In these seven contemporary fantasies from Tanya Huff, we see a dog’s eye view of loyalty and a cat’s eye view of sea serpents. We learn that some Brownies could use a shave—although cookies will still be sold—and that there are at least two sides to every relationship, no matter how accidental and/or mythical that relationship is. We’re also reminded that however worthwhile it may be to die with purpose, it’s better to live well. Huff’s ability to leaven heartache with humor—and vice versa—gives this collection of previously published stories an unexpected emotional variety.
“I definitely enjoyed a preponderance of the stories in He Said, Sidhe Said—and thus I recommend it to any fan of Tanya Huff, or of quirky urban fantasy.” —Errant Dreams
“I really enjoyed this book . . . Even if you aren’t a fan of short stories this book has a lot of offer.” —The Quillery
“Huff is a marvelous talent whose vibrant characterizations and intelligent prose make each and every book a very special reading experience. Bring on the next verse!” —Romantic Times
|Publisher:||JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc.|
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About the Author
Although she left Nova Scotia at three, and has lived most of her life since in Ontario, Tanya Huff still considers herself a Maritimer. On the way to the idyllic rural existence she shares with her partner Fiona Patton, six cats, and a Chihuahua, she acquired a degree in Radio and Television Arts from Ryerson Polytechnic—an education she was happy to finally use when writing her SMOKE novels. Of her previous twenty-three books, the five BLOOD novels featuring Henry Fitzroy, a bastard son of Henry VIII, romance writer, and vampire, are among the most popular. In fact these books became so popular that they inspired the TV series, Blood Ties.
Read an Excerpt
Mrs. Ruth first appeared in my 1989 novel, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light, as avatar of the Crone. She's cranky and pragmatic and gave voice to one my favourite bits of dialogue. In answer to an Adept of the Light telling a frightened young man, "Your scar is a Warrior's mark. Wear it proudly." Mrs. Ruth replied, "What bloody help is that? Prompt medical attention and it may not scar at all."
I kind of love Mrs. Ruth a lot. When invited into an anthology called Maiden, Matron, Crone (I have no idea why they chose to use Matron not Mother), I promptly pulled Mrs. Ruth out of retirement.
The year I wrote this story, a child was abducted out of her home in the Annex in the middle of the night by someone who broke in and drugged her to keep her quiet. Years later, I can't remember how things ended for the child, but I have a niggling sense it wasn't good. At the time, this was the only thing I could do about it ...
A CHOICE OF ENDINGS
When the phone in the elderly and filthy phone booth began to ring, several people who were part of the morning rush heading for the Spadina subway station jumped. The incessant 24/7 warble of cell phones from pockets and purses hadn't prepared them for the strident and insistent ring of old technology. A couple of the older commuters moved to pick up – their responses set in a childhood when such a ring demanded immediate attention. One after another, they changed their minds upon reaching the booth. Perhaps it was the prevalent scent of urine or a perfectly valid fear of catching something virulent from the grimy receiver or the sudden certain knowledge that the call couldn't possibly be for them.
And the phone rang on.
"All right, all right, I'm coming. Don't get your damned panties in a twist!" An elderly woman, dressed in several layers of grimy clothing, pushed a heavily loaded shopping cart along the crowded sidewalk, scattering pedestrians like pigeons. Although collisions seemed unavoidable, no collisions occurred. A heavily perfumed young woman did snap one heel off a pair of expensive shoes after making an observation about street people and personal hygiene and asylums, but that was probably a coincidence.
Possibly a coincidence.
Actually, not likely to be coincidence at all.
The shopping cart finally parked by the booth, a gnarled hand, gnawed fingernails surprisingly clean, picked up the receiver.
The ringing stopped.
The sudden silence turned heads.
And the city dweller's innate ability to ignore the poor, the crazy, and most rules of common courtesy turned heads away again.
The voice on the other end of the phone was pleasantly modulated, genderless, and just a little smug. "Mrs. Ruth, this is your third and final warning. The power is about to pass. Please see that your affairs are in order."
