The Monstrous

The Monstrous

by Ellen Datlow (Editor)


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“Superstar editor Datlow makes no missteps...."
Publishers Weekly

Take a terrifying journey with literary masters of suspense, including Peter Straub, Kim Newman, and Caitlín R. Kiernan, visiting a place where the other is somehow one of us. These electrifying tales redefine monsters from mere things that go bump in the night to inexplicable, deadly reflections of our day-to-day lives. Whether it's a seemingly devoted teacher, an obsessive devotee of swans, or a diner full of evil creatures simply seeking oblivion, the monstrous is always there—and much closer than it appears.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616962067
Publisher: Tachyon Publications
Publication date: 10/27/2015
Pages: 384
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Peter Straub lives in New York City. Ten-time World Fantasy Award–winner Ellen Datlow is one of horror’s most acclaimed editors. Datlow was the fiction editor of OMNI for nearly 20 years and also edited the magazines Event Horizon and Sci Fiction . Her many best selling anthologies include the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror series; Snow White, Blood Red ; Lovecraft's Monsters ; Naked City , and Darkness . She has won multiple Hugo, Locus, and Shirley Jackson awards and has received several lifetime achievement awards, including the Bram Stoker. Datlow lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

The Monstrous

By Ellen Datlow

Tachyon Publications

Copyright © 2015 Ellen Datlow
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61696-207-4


A Natural History of Autumn

* * *


On a blue afternoon in autumn, Riku and Michi drove south from Numazu in his silver convertible along the coast of the Izu Peninsula. The temperature was mild for the end of October, and the air was clear, the sun glinting off Suruga Bay. She wore sunglasses and, to protect her hair, a yellow scarf with a design of orange butterflies. He wore driving gloves, a black dress shirt, a loosened white tie. The car, the open road, the rush of the wind made it impossible to converse, and so for miles she watched the bay to their right and he the rising slopes of maple and pine to their left. Just outside the town of Dogashima, a song came on the radio, "Just You, Just Me," and they turned to look at each other. She waited for him to smile. He did. She smiled back, and then he headed inland to search for the hidden onsen, Inugami.

They'd met the previous night at The Limit, an upscale hostess bar. Riku's employer had a tab there and he was free to use it when in Numazu. He'd been once before, drunk and spent time with a hostess. Her conversation had sounded rote, like a script; her flattery grotesquely opulent and therefore flat. The instant he saw Michi, though, in her short black dress with a look of uncertainty in her eyes, he knew it would be a different experience. He ordered a bottle of Nikka Yoichi and two glasses. She introduced herself. He stood and bowed. They were in a private room at a polished table of blond wood. The chairs were high-backed and upholstered like thrones. To their right was an open-air view of pines and the coast. She waited for him to smile and eventually he did. She smiled back and told him, "I'm writing a book."

Riku said, "Aren't you supposed to tell me how handsome I am?"

"Your hair is perfect," she said.

He laughed. "I see."

"I'm writing a book," she said again. "I decided to make a study of something."

"You're a scientist?" he said.

"We're all scientists," she said. "We watch and listen, take in information, process it. We spin theories by which we live."

"What if they're false?"

"What if they're not?" she said.

He shook his head and took a drink.

They sat in silence for a time. She stared out past the pines, sipping her whisky. He stared at her.

"Tell me about your family," said Riku.

She told him about her dead father, her ill mother, her younger sister and brother, but when she inquired about his parents, he said, "Okay, tell me about your book."

"I decided to study a season, and since autumn is the season I'm in, it would be autumn. It's a natural history of autumn."

"You've obviously been to the university," he said.

She shook her head. "No, I read a lot to pass the time between clients."

"How much have you written?" "Nothing yet. I'm researching now, taking notes."

"Do you go out to Thousand Tree Beach and stare at Fuji in the morning?" "Your sarcasm is intoxicating," she said.

He filled her glass.

"No, I do my research here. I ask each client what autumn means to him."

"And they tell you?"

She nodded. "Some just want me to say how big their biceps are but most sit back and really think about it. The thought of it makes all the white-haired ojiisans smile, the businessmen cry, the young men a little scared. A lot of it is the same. Just images — the colorful leaves, the clear cold mornings by the bay, a certain pet dog, a childhood friend, a drunken night. But sometimes they tell me whole stories."

