Saturday Storytime: Bloodless

This story by Cory Skerry continues F&SF’s long and honored tradition of making us think hard about who the monsters are and what makes them monsters.

Fresh snowfall had softened the world that afternoon, and as dusk fell, the sky cleared enough to release a bright moon. Kamalija leaned against the wall’s stones, rough and pitted with centuries of weather, and watched the shadows of the woods. She wanted to kill something, wanted to feel the hum of her knives in the chill air. They were carved from her grandfather’s bones, etched with sigils of silver and set with garnets. He’d been a gate guardian, like her, and she imagined she could feel his ghost’s approval when she set the blades to their task.

A leather wineskin slapped into the powdery snow at her feet, emanating heat and the reek of fresh death. It contained a well-fitted wooden stopper carved in the shape of a wolf’s head.

Now that he’d given his presence away, Lafiik sauntered out of the blackness between the firs. “I noticed your heirs forgot to feed you tonight,” he said.

Kamalija didn’t move. “Life should never be stolen.”

“You’d take mine, wouldn’t you?”

“If you come so close, you offer it to me.”

Lafiik chuckled. “It was a deer, O Exalted Guardian. Drink with a clear conscience, but drink now, before it cools.”

“We wouldn’t feed a gift from you to even the most ill-behaved of our dogs, joskri,” she said.

His smile faded, but he walked closer. Closer. Her fingers tensed on the handles of her knives.

“Do you think we’re so different, that what you name joskri is a beast, like a wolf or lion?”

“I’d sooner sup with a wolf or sleep beside a lion.”

“Neither you nor I sleep,” Lafiik said, amused. He stopped just outside her circle—he must have been watching her for days or weeks before he’d shown himself, because he knew exactly how far she could reach. Kamalija’s witch star burned its righteous warmth in her chest, a gift for the bloodless warrior against the bloodless anathema. He’d been stalking her.

“They told me everything they told you,” he said. “They’re lying.”

Lafiik gripped the hem of his tunic and peeled up his shirt.

And then he stepped into her circle, as vulnerable as she ever could have wanted. Kamalija knew it must be a trick; she darted forward, knives out, but fell to a crouch three steps short. Snow piled in furrows in front of her boots.

Lafiik waited, his silver-brown skin so like hers, his nipples and navel dark against that expanse of cold flesh. Purple scars, like hers, ragged down the center of his chest. Was that supposed to prove something? All the bloodless she’d killed had those scars—the demons could propagate in an honorless parody of the sacred ritual.

“I mean it,” he said. “Feel my star.”

“You don’t have a star.”

“A landslide destroyed my city’s wall, and my blood circle along with it. When your circle is broken, you are freed—not dead. Feel my star,” he repeated.

He was so still he might as well have been truly dead. They would be there all night, she supposed, waiting to fight. She couldn’t understand what ruse this was, and after so many years of nothing, she found peculiarity, and the curiosity that came with it, intoxicating.

Before she could talk sense to herself, she tucked one blade into the sheath in her sleeve, and still holding the other, she placed a palm against his chest.

The heat struck her hand a half of a second before she even touched his skin. The contact didn’t burn—it was pleasant, just like her star, the only heat in an otherwise dry and cold existence—but the act burned something else, some part of her she didn’t have a name for.


The voice came from behind her, from the gate.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Love Will Tear Us Apart

There is literally nothing I can say about this story by Alaya Dawn Johnson that won’t lessen it. You’re just going to have to read it.

Think of it like the best macaroni and cheese you’ve ever had. No neon yellow Velveeta and bread crumbs. I’m talking gourmet cheddar, the expensive stuff from Vermont that crackles as it melts into that crust on top. Imagine if right before you were about to tear into it, the mac and cheese starts talking to you? And it’s really cool. It likes Joy Division more than New Order, and owns every Sonic Youth album, and saw you in the audience at the latest Arctic Monkeys concert, though you were too stoned to notice anything but the clearly sub–par cheesy mac you’d brought with you.

And what if he—I mean “it”—were really hot? Tall and lanky and weirdly well muscled, with bright blue eyes and ginger hair? So, he smells like the best meal you’ve ever eaten, but you kind of want to bone him too. Can’t have it both ways. You aren’t a necro. But a boy’s got to eat—maybe you could just nibble a bit at the edges? A part he won’t miss, and then fuck the rest of him. Eat an arm or something. He can still fuck with one arm. Not that well, though. Probably wouldn’t like it. Okay, a hand. Who ever needed a left hand? Then you remember that Jack—that’s his name, the mac and cheese—plays lacrosse. That’s probably where he got all those yummy muscles. You need two hands for lacrosse.

