Monster Blog – Shawn Basey

A question on nationality

by Shawn Basey

It is an odd trend to only see regression in today’s world. We look at the last 18 centuries as a reversal of some sort, as though the pagan era were an idyllic time of matriarchy and peace, when neither were remotely true. Perhaps triggering this mindset was Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael, but here he’s referring to a time even before that, a pre-agricultural revolution time. But always this looking back to a mythical yesteryear, of better times – it is persistent throughout modern Western culture, whether looking only a few years back or millennia. This looking back is a political tool, of course, to inspire revanchism, to pass the blame game around and build up an active base of support. It is part of saying it’s their fault when the fault is not in everyone else, but in ourselves.

It is a point I bring up in my latest short story for the Fox Spirit Eurasian Monsters anthology, “Lysa Hora”, which takes place in Tbilisi, Georgia, my home. In Georgia, currently, they have long been undergoing a process of national identification. Ever since the latest unification of the country – the liberating of each half from the Ottoman and Persian yokes – there has been an ongoing struggle of the definition of “Georgian”. So much so, that the most respected writer of the time, Ilya Chavchavadze, concerned himself with the question of “Georgianness” throughout his years. The question was delayed by the Russian and Soviet occupations, only to be reignited after the fall of the latter.

It seems a settled question now: Georgian Language, Georgian Orthodoxy, and Georgian citizenship. But in a historically multicultural society – and one that remains so to a large extent – these are flailing definitions at best. Among native Georgian speakers, we find Orthodox and Catholic Christians (among others), Jews, and Muslims. There are four distinct languages within the Kartvelian (Georgian) language family, and one of those exists only outside of Georgia’s borders in Turkey. Among Georgian citizens and those who have lived here for centuries, we find not just Georgians, but Azeris, Armenians, Os, Abkhaz, Russians, and so on – a larger percent of minorities than all the other countries in the Caucasus region combined. Finally, there’s an ever-growing Georgian diaspora, many of whom have broken many of their ties with Georgia fearing it’s not civilized, wealthy, or modern enough for them.

Be that as it may, Orthodox Christianity is what many latched onto as the defining agency of “Georgianness” after the fall of the Soviet Union. And now many are looking towards Europe and identifying it with some brand of secular, even atheism, which casts a growing doubt in their Church. This sentiment, not shared throughout the population, is creating a growing unease about their role with the European West.

And though I don’t disagree with the direction they are looking, I do disagree that the Church – and the Christian Churches of Western Europe – are necessarily the catalysts of all that is evil in history. In fact, it is this viewpoint that is being driven by many in Europe and here, that’s being picked up and waved about as a sword by Russian propagandists. But let’s not go further with that. Let’s go further on why I don’t think Christianity was such a bad influence. Namely in regards to one single story: the Georgian creation myth.

Not much is known about the religion before Christianity. We know some of the primary figures of the pantheon, we know that both Zoroastrianism and the Greek pantheon were big here, and some of the larger myths, and that it has many influences from the Hittites. Most of the myths we know, like those of Amirani and others, have passed along into Christian stories, with the tales of Christian saints often having been transferred from pagan deities before them. The pagan myths held the strongest in the mountain regions, which were the last to Christianize and to this day still hold a great slew of pagan beliefs and practices, from mass sheep sacrifices to a loosely Christianized shrine practice.

In the ancient days, the world was split up into three planes: Zeskneli, Shuaskneli, and Kveskneli. Zeskneli being the home of the gods and the upper plane, Shuaskneli being our plane, and Kveskneli the home of demonic creatures. Shuaskneli is in mythology more of the battlefield between the two planes.

It is from the mountain people, the Khevsurs, that we get what is left of the story of Morige Ghmerti, the chief god, and his sister. Morige Ghmerti so hated his sister that he banished her from Zeskneli, and she was bent on revenge ever since. For every good creation he made, she made an equal, opposite evil creation. He made gods, she made demons; he made men, she made women. Inhabiting as they all did Shuaskneli at that time, it’s said that the gods finally got tired of battling the demons and left for Zeskneli, leaving behind men. Demigods persisted in banishing the demons from Shuaskneli, leaving behind women.

The situation being, all the bad in the world remaining was from women. The beings of Morige Ghmerti were civilized, social, divine. Those of his sister: wild, chaotic, demonic.

It is perhaps the only religious system in the world that has such a bizarre differentiation between men and women. We do get ideas of the subservience of women to men from other cornerse, but never the idea that women are inferior in such an absolute moral sense from the moment of Creation itself.

We have now in fashion this kind of pagan revivalism, which is made ironic in that it’s coming from the left. In the 19th century Europe, we had such a neo-folk movement, but that from the right, molding into the pseudo-mythology of the Nazi elite. Indeed, the right wing volkists still hold such beliefs today. You can find White Nationalists sprinkled all throughout the folk metal and other folklore communities. You find a rise of pagan symbolism as well, with the Slavic sun wheel, Nordic runes, Georgian Borjgali, and others being coopted by nativist/volkist groups.

The interesting trend in Georgia though – and indeed in many circles throughout the collapsed Soviet Union – is that instead of the neo-pagan revival, we see a neo-Christian revival. Looking back to a Christian utopia that never was.

What I’ve attempted to do in “Lysa Hora” is to turn these ideas around. We have the main character, Otar, a simple-minded taxi driver who is drawn in by the poisonous narrative “Georgia for Georgians”. He’s a hard-core Orthodox believer because that is the definition of Georgia that’s given to him. He rejects all things Western, and sees only the “gayropa” that’s being sold down the propaganda mills. Then there’s his sister, Tinatin, who he assumes is “perverted” by her Westernism. But actually, all that he sees in her as evil is innately Georgian, and the actual old Georgian mythos, with its heart devouring kudiani, is much more horrific than the liberal West. Indeed, Christianity itself is an alien religion, brought from the outside.

But it also echoes that question of national identity. “What is Georgian?” Is it Orthodox Christianity? Is it the paganism before it? Is it something current, something new? And I think we can replace this question of national identity with any nationality, not just Georgian. This period of globalization is a huge stress on identities. National, individual, and so on. It is of course, too hard to cast all those off and be the “New Human”, or a “globalist”. We as humans, need positive definitions by others, so we fall back into these accepted classifications. We find safety and reassurance, and that’s what we really need in this changing world.