"What kind of stories?"

"A very powerful businessman — one of the other hostesses swore he was a master of the five elements — once told me his own love story, about a young woman he had an affair with. It began on the final day of summer, lasted only as long as the following season, and ended in the snow."

"What did you learn from that story? What did you put in your notes?"

"I recorded his story as he'd told it, and afterward wrote, 'The Story of a Ghost.'"

"Why a ghost?" he asked.

"I forget," she said. "And I lied — I attended Waseda University for two years before my father died."

"You didn't have to tell me," he said. "I knew when you told me you called the businessman's story 'The Story of a Ghost.'"

"Pretentious?" she asked.

He shrugged.

"Maybe," she said and smiled.

"Forget about that," said Riku. "I will top that make-inu businessman's exquisite melancholy by proposing a field trip." He sat forward in his chair and touched the tabletop with his index finger. "My employer recently rewarded me for a job well done and suggested I use, whenever I like, a private onsen he has an arrangement with down in Izu. I need only call a few hours in advance."

"A field trip?" she said. "What will we be researching?"

"Autumn. The red and yellow leaves. The place is out in the woods on a mountainside, hidden and very old-fashioned, no frills. I propose a dohan, an overnight journey to the onsen, Inugami."

"A date," she said. "And our attentions will only be on autumn, nothing else?"

"You can trust me when I say, that is entirely up to you."

"Your hair inspires confidence," she said. "You can arrange things with the house on the way out."

"I intend to be in your book," he said and prevented himself from smiling.

After hours of winding along the rims of steep cliffs and bumping down tight dirt paths through the woods, the silver car pulled to a stop in a clearing, in front of a large, slightly sagging farmhouse — minka style, built of logs with a thatched roof. Twenty yards to the left of the place there was a sizeable garden filled with dying sunflowers, ten-foot stalks, their heads bowed. To the right of the house there was a slate path that led away into the pines. The golden late-afternoon light slanted down on the clearing, shadows beginning to form at the tree line.

"We're losing the day," said Riku. "We'll have to hurry."

Michi got out of the car and stretched. She removed her sunglasses and stood still for a moment, taking in the cool air.

"I have your bag," said Riku and shut the trunk.

As they headed for the house, two figures appeared on the porch. One was a small old woman with white hair, wearing monpe pants and an indigo katazome jacket with a design of white flames. Next to her stood what Michi at first mistook for a pony. The sight of the animal surprised her and she stopped walking. Riku went on ahead. "Grandmother Chinatsu," he said and bowed.

"Your employer has arranged everything with me. Welcome," she said. A small, wrinkled hand with dirty nails appeared from within the sleeve of the jacket. She beckoned to Michi. "Come, my dear, don't be afraid of my pet, Ono. He doesn't bite." She smiled and waved her arm.

As Michi approached, she bowed to Grandmother Chinatsu, who only offered a nod. The instant the young woman's foot touched the first step of the porch, the dog gave a low growl. The old lady wagged a finger at the creature and snapped, "Yemeti!" Then she laughed, low and gruff, the sound at odds with her diminutive size. She extended her hand and helped Michi up onto the porch. "Come in," she said and led them into the farmhouse.

Michi was last in line. She turned to look at the dog. Its coat was more like curly human hair than fur. She winced in disgust. A large flattened pug face, no snout to speak of, black eyes, sharp ears, and a thick bottom lip bubbling with drool. "Ono," she said and bowed slightly in passing. As she stepped into the shadow beyond the doorway, she felt the dog's nose press momentarily against the back of her dress.

In the main room there was a rock fireplace within which a low flame licked two maple logs. Above hung a large paper lantern, orange with white blossoms, shedding a soft light in the center of the room. The place was rustic, wonderfully simple. All was wood: the walls, the ceiling, the floor. There were three ancient carved wooden chairs gathered around a low table off in an alcove at one side of the room. Grandmother led them down a hallway to the back of the place. They passed a room on the left, its screen shut. At the next room, the old lady slid open the panel and said, "The toilet." Farther on, they came to two rooms, one on either side of the hallway. She let them know who was to occupy which by mere nods of her head. "The bath is at the end of the hall," she said.

Their rooms were tatami-style, straw mats and a platform bed with a futon mattress in the far corner. They undressed, put on robes and sandals, and met in the hallway. As they passed through the main room of the house, Ono stirred from his spot by the fireplace, looked up at them, and snorted.

