The Monster's Corner: Stories Through Inhuman Eyesby Christopher Golden
An all original anthology from some of todays hottest supernatural writers, featuring stories of monsters from the monster's point of view.
In most stories we get the perspective of the hero, the ordinary, the everyman, but we are all the hero of our own tale, and so it must be true for legions of monsters, from Lucifer to Mordred, from child-thieving/p>
An all original anthology from some of todays hottest supernatural writers, featuring stories of monsters from the monster's point of view.
In most stories we get the perspective of the hero, the ordinary, the everyman, but we are all the hero of our own tale, and so it must be true for legions of monsters, from Lucifer to Mordred, from child-thieving fairies to Frankenstein's monster and the Wicked Witch of the West. From our point of view, they may very well be horrible, terrifying monstrosities, but of course they won't see themselves in the same light, and their point of view is what concerns us in these tales. Demons and goblins, dark gods and aliens, creatures of myth and legend, lurkers in darkness and beasts in human clothing…these are the subjects of The Monster's Corner. With contributions by Lauren Groff, Chelsea Cain, Simon R. Green, Sharyn McCrumb, Kelley Armstrong, David Liss, Kevin J. Anderson, Jonathan Maberry, and many others.
“Spotlighting monsters of all varieties ... Golden ... assembles a solid variety of tales.” Publishers Weekly
“Contributions from Sharyn McCrumb, Tananarive Due, Heather Graham, and others make this a strong themed anthology.” Library Journal
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The Monster's Corner
Stories Through Inhuman Eyes
By Christopher Golden
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Christopher Golden
All rights reserved.
THE AWKWARD AGE
by David Liss
PETE ALWAYS BELIEVED that he and Roberta had done everything they could do, but they'd been doing everything they could for so long that the urgency had long since slipped away, leaving nothing behind but familiarity. It was one of those situations that looked pretty much awful from the outside but was just everyday life to those inside.
So it was a surprise more confusing than pleasant when the phone rang one weekday night and Pete found himself talking to a woman with one of those congenial San Antonio accents that bespoke social fluidity and comfortable wealth. "Is this Neil's dad? Hi. This is Mason's mom." Which is to say, my mother. I'm Mason. And I know you won't be happy when you find out how exactly I knew so much about Pete's life, his take on things, what went on in that fucked-up head of his. You are not going to like it, but I promise to tell you. Only not yet. For now, you are going to have to trust me, which is a lot to ask, I know. But people do trust me. I guess I have one of those faces.
* * *
Back to their phone conversation. Pete knew of no child named Mason, so the call caught him off guard. Mason's mother, Cindy, whom Pete immediately recognized from her voice as a particular kind of San Antonio woman — a blond, ponytailed, lacquered — wanted to invite Neil to sleep over with Mason on Friday night. There were some calls across the house, some quick checking of schedules, and the thing was arranged. Just like that. Not until it was all over did Pete cajole Neil away from his computer long enough to answer some rudimentary questions about Mason, who was, by definition, remarkable simply for being Neil's friend.
It was not Pete's fault that he had no idea how to communicate with his son. Not really. On his best day, Neil was impossible to talk to, and this conversation turned out to be even more difficult than most. Neil had been a withdrawn kid when they'd lived in San Diego, and Pete had hoped their move to San Antonio two years ago would give him a chance to open up, to reinvent his life, but it hadn't. He remained the same. Quiet without being moody. Withdrawn without being sullen. Alone without being lonely.
What little attention Neil had for his father evaporated the minute my name was mentioned, and he instantly retreated to the far reaches of his bed, tucked his receding chin into his too-large T-shirt, and mostly nodded yes or shook his head no or shrugged that he didn't know. Pete — who was tall, broad in the shoulders, fit from a regular and moderately punishing gym routine — felt like a menacing ogre, and he couldn't find it within himself to press on with the interrogation. He finally opted for a strategic retreat rather than continue to embarrass his son or do anything that might somehow endanger the sleepover.
Roberta, the lady of the house, made her own foray into Neil Land, but emerged with no more success. "I didn't want him to feel so uncomfortable that he'd cancel," she said later that night as they lay in bed. She was reading a mystery that she'd read a jillion times before. Roberta loved to reread books. Some of her favorites she'd read twenty times or more, which Pete would have considered less absurd if she were reading Proust or Joyce, but these were books by Janet Evanovich or John Grisham, books that hardly warranted a single skim, let alone dozens of attentive reads. Some years ago Pete had found this habit endearing, but now he thought it silly, even embarrassing.
