It has been a great year for sci-fi and fantasy short fiction, and not just in the magazines. Recent months have also seen an unusually strong stack of new single-author collections in your favorite genres. Here are 13 that stand out: unforgettable, brief tales to fill the remaining weeks of long summer days. What SFF […]
"Once upon a time there was a monster. This is how they tell you the story starts. This is a lie."
Sometimes things are not what they appear to be. DNA doesn't define us, gravity doesn't hold us, a home doesn't mean we belong. From circus tents to space stations, Damien Angelica Walters creates stories that are both achingly familiar and chillingly surreal. Within her second short story collection, she questions who the real monsters are, rips families apart and stitches them back together, and turns a cell phone into the sharpest of weapons.
Cry Your Way Home brings together seventeen stories that delve deep into human sorrow and loss, weaving pain, fear, and resilience into beautiful tales that are sure to haunt you long after you turn the last page.
"Once upon a time there was a girl ..."
Featuring the following works: "Tooth, Tongue, and Claw" "Deep Within the Marrow, Hidden in My Smile" "On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes" "This is the Way I Die" "The Hands That Hold, the Lies That Bind" "Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant's Tale" "The Judas Child" "S Is for Soliloquy" "The Floating Girls: A Documentary" "Take a Walk in the Night, My Love" "Falling Under, Through the Dark" "The Serial Killer's Astronaut Daughter" "Umbilicus" "A Lie You Give, and Thus I Take" "Little Girl Blue, Come Cry Your Way Home" "Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice" "In the Spaces Where You Once Lived"
|Publisher:||Apex Book Company|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)|
Read an Excerpt
TOOTH, TONGUE, AND CLAW
Once upon a time there was a monster. This is how they tell you the story starts. This is a lie.
He isn't cruel, and he didn't eat her.
She isn't sure if that's a kindness or not. She isn't sure of anything but the locks and the keys and the secret scream hiding in her throat. And the last is suspect; sometimes it tastes like laughter.
But she's still alive. She tells herself this means something.
He tugs on the tether attached to the chain around her neck. A gentle tug, but it's enough. His claws click on the stones of the rocky path leading away from the cave, toward the town, a sound like chattering teeth, and although the bottoms of his feet are thick and leathery, she feels every jagged edge, every sharp point, beneath the soles of her satin slippers. He moves lightly for his size; beneath his steps, the ground merely quivers. She takes a few steps until he stops again.
People stand on either side of the path. A few wear smiles, but most carry only relief on their faces, for they all know what she did.
The gazes touch, linger, penetrate. She wants to scream that they have no idea what it's like — how can they? — but she won't. Even if she could, they wouldn't care. All the faces here belong to strangers, but even if they were her people, they would extend neither hand nor choice.
She's on display so they know she's still among them. So they know they're still safe. Does he want them to know he didn't tear her head from her shoulders, rip her limbs from her torso and toss the pieces aside? He has that right. He's had that right since the day she was given to him.
They don't do that anymore, her mother said time and time again, but her eyes said otherwise.
Or does he want to merely assure them that she didn't succeed, that his power is still nothing to be trifled with, to be challenged? Yes, it's apparent in the set of his jaw, the carriage of his spine.
She keeps her chin raised, too, so they don't forget she was strong enough to try.
Lies are like bits of straw. When there's only one, it would be easy to pick it up, break it in two, bring the pieces out into the light. But then you add a second, and you can't find a way to dislodge one without the other. A third, a fourth, a fifth, and soon the weight of the pile is impossible. It becomes a maze with no solution.
Best to pretend it's truth, not a tangle of fiction.
When they return inside, he closes the iron gate set deep into the stone. Locks it. Closes the outer door. Locks it, too. Then the inner door. When the final tumblers clunk into place, he slips the key ring onto a chain around his neck, the same sort of chain that circles hers, yet she doesn't fool herself into believing he's a prisoner too.
Lie #1: This is a great honor.
He doesn't touch her once they're in bed. He has before and he was as gentle as possible; she knows he wants to again and in time, he will. No one told her about that part. That was a kindness.