"Easy, easy," said Riku to the creature. He stepped aside and let Michi get in front of him. Once out on the porch, she said, "Ono is a little scary."

"Only a little?" he asked.

Grandmother appeared from within the plot of dying sunflowers and called that there were towels in the shed out by the spring. Riku waved to her as he and Michi took the slate path into the pines. Shadows were rising beneath the trees and the sky was losing its last blue to an orange glow. Leaves littered the path and the temperature had dropped. The scent of pine was everywhere. Curlews whistled from the branches above.

"Are you taking notes?" he called ahead to her.

She stopped and waited for him. "Which do you think is more autumnal — the leaves, the dying sunflowers, or Grandmother Chinatsu?"

"Too early to tell," he said. "I'm withholding judgment."

Another hundred yards down the winding path they came upon the spring, nearly surrounded by pines except for one spot with a view of a small meadow beyond. Steam rose from the natural pool, curling up in the air, reminding Michi of the white flames on the old lady's jacket. At the edge of the water, closest to the slate path, there was ancient stonework, a crude bench, a stacked rock wall covered with moss, six foot by four, from which a thin waterfall splashed down into the rising heat of the onsen.

"Lovely," said Michi.

Riku nodded.

She left him and moved down along the side of the spring. He looked away as she stepped out of her sandals and removed her robe, which she hung on a nearby branch. He heard her sigh as she entered the water. When he removed his robe, her face was turned away, as if she were taking in the last light on the meadow. Meanwhile, Riku was taking Michi in, her slender neck, her long black hair and how it lay on the curve of her shoulder, her breasts.

"Are you getting in?" she asked.

He silently eased down into the warmth.

When Michi turned to look at him, she immediately noticed the tattoo on his right shoulder, a vicious swamp eel with rippling fins and needle fangs and a long body that wrapped around Riku's back. It was the color of the moss on the rocks of the waterfall.

Riku noticed her glancing at it. He also noticed the smoothness of her skin and that her nipples were erect.

"Who is your employer?" she asked.

"He's a good man," he said and lowered himself into a crouch, so that only his head was above water. "Now, pay attention," he said and looked out at the meadow, which was already in twilight.

"To what?" she asked, also sinking down into the water.

He didn't respond and they remained immersed for a long time, just two heads floating on the surface, staring silently and listening, steam rising around them. At last light, when the air grew cold, the curlews lifted from their branches and headed for Australia. Riku stood, moved to a different spot in the spring, and crouched down again. Michi moved closer to him. A breeze blew through the pines, a cricket sang in the dark.

"Was there any inspiration?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," she said. "It's time for you to tell me your story of autumn."

She drew closer to him and he backed up a step.

"I don't tell stories," he said.

"As brief as you want, but something," she said and smiled.

He closed his eyes and said, "Okay. The autumn I was seventeen, I worked on one of the fishing boats out of Numazu. We were out for horse mackerel. On one journey we were struck by a rogue wave, a giant that popped up out of nowhere. I was on deck when it hit and we were swamped. I managed to grab a rope and it took all my strength not to be drawn overboard, the water was so cold and powerful. I was sure I would die. Two men did get swept away and were never found. That's my Natural History of Autumn."

She moved forward and put her arms around him. They kissed. He drew his head back and whispered in her ear, "When I returned to shore that autumn, I quit fishing." She laughed and rested her head on his shoulder.

They dined by candlelight, in their robes, in the alcove off the main room of the farmhouse. Grandmother Chinatsu served, and Ono followed a step behind, so that every time she leaned forward to put a platter on the table, there was the dog's leering face, tongue drooping. The main course was thin slices of raw mackerel with grated ginger and chopped scallions. They drank sake. Michi remarked on the appearance of the mackerel after Riku's story.

"Most definitely a sign," he said.

They discussed the things they each saw and heard at the spring as the sake bottle emptied. It was well past midnight when the candle burned out and they went down the hall to his room.