"It's weird," Pete said. He was leafing through the New Yorker, not reading much of anything. "He's getting kind of old for sleepovers, don't you think? I'm worried there might be some kind of gay component to this. Or pre-gay."
"You think this is a pre-gay sleepover?" asked Roberta.
Pete set down his magazine. "I'm saying it's odd. I mean, I don't care if he's gay. I'd celebrate him being gay."
"Like with a coming-out party?" Roberta asked. "Our neighbors would love that."
"At least he would be enthusiastic about something. I just want him to be who he is instead of ..." But Pete did not finish the sentence, because the only possible way to finish it was nothing, which was, to his own great shame, how he had come to think of Neil: as a walking depository of nothingness.
Neil always been that way; even as a baby he'd been detached, uninterested, unnaturally calm. Pete and Roberta had done all the right things, gone to all the right doctors, had all the right tests. The results were always the same. There was nothing wrong with Neil. He had no developmental issues; he was nowhere on the autism scale. He was intelligent and responsive, but he didn't care for people. That was who he had always been.
"You should simply enjoy the fact that he has a friend," Roberta told him.
A few minutes later, when she turned out her light, Pete vaguely considered rolling over toward Roberta, who remained very attractive for a woman of forty-seven — pretty, slim, the gray in her hair sexy in a Disney villainess kind of way — but he didn't know if he exactly wanted to have sex. The last three or four — yes, it was exactly four — times he'd made advances, Roberta had rejected him, and he didn't know if he was up for the emotional trauma of five in a row. He might be awake half the night, pondering this rejection, wondering what it meant for their eighteen-year-old marriage. Alternatively, she might be interested, and he wasn't entirely sure that would be a good thing either. In theory sex seemed like an excellent idea, but even at its most rushed it was a time-consuming business, and it was already after midnight. He had work to finish in the morning. Did he want to have sex, or did he want to have had sex already so not having sex could be something he didn't have to ponder? As he turned over these ideas, Roberta began to snore in a low, grumbling rhythm and the decision was made for him.
* * *
It turned out that Roberta could not take Neil over to my house on Friday night. She was the program director of an oldies radio station, and a crisis had exploded across station management with shocking urgency. The station's popular morning DJ announced he'd received a lucrative offer from a station in Baltimore, and Roberta had to attend an emergency meeting about how to confront this offer. Pete, who telecommuted as a software engineer for the database company he'd been with in San Diego, had the flexible schedule, and he was the one who picked up all the parenting slack. On the way to my house, Neil slouched in the front seat, playing with the satellite radio, settling on some kind of shrill dirge-like music that left Pete feeling both anxious and depressed.
"What's this Mason like?" Pete attempted.
Neil shrugged and then attempted to retract his mass of curly brown hair into his chest cavity. "Okay, I guess."
"Yeah? What do you two like to do together?"
"I don't know. Nothing."
At a stop sign, Pete took a moment to look at his slight, pale, gaunt specter of a son. "Is he also into computer games?"
"Who?" asked Neil with complete sincerity.
"Who do you think?" Pete sighed with frustration. "Mason."
Neil didn't respond, but his silence was not of the furtive or guilty kind, and Neil was already drifting off into the blank space he so much preferred to conversation. Pete decided to let the matter go.
Mason's family, which is to say my family, lived in one of those massive old Alamo Heights houses on one of those winding old streets near the dam. It was the kind of house, inhabited by the kind of people, that made Pete feel small and insignificant and destined to be an outsider in San Antonio. Here was land money, oil money, cattle money. Here were people who surrounded themselves with uniformed Mexicans and felt no discomfort in wielding their complete authority over them, comfortable giving out orders in their competent Spanish. They were the sort of people who, when they heard Pete was a software engineer, would say, "I think that's great!" as if to announce that they were okay with Pete's curious little career. They were accepting of his meaningless toil. They were willing to put a happy face on his inexplicable lack of riches. Mason's family's immodest weal made any interest in Neil even more inexplicable. Pete steadied his nerve as he pulled into our circular driveway, and Neil grabbed his bag and was out the door before Pete had unbuckled his seat belt.
