I desperately repeat my mantra as I walk slowly across the muddy field:
I must not run.
I must not fall.
And above all, the jet-black mountain of muscle and sinew that is busy snorting clouds of vapour-laden air and digging a mighty hoof through the soft earth, is not what it appears to be.
I’m further from the safety of the gate than from the beast when it finally breaks its stance and trots a few heavy paces towards me, expecting me to turn and flee. Instead, I take another tentative step and this time when it bows its head and launches forward it’s the real thing: a thundering, full-blooded, earthshaking charge. My legs tremble and I stagger half a pace back before I can stop myself.
“I know what you are,” I say, in as steady a voice as I can manage.
The lowly traveler stood trembling in the shadow cast by the ebony stallion and its helmeted rider who sneered, “Old man, when will the Drokpa learn that even they must pay tribute to Chen Sheng, Lord of the High Mountains?”
The small figure struggled to keep his footing as the sweaty hindquarters of the soldier’s horse nudged him closer to the edge of the narrow mountain trail. Several more steps and there would be nothing between the aged leader of the Drokpa nomads and the valley floor far below.
“My people have but a few yak, some goats, the tattered tent in which we sleep and what scraps of food we carry,” the old man replied. “We trade not in jin as do the gold merchants along the road to the Gobi. When we near this end of our journey, we always pay our respects to your master by offering our best bull. But, this season, misfortune caused us to lose the best ones in the flood waters of the Tsangpo. Still, we will pay tribute. When we return next season we will offer your lord not one, but two young bulls.”
There’s a unicorn tucked away in an old tin shed at the end of an alley. For Jessie and her brother it’s the little bit of magic in their troubled existence. Until they are not the only ones who’ve seen it… SY
It doesn’t really matter when I found the unicorn. I think it had always been in my life, waiting for me to notice it there: a tale waiting to be told, a mystery to be unravelled. Maybe it was hiding in the shadows, or perhaps I wasn’t able to see the animal until I reached a certain age, a specific point in my existence.
All I do know is that I found it there, near the old tin shed in the back lane, a few weeks after my twelfth birthday.
The following day I took my sister, Jessie, to see the unicorn. It was just after school. Not quite dark yet. She was excited when I told her that I had a secret, and that she couldn’t tell anybody what I was about to show her. In truth, I still wasn’t sure if I’d really seen it myself.
“Can Dolly come?” she asked, dragging her battered old Cabbage Patch doll along by one arm. I hated that doll—it was ugly.
“Sure,” I said. “I don’t see why not.”
We went out of the house, through the gap in the fence at the bottom of the back garden, and across the little area of waste ground to the cobbled alley. It was late in the year. The sun dipped behind the roofs of the old terraced houses at the edge of town and there was a chill in the air. Jessie held onto my hand. Her grip was surprisingly strong for one so young.
Fa’izah dreams of the mother who disappeared out of her life into the forest long ago. Her father has never stopped searching. Seeking her mother out in her dreams, Fa’izah encounters more than she bargains for. SY
Each time Father went to West Africa—Igerbian—he searched for my missing Mother. A remote land surrounded by rivers, valleys and rainbows, where fog blanketed the water. Don’t look for it on a map; you won’t find it. Father brought many things back, but never her. He found her brown sandals, a red scarf and an untouched white sundress hanging on a coco tree in the forest. The last time Father went, he never returned.
I went to Igerbian without ever leaving my bedroom in New York. I made a pot of soup—just like Mother taught me when I was a young girl—and placed it beside my bed. Inside the pot was a liana; a long woody vine that is hollow and native Nigeria. I brought it at the African market on 116 Street. The stems were dry, unhealthy, but I had nothing else to use.
Liana grows in the tropical forest and ensnares other plants. It is too complicated for the white man to understand, so they ignore it. The vine grows unpredictably and is known throughout West Africa for its wondrous abilities.
I chopped and boiled it in a huge black pot; it must be in a black pot. Before going to sleep, I wrapped my mother’s red scarf around my head and dressed myself in her white sundress—the one Father found. I placed the black pot beside my bed. My spirit flew upwards, through thick gray smoke, before landing safely in Igerbian—a place I have not visited in years.
Eric moves to a cabin in the middle of nowhere with his cat, Zombie. In what starts out as a helpful quirk, Zombie’s spider-eating fetish lands her in trouble. Spider rule is returning to the cabin, and Eric may be more than outnumbered…Cindy Hernandez’s story wrapped up the judges and she was named a finalist of the 2013 Story Quest competition. SY
When you live in the middle of nowhere, you’re bound to encounter creepy-crawlies, little creatures that fly, hop, buzz, bite, and chirp. Oh, and spiders. Every cabin in the woods has at least a few. Fortunately, Eric didn’t mind them. Not right away, at least.
Dust filled hammocks of spider webs hung in every corner of the two-room cabin, but he didn’t care. As long as the rent stayed cheap and the roof didn’t leak, the bugs could do whatever they liked. The place was good enough. It was a shabby sanctuary away from the city, away from people, away from everything. His meager belongings sat in the middle of the floor next to the fireplace: his guitar in its battered case, a black plastic trash bag with his clothes inside, and Zombie, his grey and white, battle-scarred cat. Zombie settled herself on the bag of clothes, purring for reasons only known to a cat, and Eric cracked open a lukewarm beer in celebration of their new home.
Zombie developed a real taste for spiders and insects in the days that followed. Entire battalions of them disappeared down her throat. Eric would sit on the front porch in an ancient, splintered rocking chair, drinking beer, while the feline huntress stalked her multi-legged prey. She held no quarter and she took no prisoners.