A pinky? Damn, you might as well starve yourself.

And you had it all planned out. You and Jack have shared an art class for the last three weeks. You were going to admire the mobile he’s been making (a twisted metal tower dangling with shattered CDs and beer tabs), look deep into his eyes, invite him back home with you to play Halo or smoke hash or whatever, and then devour him in the woods off of Route 25. Those woods are the local hunting range. You’ve done it at least a dozen times before, though not to your actual classmates at Edward R. Murrow High, your newest school.

Liking your meal too much to kill him? That’s a first.

“Pizzicato Five?” you say, catching on to the tail end of Jack’s sentence. “Who’re they?”

His eyes light up. Not literally, but they get really large and you can see the blue of his irises all spangly and flecked around his dilated pupils. Bug eyes, you usually call that look.

“Dude, they’re awesome,” he says. “Harajuku pop. Yeah, I know, you’re thinking about that Gwen Stefani crap, like, ‘I totally thought Jack had better taste,’ but don’t worry, this is the real stuff. It’s all ironic and postmodern. James Bond on a Nipponese acid trip in a bukkake club.”

“Wow,” you say, ’cause honestly you can only deal in monosyllables at this point.

“Hey, we can walk to my place from here. You wanna come over? I have a few of their albums.”

So you don’t get anywhere near Route 25. Which is good. You don’t want to eat him, and you can still smell your leftovers there. The whole thing is weirding you out. You—I don’t know—you like him. Like like him. You think you had a little sister once who would say it just like that. You don’t remember eating her, but you can’t be sure. And what would Jack think if he knew you were some monster who couldn’t even remember if he ate his sister alive?

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Godwin’s Law

Though this story by Curtis C. Chen is about lasting ripples from World War II, it doesn’t feature quite the Hitler–or the Godwin–you know.

Michael walked to the memorial wall. The flags were as he remembered—USA on the left, CIA on the right—but the field of black stars floating above the white marble had multiplied since the last time he’d seen it. He now counted more than a hundred stars, each one representing a Company employee who had died in the line of service.

He stepped closer and looked at the Book of Honor, framed in steel and glass below the starfield. Less than half the gold sigils painted in the book’s pages had names written next to them, either in English or Runic.

Is your name in here, Linda? Are you one of these stars?

“Michael,” said a gravelly voice behind him.

Robert Denford didn’t look like he’d aged a single day since Michael left the Company. The two men shook hands coolly.

“How’ve you been?” Denford asked.

Michael glanced back at the wall. “You said it was a matter of historic importance. That’s the only reason I’m here.”

“Let’s go to the archives.”

Michael followed Denford into an elevator. Denford pushed a button.

“I hear you made deputy director,” Michael said as the doors closed.

Denford shrugged. “War is good for business.”

Before the elevator reached the basement, Denford pulled out his access talisman and opened a portal in the back wall. He and Michael stepped through the glowing circle and into a dim cave. There was no way to tell where this archive was; CIA had secret underground caches all over the world.

The two men walked down a long aisle of bookshelves that looked as if they had grown right out of the rough-hewn rock walls. Michael watched Denford pull one shelf out from the wall and unfold it into an impossibly large space. They stepped inside, and Denford parted another set of shelves.

Michael saw labels reading MIDWAY and MARSHALL ISLANDS on his way into a closet walled by what looked like multicolored curtains, but were actually floor-to-ceiling file volumes. He looked around in awe. The Company hadn’t used curtain files since—

“World War Two?” Michael asked.

Denford tugged a cloth line, and the material poured into his hand and became a hardbound book. “This is why we’re here.”

Michael read the book cover. “Hitler’s daughter. You’re joking, right?”

“The old man wants complete discretion. That’s why I called you.”

“I’m retired,” Michael said. “You can get someone more expert to tell you, authoritatively, that this is a crock. Something the Third Reich made up to scare the Allies as a last resort.”

“So you’ve heard the stories.”

“Yeah. Nazis raping Jewish and Romani prisoners, trying to breed supernatural talents into the master race. It didn’t work.”

Denford reached into his jacket and pulled out a modern file folder, bordered in red-and-white eyes-only logograms. The symbols shifted and moved over the paper. “There’s evidence that it did.”