Mrs. Ruth, the eldest avatar of the triple Goddess, She who was age and wisdom and kept council during the dark of the moon, slammed the receiver back down onto the phone, coughed for a while, spat a large gob of greenish-yellow phlegm onto the stained concrete, and snarled, "Bite me."
* * *
She'd known her time was ending for months now. It was, after all, what she did. What she was. She knew things. She knew the name of every pigeon who'd lost its home when the university tore down Varsity Stadium. She knew the hidden places and the small lives that lived in them. She knew the pattern of the larger lives that filled the city with joy and laughter and fear and pain. She knew that something was going to happen only she could prevent and she bloody well wasn't going anywhere until it did and she had.
"They can come and get me if they want me to go that badly!" she told a passing driver as she crossed Bloor Street against the lights, deftly moving her cart through the places the cars weren't. The driver may have questioned how he could hear her, given that his windows were up, his air conditioning was turned on, and he was singing along with a Justin Timberlake CD his daughter had left in the car, but she didn't stop to find out if he had. Another day she would have; questions were her stock in trade. Today, she didn't have time.
The trouble with knowing things was that not everything known was pleasant. There had always been dark places in the pattern; she acknowledged them, kept an eye on them, and, when her help was requested, assisted in removing them.
When her help was requested. That was the sticking point.
"I can't just go fixing things willy nilly," she pointed out to a young man jogging past.
Without really knowing why, he slowed and asked, "Why not?" "Well, what will you learn from that?" Mrs. Ruth responded. "That I can fix things?" She blew a moist raspberry. "You have to learn to fix things yourself. I'm just a tool in the great toolbox of life."
"But what if you can't fix that ... thing on your own? What if you've tried and it stays unfixed?"
"Ah, then you have to learn just who to ask for help. Your parents have been married for what, twenty-nine years?"
"Yeah, but ..."
"You think that maybe they know a thing or two about staying together?"
"My parents have always said they won't interfere in my life."
"So, I should ask them ...?"
"Ask them what they had to do to make their relationship work." Which was, quite possibly, the most direct answer she'd given in thirty years.
Not that it seemed to matter. "Just ask them, bubba."
He frowned at her then and reached into his belt pouch. "Power bar?"
And off he jogged, feeling good about himself because of a little effortless charity. He'd already forgotten the conversation, but that didn't matter. The things he'd needed to know that he already knew now lay along the surface of his thoughts where they'd do him some good.
Mrs. Ruth snorted as she watched him jog away. Time was, she could have spun her answers out for blocks, switching between allegory and insult at will. No one appreciated words of wisdom that seemed to arrive too easily. Trouble with common sense was folks had stopped appreciating anything considered common. Granted, they'd stopped some time between coming out of the trees and walking erect, but it still pissed her off.
Time was ...
Time wasn't. That was the problem.
The wheel of life turned. Sometimes, it ran over a few hearts on the way. As a rule, her job was to remind folk that there wasn't a damned thing they could do about it.
"Why did this happen to me?"
"It's not fair!"
"No, it isn't."
"How can I stop this?"
But she could. It was within her power to change the pattern – if she could just hang on to that power long enough. She was not having her end and this particular bit of darkness coincide.
"I'm not denying that it's time," she muttered at her reflection. "There are days I feel more tired than wise."
Her reflection, keeping pace in the windows of parked cars, snorted. "Then let go."
"No. I can't let it happen again."
"You can't stop it from happening again, you old fool."
Mrs. Ruth sighed and raised a hand to rub at watering eyes. That was true enough where it referred to the general rather than the specific. But she could stop this particular it from happening and she was going to.
With only one hand guiding it, the shopping cart twisted sideways and slammed into the side of a royal blue sedan. The car alarm screamed out a protest.
The alarm emitted one final, somewhat sulky, bleep then fell silent.
