Category Archives: Issue 35

Your Mama’s Adventures In Parenting by Mary Robinette Kowal

Your mama adjusted her face mask and checked the chronometer on her eyepiece. Darn it. The filter would only be good for another fifteen minutes. She was nowhere near finished with the job. And this particular theft would fetch a good price on the energy market, what with the price of methane.

She slid the siphon tube across to the capture valve and turned on the suction pump. If your mama could get most of the gas into the polysteel tank on her back…

The filter in her mask failed. A rank, heavy scent of sulfur and dead moss burned into her sinuses. Your mama’s eyes watered. She pressed the filter against her face, trying to snug it up or eke out a few more minutes. The smell only grew stronger, moving past eggs, and into the bowels of hell itself.

Gagging, she hit the retract button on the siphon. No amount of credits was worth this. Methane or no. Energy crisis or no. Your mama would rather steal diamonds than deal with one more fart job.

She broke like the wind, and ran.

 You watch your mama through the bathroom doorway. In one hand, she’s holding a plunger; the other is sheathed in a dripping rubber glove. Her shoulders are slumped. She sees you, and points at the toilet. “Really?”

Coming out of the wormhole, your mama felt along the sensors leading from her brain housing to the detectors on the ship’s skin. Really, it was the outer hull, but to her the background radiation of space felt like wind on her skin. Almost.

“Location. Lunar orbit around the planet Earth.” She opened a viewport for her passenger.

He gasped. “That’s no moon.”

Her sensor showed nothing out of the ordinary. “We are in lunar orbit.”

“Yes, yes, but something else is, too.” He leaned closer to the viewport. “Can you not see it?”

“Negative.” Your mama adjusted her sensors along all frequencies, but still perceived nothing out of the ordinary. “It must be masking electronically. What are you seeing?”

“What appears to be a demolition ship.” He fiddled with the end of his towel and frowned. “The darn thing is glowing and—Bother.”

The destruction of the Earth was all too clear in her sensors, lighting up the inside of her brain like a firestorm. The radiation played over her skin and flared in her sensors.

“Damn.” He turned from the viewport. “Plot a new course…just pick someplace.”

She skipped back in the wormhole, and the dark closed around her until all that remained was the memory of warmth on her skin.

 In the rear view mirror of the car, you can only see your mama’s eyes. The heat is glaring through the windows and making your skin stick to the vinyl seats with sweat. She’s glaring at you. “I’m not just a taxi service, you know.”

The difficulty wasn’t breaking into the Cambridge library, it was in finding the right piece of microfilm. Your mama pretended to straighten the back seam of her stockings as a librarian went by. Her informant had left the nuclear codes on a piece of microfilm in a dead drop, which seemed like a good idea before they began to recatalog the collection.

The librarian went into the restricted area, and your mama slid a foot into the door to stop it. She counted to ten, so the librarian would be clear, and went in. From there, it was just a matter of slipping through the stacks until she reached the rare books. Who would have expected a children’s book to wind up here?

Footsteps alerted her, and your mama snatched the volume off the shelf. Pulling her gun from its holster in her garter, she pressed herself against the shelves and crept to the end of the aisle. With the massive shelves masking her, she waited until the librarian walked past, head down in a book.

Letting out a sigh, she tucked her gun back in its place and turned her attention to the book. The microfilm was in the spine, so all your mama had to do was pull it out and… there.

She had the codes from the Soviets. No doubt, they would be seriously annoyed to have been thwarted by England’s spy network. And, of course, a signed first edition of Peter Pan.

Your mama put the book back on the shelf. And now, she would slip out of the library and head straight on ’til morning.

 You have nowhere to hide. Your mama holds your report card and the book you’d hidden it in. She is slowly shaking her head. “Do you want to explain this to me?”

Your mama stared at the moon through the viewport of the space station. The goddamn airlock was jammed. How the hell was she supposed to get outside before the change hit without the key? And who thought that a chain was a good idea for an airlock? Her bones ached. The inside of her spacesuit was starting to chafe.

Right. She didn’t necessarily need the key; all she had to do was break the chain. The catch was that if she waited long enough for the lycanthropy to shift her to wolf state, with the necessary strength to break the chain, then the helmet probably wouldn’t fit her. Growling, and knowing that was a bad sign, your mama stepped back from the airlock. She had another hour, at least, before the moon swung far enough in its orbit to be fully in the light of the sun and out of the Earth’s shadow. So, who would have locked the door? Because it turned out that she really did need the key. Sheppard? Grissom? Arm—Armstrong.

Baring her teeth, your mama pushed off the airlock and shot down the corridor to Armstrong’s cubby. “Did you chain the airlock?”


“Do you want me to tear your throat out?”


“Give me the fucking key.” Your mama’s fangs were showing and caught on her upper lip. She reached out, snatched the key from his shaking hand. With a snarl, she jammed her helmet on, past her lengthening snout, and fled to the dark side of the moon and her humanity.

 You tiptoe through the room so you don’t wake your mama. Your mama got sick once a month, but she always tells you not to worry. She lies on the sofa with a hot water bottle tucked against her stomach. When you bump a table, she cracks one eye. “Hey, sweetie, need anything?

