Monster Blog – Maria Galina

We really appreciate the extra effort some of our authors go to in providing these blogs and this would have made an excellent New Year Eve post, so my apologies to Maria for the lack of timing on this one.


 

Ded Moroz

by Maria Galina

Ded Moroz (The Old Father Frost) is a personification of deadly winter cold, and (presumably) an old chthonic god of Slavic tribes confronting deadly continental winter in their poor huts. In Russian fairy tales he still bears relic features – for he may be generous and reward the meek and obedient, but be deadly to those who is obstinate and greedy (and he is still the same in the children’s Soviet film “Morozko”).

During the period of Modern with its inevitable revival of “the Russian national spirit”, Moroz became an object of both poems and plays – where he was still presented as the incarnation of the terrible Russian winter.

But after the October Revolution (1917) an interesting transformation took place. Bolsheviks aiming to substitute religious feasts with the “new” and “atheistic” dates, considered X-mas and even (from 1927 to 1935) the New Year’s Day as “bourgeois” and “ideologically inimical”. When returning New Year’s Day, it was appointed to be a substitution of X-mas and subsequently it was purified from all Christian connotations. Even the Star on the top of a Christmas tree was now the Bolshevik symbol. The problem was: who would substitute Saint Nicolaus, children’s favorite personage? And so Ded Moroz (just an ideologically harmless frost, not a dangerous Saint) was chosen for the role.

And thus it happened – the old and cruel chthonic god became a bearded jolly old man in the red or blue caftan visiting children with gifts on the New Year’s Eve. But of course, it is only a mask, we ourselves know who he really is, and if not – read my short story.

***

Maria Galina is the author of several fiction books, including several novels and the three short story collections Red Wolves, Red Gees (“Krasnye volky, Krasnye gusy”), Chicken God (“Kuriny Bog”) and Not Looking Back (“Ne Oglyadyvayas”). Several of Maria’s novels (Iramifications, Autochthones and Malaya Glusha) and short stories are translated to many languages such as English, French, Ukrainian and Polish. Her short stories can be found in anthologies like Glas New Russian writing, Moscow tales: stories, and Racconti russi al femminile. She’s also awarded for her work in the speculative fiction field and has received many awards, including Personal Boris Strugatsky Award (Saint-Petersburg, Russia), Portal award (International SF Convent, Kyiv, Ukraine), and Readers’ award (Big Book Award, Moscow, Russia). Maria is also a prize-winning poet and a translator of English poetry and SF—she for instance translated Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti into Russian. Maria was born in one of the oldest Mid-Russian town—Tver, and lives and works in Moscow. Find more information about her at https://fantlab.ru/autor1342 and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Galina

 

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

 

7 Books with 7 covers

With the launch of our last Monsters cover, I though it would be nice to revisit the whole series of stunning desolate covers by Daniele Serra. 

We began in Europe, which really only covered Western European Monsters, something we decided to correct.

A lot of these stories were tied to the relationship with the land, in different ways. 

Across Asia, the relationship to family and ancestors was a recurring theme, 

Drop bears are real and will brook no debate on this. 

These ended up being split into two volumes as it doesn’t just cover the USA. They books have quite distinctly different personalities and the second volume was I think one of the highest levels of translations we have had.

Correcting the issue with European Monsters, picking up a huge area, and another one with a high number of translations. 

Eurasian Monsters Cover reveal

So here we are at the seventh and final volume in a huge project. You’ve travelled the world with us dipping a toe into many local tales and mythologies, seeing the continents through their monsters. We end our introduction to the worlds horrors with Eurasian Monsters and another of Daniele Serra’s amazing bleak landscapes on the cover.

A huge thanks to everyone who has been involved with these books, especially our cover artist, editor and typesetter. It’s been a huge project and I am very proud of everything that has been achieved in creating this series. Anyway, enough from me. I’ll run a post of all the covers in a few days, but for now I offer you, Eurasian Monsters.

 

Eurasian Monsters, coming soon.

Table of Contents – Eurasian Monsters

We are proud to reveal the table of contents for our last volume in Fox Spirit Books of Monsters: Eurasian Monsters!

The series, edited by Margrét Helgadóttir, has dark fiction and art about scary monsters and dark creatures from around the world, seven volumes between 2014 and 2020. The series is our grand world tour and we have so far been to Europe, Africa, Asia, the Pacific region, and Central, South and North America. 

A number of the stories have been award winners individually across the series, many more have picked up nominations, and our editor won the  very first Brave New Words award for her work on Pacific Monsters. These are beautiful books full of incredible tales and monstrous images.

It’s been a hell of journey so far. Sadly, all travels must have an end, and now this series will close with Eurasian Monsters. This December we bring you 17 dark tales from the vast region stretching from the Chinese border (but not including China) to Eastern parts of East Europe. We are proud to tell that we have stories from all over Russia, from Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Poland, Hungary, and Bulgaria.

