The circus is back in town and a father searches for his missing daughter in a world that doesn’t quite make sense. A wandering clown is the herald of an unwelcome admission. SY
The clown disappeared around the corner of Lady Sapphire’s tent, and I followed. He should not have been there. This was a carnival, not a circus.
But maybe he knew where my daughter was.
The abandoned, ash-dusted carnival grounds reminded me of January, after a weeklong thaw had melted the dirty snow of December and the ground had hardened up again, with a fresh skim of snow covering the asphalt and dead grass. My boots cut blurry prints in the parched lawn with each step.
The halo of smoke surrounding the fairgrounds was thick like a wedge of ice fog. Creaks and groans drifted from the empty stations and booths, boards covering their rainbow faces until their owner’s return. The wind wailed through the spokes and benches of the Ferris wheel and caressed the nose of the zebra on the merry-go-round, his black-and-white striped muzzle wearing a toothy grin.
Ackerley Brumlow is dead, and the jokester’s long-time friend Ezra still doesn’t know if Ackerley managed to dispose of the sensitive material he’d given him. Other unlikely happenings open Ezra’s eyes to more sinister signs that all is not right in Tendry Spire. Travis Burnham’s supernatural horror is a question of who is strong enough… SY
The evening they buried Ackerley Brumlow the sky was a bloody bruise. Steely storm clouds menaced the north and the air was charged and heavy; the threat of lightning making every breath laborious and wheezy for those attending the funeral.
Though Ackerley had no family to speak of, many of the residents of Tendry Spire were arranged about the coffin, some to pay their respects, some to truly mourn, and some simply at a loss for activity after a Monday’s work.
Many were children, with which Ackerley had an affinity; no surprise as they comprised a majority of his clientele.
At the presiding priest’s last words, Ezra Calogero stepped forward and, scratching his short, shaggy beard, hesitated at the edge of the grave, “Somber words for our resident trickster, wouldn’t you say, Father Robert?”
A cold stare was Father Robert’s reply.
A hidden spring holds many secrets key to victory, and one old hermit knows where it can be found. But the journey requires the seekers to face many dangers, not least from the ones who protect it. We’re please to feature Recle E. Vibal’s fantasy, with its flavour of the Southeast Asian fable. We’ve included some links to define some of the words our readers may not know. SY
Lightning illuminated the three men outside Ali’s hut. Rain and darkness had hidden their approach.
“Halt. You cannot proceed.” Ali tried to discern their faces from the shadows and silhouettes dancing from the light of his lamp.
“We need your help, hermit.”
A boy on the water buffalo, a kalis hanging by his waist, emerged from the darkness. Beside him were two men. One was as thick as the water buffalo and towered Ali’s hut. The giant had a kampilan tied to his back, the hilt protruding from his waist and the tip of the sheath appearing from his thigh. The boy’s other companion hid in the darkness because of his skin. A headhunter’s axe was lying on his shoulders. They all hid their faces under a salakot.
“What do you want?” Ali asked.
“The spring,” the boy replied. “The Datu said we would see you here, hermit.”
“The datu of what tribe?”
“Why does Datu Matayog seek the spring?”
“The Datu dreamt a mist of ghosts emerging from the horizon, from the sea. The Babaylan interpreted it as a threat to his sultanate, a war from across the ocean.”
To hear violence night after night is a torment, and most neighbours will seek to stop it before someone gets hurt. What if protecting someone else meant you had to put yourself in the direct line of violence? A finalist from the 2013 Story Quest competition, John Claude Smith chilled the judges with this horror piece. SY
Screams crashed the shore of slumber, sonic flotsam that abruptly awakened Jesse for the fourth time in a week. He pressed his palms to his temples, audibly groaning. The screams, originating from the house behind the apartment complex he lived in, had been escalating over the last few months, but in the last week, the needle had been pushed into the red.
It’s only going to end badly, he thought.
He paused to gauge everything, the language not always clear, just the bulldozing audacity of the two voices that ripped him from his sheets. Two voices: Lisa, the wife or girlfriend (he only knew this because her husband’s or boyfriend’s bleats wrapped her name within the delicate embrace of “you fuckin’ whore, Lisa, fuckin’ twat”), and her throat wrenching cries, sounding like a rocket about to lift off; and Mike, the husband or boyfriend (only known because his name was hurled with equal ferocity by the loving wife or girlfriend, Lisa, she of the “fuckin’ whore, fuckin’ twat” designations), growling like the world’s meanest pit bull, slobbering and rabid.
Christ, this was getting ridiculous. He called the police on two of the three previous occasions this week, beaten to the punch once when police sirens derailed his dialing, much to his delight.
Justin Short’s story is not for the squeamish or arachnophobic. Just how many bites are too many? What will it take to be accepted into a new world? Finalist in the 2013 Story Quest competition, this story gets under your skin. SY
When I first came to the valley, the elders gave me a tick. I didn’t think too much of the gift, especially since there was nowhere to return it. The place, as you know, is fairly inaccessible. A big, greenish space surrounded by acres of nearly vertical hayfields, natural silt traps, and the thorniest woods imaginable. No realistic possibility of escape. No company except that lone chair in the exact center of said valley.