Three hours later, Michi woke in the dark, still a little woozy from the sake. Riku woke when she sat up on the edge of the bed.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"I have to use the toilet." She got off the bed and lifted her robe from the mat. Slipping into it, she crossed the room. When she slid back the panel, a dim light entered. A lantern hanging in the center of the hallway ceiling bathed the corridor in a dull glow. Michi left the panel open and headed up the hallway. Riku lay back and immediately dozed off. It seemed only a minute to him before Michi was back, shaking him by the shoulder to wake up. She'd left the panel open and he could see her face. Her eyes were wide, the muscles of her jaw tense, a vein visibly throbbing behind the pale skin of her forehead. She was breathing rapidly and he could feel the vibration of her heartbeat.

"Get me out of here," she said in a harsh whisper.

"What's wrong?" he said and moved quickly to the edge of the bed. She kneeled on the mattress next to him and grabbed his arm tightly with both hands.

"We've got to leave," she said.

He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair. It wasn't perfect anymore. He carefully removed his arm from her grip and checked his watch. "It's three a.m.," he said. "You want to leave?" "I demand you take me out of this place, now."

"What happened?" he asked.

"Either you take me now or I'll leave on foot."

He gave a long sigh and stood up. "I'll be ready in a minute," he said. She went across the corridor to her room and gathered her things together.

When they met in the hallway, bags in hand, he asked her, "Do you think I should let Grandmother Chinatsu know we're leaving?"

"Definitely not," she said, on the verge of tears. She grabbed him with her free hand and dragged him by the shirtsleeve down the hallway. As they reached the main room of the house, she stopped and looked warily around. "Was it the dog?" he whispered. The coast was apparently clear, for she then dragged him outside, down the porch steps, to the silver car.

"Get in," he said. "I have to put the top up. It's too cold to drive with it down."

"Just hurry," she said, stowing her overnight bag. She slid into the passenger seat just as the car top was closing. He got in behind the wheel and reached over to latch the top on her side before doing his.

Michi's window was down and she heard the creaking of planks from the porch. She leaned her head toward her shoulder and looked into the car's side mirror. There, in the full moonlight, she could see Grandmother Chinatsu and Ono. The old lady was waving and laughing.

"Drive," she shrieked.

Riku hit the start button, put the car in gear, and they were off into the night, racing down a rutted dirt road at 50. Once the farmhouse was out of sight, he let up on the gas. "You've got to tell me what happened," he said.

She was shivering. "Get us out of the woods first," she said. "To a highway."

"I can't see a thing and I don't remember all the roads," he said. "We might end up lost." He drove for more than an hour before he found a road made of asphalt. His car had been brutalized by the crude paths and branches jutting into the roadway. There would be a hundred scratches on his doors. During that entire time, Michi stared ahead through the windshield, breathing rapidly.


Excerpted from The Monstrous by Ellen Datlow. Copyright © 2015 Ellen Datlow. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon 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.

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The Monstrous 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
TRFeller More than 1 year ago
This is an anthology of 20 horror stories with all but one, “Corpsemouth” by John Langan set in Scotland, having been previously published. Contributors include Peter Straub, Kim Newman, Adam-Troy Castro, and Gardner Dozois. However, I though the best story was “The Beginning of the Year Without Summer” by Caitlin Kierman in which humans conjure up the monsters. A.C. Wise’s “Chasing Sunset” is in the tradition of H.P. Lovecraft. The Dozois story, co-authored by Jack Dann is a vampire tale. As is normal for anthologies, some stories are better than others, but there are no bad stories.
Aiwe More than 1 year ago
I chose this one on a whim. I used to frequently read horror stories, but haven't read much in the past few years because so many tend to be all gore and sex and little horror. This collection had a couple of those in there, but they didn't dominate the stories like a lot of anthologies do. There are a lot of great stories in this book, but I will just touch on a couple of them in this review. Down Among the Dead Men is the first vampire story I can remember liking in years. It was a very unique take and setting for a vampire tale and doesn't get dragged down by all the usual conventions. Grindstone is really the only story in this collection that I didn't like at all. I can see where others would, but it didn't appeal to me at all. I almost didn't finish Doll Hands, but then it basically became my favorite story in the collection. It is pretty horrific, but the writing is so well done. You really feel the world that the author is creating in this story. Jenny Come to Play is a great mystery/horror story and is very well written. Datlow does a great job in picking and ordering the stories. For instance, How I Met the Ghoul is more of a lighthearted story and is well placed to break up the darker stories that preceded it. Overall, I would highly recommend this collection to any fans of horror stories and the macabre.