"A bold outpouring of flesh and crisis at once horrifying and familiar." The New York Times
Winner of the 2018 Nommo Award for Best Novella
Every time she bleeds a murderer is born. Experience the horror of Tade Thompson's The Murders of Molly Southbourne. A finalist for the 2017 BSFA Award, the 2017 Shirley Jackson Award.
The rule is simple: don’t bleed.
For as long as Molly Southbourne can remember, she’s been watching herself die. Whenever she bleeds, another molly is born, identical to her in every way and intent on her destruction.
Molly knows every way to kill herself, but she also knows that as long as she survives she’ll be hunted. No matter how well she follows the rules, eventually the mollys will find her. Can Molly find a way to stop the tide of blood, or will she meet her end at the hand of a girl who looks just like her?
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.40(d)|
About the Author
TADE THOMPSON lives and works in the south of England. His background is in medicine, psychiatry and social anthropology. His first novel Making Wolf won the Golden Tentacle Award at the 2016 Kitschies. His second novel Rosewater is a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award and is on the 2016 Locus Recommended Reading List, and his short story The Apologists has been shortlisted for a British Science Fiction Association award. He enjoys jazz, comics, and baking deformed bread.
Read an Excerpt
I wake into a universe defined by pain.
I can only open my eyes to slits, and the lids are so swollen, it feels like staring out of a hamburger. Warm fluid trickles out of my nose, but that doesn't worry me as much as the warm pool I appear to be lying and sliding around in. Every part of my body hurts. It hurts to breathe, it hurts to hold my breath, it hurts to think. The fabric I'm wearing hurts against my skin. I close my eyes to rest the lids, then I open them again because I have no idea where I am.
I am in shackles. There are cuts on my ankles and my wrists. I'm in a room somewhere, dim, cold air, wet with my own warm piss. I do not think any of my bones are broken, but I don't want to take a chance. I stay as still as possible, breathing shallow, careful. Careful. My chains link up to rings embedded in the wall, a foot off the ground, forcing me into an awkward position with most of my lower torso flat, but my shoulders and head off the ground. The cement work is shoddy, as if someone did the job without the necessary expertise. It is an old chain with rust in the shape of spilled liquid, like blood. Mine? Other prisoners'? I don't know which is worse.
I know things, but I can't remember them. I feel teased by them. Have I had a head injury? It's odd remembering that a head injury can cause memory loss but not remembering my phone number or my mother's name or if I like coffee black. It's like knowing someone is beside you, but not being able to turn your head.
The walls are plastered, but painted on only three sides. I am facing a door, which is unvarnished wood. There is a second door on the other side of the room, same wall. The whole room seems to have been abandoned midway through decoration. The ceiling is concrete, which suggests there are floors above me. Or maybe not. Maybe I'm in a bunker.
I lose time, or time passes. There is no clock, and the sameness makes time seem static, but my nose stops bleeding and the pulse I hear in my ears slows. My eyelids are less swollen. I hear a key in the lock, and the door opens. A woman comes in, maybe in her twenties or early thirties, long dark hair, athletic, casually dressed, face bruised. She has a carrier bag in her left hand. For the brief period that the door is open, I hear knocking, as if some insistent person is at another door.
"Are you calm?" she asks. "Have you calmed down?"
I try to talk. My throat is too dry, and the sound that comes out is close to a death rattle. I wonder if I have ever seen anyone die, in this life that I can't remember. I close my mouth again, no point.
"If you attack me I will drive my elbow into your voice box. I know how to do this, and you will most likely die. Are you calm?"
I nod, discovering a pain in my neck. I stop moving.
She leaves the bag near the door and approaches, manhandling me into a sitting position. Up close, I see that her eyes are blue-grey, and that she must be very strong considering the ease with which she shifts me. She smells of peppermint, and there is dirt under her fingernails, blood on her knuckles. I wonder if her injuries match the ones on me. She returns to the door, retrieves the bag, and kneels in front of me. Water from a plastic bottle. I drink and it feels like a balm down my throat. She feeds me small strips of chicken and clumps of bread. I swallow with difficulty, but eagerly.