***

Shawn Basey is originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, and he first came to Georgia in 2009 as a volunteer with the Peace Corps. It was then he fell in love with the country and decided to stay. He is now married and has a son named after the founder of Tbilisi, the city which they call home. He works freelance as a writer, teacher, and editor and enjoys traveling the world with his half-Georgian family. He keeps up a regular blog at www.saintfacetious.com and has published the novel How It Ends and the short story collection Hunger, both available on Amazon. He’s currently working on a novel about Georgia during World War II with strong Georgian, Azeri, and Kazakh folklore elements.

 

Believing the Big Lies

There is a wonderful part at the end of Terry Pratchett’s the Hogfather, where Death explains to Susan that we believe in the Toothfairy, the Hogfather etc as practice, believing little lies before we can believe the big ones like Justice. You can look up the exact quote, but it’s on my mind today.

With everything that happened in the US yesterday,  with the UK in it’s 3rd national lockdown, a number of those big lies, things that rely on everyone quietly following the laid out accepted terms of engagement and pretending they are unassailable seem more fragile than ever to me.  

I don’t know what to do about any of this. I remain tucked in relative safety and my own privilege at home, working through the pandemic, and watching the fires (literal and figurative) burning all over the world, including here on my own Island, and hoping we all make it out still relatively whole.

It feels as though all I can do right now is reiterate the things I believe, so I want to take a moment to do that. We will return to Monster Blogs and books and cheerful matters soon, but first from us here at Fox Spirit and specifically your Aunty Fox:

Black lives matter
Trans rights are human rights
LQBTQ+ rights should be equal and unassailable 
Democracy, flawed as it is should be protected and there must be consequences for attacking it
Disabled lives matter
Own voices need to be heard
First people’s land and rights should be protected 

As far as our own world of fiction diverse and own voices are essential.

Just in case anyone was in any doubt where we stand. 
Be safe folks, as best you can.

Not The Fox News: The 4 Kinds of Fire

Image of Beach fire sketch

(Image from fieldwork)

The first kind of fire is what you saw at the edge of the horizon. Low and grey and intimidating certainly, but definitively far away. That was where it hid, in the complacency of distance and difference. It was happening there not here. To them not us. A fire, yes? But not one we could do anything about.

But fire spreads in a way which hypnotizes, which steals memory and perception of linear time. One day the fires were on the horizon. The next you walked past a lady having a nervous, hurried phone call about hand sanitizer.

That weekend the panic buying started.

*

The second type of fire is much closer to home. This is the sort encouraged, but never quite enough, by politicians as terrified as they are outmatched. These are the fires that set distances and because there are so many, for a while, this seems like the cruelest type of all. The archipelago of enthusiasm has always thrived on company in every sense of the word. Culture and joy are team sports, communal experiences where you come in alone but leave as part of a benign conspiracy of joy.

Now you leave one at a time, two meters apart. Now, the fire surrounds you, the floor really IS lava. Now you know where you aren’t provably safe and it’s basically everywhere. The clock is started. It will be stopped. But no one knows when yet.

*

The third type is the fire of the common purpose, of the actual truth spoken to power. A floundering government is worked around. Yet more senseless, un-regarded murders power countless thousands onto the streets, their fire internal, their fire shared. The virus, it transpires much later, not so.

The world, the archipelago is locked in place. But it isn’t frozen. That’s what this fire teaches you. It can be changed, even within your miniscule bubble. It can be healed. By all of you moving as one. Like a fire. Like a flame.

*

It’s the end of the year and you are so, so tired. You stare out across the archipelago, now a collection of islands again. All string lit and salt crust. A gentle tropical faded elegance, like Jagger before Richards fell out of the tree. Chiseled from hedonism and sandstone.

You haven’t heard from anyone for a while. That’s okay too, Everyone’s busy. Everyone’s sheltering under their tier. So you sit and you look absently at your computer screen. It takes you eighteen full minutes to realize it’s blank.

And a further ten to realize the fires are back. This time you don’t wait. This time you’re up and moving. Seal the island, lock the bridges and…

 

You stop and look around you. From your position in the archipelago of human enthusiasm you can see thousands of islands and islets. You can see the places which have been dark for too long. You can see others that may yet return and everywhere else?

Life.

People.

Fire.

Small groups, individuals but so many, dancing your gaze onto the next and the next and the next. Humanity. Damaged. Grieving. Isolated. Together. Burning the old year to prepare for the new one.

You set off for the beach. Time to start a fire of your own.

 

 

Happy 2021 everybody

 

 

Re-Release – The Mangrove Legacy by Kit Marlowe

We are delighted, this Christmas day to announce the re release of a book I reviewed some years ago. It’s always a delight to get a book I enjoyed back out into print/devices so other people can enjoy it, and this one is really fun.

The Mangrove Legacy by Kit Marlowe, with cover art by the fabulous S.L. Johnson closes out a 2020 that has been strange and challenging at best, for all of us. It has not however, lacked in good books to read.

Gothic castles, highwaymen, ghosts, pirates-and a surprising variety of cheeses!

The adventure begins in the middle of Lord Mangrove’s funeral cortege, when cousins Alice and Lizzie are spirited away by masked riders. Next they’re sold to nefarious seamen-then captured by pirates, until they’re lost at sea without so much as an improving book to read! The two intrepid young women discover romance, heartache, fisticuffs, and the vital importance of pockets.

Heartily recommended to anyone who has a sense of humour, even if comedy, gothic and romance are three genres they firmly shun under normal circumstances. ~ Un:Bound

Buy it here!

A free read for Christmas Eve

There will be more monsters blogs in the coming days, but we always like to do a free tale or two for you over Christmas itself, and this one has just the slightest whiff of gingerbread, so I thought it matched the mood nicely. Thanks to Alex for letting us put this up. 

The Gargoyle and the Witch

by Alex MacFadyen

Despite all signs to the contrary, Eileen was not a witch. She had come to the conclusion long ago that if magic did exist in the world it was not hers to wield, but she knew how she looked. Her spine had curved over time and her eyes had never been the same color, the left one the peat green of moss and the right a pale cloudy grey. She wore sensible black boots and a black cape with a pointy hood. At her age she always needed to keep out the cold, the sun, or the rain, and she’d found nothing could beat a good hooded cape.