Shaking her head, Mrs. Ruth dug into the depths of the cart, shoving aside old newspapers, her entire wardrobe except for the blue socks which she'd left hanging on the bushes by the church, and eighteen faded grocery bags filled with empty Girl Guide cookie boxes and bottles of Tabasco sauce. Down near the top half of the 1989 Yellow Pages, she found a coupon for complimentary body work at Del's Garage on Davenport Road at Ossington. Del had played high school football with the owner of the car and was about to be in desperate need of a good lawyer. The owner of the car had married a very good lawyer.
"There." She shoved it under the windshield wipers. "Two for one. Don't say I never did nothing for you. And stop staring at me!" Her reflection suddenly became very interested in getting a bit of secret sauce off the sleeve of her shapeless black sweater.
Frowning slightly, Mrs. Ruth laid her palm against the warm curve of glass and wondered when her joints had grown so prominent, her fingers so thin. She remembered her hands fat and dimpled. "You look old," she said softly.
Under the crown of her messy grey braid, the lines on her reflection's face rearranged themselves into a sad smile. "So do you."
"You look older!"
"Excuse me, are you all right?"
Mrs. Ruth turned toward the young woman standing more than a careful arm's length away – compassion's distance in the city. "When he asks you how you did it, tell him it's a secret. Trust me; things'll go a lot better if he never knows."
Or had that already happened? Past and future threads had become twisted together.
And why was she speaking Korean when the girl was clearly Vietnamese?
"No! Not now!" Her hands closed around the bar of her shopping cart and she closed her eyes to better see the fraying threads of her power and draw them back to her. Through force of will she rewove the connections. Breathing heavily – a moment later or ten, she had no idea – she opened her eyes to see the young woman still standing there but clearly ready to run. "I'm fine," she told her through clenched teeth. "Really, I'm fine."
With no choice but to believe, the girl nodded and walked quickly away.
On the corner of College and Spadina, a phone began to ring.
"I will repeat this only one more time," Mrs. Ruth growled in its general direction. "Bite. Me. Mange. Moi."
People moved out of her way as she hobbled toward the Eaton Centre. Most of her scowl came from the pain of a cracked tooth caused by all the clenching. Most.
* * *
In nice weather, he ate lunch on a bench outside the north end of the Centre where he watched small children roll past in strollers or dangle from the hands of hurrying adults. These children were too young, but he enjoyed speculating on how they would grow. This one would suddenly be all legs, awkward and graceful simultaneously, like a colt. That one would be husky well into his teens when suddenly his height would catch up with his weight. Her hair would darken. His dimples would be lost. After his sandwich, his apple, and his diet cola, he'd go back into the store and later, when school was out, he'd help the parents of older children buy expensive clothing, clothing the child would grow out of or grow tired of long before they'd gotten their money's worth from the piece. The store had a customer appreciation program – every five hundred dollars spent entered the child's name in a draw for the latest high-tech wonder. Names and ages and addresses were collected in a secure data base. Where secure meant accessible only by store staff.
She knew all this when she lowered herself down beside him on the bench and arranged the layers of her stained black skirts over her aching legs. "I won't let it happen, bubba."
Knowing what he knew, hiding what he hid, he should have asked, "Let what happen?" and that question would have given her a part of him. Every question she drew out after that would have given her a little more. It was how conversations worked and conversations could be directed. Direct the conversation, direct the person having it.
But he said only, "All right."
White noise. Nothing given.
"Everyone has limits. I've reached mine."
He said, "Okay." Then he folded his sandwich bag and slid it into his pocket.
Her presence used to be enough to make them open up. Today, holding on to her power by will alone, not even leading statements were enough. Should she release enough power to draw him to her, she'd lose it all before she had time to deal with what he was.
He stepped on his empty diet cola can, compressing it neatly. Then he scooped it up and stood.
Mrs. Ruth stood as well.
His smile said, as clearly as if he'd spoken aloud, "You can't stop me."
A subconscious statement he had no idea he was making.
"Oh right! You're a big man facing down an old lady! I ought to run over your toes until you can't walk!" He looked startled by her volume, admittedly impressive for a woman her age. More startled still when she grabbed his sleeve. "How'd you like a little Tabasco sauce where the sun don't shine!"