"Thank you," I say.
She stops, sucks her teeth, packs up the food, and leaves.
She returns after a few hours, or some days. It is hard to tell. She has a needle and a bottle of black ink. She comes to me, rolls up my sleeve, and, using a lighter, heats the end of the needle. She applies the heated point and the ink to my skin. I break out in a sweat, but am determined not to cry out. She is very meticulous in writing the tattoo. It is a series of numbers, and it appears she is more concerned with legibility than aesthetics. This takes a long time, and I do not think she is experienced. Given the number of times she swears, I think this may be her first time.
When she finishes, she says, "Keep it clean and dry."
"I am lying in my own urine and feces. How am I meant to keep it clean? Why am I here?"
The woman does not respond, but she seems to slow in her stride before slamming the door shut.
"Oh," she says, then she walks out again, leaving the door ajar. She peeps back, eyes more focused, checking on me, after which she does not return. I hear noises, then the door shuts and the lock turns.
What the hell is going on?
The woman comes in again, fully clothed in short sleeves, jeans, tennis shoes. This time she has a chair in tow, wooden, functional, no finish. She locks the door behind her. She also has a pile of rags, a glass of water, a first aid box, a can of lighter fluid, and a gleaming kitchen knife. She lays these items out in a curve in front of her, again making me imagine cultish rituals. She makes eye contact, then picks up the knife. She draws the knife along her forearm. It bleeds brisk red drops, which she aims into the rags. When the flow falters she dresses the wound. She pours the lighter fluid on the floor, creating a wick that flows outside the room. She packs the rags up and takes them out of the room, then comes back in, sits in the chair, and looks at me again.
"My name is Molly Southbourne."
She says this like it should mean something.
"I don't know you," I say, but it rings false, even to me. "Please let me go."
"It's all right. You will know me. You will." She nods to herself. "I'm going to tell you a story. It's long, but you must try to remember it. Your life depends on how well you remember. Will you promise to remember?"
"Just promise." No mercy in those eyes. No evil either, just finality, which is scarier.
"Good. Afterwards, I will release you."
Death can be a release, I think, but I don't push the matter. I think she is mad. I feel I should be more afraid, but I am not. I don't know why.
She sighs. "I don't even know where to start. What should I ..." She seems to be pleading with me.
I hold her gaze the way I would a rabid dog's. When I don't look away, she says, "My earliest memory was a dream...."
Molly's first memory is of her father killing her. At the time, she thinks it is a dream. She sees her father in her room hitting her and she is on the floor with no clothes on. He keeps hitting until she stops moving, then Molly screams. It is as if she is both on the floor, bleeding and dying, and on the bed, watching her father breathing heavily, hands red. Molly struggles to get out of her mother's grip. Her mother tells her she has had a nightmare. Her mother says the bad dream is because she lost a tooth that day. Molly tongues the gap in the front row of her teeth. Her mother sings a song from the old country, and Molly soon falls asleep. When she wakes up the next morning she immediately examines the carpeting, but there is nothing. It seems cleaner than it was, but otherwise it is the same. It will be years before she realizes that this really happened.
Age five, Molly has the run of Southbourne Farm. She is happy and knows all the animals by name — the names she has given them, at any rate. There are sheep, three horses, two dogs, chickens. She names them all, like a modern-day Eve. Many times she feels so alone, like she is the only one alive, the first and last human. She never leaves the farm. She sits under the largest tree and stares at the world beyond the gate. There are people out there, grown ones like Ma and Pa, little ones like Molly. She has seen them on television. There is also Trevor, who collects the milk, and Erin, who brings the post. They like Molly and bring her things from the outside, little toys and hard candy and homemade boiled sweets. Pile, the German shepherd, plops down next to her. He is old now. Pa says he is twelve, which is old for a dog. Molly loves Pile.