Continue reading “A free read for Christmas Eve”

Monster Blog : Daryna Stremetska

Lost Adults of the 90s and Their Children

by Daryna Stremetska

I often feel that as a writer of speculative fiction I need to devote most of my attention to the future. But now that it’s been over 20 years since my childhood, it’s the past I’m inclined to examine closer, in the hope of revealing some patterns I wasn’t paying attention to or didn’t understand as a child.

A year after I was born, the Soviet Union collapsed. Ukraine finally got its independence but the socio-economical changes of those first years hit my parents’ generation hard. Entrepreneurship used to be illegal in Soviet Union, so when the factories and plants shut down and thousands of people lost their jobs, nobody knew what to do since there were no jobs available.

Before that, if you lived and worked in a city, you’d usually have some money — but there was nothing to spend it on because the economy was mainly geared towards flexing the Soviet Union’s muscles in the Cold War, not creating consumer goods. After 1991 everything turned upside down: more and more products became available as they were imported into the country. Yet most Ukrainian families didn’t even have the money to buy enough food, due to unemployment and the loss of their life’s savings after the Gosbank liquidation.

Those who had some plot of land to grow their own food, held on to it for dear life. A single vegetable garden often fed two to three families, and working on land was a common family activity, even if most of the adults still had their jobs.

For a long time affordable food stayed scarce. Can you imagine a crowded Black Friday line but with people waiting to buy something as basic as milk? I still remember the particular yellow color of the milk truck we would queue up to when I was about five — probably because everything else around it seemed to be various shades of grey, brown and dark green. People in the line looked tired, sad and — more often than not — angry.

Everyone blamed the government, both the new and the old one. Many felt that their politicians tricked them into poverty, so it was okay to trick the government back and do whatever was necessary to survive — even if it meant breaking the law. Barter economy, black markets and organized crime groups developed in the blink of an eye. As a child, I heard enough horror stories about human trafficking and illegal organ trade to last me a lifetime.

The overall situation seemed to be improving in 1997, when I first went to school. But I quickly started noticing that some of my schoolmates were much better off than me and children from my neighborhood. They all owned exciting and fancy stuff: colorful Polish notebooks, pencil cases with cartoon characters, rubbers that looked like flowers or fruit and had a sweet smell to them. They talked about their VHS tapes with Disney movies and their plans to visit Disneyland someday. I wasn’t even sure what Disneyland was.

But it wasn’t all as bright as my schoolmates made it look. While some of their parents managed to develop shaky small businesses or preserve some of their savings, others actually spent a lot of their time abroad, in Poland, Italy and other places, working hard at manual labor jobs. Some of them had PhDs, yet they worked as janitors or construction laborers, simply because those jobs paid good money compared to the few skilled jobs they could find in Ukraine. Later I learned that some of them had worked illegally, without obtaining any work permits or even visas, and each of their journeys to and from Ukraine was a life-threatening experience.

My Mom used to say, ‘Do you want me to be around or do you want shiny toys?’ I of course wanted her around, and so I never questioned her and my Dad’s choice to stay and work the jobs they could get in Ukraine. But I can’t blame those parents who went for it, even if it didn’t always work out well for them and their children.

So what could possibly go wrong for illegal workers apart from them being arrested and deported? Sometimes they never returned at all, either because somebody learned that they were coming back from “zarobitky” (their work abroad), and robbed, killed or enslaved them. It could also be that they met someone in a foreign country, decided to start a new family and never return to their Ukrainian family.

I also heard of stories where one of the parents managed to obtain a legal status and tried to convince his or her spouse and their children to reunite with them abroad. But the other spouse refused and so the child stayed separated forever from the one parent abroad, or at least until they came of age. Those tales of separation sounded most dreadful to me, because everybody did what they thought was best for their child, and yet the child still suffered.

And so when Margret, the editor of the anthology, asked me to choose a Ukrainian monster I wanted to write about, I remembered all those adults trying to provide for their families the best they could and yet failing to keep them together. But I was still looking for a fantasy creature who could fit into this kind of story. In our mythology, the nyavkas (or mavkas) appear as characters in tales about tragic love, and to me it always felt too limiting. That’s why I gave the Nyavka in my story “The Whitest Linen” a more complex background and her own revenge quest, so you could feel how scary and angry their kind could be.

Daryna Stremetska is a sci-fi and fantasy writer from Ukraine. Her debut short story “The Animals of Ure” appeared in Three Crows Magazine #1 and was also featured in Three Crows: Year One: Anthology of Weird Science Fiction and Fantasy. Being born in the 90s, Daryna’s childhood was mostly free of technology and full of uncertainties of the times when Ukraine was navigating the first years of its independence. Nowadays she divides her time between working in digital media for developers, running a booktube channel Beauty and Gloom, and writing short stories focused on how technology, pride and prejudices affect our lives.

 

Eurasian Monsters is Live

Which internet law is it that says, as soon as you apologise to everyone for something being delayed, it will resolve and all will be well? 

Timing is Nelson in this image.

Anyway, as I was posting the previous blog, I was emailed by the POD supplier to say they are happy with the files, so I have just approved Eurasian Monsters for publication and sale. It may take a few days to appear on all the amazons, but it is a go and I will be ordering author and artist copies tomorrow, after doing the numbers. 

Congratulations and thank you to everyone involved in this book specifically, and more widely the Monsters project. Margret was quite wonderfully recognised with the Starburst Brave New Words awards on Pacific Monsters, but it acknowledged, in my opinion, her dedication through out this series in bringing new, and own voices to the fore. Putting not only the monsters and myths of different continents in front of us as readers, but also as much as possible, the writers and artists. This series has taken a massive amount of work, dedication and perseverance from Margret, it’s an incredible feat. 

Eurasian Monsters is the last book in a seven year project, it has followed tradition by running to the 11th hour and beyond and not being straight forward, and I couldn’t be more proud of this book and the people involved in it.

As collections they barely scratch the surface of what each continent has to offer, but they have changed me as a reader. I more actively seek out the less familiar now in my reading. I have a new appreciation for how narrow our reading can become with no malice or intent, just through habit, and comfort and availability. I hope, that this series and all these stories will bring you something new and unexpected and for some of you maybe be the gateway to new worlds to explore.