"Okay, that's enough." The police constable's large hand closed around her wrist and gently moved her hand back to her side. Fine. Let the law handle it. Except she couldn't just tell him what she knew, he had to ask.
She glared up at him. "Never eat anything with mayo out of a dumpster – all kinds of evil things hiding in that bland whiteness."
She was hoping for: "What the hell are you talking about?"
Or even: "Say what?"
But all she got was: "Words to live by, I'm sure. Now, move along and stop bothering people."
Over her years on the street she'd met most of Toronto's finest – a great many of them even were – but this big young man with the bright blue eyes, she didn't know. "Move along? Move along? Listen, bubba, I owned these streets while you were still hanging off your mother's tit!"
"Hey!" A big finger waved good naturedly at her. "Leave my mother out of this."
"Your mother ..." No, better not go there. "I can't leave yet. I have something to do."
When the bright blue eyes narrowed, Mrs. Ruth realized she'd been speaking Hungarian. She hadn't spoken Hungarian since she was nine. The power was unravelling again. By the time she wove things back into a semblance of normalcy, the cop was gone, he was gone, she was sitting alone on the bench, and the sun was low in the sky.
She had no time to find a Hero, and the other Aspects were too far away even if they'd agree to help. Which they wouldn't. The Goddess was a part of what kept this world balanced between the light and the dark. She was the fulcrum on which the balance depended. Should the balance shift in either direction, Her Aspects would come together to right it, but this ... this evil was nothing unusual. Not dark enough to tip the scales and with light enough in the world to balance it.
"Business as per bloody usual."
And all very well if only the big picture got considered. One thing the years had taught her – her, not the Goddess – was that the big picture didn't mean bupkes to those caught by the particulars.
Getting a good grip on her shopping cart, Mrs. Ruth heaved herself up onto her feet. She could still see to the point where the dark pattern intersected with her life although she no longer had strength enough to see further. Fine. If she followed the weft to that place, she'd have one more chance.
"The Gods help those who help themselves."
Laughing made her cough, but, hell, without a sense of humour she might as well already be dead, so, laughing and coughing, she slowly pushed her cart north on Yonge Street. She couldn't move quickly but neither could she be stopped.
"After all," she told two young women swaying past on too-high heels, "I am inevitable."
The elder of the two paled. The younger merely sniffed and tossed pale curls.
That made her laugh harder.
Phones rang as she passed, handing off booth to booth, south to north like an electronic relay.
At Yonge and Irwin, a middle-aged woman held her chirping cell phone up under frosted curls, frowned, and swept a puzzled gaze over the others also waiting for traffic to clear. When Mrs. Ruth pushed between an elderly Asian man and a girl with a silver teardrop tattooed on one cheek, her eyes cleared. She took a step forward as the cart bounced off the curb – boxes rattling, newspapers rustling – and held out her phone.
"It's for you."
Mrs. Ruth snorted. "Take a message."
"They say it's important."
"Do they? What makes their important more important than mine?" When the woman began to frown again, she rolled her eyes.
"Hand it over."
The phone lay ludicrously small on her palm. She folded her fingers carefully around it and lifted what she hoped was the right end to her mouth. "She has to pay for this call, you inconsiderate bastards." Then she handed the bit of metal and plastic back and said, "Hang up."
She used as little power as she could, but enough had been diverted that she lost another thread or two or three ... Breathing heavily, she tightened her grasp on those remaining.
At Bloor Street she crossed to the north side and turned west, moving more slowly now, her feet and legs beginning to swell, the taste of old pennies in the back of her throat.
"Could be worse," she found the breath to mutter as she approached Bay Street. "Could be out in the suburbs."
"Could be raining," rasped a voice from a under a sewer grate.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "He Said, Sidhe Said"
Copyright © 2013 Tanya Huff.
Excerpted by permission of Jabberwocky Literary Agency, Inc..
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
A Choice of Endings,
He Said, Sidhe Said,
I'll Be Home for Christmas,
Tuesday Evenings, Six Thirty To Seven,
Word of Honour,
Also by Tanya Huff,