Her father's combine harvester breaks the quiet of the morning. Her mother would be working numbers into columns that Molly did not understand. It is a hot day, and Molly dozes. She falls asleep and puts sudden weight against Pile's forepaw and he bites her, drawing blood. Molly screams. Her mother comes and shoos away the dog, who looks confused. Pa does not hear the scream over the engine. Ma dresses Molly's wound, but Pa takes his shotgun and leaves the house. Molly never sees Pile again. She misses him.
Two days later there is a little girl under the tree.
The farmland slopes gently toward the house, after which it descends again. Because of this, you can see the whole farm from the top floor, or the roof. Molly is on the second floor, and sees the girl from her window. The girl is in shadow, and not wearing any clothes. Molly squeals with surprise. She runs to her wardrobe and selects a dress, then flies out to the tree. She stops short when the girl turns to her. She looks exactly like Molly. It's like seeing herself in the mirror after Ma bathes her. Molly checks where Pile bit her, but the girl does not have the same wound.
"Hello," says Molly.
The girl breaks into a smile, and Molly decides she likes her. She offers the dress, and the girl puts it on.
"Who are you?" asks Molly.
There is a brief crease on the girl's brow, then she says, "Molly."
For three days they live together in Molly's room. She splits her food in half and takes it upstairs, where the other Molly eats it. They play with Molly's toys and read her picture books as well as they can. She sleeps under the bed until Ma has gone, then they squish together under the covers.
They are playing by the tiny stream that seals the northern boundary of Southbourne Farm when the new girl stops smiling. Molly splashes her with water to try to get her to smile. The girl snatches up a rock and swings it at Molly, cracking her on the head. Molly screams, feels blood stream down the side of her head. She pushes at the girl ineffectually. She calls for her mother. The girl keeps hitting her with the rock.
Molly's eyes close. She hears someone say, "Hey!" then an explosion that seems to come from far away. She opens her eyes briefly, only to see her mother standing there with a smoking handgun. Molly falls away and reemerges in her own bed.
"She's awake," says an unfamiliar voice. Her head feels tight. A woman in a nurse's uniform comes into view.
"Hello there, Molly. How are we feeling? You took a nasty spill."
"Where's Molly?" asks Molly. She does not recognize her own voice. It sounds thick.
"You're Molly, darling."
"I know that. Where's the other Molly?"
"I'm Alana, your nurse. I think you're confused."
Molly isn't confused, but she knows grown-ups. At times they say things that are not true, and what they want is for you to agree with them. They especially like it when you nod.
Molly nods and says, "I'm confused."
Alana smiles. "I'll go get your parents."
A doctor comes in to check on Molly. While he examines her he notices the tulips on the windowsill. He says that in Japan there is a custom of bringing potted plants to sick people instead of flowers, because flowers are dead or dying. Molly is unsure if this story is meant to be funny or comforting, so she smiles. Adults like that. The doctor tells her parents that he wants to take Molly in for a scan, but they refuse.
At night, Molly sometimes hears gunshots, and she has dreams, nightmares about the other Molly, but these fade with time.
They never talk about it, but Molly's life changes. There are rules now. More rules than before, and stranger than eating with her mouth closed or keeping her elbows off the dining table.
"If you ever see a girl who looks like you, run. If you can't run, fight. Your mother or I will take care of it as soon as we get there. But you run and you scream. Do you understand?"
"If I see another Molly, I run, scream, and fight."
"I don't know how to fight."
"We will fix that."
To run or fight is the most important rule, but there is also the blood rule. Don't bleed. What that means is Be careful. No climbing trees, no running on concrete, no more playing with dogs. No shag rugs. The corridors and rooms are cleared of obstructions. No operating machinery. Soft toys. Good lighting everywhere. Most furniture with curved edges. Good shoes, heels checked every week for wear and replaced promptly.