On her side, she stares at the bed curtains, heavy and embroidered in gold and silver like everything else in his home. (She refuses to call it hers. She never will.) Strange that monsters would adore such finery, or perhaps it's only her monster that cares for such things.
No curtains surrounded her bed at home, no tapestries covered the walls, yet she would trade all the gilt in the world for the chance to return. She presses her face into the pillow, willing away the impossibledream.
One hand sneaks to the chain around her neck. The links are small and delicate, but a chain is still a chain; it marks her as a possession, a thing, not a person.
There is neither spell nor curse to break. This is not a love story. He will always be a monster. She will always be chained.
In the morning, he traces the side of her face with one of his claws, not hard enough to break the skin but firm enough to leave behind a sting. She doesn't lean into his touch, nor does she pull away.
His eyes are the color of leaves beneath an early twilight sky, his teeth slivers of moon reflecting on water, and his pelt a shade of night. He speaks mainly in his native tongue — all grunts and hisses, rolling growls and throaty sounds that remind her of a cat when its head is scratched. When he speaks the language of humans, the words sound as if they're formed by a mouth full of pebbles.
Though many have tried, no human has ever deciphered the language of monsters. Who can say if things would be different if they had.
He leaves the bed chamber without touching her again, though he seems to pause briefly in the arched doorway.
She wishes she could be content, because it would be so much easier for her, for him, for everyone. This is the way it's supposed to be. This is the way it's been ever since the monsters awoke from their deep slumber and claimed their place as leaders of men and beasts alike. This is the possibility for every secondborn daughter, something she was taught from the moment she was capable of learning.
Why she isn't content, she doesn't know.
(Maybe the others aren't content either.)
After the drawing, while the councilmen waited outside, her mother brushed her hair for a long time without speaking, without meeting her eyes. She thought she heard a faint whisper, a muffled I'm sorry, though it might've been only what she wished to hear.
He brushes her hair now, the silvered handle awkward in his grip. She closes her eyes, pretends she is still a child, pretends it's her mother's hand holding the brush. But the breath touching her neck and the musky smell of him tells her the truth.
Lie #2: In time, you will forget your old life and come to embrace the new.
His muzzle, forelegs, and belly are heavily scarred from the fight with his siblings and sire for the right to rule. Eventually, he, too, will sire young with one of his own kind and when his male offspring reach full maturity, they will challenge him for the right to rule. The last left alive will rule until it becomes time again to sire and fight. (She will be long gone before then; the monsters live a lifetime equivalent to that of five humans.)
A barbaric practice, to be sure. Yet is it any more barbaric than humans tossing an etched stone into a pot to select a random girl to become a monster's consort, all in the name of peace?
There is a story she and her friends (and how she misses them most of all) told each other, of someone like her and something like him and love, love enough to break the chains, to not care of the consequences. They would sigh and fall back with a hand pressed to budding breasts, gazing flutter-lashed at ceiling or sky, daydreaming of a great romance so powerful and beautiful that stories would be told and remembered forever and always.
But they were young and knew nothing of monsters.
When he isn't there, she walks the cave, a series of circular rooms and curving passageways. Soft carpets cover the stone, even in the passageways, and turn her steps to mere whispers. One passage, wide enough for two monsters to walk side by side, leads to a library, but secondborn daughters are no longer taught to read until they pass the age of the drawing. Still, she likes to open the books, breathe in the pages, pretend she understands the words. She thinks of her friends learning letters and words and stories, and her hands fist tight enough to hurt.
Be brave is the last thing she remembers her mother saying.
But she isn't brave. Stealing keys and trying to creep out in the middle of the night is foolish, not brave. Everyone knows monsters have exceptional hearing; she knew she wouldn't get away. And she doesn't want to be brave. She wants to be free. She will never learn to be content, she will never stop dreaming of life outside the cave, and she shouldn't have to. She refuses.
She puts her face in her hands, not to hide her tears, but to hold in her rage.
Lie #3: As a second daughter, your natural born duty is the safety and security of others.
In the morning, he reaches for her face. She pulls away. He stares, considering her, for a long time, his eyes inscrutable, but he doesn't try to touch her again.