Cindy was precisely what Pete expected — pretty and faded, slim, blond, ponytailed, tennis outfit as casual attire, too much makeup, certainly some minor plastic surgery, possibly something major. He felt like he needed a translator when talking to women like this.
"Those kids," she said, looking toward the house, where the silhouettes of two figures were visible on the other side of the curtains. They stood there, still, bodies at odd angles, surely listening to the adults.
After Pete shook her hand and uttered a few awkward words of introduction, Cindy pressed on with her breathless and insincere enthusiasm. "I am just so glad Mason met Neil. I know he's been a good friend, and Mason's had such a hard time this year. Fourteen is such an awkward age, don't you think?"
Pete agreed because he supposed, from talking to parents who had kids Neil's age, that they had difficulties he and Roberta did not — drama and romance and hormones and emotions. Slammed doors and unfinished homework and asserting dominance. Pete had heard about these things. Also, agreeing seemed to be the best way to keep the conversation to a minimum, and more than anything else, Pete wanted to be in his car and driving away. After answering Cindy's questions about what Neil liked to eat and how late was absolutely too late to stay up, Pete was soon free to retreat to his Accord and return home.
Later, Roberta was angry with Pete for not going inside the house, getting a sense of what the family was like — they didn't even know if Cindy was married. Pete hadn't noticed if she wore a ring. He hadn't figured out a way to meet Mason, to lay eyes on the first friend Neil had made in years. Roberta's irritation bordered on genuine anger.
Pete didn't have the energy to defend himself. If he had, the discussion might have turned into a real argument, but as far as he could tell, he had done nothing wrong. He could hardly have forced his way into the house. He offered to call over there, but Roberta did not want to embarrass Neil in front of his only friend, so she managed to keep her curiosity under control. When Neil was safely returned home at the promised time the next morning, it was apparent there was nothing to worry about. That Neil would not describe his night as anything other than fine and okay in itself raised no red flags. That was Neil.
Roberta wanted to reciprocate as quickly a possible, both to show their appreciation and so they could have the chance to meet this elusive Mason, so the following Friday evening Cindy's Escalade pulled into their driveway, and Pete watched from the window as my mother emerged, followed by a figure with long dark hair and dressed entirely in black. The first thing Pete noticed was that I had girlish hair — a long, straight tumble of darkness with two elevated purple pigtails. Then he noticed that I was wearing leggings and a skirt. It took a few seconds for Pete to put all the pieces together and realize that his fourteen-year-old son was having a sleepover with a girl. Or was it a cross-dresser? No, it was definitely a girl.
It was not Pete's first encounter with Texas girls with ridiculous names, androgynous only because they were not first names at all. Nevertheless he'd assumed — of course he'd assumed — that someone named Mason would be a boy. Masonry was masculine work, after all. Now both Pete and Roberta were so paralyzed by surprise and awkwardness, they could not even begin to imagine how they ought to act. There was no precedent, no guidelines. They stood, mouths open, eyes wide, while an uninvited girl walked up their driveway followed by her blond, attractive mother, whose prettiness diminished in the wake of her daughter's presence. Charisma radiated from Mason like radioactive waves. Pete saw at once that this was not just a girl. Mason was something special.
So, yes, he noticed me right away. Unlike small and androgynous Neil, I was neither scrawny nor underdeveloped. I was a full head taller than Neil, broad in the shoulder, and respectably stacked for a girl my age. I wore a long black skirt, black boots, and a gauzy blouse that showed off enough cleavage to make a point, but not so much as to venture into whore territory. Despite the dyed black hair and the excessive makeup, neither of which Pete was inclined to find particularly appealing, I had his full attention.
"I can't thank you enough for having Mason over," Cindy said, keys still in hand. She looked, as if with longing, at her Escalade. "Y'all are so nice."
"It's the least we could do. After you had our son sleep over with your daughter," Roberta said, emphasizing the gendered nouns in case this aspect of the situation had somehow escaped Cindy's notice.
"Y'all are so nice," Cindy said again. "And I love your house!"
"Are there any ..." Roberta waved her hand in the air and then, noticing what she was doing, stopped. "Are there any special rules you want us to enforce."