We have as many as seven translated stories, six are translated exclusively for this book. You will not want to miss this – we have stories from authors who’s never been translated to English before!

 Table of Contents:

  1. K.A. Teryna: Morpheus
  2. Marta Magdalena Lasik: Daemons of their time
  3. Yevhen Lyr: Sleepless in Enerhodar
  4. Karina Shainyan: Bagatazh
  5. Vlad Arenev: Rapunzel
  6. Haralambi Markov: Nine Tongues Tell Of
  7. Maria Galina: The Visit
  8. Alex Shvartsman: A Thousand Cuts
  9. Daryna Stremetska: The Whitest Linen
  10. Shawn Basey: Lysa Hora
  11. Karolina Fedyk: Our Lady of Carrion Crows
  12. Bogi Takács: Veruska and the Lúdvérc
  13. Eldar Sattarov: Mountain Maid
  14. Kat Hutchson: The Housekeeper
  15. Natalia Osoianu: The Serpent
  16. Alexander Bachilo: This is Moscow, Old Man!
  17. Ekaterina Sedia: Sleeping Beauty of Elista

 

The stories will be illustrated by K. A. Teryna, Kieran Walsh, Elzbieta Glowacka, Nata Friden and Vincent Holland Keen.

Daniele Serra is once again providing cover art, which we will be revealing soon.

Editor is once again Margrét Helgadóttir.

Translation by Mike Olivson, Maksym Bakalov, Piotr Swietlik, and Alex Shvartsman

Monster Blogs : Ernest Hogan

American Monsters Part 2 is available now. 

AZTLÁN: A NEXUS OF MONSTERS

by Ernest Hogan

Okay, I admit it, I cheated. Instead of picking a North America monster to write about, I wrote about a nexus of monsters. The subject is more of a densely populated Hieronymus Bosch triptych than a portrait of a lone specimen.

The region where I was born and lived all my life is full of all the bizarre creatures, beings, etc. I couldn’t pick just one. The Southwest of the United States of (North) America, also known as the Wild West, the Great American Desert, Aztlán, the Aztec homeland, is a land of monsters from Native beliefs, folklore of Anglo, Hispanic, and other immigrant folklore, tall tales, fiction, and various popular cultures, not to mention the bubbling cauldron of new cultures constantly being created that I call recomboculture. Just thinking about them sends my imagination soaring.

The problem with my imagination is that once it starts soaring, you never know where it will end up . . .

I was a monster kid in my childhood, but not at first. There was a time when they invaded my nightmares, and I did my best to avoid them, even though they were everywhere – TV, movies, comic books. It was a monster culture back then, in the Atomic Age. Then one night I dreamed that one had me cornered; I had no choice but to turn around and face it, throwing punches, and the beast-thing crumbled into black dust that blew away.

After that I couldn’t get enough of monsters. I identified more with them than the heroes who slayed them.

Growing up in California, the farthest edge of the Southwest, brought a lot of monsters into my life. Don’t let the popular image of fun in the sun fool you; just as the air is a cocktail of pollutants, monsters lurk everywhere. The beaches are the border to the icy Pacific Ocean, home to sea monsters, real and imagined. The fossil record tells us that much of the Southwest was once under an ocean populated by sea monsters that rival the tales of mariners.

Later, I met and married, Emily Devenport, author of Medusa Uploaded. Living with her helped me learn about Arizona, and its monster lore. Besides sharing our love of monsters, delivered by books and media, we had many hair-raising conversations that caused us to feel inhuman eyes staring at us from the dark, and we take road trips whenever we can, taking a lot of photos and notes.

You want to know where writers get their crazy ideas?

 Unlike California, which is new in the geological sense, Arizona is dinosaur country. There was even once an inland sea with swimming monsters. This is the land of the thunderbird, and even though the pterodactyl-looking photos from the Tombstone Epitath look fake, and are undocumented, they have a funky appeal, and link to the Native myth. Fossilized bones probably inspired many a monster. Recently, Emily and I found a Mexican restaurant where, among the vaquero scenes, was a painting of a dragon.

Some monsters were born here, others are immigrants.

All along the Rio Grande Valley, and beyond, La Llorona, the crying woman, whose origins can be traced to Aztec beliefs about the afterlife of women who died in childbirth – night-walking disease spirits. She is also related to the fancy-dressed, decorated sugar skull-faced Catrinas, a caricature of the middle class that has become a symbol of Latin womanhood and the Day of the Dead.

Also in the night is el Cucuy, the Mexican boogie man, eager to carry away children who wander after dark.

El Cucuy and La Llorona, because of decades of not being on the radar of mass media, have undergone interesting manifestations. In Phoenix, La Llorona is called Mano Loco, and dwells in canals and swimming pools instead of her usual rivers. My mother tells me that in riverless East Los Angeles, she was said to live in a row of trees in a nearby park.

This pre-internet folklore in isolation made the monsters personal, inspiring one of my cousins’ description of El Cucuy:

“He’s eyes – lots of eyes, all over his face. And legs – lots and lots of legs. He grabs you with these legs and takes you away . . .”