 

The Christmas Ghost Story: Spook Rock

It’s time for another Fox Spirit Books ghost story for Christmas. For some, 2020 may have been all the horror needed. But a little chill in the darkest days is just what the doctor ordered — if she’s the Prof she does anyway. There is a real Spook Rock (in fact there are several in New York). It can be found in a picturesque little town that would perfect for a Hallmark movie — or a horror film, as two young women discover…

Prefer to read offline? Download the PDF.

 

SPOOK ROCK

K. A. Laity

“Well, isn’t that a picture?”

April wasn’t sure if Joyce was being sarcastic. “Picturesque. I promised you picturesque. I deliver.”

“Quaint. Isn’t that what they call it? Perfect for a haunted house in the dark, but quaint in the daytime.” Joyce laughed. “Your aunt didn’t actually die here, right?”

“No, in the hospital in town.” An early COVID-19 casualty wavering between life and death for a couple weeks then gone. No visitors allowed. Not that they were close anymore.

“In town?”

“I told you. Town is what we came through off the thruway. This is the village.”

“Spook Rock is such an inspiring name.” Joyce sighed and grabbed her bag from the car. “The porch is nice. Huge.”

“Just imagine us sitting out there on a summer’s evening, sipping wine.” April pawed through her handbag to find the big old key for the front door.

“April, it’s winter.”

“Okay, hot chocolate?”

The door opened easily, no creaking at all, despite Joyce’s muttered predictions. The smell was a bit musty. The house had been closed up for months as the estate stuttered through its process.

“Old lady smell,” Joyce wrinkled her nose.

“Old food more like,” April said, throwing her bag on bench in the foyer. “Her neighbour—Elizabeth something…Wylding maybe? She said she threw out what was gone bad on the counters and whatnot, but I’m sure there’s more.”

They explored the house, opening doors and curtains. Everything was coated with a fuzzy layer of dust, but mostly neat. Only her aunt’s bedroom showed any sign of her presence. The patchwork quilt on the bed was folded back as if still awaiting her return.

“I’m afraid to open the refrigerator,” April confessed.

“That’s why we brought lunch from Zabar’s,” Joyce said. “Can you start a fire in that?” She pointed at the fireplace.

“Of course. Auntie taught me when we were living here after mom’s divorce. You cold?”

“Of course I’m cold. I’m from Queens. We don’t live in Hallmark cards like you melanin-deprived people. We like radiators that overheat everything so you have to leave the windows open.”

“Your mother would never stand for that. I know better.” April laughed and picked some sticks out from the kindling box.

“You didn’t see some of the places we lived before, like the horrible apartment in Astoria.” Joyce shuddered.

The fire took off quickly. The wood was really dry. April added firewood to the list she had begun. The furnace kept the place reasonably warm, but it was a drafty old house. The stone fireplace was especially welcome this time of year. The flicker of the flames was cheery, too. The sun descended early leading up to Christmas.

“Shall we tackle the fridge now?”

They worked methodically from the kitchen through the dining room to the sitting room, cleaning, clearing and vacuuming up what they could, tossing unidentifiable bits and pieces into the garbage bags Joyce had remembered to bring. It was funny how they adapted their usual work habits to new circumstances. April was the idea generator, Joyce was the logical problem-solver. Their PR firm was really taking off—until the coronavirus shut everything down.

Manhattan rents don’t recognise emergencies.

They were making good progress when a fuse blew. Everything went quiet. It wasn’t quite dark but it was definitely getting there. Add flashlights to the list.

Joyce popped out into the hallway, phone in hand with the flashlight on. “Do the ghosts come out now?”

“It’s just a fuse. Or a circuit breaker. I forget which.”

“Down in the spooky cellar?”

“It’s not spooky.” But April remembered how she had hated it as a kid, mostly because it always seemed to be festooned with spider webs. They trooped down the stairs, Joyce lighting the way with the phone over April’s shoulder. The stones of the walls felt very cold, but there weren’t cobwebs that she could see.

The metal cabinet was on the west wall below a window and beside the washer and dryer. April was pleased to see they looked like recent acquisitions. She jiggled the latch of the box open. None of the circuits had labels but the one in question showed red while the rest were white. She flipped the switch over and then back to clear it. The vacuum started whining above them. “You didn’t switch it off.”

“I was startled,” Joyce said. “What is that smell? Did something die down here?”

She hadn’t noticed it at first, but now April could taste it on her tongue. “Maybe she had a mousetrap and…you know.”

“Whatever it is, it is rank.”

April pulled the string for the bare bulb in the center of the cellar. There were some boxes and a tool bench on the wall opposite. Hammers and saws hung neatly on a pegboard. Shelves held flower pots and gardening items.

“What’s that?” Joyce pointed to the round wooden cover with a handle on the floor. It looked like the top of a barrel.

“I don’t remember,” April said, but almost at once she did. “Oh…”

“Is it the old sewer? That’s where the stank is coming from. Need some Clorox down here.”

Joyce bent over to reach for the handle but April stopped her. “Don’t!”

“What’s up, buttercup?” Joyce looked at her in the gloom. “Horrible childhood memories stirred up?”

“No. Yes. Actually yes. It’s the old well. Auntie told us not to open it but I did and I dropped my favourite bracelet down there and she said I would never be able to get it back and I cried all day over it.”

“I’m sorry for that, kiddo. But as childhood traumas go, that’s pretty mild.” Despite her tone Joyce looked worried. April knew she was overreacting but there was something about the well that made her stomach clench. And it wasn’t just the stench.

“Let’s run to the hardware store and see if there’s something we can get to kill that smell.” It was late but they were probably open until five.

The shop looked just the same as she remembered, like a log cabin surrounded by pines. The old geezer at the counter had been replaced by someone younger. He was helping an elderly woman with a cane wearing fancy lace facemask. “If you gotta be safe, why not be elegant?” she whispered to Joyce as they headed down the aisle. They had utilitarian cotton masks that were easy to launder.

“What do you think? Bleach? Or something stronger?”

April sighed. There wasn’t a wide range of cleaning products. “I’m not sure.”

“Maybe we should try Walmart. Is there a Walmart here in Spook Rock? And where is the rock? I don’t want to know where the spooks are. No haints for me.”

“It’s on the river, just south of the bridge we came over from the house. We can go by there tomorrow.”