The gray-haired bug-bearers arrived shortly after I took my seat. Their tick was a gray one, small and unthreatening. His tiny feet circumnavigated my torso a couple times before he injected his teeth into my shoulder. It hurt at first, but I gradually got used to the tight discomfort there.
Within the hour, one of the old men brought me my second one. This time it was a seed tick. Almost microscopic. When he released it on my skin and wished it luck, I could scarcely distinguish it from my freckles.
Eleanor Atkins lives in a house with the Others, and has for her entire adult life. Looking back, she starts to ask herself questions about her life that don’t have easy answers. SY
When Eleanor Atkins dreams, it is of ordinary things. Going to church and organising the woollens for the jumble sale. Sorting the tins in her cupboard and finding too much pineapple and beetroot, not enough peaches. Small and ordinary things she misses terribly. Once she was the Queen of her street, knowing all, seeing all from her kitchen at Number Two. Who is late out, late in, how much shopping, who has a visitor in the daytime, who Should Not Be There.
Eleanor misses these things.
She’s always inside. She feels as if she’s been inside all her life, although she does know the smell of a wet dog so surely? Once? She was out.
Of course she used to go outside. Hadn’t she and her husband spent a year travelling the country in a caravan for their honeymoon? Jindabyne, Ballarat, Coober Pedy, Rockingham. She collected coasters from every pub.
And they ate at every Chinese restaurant from Ming’s Palace to Ming’s Garden, from Dragon’s Garden to Golden Dragon, honeyed prawns with their fingers.
Chelsea chases storms, frequent visitors to the Queensland coast. It’s not just a photograph she is after; she chases the past and a mistake that can’t be undone. But maybe, if she’s close enough, she can try… SY
“There’s a big one forming up near Rollingstone. You coming?” Paul’s voice distorts as I hold the phone away and glance at my boss. He boxes a pizza, tosses it onto the warmer and faces me, one eyebrow raised expectantly.
“Please, Billy?” I turn the puppy-dog eyes on and pout. “Paul says it’s big.”
Billy rolls his eyes. “It’s always big, Chelsea. Who am I to stand in the way of glory? I’m sure we’ll manage.” He flicks a tea towel at my hip. “Go on, bugger off.”
“You’re the best boss in the world,” I say with a grin as I hang up my apron.
“Just make sure you share the photos on Facebook!” he yells as I hurry for the door. Just before I leave the pizzeria I hear him explain to a puzzled customer, “She’s a storm-chaser. Bloody crazy, but she gets good photos!”
Mervyn travels along the deserted pathways of life, always looking for an opportunity. On the desert highway, he meets his match and finds that the past is never truly buried. SY
may God have mercy on your soul
It is written on the urinal wall amongst the piss and graffiti in a clear blue print. Written directly next to it is: Bobs a ball licker. And below: for a gud time call Big Titz Sally. A smudged number follows.
Mervyn grins, shakes, and zips up his jeans.
He washes his hands, lathering up with the small dirty-white nub of soap left on the edge of the sink. At least there is soap. Toilets at these outback service stations are lucky to have working taps, let alone soap.
Mervyn wipes his hands on his trousers, checks his reflection in the grimy mirror, fixes his hair and steps out into the blinding sunlight.
SQ Mag is pleased to have sourced two prominent figures in the fields of speculative fiction in Australia, and asked them for their opinions. Their views are not necessarily SQ Mag’s, nor can the articles, by way of the size, be considered a complete survey. We encourage readers who are interested in Australian speculative fiction to search the Aurealis Awards, Ditmar Awards, and Australian Shadows Awards for references to many other quality publishers and authors.
The State of Science Fiction and Fantasy in Australia
by Tehani Wessely
In April 2014, a self-published novel won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel for the first time in the 19-year history of the Awards. Also for the first time, the shortlist for that category did not contain a book published by the Harper Voyager line. A debut novelist won the Best Horror Novel and Best Young Adult Novel categories (for the same book), small press publishers dominated the Anthologies and Collections fields, and several works on the 12 shortlists were ebook-only releases. The publishing world is changing quickly, and Australian science fiction and fantasy is riding the wave.
Comparative to population, Australia has a relatively robust speculative publishing arena. HarperCollins, Hachette/Orbit, Allen & Unwin, Random House Australia/Penguin, Pan Macmillan, Walker Books and their subsidiaries and imprints each year produce good numbers of home grown books, along with the smaller figures of Fremantle Press, Ford Street, UQ Press and the like. International publishers such as Angry Robot, Solaris, Prime and Tartarus Press pick up Australian work, and small Australian publishing houses – including Twelfth Planet Press, Ticonderoga Publications, Satalyte Publishing, FableCroft Publishing and Clan Destine Press – rise and produce innovative and niche publications the larger publishers can’t. And of course, with technology providing more access to a broader market than ever before, self-published work is flooding the field. But what trends are we seeing, and why?