“If you actually had convincing proof, you’d be talking to the JIC.”

“You’re right,” Denford said. “It’s promising, but not convincing. We need someone to run it down. Quietly. The old man trusts you.”

“And no one would suspect an elderly college professor.”

Denford smiled. “Everybody fights.”

Michael took the file. “Nobody wins.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Night’s Slow Poison

Ann Leckie is a Tor author whose books are published by Orbit and a bestselling, award-winning author whose books no one reads or likes. And one has to wonder whether the people saying these things, after reading this story, would think it’s all worth it.

The Jewel of Athat was mainly a cargo ship, and most spaces were narrow and cramped. Like the Outer Station, where it was docked, it was austere, its decks and bulkheads scuffed and dingy with age. Inarakhat Kels, armed, and properly masked, had already turned away one passenger, and now he stood in the passageway that led from the station to the ship, awaiting the next.

The man approached, striding as though the confined space did not constrain him. He wore a kilt and embroidered blouse. His skin was light brown, his hair dark and straight, cut short. And his eyes . . . Inarakhat Kels felt abashed. He had thought that in his years of dealing with outsiders he had lost his squeamishness at looking strangers in the face.

The man glanced over his shoulder, and cocked an eyebrow. “She was angry.” The corners of his mouth twitched in a suppressed grin.

“One regrets.” Inarakhat Kels frowned behind his mask. “Who?”

“The woman in line before me. I take it you refused to let her board?”

“She carried undeclared communication implants.” Privately, Kels suspected her of being a spy for the Radchaai, but he did not say this. “One is, of course, most sorry for her inconvenience, but . . . ”

“I’m not,” the man interrupted. “She nearly ruined my supper last night insisting that I give up my seat, since she was certain she was of a higher caste than I.”

“Did you?”

“I did not,” said the man. “I am not from Xum, nor are we anywhere near it, so why should I bow to their customs? And then this morning she shoved herself in front of me as we waited outside.” He grinned fully. “I confess myself relieved at not having to spend six months with her as a fellow passenger.”

“Ah,” Kels said, his voice noncommittal. The grin, the angle of the man’s jaw—now he understood why the eyes had affected him. But he had no time for old memories. He consulted his list. “You are Awt Emnys, from the Gerentate.” The man acknowledged this. “Your reason for visiting Ghaon?”

“My grandmother was Ghaonish,” Awt Emnys said, eyes sober that had previously been amused. “I never knew her, and no one can tell me much about her. I hope to learn more in Athat.”

Whoever she was, she had been from the Ghem agnate, Kels was certain. His eyes, his mouth, the line of his chin . . . With just a little more information, Kels could tell Awt which house his grandmother had been born in. “One wishes you good fortune in your search, Honored Awt,” he said, with a small bow he could not suppress.

Awt Emnys smiled in return, and bowed respectfully. “I thank you, Honored,” he said. “I understand I must disable any communications implants.”

“If they are re-activated during the voyage, we will take any steps necessary to preserve the safety of the ship.”

Awt’s glanced at the gun at Kels’ waist. “Of course. But is it really so dangerous?”

“About three months in,” said Kels, in his blandest voice, “we will pass the last ship that attempted to traverse the Crawl with live communications. It will be visible from the passengers’ lounge.”

Awt grinned. “I have an abiding wish to die old, in my bed. Preferably after a long and boring life tracking warehouse inventories.”

Kels allowed himself a small smile. “One wishes you success,” he said, and stepped aside, pressing against the wall so that Awt could pass him. “Your belongings will be delivered to your cabin.”

“I thank you, Honored.” Awt brushed Kels as he passed, awakening some unfamiliar emotion in him.

“Good voyage,” Kels murmured to the other man’s back, but there was no sign Awt had heard.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Children of Dagon

Sometimes future history can carry all the same weight of inevitability that our own history does, even when it’s fantastic. This story by Adrian Tchaikovsky is a good example.

We mass at Knightsbridge Station, just below the surface, taking turns to breathe at the half-sunk steps. Knightsbridge is a peninsula now, caught between the burst north bank of the Thames and the Serpentine. You should know better than to go there, really, with your escape route narrowed to that single land-bridge, but the waters there are fertile, some of the best of all that great expanse of shallows that was Central London. We farm there, our weed and our fish, our shells and our crabs, and where we farm, you come to steal from us. Shallow seas are paradise for my people, and the world has so many of them now, where the rich earth has been taken from you. It wasn’t as if you were taking care of it, after all. If you had been better custodians, we wouldn’t be here. There wouldn’t have been a need for us.