When he leaves, she hides her smile behind a palm. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
The council kept her drugged, something she only realized when she woke alone on a dais, mouth throbbing with pain, the entrance of the cave a great maw waiting to swallow her whole. She was nude save for a modest cascade of flowers of a type she'd never seen, their petals white, but limned in the deepest red. She wondered who'd bound her wrists and ankles, who'd undressed her and placed her on display. Did they look at her breasts, her sex? Did they dare a forbidden touch of velvet skin? Or did they not even see her at all?
When he approached, she refused to cower, refused to close her eyes. He was not as bad as she'd imagined. He was also worse.
The center of the cave holds a pool lined by rocks worn smooth by the passage of many monstrous steps. The cerulean water is deep and always warm, and she spends many afternoons floating, staring at a circular hole in the stone high overhead — the only break in the outer cave walls not locked and barred.
Today, though, she doesn't disrobe. Instead, she runs her hands over the pitted walls and curls her fingers into a gap in the stone. She finds a toehold, then another. Not quite like climbing trees as she did when a child, but near enough. Reach, pull. Reach, pull. Until she meets nothing but smooth surface, no nook or cranny for even one finger. With a sigh, she eases down and moves to the other side of the water.
Although she climbs higher this time, she reaches a spot where she can't grasp the next handhold, no matter how hard she strains, willing her spine to lengthen, her arms to stretch. She tries again and again until her palms are scraped and raw. Back on solid ground, she rubs her hands together, relishing the burn as she scans the rest of the walls.
Tomorrow, she'll try again. She isn't sure how she'll traverse the top, where it begins to curve toward the hole. Maybe she'll simply tumble into the water below or perhaps to her death on the rocky path.
He touches her palms gingerly. His eyes ask questions that his mouth does not, questions he knows will go unanswered save for clumsy pantomime, and she's in no mood for games of any kind. When he pushes her down on the bed, she presses against his massive chest, and shakes her head hard enough to make her ears ring.
Again, he pushes. Again, she shakes her head. He growls, but he storms from the room, his every step leaving behind a heavy thump.
She doesn't bother to hide her smile.
Lie #4: They cut out your tongue so your voice, your words, will not anger him.
For several days, he ignores her. She spends hers climbing, each time ascending higher and higher. She paces the cave and its passageways, inspects the bars in every window and every doorway, testing for loose stone, crumbling mortar, any weakness at all. The discontent grows inside her like an unborn babe.
Do any of the others feel this way? And what of those who came before? The stories, the histories, say no. They say all the girls handed over to the beasts were honored and treasured, but who can say for sure. Who knows who truly wrote the stories.
Was Livia of Northingate gifted with furs and rubies and opals? Did Rebecca of Southton have the most magnificent library ever built, with spiraling staircases and secret cushioned nooks? (This was before it was decided secondborn daughters should not know how to read and write.) Yet in spite of the finery, they were all prisoners still. The stories didn't say that. They didn't have to.
Her mother said she would grow to be happy. (Barring the other option of ending up between teeth and jaws, of course.) But her mother was a firstborn daughter. She never had to worry. She was never to be given to a monster.
Is he content? Why wouldn't he be? He doesn't sacrifice, he doesn't pay with silence and disfigurement, he doesn't pay at all.
So why should she?
He takes her shoulders, lowers his muzzle until it's nearly touching her nose, pushes her toward the bed. Holding out her hands, she makes a sound that isn't a word but wants to be. He halts, his eyes wary, unsure, ghosted by a touch of anger.
She bites her lower lip, but doesn't look away. Will he kill her? One slash of his claws could split the skin of her neck, sever her head from her shoulders; one snap of his jaw could tear apart her body from nape to tailbone.
He exhales a carnivorous breath, gives her his back, and, after a long moment, leaves the room, trailing the echo of a growl. She sinks to her knees, heart racing. Although she doesn't want to live this way, she doesn't wish to die either.
What happened to the others who shared this cave with him? Did they dash themselves to pieces on rocks while climbing to an illusion of escape? Did their lives end in his gullet and gut? Did they grow old and aged and infirm? The stories never tell of such things, for no one knows. No one ever returns. They're never allowed to. To do so would break the agreements — ancient ones written in old languages no one can speak anymore.