Hoodoos are eerie rock formations that seem to be alive, like the saguaro cactus that often has two arms, like a person. Some say that both were originally people, who were transformed by curses

cast by practitioners of witchcraft, both Native and brought over from Spain. I used to doubt Carlos Casteneda because the witchcraft he describes in his books can be found illustrated in Goya’s Los Caprichos etchings, but now I know that witches, as well as conquistadors, colonized Aztlán.

All the supernatural beings probably have not been as thoroughly catalogued as the Mogollon monster and other Sasquash/Yeti manifestations.

Native witches and sorcerers can become the local version of the werewolf – the skinwalker. Not long ago they were a taboo subject, but recently I bought a DVD of a documentary about them in a motel lobby, and had a Navajo taco at a restaurant where the waitress wore a t-shirt with a glyph known as The Wolfman. The monsters are going pro.

Fireballs streaking across the sky have been said to be sorcerers, flying long before the modern world created its own myths of flying saucers from outer space.

It all collides with the science fiction folklore of the modern world.

A lot the old monster movies were filmed here. The backdrop that Hollywood used for westerns also works as a home for monsters.

Like in my story “Cuca” the global, electronic world of corporate entertainment is colliding with the folklore. The issue of who owns these creatures – if indeed they can be owned – will arise.

There is a difference between the motivations of the entertainment industry and the cultures that create folklore. They may be able to coexist, but the monsters can never really be tamed. New fictions, and new realities – and new monsters – will be created. And it won’t be boring.

Makes me glad to live here.

Monsters and Minnesota Nice – A Monster Blog by Catherine Lundoff

“Monsters and Minnesota Nice”

            When I started working on ideas for my story for this anthology, I went looking for local monsters. By “local,” I mean monsters unique to Minnesota, which is where I live now. I’m a transplant from the East Coast, even though I actually moved here from the next state south. What matters from the perspective of living here now is that I didn’t grow up here.

            Growing up here is very important from a social standpoint, at least for white Minnesotans of mostly Scandinavian descent. It means you went to school here, share a common slang (“hot dish” = casserole), have an enthusiasm for the local sports teams and an affinity for cold weather activities. And it means you have a solid grasp on “Minnesota Nice.” The latter means that you are polite, friendly on the surface, adverse to conflict and not infrequently passive aggressive (people who grew up here will take polite umbrage at this). You also talk about the weather a lot because it can, in fact, kill you.

            Minnesota Nice does not lend itself to monsters. Sure, there are ghosts, the occasional serial killer and a fair number of historical atrocities to be found in Minnesota’s history, but monsters? Nope. There’s Paul Bunyan, the legendary lumberjack, and his beloved blue ox, Babe, performing legendary deeds in the northern woods. There are hoaxes, like the Minnesota Iceman, and possible hoaxes, like the Kensington Runestone. But nothing that speaks to the dark, primeval terrors that keep readers awake at night, ready to jump at any noise.

            For those, I had to go back further. The Native people of the Great Lakes region, the Anishinaabe, the Ottawa and other tribes, had a legend that grew out of the brutal winters (yes, they are often as bad as you’ve heard): a huge gaunt ice-coated monster, reeking of carrion, born of greed and selfishness. The windigo or wendigo is a cannibal: once human, it preys on other humans when turned. In some stories, they hunt and eat people, in others, they can also possess them, like a ghost or a spirit. It is nearly impossible to escape them, harder still to kill them.

            They are a lesson as much as they are a threat and a warning. Being selfish and not caring for others during a winter in this region can be a death sentence. In contemporary context, neighbors who won’t give you the time of day ordinarily will appear out of the frozen wasteland and help dig your car out.  You’ll wake up in the morning and someone has cleared the two feet of snow on the sidewalk in front of your house because it’s about survival and they were running the snow blower around the block anyway. We do not survive alone.

            Not too surprisingly, white colonists quickly absorbed the legend, adding elements of their own. From Algernon Blackwood to contemporary movies, comics and video games, the wendigo eternally stalks the north woods. This later version of the wendigo is often more like an animal than an altered person, but is no less deadly for all that.

            What would call to a being like this one? Greed, selfishness and cannibalism, certainly. And, perhaps, the kind of person who despises those who they considers weaker, who manipulates and bullies others into doing what they want, even against their own best interests. Someone who is controlling and petty, the center of their own universe. This is what I imagine in my story, “Hunger,” where the title refers to both monster and prey. Or are they both monsters, each in their own way? Food for thought as well as nightmare.

American Monsters Part 2 – The Final Countdown

This was supposed to be the exciting launch post for American Monsters Part 2. We are having some bugs with KDP. It’s kafkaesque frankly but we will get there. In the mean time, be excited about the book, it is imminent, it will be amazing, it will turn up shortly. 

Thank you all for your patience. I promise, this book rocks, worth waiting for.