I looked at Cindy and she looked away. "No," said Cindy, who after a moment remembered her smile. "I trust y'all."
With Cindy retreating to her car, Pete and Roberta hurried into a huddle as they attempted to formulate a strategy, but things quickly devolved into Roberta berating Pete for not having discovered last weekend that Mason was a girl. Roberta wanted to find some excuse for sending the girl home, but Pete wouldn't allow it. It would be enough for her to sleep in the guest room. He did not want the girl to sleep in Neil's bedroom, but he certainly didn't want her to go. For Neil's sake, he told himself, and at that point he wasn't even lying.
* * *
Pete would not have thought of himself as the kind of man who would become fixated on a fourteen-year-old girl, but let's look at the facts a little more closely. First of all, the girl in question did not look fourteen. That has to count for something. An uninterested party would think I was sixteen, maybe even eighteen. It's not the most dignified thing in the world for a forty-five-year-old man to fall for an eighteen-year-old girl, but it is hardly pedophilia. I looked like a woman, not a girl, so while we are certainly entitled to think of Pete as a perv, we are not necessarily obligated to do so.
Secondly, I went after him. Maybe. That is what happened, isn't it? At times he was so sure, but other times — well, it was complicated, wasn't it? As the more mature of the two of us, he ought to have found it within himself to be wise and dignified and refuse to enter into some kind of fucked-up relationship because the girl wanted to or seemed to want to or whatever it was that was going on. All of that is surely true, and yet I went after him, almost certainly, and he enjoyed it too much to find the will to resist.
Pete certainly had no way of preparing himself for what was coming. It began as nothing more than an awkward social situation that would someday turn into the kind of funny story you tell after a little too much to drink. I disappeared with Neil into his bedroom, where we did whatever it was we did — Pete certainly had no idea what was going on in there, and he didn't want to humiliate his son by having a peek — until dinner, when we emerged looking neither entirely guilty or innocent. We sat at the table, where we were presented with Roberta's chicken enchiladas, and Pete tried not to avoid looking at me, because that would be rude, but to avoid looking at me too much, because that would be rude, too. Mainly he kept sneaking glances, trying to remember if I was quite as striking, quite as interesting and pretty and magnetic as he recalled me being when he was looking elsewhere. And I was. You'd better believe it.
Over dinner Pete kept staring longingly at a distant wine rack, but he and Roberta — mostly Roberta — had decided not to model drinking in front of the children. Behind the decision was an unspoken need to set clear, strict, puritanical boundaries. Uncorking a wine might just be the first step to an untamed, drunken bacchanal. Mason's mere presence in their home that night was an assault upon the fortress of propriety, so cracks in the walls could not be tolerated. Consequently, Pete made do. Roberta, meanwhile, made a valiant and highly laudable effort to make conversation about normal things — which classes Neil and I shared, what subjects I liked best, what kind of after-school activities I enjoyed. I grant her points for her careful navigation away from questions that might have embarrassed Neil, such as which friends we had in common, what it was we liked to do together, or what, precisely, my interest might have been in a boy whose parents had come — really through no fault of their own — to regard him as something of a ghost.
Excerpted from The Monster's Corner by Christopher Golden. Copyright © 2011 Christopher Golden. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Meet the Author
Christopher Golden is the award-winning author of many bestselling books including Waking Nightmares, Of Saints and Shadows, Of Masques and Martyrs, and The Myth Hunters. He has also written books for teens and young adults, including Soulless and Poison Ink, and he is the editor of The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology, published by St. Martin's Press. His novels have been published in fourteen languages. Golden was born and raised in Massachusetts, where he continues to live with his family.
CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN is the award-winning, bestselling author of such novels as The Myth Hunters, The Boys Are Back in Town, Strangewood, and Of Saints and Shadows. He co-wrote the lavishly illustrated novel Baltimore, or, The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire with Mike Mignola, and the comic book series featuring the same character.
