The FS Books of Monsters are a Horror series curated by Margrét Helgadóttir (and in the early volumes, Jo Thomas), who are women in horror.
It came out of the sea on a Saturday morning, heaving its body onto the rocks beside the boat sheds in the darkness before dawn. It sat in a shallow pool potted with black mussels and a slick of seaweed while it took a few breaths, then drew itself up the stairs. It could smell rust and exhaust fumes.
The dragon boaters had woken it the day before, crowds of them, their barrage of noise muted only slightly by the shallow watery cradle of the harbour. Somehow the tides had brought it in as it slept, released from its bed in the depths of the Pacific by the rumblings of a quake. It wasn’t just their yells that woke it, or the slice of their paddles in the water—a thousand small splashes that sounded like storm rain from where it lay. They brought something else with their bright-painted hulls and racing arms. It felt them moving above, pushing against the limits of their age just as they pushed through the water, a hard-held breath waiting for life to happen. It felt the enormity of future somethings beating in their chests. It opened an eye and saw the firm thighs flash, the twist of wrist tendon.
It wanted them.
It watched all day, one eye and then two, from just below the surface. A girl looked right into one of those round dark lenses just before she plunged her paddle, but quickly dismissed what she had seen as reflection—the heat and sweat of the day causing distortion in her vision. Even so, that afternoon she developed an aversion to water, preferring to keep fingers and toes above. The others on her team teased when they noticed her reserve, dipping their own fingers in to splash her. The thing beneath could almost taste the juice in their taunts. It dreamed of nibbling their sweet digits.
Still, it stayed—calm, quiet, breathing in salt-wet infused pockets of air, readying itself for the closing of gills and opening of lungs. It could wait. The upper world would still be there when it was ready. Last time, the land under the sea had rumbled the thing up from below in great surges, wave after wave, until it found itself pushed up into the harbour and past, washing through a beachfront house with the massive tide. The house had been quickly abandoned when the sea came knocking; so it stayed awhile, slumping and sloshing from room to room, curious about the upper world. The house was wood, and spare, and the contents were now damp and sandy and preparing to rot. There it found a woman’s petticoat among some items pushed into a wet corner, and a framed family portrait that had remained miraculously nailed to a wall. It wondered about the smooth-skinned creatures in the picture, with their coverings and ruffles and silky heads. It reached thick fingers to the bulbed seaweed and baby mussels that formed stringy colonies on its own head, felt its own calloused black barnacle skin, and made a sound very like laughter.
As part of women in horror month we are having horror snippets all month. Here is something from Respectable Horror, edited by K.A. Laity.
The Feet On The Roof Anjana Basu
Mrs Sinha Roy walked on the softest cushions of feet imaginable. The toes were well formed, the big and first toes of an even height, with the others slanting away, each in perfect proportion to the other. The arch under the foot was as high as a ballet dancer’s or, as she preferred to say, as a Maharani’s, even though many Maharanis were known to have carried their dignity on the flattest of flat feet. The high arch ended in two cushioned pads of flesh on either side, equally perfectly proportioned. People stopped to admire her footprints in the dust on the stone flags of a thakurdalan, or among a mash of marigold petals and milk left over from the puja. As if the goddess Lakshmi had stepped out of her lotus flower and condescended to bless those mundane steps. No wonder, people said, that she had been so blessed in her life. The possessor of footprints like those was bound to lead a fortunate existence.
Fortune – it had overflowed like the pan of milk that had been set on the fire as she stepped over the threshold in a flare of red and gold brocade . Good fortune had overflowed from the three storeyed roof into the green curve of the garden that held the house in its embrace. Good fortune had covered Mrs Roy’s plump white and black bordered person, giving her a creamy gloss well into her widowhood. She had three creamy white daughters and an equally creamy son. The son looked far too like the daughters to be considered perfectly masculine, but when he grew older, a small moustache and crinkled waves of hair put him into the mould of the god Kartik and gave him distinction. Yes, Mrs Roy was fortunate. She inhabited three acres of prime property in the heart of Calcutta and sat idly at her exquisite ivory inlaid desk while the city’s promoters vied with themselves in promising her crores of rupees . Everyone agreed that she would need many crores to compensate for the discomfort of moving out of her twenty room house into a flat.
It’s Women in Horror Month, so throughout February we are going to be doing snippets from horror books in our collection. This week Winter Tales edited by Margret Helgadottir.
The Wolf Moon Sharon Kernow
‘You shouldn’t come here. I deliver so you don’t have to come here.’
Despite the hate shining out from the storekeeper’s eyes, Diana remained calm as she replied. ‘If you didn’t miss items from my list, especially when I’ve paid for them, I wouldn’t have to.’ Her tone was mild, gentle. If something a little snide sneaked in, she could hardly be held accountable.
Old Man Carver gazed at her as if he would like to snatch up one of the sharp gardening implements that happened to be a turn and a pace within reach, use it to split her down
the middle. Instead, he seized the list she had placed on the counter, his teeth clamping together, his fingers bunching into fists. His tight grasp threatened to tear the paper as he scanned for the items she had underlined that he had failed to deliver. His boots booming on the boards as he hurried to get the missing components were the only sound in the store. All else had fallen silent.
As one of the products turned out to be on a top shelf, soft curses followed, uttered under the man’s breath but carried in the stillness. During this time, Diana kept her gaze forward though she was aware that her back was unprotected and vulnerable. Not that she believed the other women of the village had the courage to stab her, and the men… They would do other things before slicing her open. Those capable of murder did not regard any part of the flesh as sacred, even the hidden, secret parts of a woman.