“Why is it called that?” Joyce picked up a blue bottle to read the ingredients.

“There’s an old story that lovers parted by their parents would meet there but one time, spring I guess, the floods were too high and they drowned. Native American tale, I think. Not sure which tribe.”

“Mohican.” April started. The young man from the counter had made his way over to them. “But it’s nonsense.”

“Mohican, ah.” April wasn’t sure what else to say.

“People of the water that are never still.” He smiled but only politely. “Stockbridge-Munsee community around here.”

“So then why is it called Spook Rock?” Joyce asked. “We’re not on some ancient Mohican burial ground, are we? That would be bad news.” She smiled at April but the hardware guy wasn’t amused.

“This land is pretty much all burial grounds for my people. What are you looking for?”

April felt chastened but maybe he was just trying to change the subject. “Uh, we need something to put down an old well to get rid of the stink.” She did not expect him to look so horrified.

“What? Are you nuts?”

“I’m sorry. Is that offensive to your people’s um…”

“Yes probably, but you’ve got to know it’s criminal to pollute the watershed.” His expression made clear she was an idiot. “You can’t put bleach or other harsh chemicals down a well. You’d cause a huge die off of plants and animals and possibly poison people who use the same water system. All these old wells are connected.”

April could feel her face blush crimson. White guilt! Oh, god. That was it. What must he think of her? Clueless consumer trash.

“What do you suggest we do?” Joyce asked. As always she was focused on practicalities. “The smell is atrocious.”

The hardware guy turned away and for a moment April thought he was just going to ignore them, but he reached behind the counter and grabbed a business card. “Call this guy. He’ll see what you need to do.”

April took the card: Tom Miller, Dowser. “Okay. Thanks. Thanks a lot.”

Later as they ate the grocery store pizza in the much cleaner kitchen, April confessed her embarrassment. “He was probably muttering under his breath about stupid white ladies the rest of the day.”

“Nah, he just called you a Karen and complained to his other customers about city folk coming up here to gentrify their old village.” Joyce sipped her wine. “Too bad, but maybe that was your meet-cute moment and you messed it up.”

“Shut up!”

“Seriously, we’re in a Hallmark movie here and you had your meet-cute and blew it. As the Black best friend I only get the Obama-safe handsome Black man in the closing moments of the movie. I can see the cut of his suit right now.”

“You are too much.”

“So what’s a dowser anyway?”

April sighed and picked up her wine. “It’s a person who finds water. I learned it in a movie with Russell Crowe. You use these rod thingees and they cross when you’re over water and you dig down to find the well.”

“So, this is going to be some Obi-Wan kind of guy? Intriguing.”

However, when they met Miller the next day, he defied their expectations by being young and peppy and not at all mystical. “I don’t know how it works. It just works. My dad taught me, his dad taught him, and so on.”

“Okay but there’s some kind of magic behind it, right?” Joyce was clearly disappointed.

“The well is in the cellar,” April said to change the subject. They gathered around the wooden cover and Miller took it off. If anything, the smell was worse today, maybe because the rest of the house was clean. The dowser crouched down. You couldn’t see the water. It was too far down in the dark. But you could smell it. April suddenly felt nauseous. Joyce fanned the air away from her nose as if it might help.

Miller sighed and stood up.

“What should we do?” Please don’t let it be real expensive.

“If it were me,” the dowser said, his hands held up as if to fend off expected objections, “I’d cap it, bulldoze the house, and move far, far away.”

“What?!” April felt faint.

“Sell the house, pass the problem on to someone else. You could do that. Not entirely ethical but you could do it.” He sighed again.

“What’s wrong with it?” Joyce asked. April was still in shock.

“It’s dead.”

“How can a well be dead?” April wanted to laugh. Maybe he was more woo-woo mystical than they thought.

“Water is a living thing. A well is a living thing. This is not a living thing.” He explained as if it were perfectly logical. “You could seal it up and try digging elsewhere to find a new well but I don’t think you’re going to find something within easy reach of the house. Didn’t you notice the state of the woods behind here? Something dead, something deep.”

“What kills a well?” Joyce looked equal parts dubious and curious.

“Usually it’s runoff from manufacturing or mining. Chemicals get in the watershed that shouldn’t be there. I honestly don’t know what’s in your water. I just know dead water when I see it.” He sniffed. “Or smell it.”

April couldn’t wrap her head around the idea. All her plans were sunk into making this house a success, a refuge from the financial woes, a place to rebuild their business. A place to get back to normal after this hellish year. Not a new curse.

They didn’t laugh as much in front of the fire that night. They ate coldcuts and watched videos on April’s laptop until they got fed up with the slowness of the internet. The phone signal was poor and they hadn’t set up wireless yet. Joyce hadn’t even unpacked the router.

They decided to go to bed early. April tossed and turned in her aunt’s bed, feeling all the lumps. She woke to the night wind and the trees scratching the siding on the house. She dreamed there were eyes in the woods watching them, then woke to find the moonlight bright outside her window. Every time she closed her eyes, she heard his words again, “Dead water.”

She woke bleary-eyed, yawning to a tapping at the door. “You up?”

Joyce stuck her head in, hair tied up in a bandanna. “Is the water we’re using in the shower dead too? I don’t want to shower in dead water.”

April sat up and rubbed her eyes. “The shower? Um…” She generally needed coffee before thinking. Then she remembered. “The water goes through a filter—no, not a filter. A whatchacallit: water softener. Which I think does filter it. Yeah.”

“You sure?” Joyce didn’t look as if she slept very well either.

“We can go look if that would make you feel better.” She hadn’t even thought about the rest of the water in the house. At least Auntie had put one of those filters on the tap in the kitchen. April grabbed her comfy robe to pull on over her flannel jammies. It was colder this morning, too.

The reason it was colder was that the furnace was off. It was off because the cellar was flooded with black water. “Oh my god.” It took a lot of effort not to simply burst into tears. April sat down on the top step and stared in dismay.

“You suppose there’s a pump?” Joyce asked. “Maybe this happened before.”

“If so, it’s probably down there.” She didn’t fancy wading through that muck to go look.

“I saw some gardening boots in the hall closet.” Joyce was off at once to grab them. April took off her robe. It wouldn’t do any good to get it wet. In her head a little chorus of Not fair! Not fair! was playing, but she tried to ignore it.