I go ahead, hauling myself up the ridges of the stairs. Out in the open air, the red sun in the west silhouettes the broken skyline. Evening is upon us, and you have outstayed your welcome. I am awkward on the hard ground for a moment before I find my feet. There is still something of you, in the way I stand. My spine is more flexible, my posture more bowed; my neck is long, my head streamlined. My eyes are huge dark pools that pierce the gathering dusk far better than yours. Where you scavenge rags to hide your bare bodies, I have my oil-thick fur.

My hands are like yours, though: part-webbed, but I have your fingers and your thumb, dark and naked. Or perhaps they are otters’ hands, after all. I would prefer that to be the case.

I slink from the toothless maw of Knightsbridge Station, humping my lithe body from cover to cover: not as nimble now I am on the land, but I can stalk two-legged prey with the best of them. Your sentries do not see me, between the drawing dark and the glare of sunset.

There are so many of you! I am always shocked to find there are so many left, and these are just the mass of you in this one place and time. There are numbers we have learned, for how many humans lived on the earth when Doctor Deacon began his work, but they are meaningless. They are numbers that nobody should have any use for. I know there must be far less of you now, but still . . . so many, crawling like maggots across the Knightsbridge peninsula, netting and clawing at the water’s bounty, stripping the littoral of everything edible. Your habits have not changed since the waters came.

I wait there, watching you, trying to see you as something other than a composite, consuming mass. You are pale and filthy, and I can smell the thin, sour reek of you from here. And you are thin—limbs like sticks, faces like skulls. You cluster together in your little clans: You have brought your whole families for this day at the seaside. I smell the smoke of your little fires, but many of you just tear at the fish with your teeth, too hungry to wait.

I watch your children. Even hungry, even desperate, at this trailing loose end of your history, they are still children. They play and jump as ours do; they fight each other as ours do; they splash in the water, eyes bright with curiosity. No doubt you love them, just as we love ours. You want the best for them, now that your parents and their parents have ensured that you will have only the worst.

I wait too long, watching your young. For all that we are children of a different god, I cannot see your children without feeling the stir of pity in me. We were all human once, and our creator left alone those things that let us think and feel. My heart, my lungs, my blood, my bones, these he improved, but that part of me that loves, he left alone.

But all these lands under the water’s shadow are ours, and we have hungry children too.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Game of Smash and Recovery

Strange Horizons is approaching the end of this year’s funding drive, with just a couple of days left. As a reward for hitting one of their funding targets, they’ve published this story from Kelly Link. Like much of her work, it is alien and familiar, transformative and, yes, painful.

If Anat did not have Oscar, then who in this world would there be to love? The Handmaids will do whatever Anat asks of them, but they are built to inspire not love but fear. They are made for speed, for combat, for unwavering obedience. When they have no task, nothing better to do, they take one another to pieces, swap parts, remake themselves into more and more ridiculous weapons. They look at Anat as if one day they will do the same to her, if only she will ask.

There are the vampires. They flock after Oscar and Anat whenever they go down to Home. Oscar likes to speculate on whether the vampires came to Home deliberately, as did Oscar, and Oscar and Anat’s parents, although of course Anat was not born yet. Perhaps the vampires were marooned here long ago in some crash. Or are they natives of Home? It seems unlikely that the vampires’ ancestors were the ones who built the warehouses of Home, who went out into space and returned with the spoils that the warehouses now contain. Perhaps they are a parasite species, accidental passengers left behind when their host species abandoned Home for good. If, that is, the Warehouse Builders have abandoned Home for good. What a surprise, should they come home.

Like Oscar and Anat, the vampires are scavengers, able to breathe the thin soup of Home’s atmosphere. But the vampires’ lustrous and glistening eyes, their jellied skin, are so sensitive to light they go about the surface cloaked and hooded, complaining in their hoarse voices. The vampires sustain themselves on various things, organic, inert, hostile, long hidden, that they discover in Home’s storehouses, but have a peculiar interest in the siblings. No doubt they would eat Oscar and Anat if the opportunity were to present itself, but in the meantime they are content to trail after, sing, play small pranks, make small grimaces of—pleasure? appeasement? threat displays?—that show off arrays of jaws, armies of teeth. It disconcerts. No one could ever love a vampire, except, perhaps, when Anat, who long ago lost all fear, watches them go swooping, sail-winged, away and over the horizon beneath Home’s scatter of mismatched moons.