She hated their stares more than the thought of an attack. An assault she could react to; she had no protection from the blaze of their glares. She shouldn’t have come here, had come
in part to torment these people with her presence. She survived almost entirely self-sufficient, but winter months were hard, and some would exchange her preserves for coin so she could bolster her other provisions.
The Mermaid’s Tears by Steven Lockley Published in Always a Dancer and Other Stories
Claire had seen the box before; only once but it had left her with such a strong impression that she would never forget it. In an instant she had taken in every sway of its grain, and the details of the small brass clasp held tight by the tiny padlock. She remembered it mainly because the last time she had touched it her father had hit her; slapping her so hard on the face that finger marks could still be seen hours later. It was the only time that he had laid a finger on her in her twenty years.
That had been five years ago but now he was urging her to open it as he lowered it gently onto the small table and placed the tiny key on its polished surface. She looked up at him, questioning, but he turned away.
Leah just sat her wheelchair, never blinking while Claire stroked the wood and felt its warmth. Leah did what she always did, nothing, just watched in silence, unable to walk and unable to speak. Claire had never understood why her father had taken her in and devoted the last years of his life to a stranger who had come to rely on him totally. Tonight Leah looked old and frail, as though the bones beneath the skin were dry twigs ready to snap under the slightest pressure.
‘Open it, for God’s sake’, her father pleaded, his voice cracking as if he was desperately holding his emotions in check.
Claire slid the key into the tiny lock and heard the slightest of clicks as the mechanism released and fell open. A grain of white dust fell from behind the clasp and Claire found herself distracted. She raised it with the tip of her finger and raised it to her lips, half guessing what it was. Not dust, but salt.
Akane : Last of the Orions By G. Clark Hellery YA novel.
‘I was chased by the police, then I had a run-in with the Shadows.’ I kick off my shoes and drop my bag as I walk across the room, ignoring the glare from the ever-neat Raulla. She waits a moment, then quickly snatches my shoes and places them by the door before picking up my bag and placing it on the counter. I struggle to hide my eye-roll but Raulla is determined to ignore me. Gon enters and gestures to me, ‘Yes, please, a drink would be great, thanks Gon.’
I flop onto the threadbare couch. Raulla scowls slightly when she sees my dirty clothes rubbing the cloth, but I’m too tired to care. ‘It’s getting more and more difficult to do it. I don’t know how they found me, but I barely got the last of the group through the doorway when I heard the Monodrone. I had to forget the proper closing rites. I just had to run. I’m totally exhausted.’
‘At least those people are now safe from the Shadows,’ says Gon as he hands me a steaming mug and looks around the dilapidated apartment.
‘And you did well to get away,’ adds Raulla, staring at the large locket hanging around my neck. I unconsciously rub the necklace, comforted by its familiarity. I close my eyes and realise how close I had come to losing the necklace and my freedom. An Orion without her necklace, well, it was unthinkable! My mother had given me the silver locket, as her mother had given to her and so on, going back generations. It now hung from a leather cord which was soft from wear, the original chain lost to the generations. The cover was carved with symbols, faded with age, leaving only the vague impression of swirls. Inside the locket was the blood red gem, which continually moved to reflect the mood of the demon contained within.
New thing for 2018, now that it is properly underway. Sunday’s we are going to give you just a few paragraphs from a story to enjoy. There is no particular order to these, but we hope you enjoy them during the year.
From ‘That Woman’ By S. Lotz Published in African Monsters
It took me almost eight hours to drive from Accra to the Northern District, and by the time I pulled up outside the police station, back aching from the punishment doled out by the potholes that plagued the roads, all I wanted was a cold drink and a soft bed. No chance of that—I only had two days to conclude my business here. A month earlier, my superior had received a flurry of furious letters from a Gushengu resident complaining that the local police were refusing to look into the suspicious deaths of several men from the district, and that he and his son were now “under attack”. The letters were garbled and borderline illiterate, but they were persistent. Considering the other priorities we had at the time, it was an unusual errand, but my boss was newly appointed, and was wary of giving his detractors any cause to accuse him of incompetence. I was instructed to investigate the man’s claims.
The police station was understaffed, but eventually a constable in a crushed shirt showed me into the district police commander’s office. The commander, a large middle-aged woman with a flat face, greeted me politely and waved me into the seat in front of her desk. I knew little about her; just that she’d been there for many years, working her way up the ladder despite the many difficulties she must have faced as a woman in a male-dominated profession. I don’t consider myself an unconfident man, but I found myself sweating under her gaze: she had unusual, light-coloured eyes that were hard to read and gave her a predatory air. Shrugging off my discomfort, I explained that I was an investigator from the Deputy Inspector’s office in Accra and outlined the reason behind my errand.
She listened without showing any emotion. ‘And who is the man who sent these letters?’
‘A Mr Kwame Nfani.’
‘I know of him. He has been here many times.’ She gave me a bland smile, no hint of guilt that she’d been neglecting her duties. ‘And he says that a great injustice has been done, eh?’
‘He says that a man from his village and four others in neighbouring villages have died in suspicious circumstances, and he believes his son will be next to die.’
‘And how did he say these men died?’
‘He did not.’
‘So on this basis—hearsay—you are conducting an investigation?’
What to say to that? She was correct. She let me squirm for a while, then leaned back in her chair. ‘Ask your questions.’
‘Was there an investigation into the deaths?’
‘No. There was no need. There have been no suspicious deaths in the region recently. But I know of what you speak. In the cases of the men Mr Nfani is referring to, the doctor said three of them were due to malaria, and two succumbed to meningitis. As you know, there was an outbreak of meningitis in the region at the time.’