated by their myriad mythology, rehabilitating their violent and adversarial nature in modern fantasy, and also creating new mythology for them.

And with E in particular, I come back to my original childhood vision of the dragon backs as the spine of the world, a full circle imagining, a completed journey or telling. Hopefully the dragon lies at peace for some time to come.

Monster Tales : Kirstie Olley

The Dark Canvas of the Imagination
or
Let’s All Stop Pretending We Aren’t Afraid Of The Dark

by Kirstie Olley

It’s the middle of the night, you wake up throat dry and just know you aren’t going back to sleep until you’ve had a drink of water. The only problem is your bedstand doesn’t have the usual glass of water on it. Sure, you’ve lived in this house for five years now, you can travel the path in the dark without stubbing any toes or smashing any shins. And you’re thirty now, too old for this heart-flip moment.

Your husband’s sleeping soundly beside you and the baby’s in the cot at the end of the bed – you haven’t slipped off into some empty other world with no life in it. But in a way you have. Here in the dark is where your imagination does some of its finest work, whether you’re a writer of horror or not. The dark is a tapestry for your creative side, and if your creative side is anything like mine it can be a vindictive little asshole. That lump of laundry that didn’t quite make it into the hamper? Well that’s a serial killer crouching, hoping you won’t notice him and leave the room so he can murder your family.

What’s that, standing by the TV, silhouetted weakly by moonlight through the window? It’s not the speaker tower which your oldest threw their pyjama shirt over in a final defiance of bedtime, no, it’s a small skinny creature science has yet to identify which has a penchant for the delightful flavour of human blood.

And what lies behind the door leading into the kitchen? You can’t even see it yet! Damn it you just wanted a drink. Something scapes on the linoleum floor and you just know it’s something with sharp, hooked claws that will pierce your skin. And you’re right. You just had the size and fluffiness wrong. It’s your cat.

You’ve made it to the sink now at least, and relieve your dry throat. While Sockies rubs on your leg, asking for one last serve of wet cat food you try to remind yourself you’re an adult now. Only kids are afraid of the dark.

Thirst quenched and cat fed, you make the return journey. You’re almost to the bedroom door when a shuffling noise catches your attention. From the further dark of the hall something charges at you. Before you know it, something has latched around you. Your mind vanishes into a moment of black and white static and hiss like a TV channel when the antenna’s off-kilter. Then you realise it’s your oldest, come from their bedroom, freshly woken-up from a nightmare. They cling to you, shaking. With care you scoop them up in the cradle of your arms and bring them to bed with you. After all, it would be too cruel to leave them alone in the dark with all that canvas for their imagination to paint on.

***
Kirstie Olley writes horror and fantasy and her overactive imagination enjoys painting the canvas of the darkness full of all manner of things. She still expects, every time she throws the garage door open to put the bins out the night before pickup, that she will be greeted with a shambling crowd
of zombies. She’s still undecided whether she’ll be excited or terrified when it actually happens. You can read her latest horror story “Mudgerwokee” in Pacific Monsters, or if you can’t wait that long  (or want to join her in obsessing over the Bush-Stone Curlew (screaming woman bird)) check out her website: www.storybookperfect.com

Cover Reveal : Pacific Monsters

Lots of covers to show you over the next few days but let’s start with Monsters.

This year, Volume 4 takes us to the Pacific and Daniele Serra having just picked up another BFS award for Best Artist for his incredible work, once again supplies the cover. 

 

A thing of beauty as always. We have a great line up once again and this will be released late November so if you are stuck for a Christmas present… just a thought. 

This series combines, stories and art to give an introduction to the horror stories and monsters of a region, working as much as we can with writers from or strongly connected with the region. 

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 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. 

Monster Writing Competition

Monster writing competition – We want your monster stories!

We published volume three of our Fox Spirit Books of Monsters: Asian Monsters a few months back and Margret Helgadottir is now working on editing volume four: Pacific Monsters, to be released in November. The mission with the 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. To celebrate the monsters, we’re having a writing competition.

We hereby invite you to write your best monster flash story and send it to us before July 1st 2017 midnight (GMT). We want speculative and dark flash stories with full plot. We ask that the stories take place on Earth. We are not looking for fanfiction, satire, erotica, paranormal romance, splatter or overly gory stories. The stories must be written in English.

Only one entry per author. No simultaneous submissions allowed. All entries must be original and unpublished elsewhere, including your blog. We ask that the stories are at a minimum of 500 words, but no longer than 1500 words. Paste story in body of email and send to: ‘narjegerredaktor at gmail dot com’ and title the email with ‘Monster writing competition.’ Margret will read all the stories and select the winning story and to runners up.

The winning story will be published on Fox Spirit Books’ webpage. The winner also receives a copy of the three first monster volumes, plus a Fox Spirit Tote bag with awesome notebook and pen.

Story number two and three will also be published on Fox Spirit Books’ webpage plus win notebook and pen.

If any questions, contact Margret on the email address above.

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!

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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)