On the occasion of her birthday, Oscar presents Anat with a gift from their parents. These gifts come from Oscar, of course. They are the gifts that the one who loves you, and knows you, gives to you not only out of love but out of knowing. Anat knows in her heart that their parents love her too, and that one day they will come home and there will be a reunion much better than any birthday. One day their parents will not only love Anat, but know her too. And she will know them. Anat dreads this reunion as much as she craves it. What will her life be like when everything changes? She has studied recordings of them. She does not look like them, although Oscar does. She doesn’t remember her parents, although Oscar does. She does not miss them. Does Oscar? Of course he does. What Oscar is to Anat, their parents must be to Oscar. Except: Oscar will never leave. Anat has made him promise.

The living quarters of the Bucket are cramped. The Handmaids take up a certain percentage of available space no matter how they contort themselves. On the other hand, the Handmaids are excellent housekeepers. They tend the algae wall, gather honey and the honeycomb and partition off new hives when the bees swarm. They patch up networks, teach old systems new tricks when there is nothing better to do. The shitter is now quite charming! The Get Clean rains down water on your head, bubbles it out of the walls, and then the floor drinks it up, cycles it faster than you can blink, and there it all goes down and out and so on for as long as you like, and never gets cold. There is, in fact, very little that Oscar and Anat are needed for on board the Bucket. There is so much that is needful to do on Home.

For Anat’s birthday, the Handmaids have decorated all of the walls of The Bucket with hairy, waving clumps of luminous algae. They have made a cake. Inedible, of course, but quite beautiful. Almost the size of Anat herself, and in fact it somewhat resembles Anat, if Anat were a Handmaid and not Anat. Sleek and armored and very fast. They have to chase the cake around the room and then hold it until Oscar finds the panel in its side. There are a series of brightly colored wires, and because it’s Anat’s birthday, she gets to decide which one to cut. Cut the wrong one, and what will happen? The Handmaids seem very excited. But then, Anat knows how Handmaids think. She locates the second, smaller panel, the one equipped with a simple switch. The cake makes an angry fizzing noise when Anat turns it off. Perhaps Anat and Oscar can take it down to Home and let the vampires have it.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Sisters’ Line

If you’ve known me for a while, you have some idea of my love for nonsense. I have an inordinate fondness for things that make no sense whatsoever and refuse to justify themselves but still, somehow, work. This story from Liz Argall and Kenneth Schneyer is a delightful bit of nonsense.

Becky squats and gets both her hands underneath the overhead rack in a perfect weight lifter position. She frowns, her tiny biceps bulge (I feel a moment of envy at how ripped she is) and she lifts the rack to the height of her armpits and pushes it up against the driver’s controls. The rack shifts and bends under her pressure and then slides easily, perfectly marrying to the control panel and turning into a series of buttons and one long lever.


“I’m building,” says Becky, primly.

I press my hand against my head. If the parts are malleable and contain as many hidden pockets as the letters, the variables are infinite. How will I piece it together if even the pieces lie to me? I brace myself against the console and try not to throw up. How much of my train is a lie?

“Bulgaria,” says Becky. “Belarus. Beirut. Boston. Beijing. Birmingham. Berlin.”

“Do you know what this train is for, Becky?” My voice is unpleasantly shrill. “Are you guessing at the places my sister might be?”

“Bora–Bora,” she continues, oblivious. “Bristol, but that’s an extra twenty dollars.”

“Can you take me to my sister?”

Becky’s patter suddenly stops. “Take?”

“Drive? Transport? Navigate? Operate this train?”

Becky shakes her head, bewildered.

“Becky! Are you bothering your friend?” Stacy’s playtime–is–over voice winds up through the metal housing.

“No, mummy,” pipes up Becky. “I’m boggling her.”

I squeeze my head between both hands, trying to think of a B word that means travel.

“It’s all right, Stacy.” I say, “Becky’s just showing me where she thinks some of the parts go.”

“She’s not breaking anything, is she?”

“No, it’s perfectly fine.” What can I do to buy more time, what do parents like? “Would you like to come up and see? I think you’d enjoy some of the new additions. Could I get you some tea?”