The steam hissed around your mama and her dance master as they stepped out of the brass and oak cabinet of the time machine. This time, they had emerged in the alley behind the theater.

She looked to the right, where another incarnation of herself was hurrying to the theater for the audition. “Stop her!”

At her command, a brass automaton stepped out of the time machine and intercepted the previous her. Your mama turned her back on the cry of surprise from her former self.

“Come on.” She beckoned the dance master. “I want to get inside and warm up.”

Her dance master stared past her. “That was you?”

“Yes.” Your mama snapped and strode toward the theater.

“You were so young…”

“Young and inexperienced and I screwed up the most important audition of my life.” Even after all these years, the memory of falling off her pointe shoes still burned.

“Did you try again?” He wasn’t following her.

“I am now.” Why else would your mama have spent years building this time machine and working with the dance master?

“I mean…did you go to the spring audition?”

“How could I, after that humiliation?” She stared at her past self, who hung confused and frightened in the automaton’s grip.

“That’s…that’s what being a dancer is. Getting up and continuing. Everyone falls sometimes.” He stepped away, back to the girl she had been. “Would you like to go over your routine?”

“What are you doing?” Your mama put her hands on her hips. “You’re supposed to help me with my audition.”

“I am.” He shrugged. “This you is too old. She…She still has a chance.”

 Your mama hands you a tissue. “Don’t listen to them.” She ruffles your hair and her fingers are rough from work. “You can be anything you want to be. Okay? I believe in you.”


Mary Robinette Kowal. Portland, Oregon, February 2012.

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of The Glamourist Histories series of fantasy novels and a three time Hugo Award winner. Her short fiction appears in Uncanny,, and Asimov’s. Mary, a professional puppeteer, lives in Chicago. Visit her online at


Other Mothers:

Hic Sunt Leones, by L.M. Davenport – It’s true that the house walks. It’s also true that you can only find it if you don’t know about it. Once, a boy in my high-school art class drew a picture of it, but didn’t know what he’d drawn; the thing in the center of his sketchpad had ungainly, menacing chicken legs caught mid-stride and a crazed thatch roof that hung askew over brooding windows. I knew it was the house right away because his eyes had that sleepy, traumatized look that people get once they’ve seen the house. I was used to seeing this look, mostly on my mother’s face.

Painted Grassy Mire, by Nicasio Andres Reed – Heat like a hand at her throat then a breeze kicked up from Lake Borgne to swat Winnie sweetly across the face. One of those breezes every hour. A muddy, warm thing that got her through the day. What would life be without a breeze off the lake? Nothing. Nothing, just everyone gone to moss and decay.

Palingenesis, by Megan Arkenberg – Every city has an explanation. A strike of coal or silver that brought the miners running, or a hot spring that holds the frost at bay. A railroad or a shift in the current. Most people say this city started with the river. The water is everywhere you look, sluggish and brown most seasons, bearing the whiskey-smell of peat out from the forest, and carrying nothing downstream except mats of skeletal leaves. Seven bridges straddle the river between First and Barton Road as it winds through a downtown of antique stores, the crepe-streamered American Legion, the purple house advertising tarot and palm readings.

Trees Struck by Lightning Burning From the Inside Out, by Emily Lundgren

It is sweet and fitting to die with one’s pack under the full moon, but the sky is clouded by the city lights: orange and yellow and red like fire. Roque is running. Like a cracked whip, without sense. Under a sliver of jagged sound, under the leering fray of glossy towers, he smells a dog without a leash, the sharp of silvered bolts. He sees a woman with a cardboard sign reading something-something about the world, who catches his eye, whose own eyes widen, whose mouth opens and makes a howling noise: something-something about wolves! wolves! The road towards dawn outstretches before him, choking on cars and steam and fur and bone. Roque is running, running. His paws thump in tandem with the code of his heart, and he transforms.

I shit you not, the den was in this underground shithole out by the train tracks. Outside, on the gate leading to it, there was an honest-to-god sign that said NO DUMPING, but as soon as we crossed beyond the gate we had to navigate piles of actual junk. Old coils of bedspring, plastic toys, a sagging couch, at least five ancient television sets, a mountain of cassettes. On the gravel, spools of black videotape were tangled in neatly arranged piles, like someone decided to sit there and chew apart all the plastic. The den itself was past all that shit, in the rubble of an enclave painted with the words FAIR IS FOUL & FOUL IS FAIR FUCKERS. Some real nice digs.

There shouldn’t be a fire pit. I know we’re all thinking it—the wild ones, they’re not supposed to have thumbs, you know? After the carnage, some of us stand near the arrangement of cinderblocks that circle the fire pit like sad-ass lawn chairs. Our crossbows hang limp in our hands. Someone’s phone goes off but we don’t even pick it up. This fire pit is fucking weird, none of us says just yet. It looks like a stump, the midsection carved in a big X with raw pulsing pinks and reds at its heart, peeling the core back white. The stump sits in a charred indentation in the ground, and it reminds me of one summer when lightning struck a tree on the farm and ate it from the inside out. Once in a lifetime, tops.