“Here,” Joyce handed her the boots which at least looked like they could fit. Her aunt was a head shorter than April but she seemed to have big feet. They were bright red with yellow ducks in rain hats on them.

Gingerly she went down the stairs, her bare feet sliding around in the boots. She stepped into the black water and it was cold. Her body trembled. It was probably just because she was so tired. At least the boots didn’t seem to leak. Stepping carefully April went over to the light to pull the string but her hand froze.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m just thinking what are the odds of electrocution?” She laughed but it wasn’t funny.

“If you were going to get electrocuted it would have been from the furnace or whatever controls it. The wires from the light aren’t in the water.”

“You’re right, of course.” The string clicked and the bulb lit and somehow it was even worse. April assumed the water might look oily, like the flooding in the gutters outside their building on Grove Street in the Village. But it was just black. Darker now with the light on. Out of the corner of her eye she saw something move or thought she did. But it was just black water. It didn’t have eyes looking at her.

“Maybe by the tool bench?” Joyce suggested.

April waded over. There was nothing on the bench that looked like a pump. Everything was carefully labeled. Auntie was a stickler for that, she remembered. ‘A place for everything and everything in its place.’

There was a movement for sure. On the right. What if it were a rat? They said rats could swim. Were there rats out in the countryside? She had seen enough of them in the city. April stared into the black water, mesmerized. There was a curious sound. Probably just the splash of the water, magnified by the walls of the basement. Maybe it was the cold of the water, the earliness of the hour, or just the overwhelming panic of dealing with house troubles, but she started to tremble.

“Your aunt must have had a plumber. Where would she keep the number?” Joyce as always thinking logically.

April coughed and shook herself. “The phone book in the nook.” Yes, let a professional deal with this.

Suddenly a red plastic ball popped up from the water. April let out a yelp. It looked so incongruous. There was really nothing sinister about it, but that was it for her. Out of the water, up the stairs, boots off.

By then Joyce had found the little phone book by the old landline handset in the alcove made just for telephoning back when it was a new and fancy thing. April was shaking with a chill as she lit the burner on the stove to make some coffee. Thank goodness for gas.

“Here it is. Baumbach, plumber. Think it’s too early to call?”

“Call.” April grabbed the old French press she found in the cupboard and filled it with the special grind they’d brought with them from the city. She stared dully at the kettle even though she heard her aunt’s words again about a watched kettle never boiling.

“Lillian says—that’s the plumber—that chances are the floater came off the sump pump and that’s why it’s flooded. Apparently that happened before. She was after your aunt to replace it but—”

“The floater?” April started. “Is it a red ball?”

“Yes, that’s what she described. The sump pit is just beyond the tool bench, she said. Joyce stared at April as she laughed. “What?”

“It popped up from the water and I was never so startled.” The relief pouring through her veins was better than caffeine. Why had she been so scared of a little red ball?

“Anyway, she says if you can get it back on the arm thing it will kick in again and start pumping the water out.”

April sighed. “Are those rubber gloves still under the sink?”

An hour later they were still at it, which is to say April was trying to reconnect the ball and Joyce was being encouraging from the steps. “If there were another pair of boots…”

“I know. And you said the plumber could come later?” April had found the ball right away. It was still floating. Finding the arm was tricky. They had found a diagram online so she knew what it ought to be like but it was hard to find in the black water.

“Yeah. I think it might be, you know, a little deeper?” Joyce didn’t like to criticize especially when she wasn’t helping. “What if we covered your arm in plastic wrap? That way you wouldn’t have to worry about the water coming over the gloves.”

“I can just wash up with antibacterial soap. At least we have plenty of that.” April thought she saw a glint of metal through the water and dipper her arm a little deeper into the black. “I’ve got it!”

She tried to feel for the end of the arm to slip the floater back on it. It was hard to do without seeing it. The splashing sounds of the water became almost musical, a sort of drone. The floater resisted her attempts to bring it under the surface and it was almost as if there were voices in the drone but it was just a trick of the ear or so she imagined and then something grabbed her hand.

April went face down in the black water, choking, sputtering, thrashing at the waves, the hands, the eyes looking at her, were her eyes open in all this muck? How could that be—and then gasping, flailing, blinking, sobbing. “April, April!”

Joyce had the back of her shirt in her fist, pulling her up. They both tottered for a moment and then April found her feet, coughed, spit, vomited, then righted herself again. “Upstairs, now.” Joyce dragged her to the steps and marched her up. They both stripped off wet clothes right there in the kitchen, then ran to the bathrooms to shower.

“Mouthwash!” Joyce called as she grabbed her towel. “Get that muck out of you.”

April rinsed her mouth, coughing and gagging, three times. The hot water ran out in the shower before she washed off all the soap but she was already shivering so the cold didn’t matter. By the time she dried and dressed again, Joyce had a second pot of coffee brewing and eggs scrambled in the pan.

“Drink this. Eat this.” Joyce sat a plate in front of her as she refilled the coffee mug.

“I’m not sure I’m hungry after that.”

“Look at you shake, girl. You might be in shock. Eat.” Joyce looked somewhat shaky herself as she started eating. “What happened?”

“I was reaching for the arm…” April paused. She didn’t want to sound like she had lost her mind. “Maybe the pump…created some kind of suction…I don’t know.”

“Did you hear something?”

April looked up. “What?”

Joyce was crying. “I heard voices. I heard weird sounds. I kept seeing faces, eyes in the woods behind the house at night. I was thinking it was my imagination. That I just hated the country side. But I saw it—saw something—pull you into the water.”

“No.” Her voice was no more than a whisper.

“Look, you know me. You know I’m a skeptic of—well, just about everything. I didn’t want to give in to the idea of bad vibes, or dead water, or whatever. But I have a strong instinct for self-preservation. We are not in some Hallmark movie here, we are in a horror film. Even if the horror is just old houses that turn out to be money pits, I am done.”

April tried to speak. She thought of all the things she wanted to say. How they needed this to get their business going. To survive the pandemic. To not admit defeat.

Joyce lay a hand on her arm. “I know how stubborn you can be. I know when you have a vision and you move hell and earth to get it, sometimes even if it’s not worth it and yes, I mean the Andersen account.” She gave a little laugh, but April didn’t respond. “You know how Black people are the first to die in horror films. So I’m leaving today. I’m going to pack up, call a cab to take me to Amtrak, and god help me, I am going to Queens to shelter with my family.”