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The Monster's Corner is an entertaining collection of nineteen tales in which monsters (in our eyes) tell their respective story as heroes in their eyes (or whatever orbs they have). All the entries are quite good adhering to the Frankenstein legend that asks who the monster is. David Moody's "Big Man" is a well written nod to Mary Shelly's classic while Kevin J. Anderson updates the Frankenstein's to 1938 Germany in 1938 in "Torn Stitches, Shattered Glass". Gary Braunbeck's "And You Still Wonder Why Our First Impulse Is to Kill You" looks deeply and amusingly at what makes up a monster as the other side has nightmares about humans hunting and stalking them. Two centuries of slavery has a "Rakshasi" (by Kelly Armstrong) seeking freedom. Finally Simon R. Green takes a close look at Satan's attempts to recruit Christ in "Jesus and Satan Go Jogging in the Desert" while John Maberry stars Saint John in his entry that even monsters are God's creation. From sexual predators (see Tananarive Due's "The Lake" and David Liss' "The Awkward Age") to the gorgon Sarah Pinborough's "The Screaming Room) to a faerie changeling starring in "The Cruel Thief of Rosy Infants" (by Tom Piccirilli) to Kate Shugak in "Siren Song" by Dana Stabenow, the monsters want their time in court as they demand the media especially authors stop spinning lies about them. Harriet Klausner
This is story collection focused on the point of view of the monster. It does have one author I love but I might have made an exception because I loved the idea of monster point of view. I just wish it stayed focused on the paranatural or supernatural, an average collection of tales, but worth checking out if you’re looking for a change or break from series or single tales. 1. The Awkward Age by David Liss. Had the feel like a Ghoul Lolita. A little disturbing and could have been more if the reason why she chose to be ghoul was looked at. 2. Saint John by Jonathon Maberry. Human monster tale. At the end of days, a monster becomes a hero. 3. Rue by Laura Goff. A re-envisioned Rapunzel. 4. Succumb by John McLiveen. Lackluster succubus tale. Why not have teen succubus falls in love. Succubus’ first time. Could have been much more. 5. Torn Stitches, Shattered Glass by Kevin J. Anderson. Frankenstein’s monster in WWII. 6. Rattler and the Mothman by Sharyn McCrumb. One of my favorite tales. Enjoyable characters. In this tale Mothman has his say on things. 7. Big Man by David Moody. Reminiscent of the science experiment tales, like The Fly or The Incredible Hulk, with a slight twist. 8. Rakashi by Kelley Armstrong: One of my favorite writers. Live an evil life. Die and be transformed into a demon warrior. Have the chance for redemption, but can a monster truly change? 9. Breeding the Demons by Nate Kenyon. A morbid, disturbing tale of art and creation, the monster within. 10. Siren Song by Dana Stabenow. Didn’t like the end at the start. Made it harder to follow. Had some issues with this tale, about three sisters who kill a pimp, and become the “angels” of the community. All this trouble, to get away from a really bad family situation. For a girl that was so smart, there are other ways, to get out of this situation besides murder. Felt fake, and left one wondering if maybe they weren’t human, real Sirens. 11. Less of a Girl by Chelsea Cain. Disturbing. Weird. Creepy. About the monster under the bed. 12. The Cruel Thief of Rosy Infants by Tom Piccirilli. Interesting tale. A twist on the changeling story in Fairy Tales. 13. The Screaming Room by Sarah Pinborough. One should not assume that all possible readers of the story know how Medusa came to be. Should have started from her point of view there and added the rest of the story. Not bad though. 14. Wicked Be by Heather Graham. Loved the use of Salem and the Witch Trials in the tale. Loved the idea of a witch just wanting to have a normal life. 15. Specimen 313 by Jeff Strand. A tale that gives voice to man eating mutant plants. 16. The Lake by Tananarive Due. Liked the twist on the don’t go in the water tale. Thought at times the teacher was border pedophile. 17. The Other One by Micheal Morghall Smith. Why was this story in the collection? One sort of human monster, in it. Confused ending. Time travel? Doppleganger? Shapeshifter? 18. And Still You Wonder Why We Our First Impulse Is To Kill You: An Alphabetized Faux Manifesto Transcribed, Edited, Annotated,(under duress and protest) by Gary A. Braunbeck. Huh? Confusing. Tripping, weird. 19. Jesus and Stan Go Jogging in the Desert by Simon R. Green. From Satan’s perspective of course. A bit strange at points but not a bad tale. Worth checking out if you want change or break from the normal serial or novel.
Only one or two stories were worth reading.
Will not be buying the book due to the discouragement from the previous reviewers.