The words may very well be lies themselves.
She touches her mouth, feels the weight of forced silence. Her people did this. Her people allowed this to happen. No, encouraged it. Her silence and captivity ensured their safety so they were more than willing to do whatever was necessary. It was never for the monsters' sakes, but for theirs.
When they delivered her to the council, did they weep or simply erase her name from their lips and her face from their memories as though she were dead, not imprisoned? Did it help them sleep the sleep of the just and dreamless at night? Would that she could haunt their nightmares, turn their own voices to silent screams.
Lie #5: He is the monster.
Her shoulders no longer ache as much as they did when she made her first attempt at climbing. Hand over hand, she rises, so intent on her progress that she only becomes aware of his presence when he grabs her around the waist, plucking her from the wall as a child plucks a blossom from its stem.
Instead of dashing her against the rock, he lets her drop. She lands on her side with a jolt, and her teeth clamp together, the sound like a snapping twig. Bending close, he bares his own and roars. She recoils from the noise, from the heat and stink of his breath, and then he's gone.
Hands shaking, she wills herself not to cry and fails, miserably so.
That night, she pushes him away with all her might, fights as long and as hard as she can, but he's stronger. Damn him, damn themall.
A day later, the hole in the cave above the pool bears a set of bars.
Emphatic messages that speak louder than any voice could project — she belongs to him, and the only way out is death.
Every night, she fights. Every day, she ignores him and pretends the bars don't exist. She climbs, bloodying her palms, tearing her clothes. In the passageways, she paces and wills herself to stop thinking of the outside, to stop thinking of choices and hope, to be content. But all the will she can muster can't make a thing so. Would that he would do her the kindness of killing her, of ending it all.
Sometimes she dreams of his teeth tearing her flesh, ripping her into tiny pieces. Other nights, she dreams of someone breaking through the bars, rushing in to sweep her away, but in the morning, the lie fades. No one will save her from the monster. No one will take that risk.
They never have and never will.
Finally, she reaches the top of the wall where it begins to curve. With one hand firmly grasping the edge of a small cleft and her toes tucked into two more, she extends her free hand, fingers dancing across the rock in a gentle waltz. Here and there, she finds gaps, spaces she's sure she could grip to swing herself across to the window.
She flexes her hand and a sound darts through the air. Tightening her hold, she peers over one shoulder to see him there, his massive body reclining against the wall. The sound comes again, and it takes her a moment to place it — laughter. The largest insult of them all. Her face blooms with heat; her mouth twists.
No more, she vows. No more.
In a narrow passage, she finds a loose chunk of stone twice the length of her hand, one end wide, the other narrowing to a jagged point, and tests it against her palm. As pearls of red bubble to the surface, she smiles, but there are tears in her eyes.
She waits until the middle of the night, until the cave fills with the sound of his slumber. On her knees with heels resting against the backs of her thighs, she lifts her arms high, palms protected by knotted silken scarves.
The stone pierces pelt and sinew, and blood gushes crimson and warm from his neck. He roars as his eyes open, lashing out with claws extended. Pain flares bright and hot in her upper arm, but she doesn't stop. She can't. There's so much blood. Rivers — oceans — of it. Fingers slick, mouth filled with the taste of wet metal, she stabs again and again and again until her breath is ragged, until his is no more.
Excerpted from "Cry Your Way Home"
Copyright © 2018 Damien Angelica Walters.
Excerpted by permission of Apex Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Tooth, Tongue, and Claw,
Deep Within the Marrow, Hidden in My Smile,
On the Other Side of the Door, Everything Changes,
This Is the Way I Die,
The Hands That Hold, the Lies That Bind,
Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys: The Elephant's Tale,
The Judas Child,
S Is for Soliloquy,
The Floating Girls: A Documentary,
Take a Walk in the Night, My Love,
Falling Under, Through the Dark,
The Serial Killer's Astronaut Daughter,
A Lie You Give, and Thus I Take,
Little Girl Blue, Come Cry Your Way Home,
Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice,
In the Spaces Where You Once Lived,
About the Author,
Also by Damien Angelica Walters,