“I can’t,” April said, crying.

“I love you, my friend, but I love life more. Maybe there’s nothing down there. Maybe it’s just black water from, I don’t know, roots and dead leaves. Maybe it can be fixed. And just maybe this place should be burnt down and the earth sowed with salt. But we can close it up for now. Come back after the holidays. Come back in the spring. Come back some other time, but leave it for now. Leave with me.”

April pushed the eggs around on her plate silently. Joyce sighed, poured some more coffee and ate. When she finished she washed up the dishes and went to pack.

The plumber came before Joyce was ready. She was trim, fiftyish, and no-nonsense. “I told your aunt to replace that armature or the whole damn pump a dozen times. I can order you a new one and install it next week.” The pump started right up. April could hear the whooshing (and nothing else at all, no voices).

“Where does the water go?”

Lillian jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “Out back in the woods there’s a ravine that leads away from the house towards the quarry. It’s all downhill, so no worries. It’ll all be cleared away, toot sweet as the man says! But seriously replace this. It’s no fun having to dig around in dirty water to try to reconnect it. Especially if you don’t have the equipment!” She held up her elbow length gloves.

“Yes, I should probably do that,” April agreed, waiting for her to leave. But she couldn’t think even afterward, one ear cocked to hear that the pump was working, the other…well, the other just hoping not to hear anything. The plumber left her notes and estimates, but April left them on the kitchen table and went to feed the fire. It was the only heat now. Lillian had said the furnace might kick on as soon as the water level went down, and suggested turning on the dehumidifier, which was sitting on a cabinet by the shelves of pots. April had mistaken it for an air conditioner. It was humming now, too.

Joyce gathered up her things by the front door as the taxi arrived. “I will call you every day until I change your mind.” She hugged April fiercely. “Don’t be so stubborn. We can resurrect our careers from Queens as well as we could from here. Just keep me from fighting with my dad about every little thing.”

April dozed on the couch, listening the crackle of the fire. She tried not to look at the flames because she kept seeing eyes in the orange, yellow and red.

She woke and it was twilight. The house was silent. Outside birds called. April closed her eyes again.

She woke struggling for breath, deep in black water, hands holding her down, mouths open. Then a log in the fire popped loudly throwing sparks against the screen. A few made it through the grill to glow and die on the cobble stone hearth. It was only a dream. But her heart raced. She sat up.

It was dark now. Full night. Where had she left her phone? Upstairs maybe. No, there on the coffee table next to her laptop. It was only 7:34. There were two messages from Joyce. Probably texting from the train. She must be in Queens now. Although she had slept most of the day, April felt heavy and tired. She should check email and throw another log on the fire, maybe in a moment…

Arms, hands, fingers, eyes, always eyes. April sobbed, heard an owl, wondered if she were awake this time. Yes, awake. The fire had burned down to red coals but still warming. She was shaking. Maybe caught a chill from the water. A bitter taste in her mouth like ashes. She got to her feet, feeling shaky. It seemed to take an enormous amount of strength to pick up a log and put it on the fire.

Dehydrated, that’s it. Fires always suck up the moisture in a room. She needed water. April picked up the crocheted throw from her aunt’s rocking chair and wrapped it around her shoulders. Where am I going? Oh yeah, kitchen. She shuddered again as a memory from her dreams tried to surface. Water. Eyes. Hands reaching.

She let the tap run, grateful for the purifier. Filling a glass she appreciated the crystalline beauty as it sparkled in the moonlight. The furnace had not come back on. She turned the tap off. It was silent in the house. There wasn’t even a wind blowing. Hadn’t it been raining before?

Silent? Maybe the pump had done its work. She started, thinking there was someone looking in the kitchen window but it was just the moonlight. Was it a full moon tonight? Maybe.

April put on the boots just in case and opened the door to the cellar. It was pitch black. Maybe she should get her phone for light. She took a hesitant step onto the stair. It was only a few steps down and then she could switch on the overhead light.

So quiet. So black.

There was a sound here. She cocked her head to make it out. It wasn’t voices. There was a word for that, how your brain turned random images into faces, random sounds into voices. Maybe it was just her own breathing which had become a little labored. Maybe she had caught a cold. Maybe it was her heart hammering. Just a few steps. Just do it.

Her will faltered.

Maybe Joyce was right. Maybe she should just lock it up and walk away and think about it later. Or sell it off. Whatever. Why had she been so stubborn about it? Maybe because she had never in her life had something that was hers, just hers, not shared with somebody else. But this place, this deadness, this…

What was that sound? So familiar and yet—

Water. The pump had stopped.

It would be all right. Not too deep. The boots were tall. If she headed directly straight from the steps she would find the string for the light

—but she stepped off a cliff that had not been there and plunged into deep water, impossibly deep, black water, rotten water, leaves, limbs, trees—could there be trees under the water?—no, limbs not trees: hands, arms. Fingers that reached for her, fingers that pulled at her clothes, fingers that tried to open her mouth and stop her ears and yet she could still hear. She didn’t want to open her eyes. She didn’t want to open her mouth. She didn’t want to hear the churning sounds. Maybe it was just her chilled flesh that felt the motions, swirling around her, wrapping her in its labyrinth.

April tried to hold her breath, not to breathe in the way the voices coaxed her. She couldn’t move her arms and legs, couldn’t kick away, back up to the surface. A thousand screams filled her head or maybe it was just her brain demanding air, life, air more air. And her limbs sagged and her heart cried and maybe drowning wasn’t so bad, maybe it wasn’t the worst thing, maybe the quiet peace of it was what she had been looking for anyway or so the voices soothed her. Dead wasn’t so bad maybe.

Until she saw their eyes.

 

 

 

•THE END •

 

 

 

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Monster Blog : Karina Shainyan

While we endure the real life horror of processing delays and our book being out of our hands, we thought you’d enjoy another blog posts from one of our amazing contributors.


Bagatazh Pass

by Karina Shainyan

This is what my summer job looks like: I’m just a cook but I have a very different workplace. My kitchen, house and everything else that may be needed, are tied to the saddle behind my back. Because here, high up in the Altai Mountains, there are no roads and almost no people: there are only mountains and taiga. I’ve been working here every summer for over twenty years, and I still haven’t had enough.