If you do bleed, blot it all up and burn it. Go back to the spot and flood it with bleach.
"If you ever find a pit or a hole in the ground or in the trees or walls in the house, find me or your mom immediately."
The rules are simple.
If you see a girl who looks like you, run and fight.
If you bleed, blot, burn, and bleach.
If you find a hole, find your parents.
Molly recites the lines to herself many times. She finds herself repeating them without intending to when she is bored.
She learns about the different types of bleach, and how to make a flame from the simplest of materials, focusing on what burns hottest, not necessarily brightest.
"It's a mistake to go for the spectacular flames, Molly," her mother tells her. "Pyromaniac arsonists want spectacle, because they want the flame. We want the destruction. The hottest, most destructive flame is invisible. Visible flames are caused by incomplete combustion."
Her mother knows a lot about fire.
Molly loves music, but all efforts at teaching her to play an instrument fail. She has an interest in listening, but no inclination to compose or create. There are enough musicians in the world, and uncountable hours of compositions; why should she add to this? Sometimes she imagines all the music in the world, since the dawn of time, playing at the same time in a magnificent cacophony, from the first primates who beat out sounds with sticks to the most exquisite Stravinsky. She thinks at the end of time there will be nuclear symphonies played out as radio signals bouncing around on immortal satellites sent out to an uncaring universe.
Her preferences run to Chopin and Fela Kuti, although the latter is one of her mother's favorites, rather than something Molly picks up herself.
"Listen to the words, dorogoy. In Fela's words you can divine the nature of intelligent discourse. Notice how he defines suegbe, then he defines pako. He defines terms, then he explains his thesis. Go forth and do likewise."
Molly listens. The song is called "Suegbe na Pako." She thinks Fela defines with examples. An example has aspects of a thing, but is that the thing itself? The mollys have aspects of Molly, but that doesn't make them Molly, does it?
She does not tell her mother this, because adults like to be right all the time.
Molly is nine.
She and her father are in the barn. The air is full of blood and the smell of offal. Her father is holding a knife and a cleaver. There is a dead pig on a slab. An old pig, dead from some illness that gave it seizures. For Molly, a lesson.
"Make sure your tools are sharp and clean. Sharpen them after a single use."
"Can I sharpen them now?"
"No. You're not touching knives yet."
He prepares the skin with boiling water. "This pig died without trauma, so we won't get a lot of blood. It's congealed within the veins and arteries and trapped in the muscles. First thing you want to do is cut the head off. Cut between the vertebrae, do not saw. This is normally a two-man job."
"Two-person," says Molly.
"Two-person." Her father smiles. "But when you're going to need to do this, you'll be alone. You don't need a second person, but it makes the work easier. We ... you will not have any tools except knives. Once you've separated the head, take off the upper limbs. Do not hack through bone. Divide the cartilage at the joints. Slice through the skin and feel for the line of cleavage."
With a few well-aimed strokes the pig's forelimbs seem to fall off. "Same thing for the lower limbs."
A fly buzzes in and Molly chases it out. There is more blood than she expects. The pig is now a lump of meat. Her father cuts a line across the front of its belly and digs about in the wound. He widens the line down both sides under the rib cage, like a gigantic smile.
"The chest and belly are like a tube of flesh and bone. What you want to do is remove the organs in one piece so you don't make a mess." He reaches into the wound and pulls, emerges with the gullet in his hand, which he ties into a simple overhand knot. Then he reaches into the lower half and ties up the large intestine. Finally he lifts out the entire digestive system, which he plops into a bucket.
"From here on in, it's easy. No blood, no shit."
Molly giggles. "You said 'shit.'"
He winks at her. "Let's not tell Mommy.
Excerpted from "The Murders of Molly Southbourne"
Copyright © 2017 Tade Thompson.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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
Table of Contents,
About the Author,