“Thanks, but we have to get dinner ready. Becky! Come down. I need you to help me with the beef and broccoli.”

“Broccoli?” says Becky. “Yay!

“Can you bus the train, Becky?” I whisper urgently as she twirls around in preparation to leave. “Broom, broom?”

Becky jumps down the ladder, ignoring me.

“Broccoli is a brassica!” she chants as she bounces into the house.

Once she is gone, the engine room feels empty and drained of color. I wonder what sort of kids my sister would have had if she’d had the chance. I would have made a good auntie. I wonder if I will ever get the chance.

I sit hunched against the wall of the engine room for a long time, trying to see what Becky saw.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Star Maiden

io9 is helpfully making sure we don’t miss great stories from the last few months. There are plenty of good ones to choose from, but as I’m a sucker for good riffs on fairy tales and folks tales, this story from Roshani Chokshi particularly grabbed me.

I already knew what she would say. To anyone who would listen, she would tell them the tale of how she had floated down from the heavens to a secluded forest pool and how, there, my grandfather had fallen in love, captured her, and wedded her shortly thereafter.

“Your Lolo stole my dress when I was bathing,” she said matter-of-factly. “I could never fly back home. Without her dress, it is the star maiden’s curse to live out a mortal life.”

She crooned a little song before looking at my grandfather’s picture on the wall. “Salbahe,” she said, scolding the picture affectionately. “Your grandfather was very mischievous.”

When I was younger, I believed everything she said. I believed that a tikbalang slunk through coastal shantytowns, its ghost hooves crusted with sea-salt, its body twitching and hungry for virgins. I believed that a shadow in a tree meant a wakwak was preening and that its smooth-skinned witch familiar was nearby. I believed my Lola was a star-maiden who once wore a constellation in her hair and yearned to press her feet in the warm loam of the Philippines. Later, my parents would tell me that Lola had lived through the war and had lost everyone. If she chose to mask slain family members with a myth, then that was her business.

At the time, however, the one thing I couldn’t believe about my grandmother was why she stayed on Earth.

“He stole from you! Why did you stay?”

Lola shrugged. “I do not know. Perhaps I was curious. I was a foreigner, after all. The first day he saw me, he gave me a mango. I had never had a mango…it was masarap. Like eating a sun. He was a good man. And he had the most beautiful singing voice.”

Later, I would discover that things less powerful than sweet mangoes and lovely voices could grasp your heart. But at the time, I was quietly outraged. How could my grandmother—who knew a thousand ways to lull someone to sleep, who knew that the moon wore a coronet of solar flares, who knew what a star looked liked without its husk—fall for a song? Then again, perhaps I could understand. I remembered Lolo’s voice. He sang to me once when I was eight and had fallen off a bike. My head against his chest, his voice—exquisite and velvety—wrapped around us like gauze, soothing my bruised knee and scuffed elbow until I was bobbing my head with the rhythm, garbling the lyrics and trying to sing with him.

“Did you ever find it?” I pressed. “The dress?”

“Oh yes,” she said with a nonchalant wave of her hand. “He was so messy. He could not find his own nose without my help.”

“But you stayed.”

“I loved him. I still do. Mahal ko siya.”

“But he cursed you by taking your dress,” I pointed out.

“Oh anak, that is not the curse,” she said, taking my hand in hers. “The curse is to love, to be loved in return, and still have to leave.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: Cold Wind

It is a glorious time right now to enjoy F&SF short fiction. It is also a slightly overwhelming time, with so much out there to choose from. So it’s nice when short lists come along and help you make sure you haven’t missed stories you would enjoy, like this one from Nicola Griffith.

She came toward me, stepping around the spilt beer and dropped fries, lifting her feet high, placing them carefully, as though she wore tall heels.

I watched, unable—unwilling—to move.

And then she stood before me. I could smell her—woodland, fern, musk—and I wanted to reach, fold her down, stretch her out on the bracken, and feel the pulse flutter at her neck.

“You were watching me,” she said, and her voice sounded hoarse, as though used to a bigger throat.

“I’m . . . an anthropologist. It’s what we do.” I’ve been looking for you for a long time. I didn’t think you existed.

“What’s your name?”

I thought about that. “Onca.”

She nodded; it meant nothing to her. Her eyes were so dark. She turned up her collar. “I’ll see you, Onca. Soon, I hope.” A cold stream purled through her voice and snow blew across her eyes. Come outside, under the sky with me, they said.