But she was bound to meet a more formidable foe. Eric was roused from a beer-induced slumber by an odd wailing sound coming from outside. He shielded his eyes from the harsh sun as he opened the door and peered out. Zombie lay next to the rocker, and her growls and hisses were dreadful. She pawed at her face, gurgling and gagging, and Eric caught sight of four inky black, bristly legs protruding from the cat’s mouth. One of Zombie’s victims had decided to fight back.
When problem solver and amateur cryptographer Layne becomes involved with translating an ancient druidic diary, it looks like a hopeless case. But when the cadences start to create rhythm, Layne starts to connect with the work in a way he couldn’t have predicted. SY
Layne had spent the entire morning hunched over the pinned-out vellum leaves and all he had to show for it was a crick in his neck.
He’d filled two pages of his notebook with beautiful cursive, but that was entirely because he enjoyed exercising his fountain pen. He had produced little more than a continuous ink line. There was no greater meaning in it than there was in the old manuscript.
Layne put the pen down and let out a long breath. “This isn’t prose.” The insight surprised him as he said it.
“What?” Trimby looked up from his workstation, across the lab and near to the window.
“It’s not prose.”
“Of course it’s prose,” said Trimby, pushing at the cuffs of his tweed jacket as if ready to engage in fisticuffs. Layne wanted to laugh almost as much as he wanted to punch him. “The wallet clearly states that it’s a diary.”
When Michelle loses the love of her life, she struggles to understand what could have brought her to that dark place. As she starts to dig back into Clara’s past, Michelle discovers that there were secrets of her tormented adolescence that Clara kept from her. SY
Michelle saw Clara’s feet first, absurdly suspended a metre above the ground, toes pointing to the carpet, ghostly pale and twisting in a lazy spiral. The rest of the scene burst into her mind in one electric shock a fraction of a second later; Clara’s wiry nakedness, limp arms, head tilted chaotically to one side. Her tattoos seemed faded against ashen skin. Her so familiar face grotesque and wrong, tongue swelling from her mouth like an escaping slug. And her bulging eyes, staring glassy and cold as Michelle began to scream. Light from the bedside lamp cast Clara’s shadow across the wall like a puppet play, glinted off the metal legs of the upturned chair beneath.
I bought her that belt, Michelle thought, as she stared at the worn black leather biting deep into the blue-tinged flesh of Clara’s neck, and she drew breath to scream again.
Kenneth Schneyer’s Confinement was a shortlisting in the Story Quest Short Story Contest, and deservedly so. The judges were impressed with the supernatural undercurrents of his piece, and yet the stark realism of the contemporary setting and characters is a firm foundation. I find it hard to accurately classify, and recommended to the editor that it be considered a dark fantasy. Read it and test my assessment. GH
She first saw him while she was taking the long way to work to avoid the deformed children. For anybody else, the walk between South Station and the looming tower that enclosed the law firm would be a nearly-straight line, due north, fifteen minutes at most. But Tamara stopped treading that narrow path after the first time she attempted it, because she discovered that it required her to come face-to-face with Saint Drogo’s Infirmary for Waifs.
It wasn’t the building that hurt; it was the children. She had encountered Saint Drogo’s at the same moment as a mother with a cleft-palate toddler emerged, and through the open front door she had also caught a glimpse of the twisted back on a five-year-old. In her imagination, the dark building was bursting with lame, drooling, incontinent, gaping idiots, all children, all demanding attention and understanding, all needing her. Nausea had almost overcome her, and she hurried north to the protection of her own sterile cell at Rheingold, Granada & Pearce.
When she found herself unable to get its name out of her head, Tamara looked up St. Drogo’s. The resolute brownstone clinic had had its genesis a hundred years ago, to care for children no one wanted, who were so awful to look at that adults condemned them. Nowadays it also treated crack babies and infants born with AIDS, and even had a licensed adoption agency to place the many children who were abandoned on the doorstep. That was all Tamara needed to know; she promised herself she’d never see the place again.
An extortion attempt leads to more trouble than any of the parties had bargained for. When a gift horse appears, perhaps it should be looked in the mouth, before it’s too late. Revenge, murder and the supernatural all feature in this great story from an author, whose debut anthology will be published late in 2012. SY
I tightened my grey overcoat as I ran through the busy city streets on the chill morning, sirens already echoing behind me. A weight, hot and hard pulled at the inside pocket of my coat. I supported it with my hand.
The noise, I thought, that’s what did it.
The sound they’d made, a kind of muted popping was hardly discernible from the traffic noise of the city outside. But me? Well I had to defend myself and it was loud; my gun didn’t have a silencer.
Werewolves and vampires make unusual dinner companions, but in a time of truce, dinner at Azurewrath is for the purposes of peace. Thomas Cromley knows that somewhat is amiss, but cannot figure it out. A story of genteel society, where not even mythological creatures can resist intrigue. Esme Carpenter is one of the youngest authors in our catalogue, but her recent young teen novel, Against the Elements, is definitely a testament to her skill as a writer. SY
Watch your back.
That’s the only piece of advice I was ever given. It’s served me, for the most part. If you don’t watch your back, things can happen back there that you wouldn’t ever see. Dodgy dealings, snide comments. Stabbings. And suchlike. But it’s the piece of advice that I draw on when I’m invited to Azurewrath.
I couldn’t tell you why my Order sends me there. I hate the place, I hate the company, and worse besides they hate me too. Common courtesy, I guess. Keeping the peace. Whatever peace there is. I don’t trust the smiles they give me at Azurewrath. I don’t trust the cutlery.
But even vampires know not to stab a werewolf at a dinner party. I suppose, with the cutlery at least, I’m safe. If I watch my back.