Monster Tales : Rue Karney

Finding the Words

by Rue Karney

When editor Margret Helgadottir first asked me to contribute to the Pacific Monsters anthology I faced a dilemma. Margret asked for a monster that came from Australian history and culture. But as a non-Indigenous person living in a country steeped in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, I needed to invent a monster that reflected this country and its existing First Nations’ peoples while not stepping into cultural appropriation.

My first thought was to write about a mass murderer — a monstrous human. Margret gently vetoed that idea because it was outside the aims of the anthology. Nevertheless I wanted to come up with a way to portray the violent men who made it their mission to kill, maim and destroy in their quest to steal land from those who had cared for it for more than sixty thousand years. These men, and there were many of them, were the mass murderers I wanted to write about. My challenge was to take their actions and create a believable monster within a story that accurately reflected their deeds but also contributed towards a conversation around the truth of Australia’s frontier wars.

Australia’s First Nations peoples have never ceded this land. In the 150 or so years after Captain James Cook landed at Botany Bay, an event that started the colonisation of Australia, there were hundreds of battles as the white invaders drove the Indigenous peoples off their country. There are several excellent books on this part of Australia’s recent history but as I live in the state of Queensland I took Timothy Bottoms’ The Conspiracy of Silence: Queensland’s Frontier Killing Times as my guide.

In his book, Bottoms provides the statistic that, conservatively, the figure of Aboriginal peoples killed in Queensland in the frontier wars is around 48,000. These men, women and children were killed because they were fighting for their own land, land that the Europeans stole from them. Bottoms quotes multiple original sources that detail attacks that occurred across Queensland including shootings, poisonings, rape, bashings and other horrific violence. There are no words to describe the horror of these atrocities that led to this devastating figure. Yet, that was the goal I set myself as a fiction writer approaching the task of writing a story for Pacific Monsters: I had to find the words.

I had a conversation with a close friend, an Aboriginal woman who grew up in the far north of Queensland around Cape York, about a particularly brutal man who was responsible for several massacres. This man’s name brands the country up there. A major river is named after him, as is a national park. Streets are named after him. A hotel is named after him, and to this day there are First Nations’ peoples who refuse to set foot in it. My friend told me that, such was the horror of this man, there is a legend that when he died he was buried upside down to make sure he could never return and terrorise the land again.

Here was my monster. A violent man, guilty of mass murder, who returned from the dead but because he was buried upside down he could only walk on his hands. Thanks to Bottoms’ research, I had first-hand accounts of the type of atrocities my monster, and others like him, committed. My next challenge was to build the story around him. And for that I needed a name for my central character.

I can’t recall what name I used when I began my first rough drafts of the story but I do know that nothing came together until I settled on the name Providence Slaughter. Her name is intentionally literal because it marries the two key aspects of the story — death and wisdom. Providence is a woman ignorant of her own ancestry and so ignorant of her family’s involvement in this horrendous part of Australia’s history. In writing her story, I wanted to bring this history to light in a way that her character would not only accept its truth but also do something with the knowledge.

Providence must reconcile the truth of her past with her present situation. She is disconnected from the land, as many non-Indigenous Australians are, in part because of her inability to recognise and accept past wrongs. The monster in my story is her past and her present just as the frontier wars that took place in Australia are our nation’s past and our present.

This is probably the most political story I have written because, despite the overwhelming evidence, the truth of the frontier wars is something some Australians find too unpalatable to accept. Yet the ramifications of the actions taken by white invaders continue to echo in today’s political, cultural, economic and social landscape. Young Aboriginal men in Australia are more likely to end up in jail than in university. The life expectancy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women is around a decade lower than that of non-Indigenous Australians. First Nations peoples are six times more likely to suicide than non-Indigenous Australians. These statistics are the result of inter-generational trauma; trauma that cannot start to be healed until Australia owns its bloody recent history and starts to make amends.

My monster story is not going to make a dent in these horrifying facts. But it tells the truth of the frontier wars, and the more stories out there telling this truth, the closer Australian society will be able to shift towards acceptance.

Rue Karney https://www.facebook.com/RueKarney/

Monster Tales : Octavia Cade

Wishful Monsters
By Octavia Cade

Monsters are strange things.
We’re fascinated by them. There’s whole industries devoted to bringing them to life, to packaging them up in consumable form so that we can be briefly entertained by fright. And it’s fun because it is brief. I can enjoy spending two hours watching a zombie horror film precisely because zombies don’t actually exist. If my life revolved around fending them off, I’d not be turning towards them for my leisure hours. I’d be refilling the flame-thrower and any moments I could snatch for escapism would tend to the absolutely harmless.

We generally don’t want the monsters to be real. But sometimes it’s just so disappointing when they’re not.
Especially when we hold the burden of having removed them ourselves. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend turns an individual amongst monsters into the monster those monsters fear, and on a species level Matheson isn’t far wrong. Extinction took a lot of monsters from this world long before humans came alone, but we’ve certainly done our best to slaughter the rest.

This can best be seen in the lands where humans are not. And, for longer than anywhere else, New Zealand was that land. The last major land mass to be colonised, absent of any native mammal but small bats, it was for millennia a land belonging to birds. Flightless, many of them, and some not. The most dangerous was the largest eagle to ever exist – Haast’s eagle. It died out when humans killed its food to line their own stomachs.

That food was my Pacific monster. The tallest bird ever known, the giant moa. Females were as much as 3.7 metres in height, and all of them were flightless.
All we have left of it are bones. Bones, and stories…

Every so often the rumours start back up. That down in the remote, unexplored back blocks of Fiordland the moa survives. Perhaps not the giant moa, which would be genuinely hard to miss, but one of the smaller species of the genus. There’s sightings, a blurry photo or two. Tracks in the earth.