I nodded. We both knew I would: she called, others followed. It’s who she was.

And then she was gone. I didn’t look out of the window. If the stories were true in this way too, I wouldn’t be able to see her, not yet.


I found her victim in the bathroom, the blind spot with no cameras. She wasn’t dead. She sat propped on the seat in a stall, jeans around her knees, head against the wall. She grinned at me foolishly. “Can’t move,” she said.

I locked the stall behind me. “Does it hurt?”


It would. I smelled blood, just a little. I bent, looked at her shirt darkening between her breasts. “Can you draw a deep breath?”

She tried. In reality it was more of a sigh. But she didn’t flinch or cough. No broken ribs.

I squatted in front of her, elbows on knees, hands dangling comfortably. She just kept smiling, head at that odd angle against the wall. In that position she couldn’t see me. I stood, straightened her head, then, because it was distracting, I leaned her on my shoulder, lifted, and pulled up her jeans. She could fasten them herself later, or not.

I squatted again, regarded her. She was still smiling, but it was a faint echo of what it had been. No longer solid. After this not much would be. “There’s a legend,” I said. “More than a dozen legends, from all over the world.” La Llorona. Or Flura. Xana, Iara, Naag Kanya . . . “She lures people with sex. Some say she takes your heart.” Sometimes literally. “But she always takes something.” I considered her. “She’s taken your spirit.”

“My . . .”

I waited, but she didn’t say any more. “Your soul.” As good a word as any. “You’re tired, I should think.”

Her smile faded, like a guttering flame. She might survive. She would never feel alive again.

I wasn’t sure she could hear me anymore. I leaned forward, unbuttoned her shirt. The bruise was swelling too quickly to be sure, but the shape cut into the broken skin—lovely skin, over firm muscle—could have been from a blow by a hoof.

“What’s your name?”

“Maria José Flores.”

“Maria, you make me hungry.” And she would have, with her spirit intact. “But not like this.” I fastened her back up and stood. Time to go.

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The World in Evening

Strange Horizons is now running its annual fund drive. And if you want to know why they’re worth supporting, you could do worse than this delicious little creeper from Jei D. Marcade.

For a while there was only the sawing of steel through bone, the rasp of Rook’s own breath echoing in his mask. Then he heard a low growl behind him. He dropped the hunk of meat he was working on and pivoted machete-first, unfolding his lanky frame from the pool of deeper shadow at the base of the auto shop wall.

“Farrago, hush,” Mouse said softly, a warning. Beside her, its head reaching well above her waist, crouched a hulking, chimeric thing with mismatched eyes, the only feature that remained of the daylit stray.

Its nostrils flared, and Rook wondered idly if it recognized what remained of Harley’s scent—if it recalled his comment about stuffing household pets.

“Friend of yours?” Rook said.

“Sometimes.” Mouse curled her fingers in the creature’s thick ruff when it released a rattling, staccato bark. “Hush, it’s okay.” Her hood was down, and Rook saw her hair for the first time, chopped short and ragged as though with a pair of safety scissors. A cord led from her backpack to the headset hanging around her neck, a muffled voice hissing urgently from the speakers. Rook thought he heard his name. Mouse adjusted a dial on the cord to silence the noise.

Rook swayed and smiled when Mouse tracked the movement, her eyes clear and sharp and trained on the lens of his mask, her hand plunged into the pocket of her sweatshirt. Gone was the heaviness from her limbs, the gloss of disinterest scrubbed from her face, as though the night had carved a new Mouse from her daylit torpor with the razor of the moon.

“I know you,” she said. It was almost a challenge. “You live across the street from us. You’re Harley.”

“Sometimes.” Rook stepped onto the sidewalk, a fat dark drop rolling off the serrated edge of his blade and splashing onto the pavement; it sounded loudly in the empty street as though in a tunnel. “Just not at night.” He hadn’t meant to take that step, but he did not try to reclaim it.

The beast planted itself between the girl and Rook, a snarl trickling through bared teeth as it flashed incisors the length of Rook’s thumb. Mouse seized two of its curling horns and tugged.

“Farrago,” she said again, louder. “Leave it. Come on.”

Head a-tilt, Rook lowered his machete, holding it partially out of sight behind his leg. “Little Mouse, little Mouse,” he sing-songed, “won’t you come out and play?”

“I will not,” she said firmly, staring hard into his lens. “Not with you. Not tonight.”

Keep reading.