This picture was taken at Bagatazh Pass, on the first day of a two-week trek. I have just told the tourists that mountain spirits live here. This place seems deserted but ancient Masters dwell here, and they are not human. For the time being, everyone thinks it’s just funny. But in the evening, when it gets dark and everyone gathers around the fire, and fog crawls down from the pass to the camp, the tourists will feel odd. To calm them down, I will tell them that the creatures that reside here don’t show themselves and never pay attention to people.

Almost never. Nearly.

 

Karina Shainyan grew up on the island Sahalin in the Far East of Russia, before she left to study psychology at Moscow State University. Karina has worked as a school psychologist, journalist, and editor. She says “I composed my first horror story when I was five, sitting in a closet with my best friend. It had such a strong effect on him that my parents scolded me for a long time. But I liked it anyway. As I got older, I started writing down my stories, and then it turned out that quite a few people wanted to climb into my closet and become scared”. Karina has written seven novels, including Долгий путь на Бимини (“Long way to Bimini”), Западня (“Trap”), and С ключом на шее (“With a key around my neck”). She’s also published about a hundred short stories, in magazines like Если (“If”) and Реальность фантастики (“Reality of fantastic”), in Кетополис (“Ketopolis”)—a mosaic novel composed of short stories by many authors, united by the pseudonym Грэй Ф. Грин (Gray F. Green)—and in anthologies such as Предчувствие Цветной волны (“Premonition of the Colored Wave”), Новые мифы мегаполиса (“New Myths of the Metropolis”), and Бомбы и бумеранги (“Bombs and Boomerangs”). Find out more about Karina at her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/karina.shainyan

 

Monsters Blogs : Editor’s Blog

The editor’s blog – Eurasian Monsters

The seventh and final volume of Fox Spirit Books of Monsters is out December 20th. The journey started in Europe in 2014 before it continued to Africa, Asia, the Pacific region, then the South, Central and North America. The series has been like a grand world tour exploring old myths, folklore and monster tales continent by continent. Sadly, most travels must have an end, and we close up our journey with a stop in Eurasia.

In Eurasian Monsters you’ll find tales of beasties and monstrous terror from the part of Eurasia stretching from the Chinese border (but not including China) to Eastern parts of Europe. I am proud to present you stories told by seventeen authors who are either from, have lived in, or have another strong connection to Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

Not only do I wish to scare people with monsters they probably have never heard about. I also want the books to give the readers a realistic insight into the continents we cover—it is a journey after all. By returning to the place of origin, by giving authors who grew up with stories of these dark creatures a chance to write about them and own cultures, I hope these books give readers a glimpse of a contemporary, everyday life that is seldom seen by most of the West.

In Eurasian Monsters you’ll find tales about loneliness, living in a harsh climate, and everyday struggle—be it on the streets of Moscow or Varna, at a hospital in Elista, or in a nightclub in Tbilisi, in the forests of Poland, or in the Altai mountains. You’ll find stories with an underlying critic of aspects of society, be it poverty, illegal working or the life of immigrants, border conflicts, the relationship between east and west, or the tension between a traditional life and a modern society. 

I’m pleased to tell that we have as many as seven translated stories in this book, six are exclusively translated for this volume—from Russian, Ukrainian and Polish. I believe the book is much better when these tales are included—and I hope that the translators are just as happy as I am with the stories. The translations also make it possible for me to introduce you to authors that not many in the Western parts of the world know about, there’s even a few who has never been translated to English before.

So why monsters books? Fox Spirit Books of Monsters came out of a discussion seven years ago, where myself and a few others, including my co-editor of the two first monster volumes, Jo Thomas, demanded that something had to be done. We felt that most monsters are forgotten today, while the rest are watered down and overused in the popular media, and then only a few of them dominate the scene—vampires, werewolves, ghouls, demons, zombies—and they are almost all from Western popular culture.

In these books we wish to re-establish the monsters’ dark reputation, to give them a comeback. I want to drag them out from the darkest corners, to show how many great monsters we have from all over the world. And we want them visible in the middle of people’s homes, as coffee table books with lush art. Happily Adele Wearing at Fox Spirit Books liked our ideas, and the first book about Europe quickly developed into the world series of seven volumes, one each year.

I am sad to now see the end of my story hunt around the world. Reading these tales has taught me that every country and region in the world has wonderful dark and eerie stories about monsters or dark creatures, some of them maybe thousands of years old. You can find traces of them in old texts and even in old sea maps. Monster folklore is passed down from generation to generation, and these stories are important in traditions and customs. The tales serve not only as entertainment, but often teach a lesson as well. 

Some monsters are universal. You will always find the shapeshifters, the flesh-eating walking dead and the great monsters of the lakes and sea. But what is important to one culture might not be so vital to another. When I have edited the monster books I’ve tried to see if I can spot a specific pattern in each book, be it a main theme or the choice of monsters. I don’t know if it is a coincidence or a proof that there are geographical differences, but I do believe I’ve spotted some variations between the continents. To mention a few: Magic is one strong theme in monster narratives from Africa and Latin America, for instance, though it manifests in slightly different ways. The volumes focused on Africa and the Pacific region have more beasts, when compared to the other volumes in the series. These two volumes also have a multitude of dark creatures from the wilderness or oceans, or natural forces, such as hail storms or thunder storm. This is also the case in Eurasian Monsters, where especially the thick forests and the mountains are a natural habitat for several dark beings.

Quite many of the stories in Eurasian Monsters take place in the home, however, and wow, the bedroom and kitchen are some truly haunted places. There are also several stories about people and monsters forced to leave their homeland, and so origin gets a strong meaning, just like in the Africa volume. I feel however that this volume is closer to the feeling of home created in the Asian Monsters book—especially regarding those creatures hailing from the folklore of Slavic cultures—and the bond between the living and the dead, whether it is the soul of dead children or dead ancestors. 

I hope you will like this volume as much as I have while working on it.

The monster volumes have been such fun books to edit. I wish to give huge thanks to all the authors and artists. I would also like to extend a warm thank you to Adele Wearing at Fox Spirit Books for believing in this idea to begin with, and all the work she and her wonderful crew have done for so many years in creating such great books.

Margrét Helgadottir