When my Pacific Monsters story was being edited, Margrét commented on the character who’d just found a moa footprint. Wouldn’t she wonder what it was?
There isn’t a person in this country who would see a three toed footprint that size and not think – not hope – that it was a moa. We’re a young country. We take our monsters where we can get them.
Do I think they’re still out there? Honestly, no. Do I want them to be? Oh, so much.

Jurassic Park

It’s wishful thinking, I know. Imagination layering itself over science, and with just enough hook to cling to, because, Jurassic Park-like, there is an astronomical outside chance that discovery of ancient DNA might be enough to bring them back.
But what would we do with them if we did? If we found them, alive still, in the dark and distant corners of the bush?
I’d like to think we’d be happy. That, as a nation, we’d pull of the mother of all conservation efforts, exceeding even that of the black robin – a native bird pulled back from the brink when once there were only seven individuals remaining.

But then I remember the context of monsters, and how the moa met a monster new-come to their shores… and it was us.
They didn’t survive the human race.
If they’re still out there, I hope they stay far, far away. That they’re rumours forever, because some monsters survive best in wishful thinking.

They’re Here! Pacific Monsters

Welcome to Pacific Monsters. Editor Margret has again risen to the challenge, researching and inviting authors who really understand the horrors of the Pacific Region, covering New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific Islands. The great joy of this series is of course that exploration of a regions own monsters and the way some horrors are both universal and extremely local. 

Today is the launch of the 4th Volume of Monsters, a collection of short stories, graphic stories and art. We hope you enjoy it and the blog posts from some of the authors that started yesterday and will continue for the next week. 

More on all our Monsters here.

 

Monster Tales : Kirstie Olley

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

by Kirstie Olley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not done yet!

We have had an incredible busy year and launched a wonderful range of titles but we are not done yet!

Coming up before the end of the year we have the Sledge.Lit launch of The Girl in the Fort by Tracy Fahey, we will also be bringing some of this year’s other new titles for a public viewing. If you can’t make Sledge but would like Tracy to sign your copy of Girl, we have done some simple foxy bookplates so let us know.

We have some free fiction to add to our collection which I am looking forward to sharing with you all, from new to us writers. 

Of course we also have three more titles to launch. 

As you know every Christmas we release our newest Monster title and this year it is Pacific Monsters, which an incredible selection of stories and art as ever. Margret Helgadottir has once again worked hard to link up with writers from the region to tell their monsters their way. 

We are also delighted to say that the multi award winning Daniele Serra will be staying on as cover artist to complete the series. 

We also have a poetry collection by the fabulous Jan Siegel who was pure skulk recently on First Date celebrity edition. Jan has guest poems in this collection from people better known in other creative arts including Pat Cadigan and Helen Lederer, who all demonstrate their adaptability here. Multiverse is a wonderful collection, dark, funny, reflective and including cake.

Approach with Caution! The second volume of the Pseudopod Tapes is almost here! A new collection of outro essays from Alasdair Stuart, one of the UK’s best genre voices and author of our own Not the Fox News column. Whether you are a listener or not the host of the world renowned horror story podcast once again offers a collection of essays on genre and life that are more than worth the price of entry. 

We would also like to remind you, if you join your kids up for the Fennec Kit’s Club they get a Christmas card and goodies from Aunty Fox and Kit, so let us know, there are limited places this close to Christmas. 

Cover Reveal : Pacific Monsters

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

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

 

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

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

Pacific Monsters Update

Pacific Monsters – table of contents

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

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

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

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

 

Table of contents:

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

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

Monster Writing Contest Runner Up : Shona Kinsella

At the Water’s Edge

by Shona Kinsella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘No!’

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

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

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

‘Get off!’

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Jonathon?’ Anna asked.

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

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

Monster Writing Contest Runner Up : Richard Marpole

Waking Up Underground

by Richard Marpole

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

Day 1.

At first I thought I’d been buried alive.  

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

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

That was the last lie I ever told.

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

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

But I did. 

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

…..

Day 2.

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

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

Mostly I feel cold.

And hungry. 

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

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

…..

Day 3.

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

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

…..

Day 4.

I’m losing my memories of life. 

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

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

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

Were her teeth sharp; like mine are now?  

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

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

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

Not that I would eat the creatures of this forest.

The little rats are too fast for me.

…..

Day 6.

I lost myself for a bit there.

But it’s ok; I didn’t hurt anyone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

Day 7.

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

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

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

…..

Day 9.

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

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

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

Perhaps I will catch him.

No; that would be insane.

I am still me.

…..

Day 12.

I heard something today that made me feel almost alive.

A high, pure perfect voice.

I slunk through the trees towards it.

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

Flesh of the Flesh of my Flesh.

Grand-daughter.

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

I don’t want her to see me like this.

But I cannot stay away.

I’ll just watch.

…..

Day 17.

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

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

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

…..

Day 19.

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

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

…..

Day 24.

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

Stupid old man.

…..

Day 26.

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

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

He followed her.

Stalked her.

Waited until her friends had gone ahead.

Jumped out from behind a tree and knocked her down.

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

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

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

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

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

When he died my hunger died with him.

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

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

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

I almost reached out to her.  

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

Too many questions.  

Too many hurtful truths.  

I snarled.

She screamed.

I ran from her and she from me.

…..

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

Then why am I still here?

No matter.

Still dead.

Still cold.

…..

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

I’m getting hungry again.”

 

Monster Contest Winning Story

Momma’s Embrace

by Heather Johnson  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Congratulations to Heather, we hope she enjoys her swag.