Behind us, snaking from beneath the circular enclave that might’ve once had something to do with trains, there’s a root-path leading crooked into the den. If we listen, which we all do, we can hear shouting. Will and the rest of us are still down there, probably counting up the corpses. They didn’t really fight us when we found them, and I know we’re all sort of disappointed. They howled and cried and clawed at the dirt but their den was nothing but damp earth and dead ends. Wolves used to live in caves or in the woods, but shit, where can you find places like that anymore? From the earth’s belly, I hear Will start up about skinning their hides.

Someone’s phone goes off and this time it gets answered. This shakes us apart, gets us moving. So what if they carved a stump and made a fire and sat here at night watching it with their dumb eyes? We round the perimeter, keep watch. Another of us takes out his phone, too, and snaps a few pictures. “This fire pit is fucking weird,” he’s the first to say. “I’m putting this thing on Instagram.” I shrug. I got rid of all that shit after my parents died. Facebook before the funeral—then afterwards, Twitter, then Tumblr, even Snapchat, and definitely my Grindr profile. Online, time vaults would lurch open at the stupidest times. I’d be checking my phone in bed and then next thing I knew, my Ma’s face would peer up at me and I’d go to her profile, which I should’ve deleted a long time ago, but never did. I’d reread the RIPs, the thoughts and prayers, and I guess there was probably a way to disable all that shit, like unfollow her, but I never did. I just shut it all down. Now I only talk to fellow hunters, I guess.

Growing up, I didn’t give a single fuck about wolves and neither did my parents. But even in Big Sky Country they’d crop up, and sure, we had a coalition in town meant to protect us and all that shit, but for a long time, the worst you’d hear about was someone’s raided chicken coop or a missing cow or two. There’d be rumors, or whatever, about a family that went missing, but that was always on rez land and the coalition would say well, you know, that’s out of our state jurisdiction, and no one wants us out there anyway, and that was true, so that was that.

The most controversial law didn’t get passed until around the time I was born because it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the wolves started smartening up. There was the Wolf Man, sure, and maybe a few like him in the Middle Ages, so now people are figuring hey, that might explain a lot—but it didn’t happen in droves until much later, and pretty soon, for a few days out of every month, wolves could walk and make sounds and use thumbs. Then they got to thinking, which was when the real trouble started because it pried open a big can of fucking worms, so it was all “civil rights” this and that. Anyway, even the human-ones are born wolves, so this law passed in maybe 1996 and it prohibited hunting them unless they’re wild. The ones that can transform are tagged—assimilated into our Great Fucking Society.

I know this guy who used to hunt with our coalition who dated a tagged one once, but it was real hard seeing as they couldn’t be together most of the time, and then it got to the point where the few days out of the month they could be together, they mostly argued about his job. But all of what we do’s legal, you know, legit. Except I guess that wasn’t the problem.

She was very sophisticated and all that shit. She even had a YouTube channel, I think.

But then even he got her to admit wild wolves don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone but their own packs and they give into their hunger real easy, she even said she didn’t like running with them—but come on, she’d said, it’s still kind of fucked, what you guys do, isn’t it? So then this guy, he sat her down, told her all our stories. He saved mine for last, Little Arlo and His Daddy’s .22 against the Big Bad Wild Wolves. I watched them tear Ma and Pa to shreds. They smelled like piss and their fangs were long and yellowy and there wasn’t anything human about them. Whenever I talk about it, my chest starts feeling numb and the numbness stretches into my fingertips. I get dizzy and sometimes I throw up, and honestly, I was pretty angry about the whole fucking thing, having to listen to him tell the likes of her about that night.

Will comes up from the den and glares at us. “Tell me you fucking got it,” he grits, “and you already tossed it onto a goddamn junk pile!” Will’s a man with hobbies. I think years ago he might’ve been a teacher, but mostly I think that’s bullshit, even though he does know a lot about the Second Amendment, and arsenals, and what George Washington would think about all this shit. He owns a gun range on the outskirts of the city, and he started this little hunting business on the side because of all the government incentives. I mean, that’s what he said, but it’s pretty clear he enjoys himself out here real good. He smokes a cigar and looks like he’s playing a Vietnam vet. I’m not sure he’s ever been to war. Some of us did a tour or two in Iraq, but I didn’t. When I turned eighteen, I only wanted to kill one species, and it wasn’t other humans.

We tuck our phones away, but only one of us has the courage to ask Will what he means. “Huh?” says Horace. He’s a couple years older than I am, went to the same school as me and all that shit. Circled the same hangouts. My last year was kind of a blur on account of my parents getting killed, and the switch from Big Sky Country to Shit Can City. There were a lot of counselors and a lot of fights with the wolf-kids. The wolf-kids had a special program, and would only show up for a few days out of every month, and so it was hard not to hate them. I roughed them up on the regular, I guess. Horace, too. We’d lost something, and yeah, it was that simple.

They owed us a healing. Everyone knew it.

His crossbow hanging from its strap on his shoulder, Will takes a big puff on his cigar. I quit smoking yesterday and I can already tell that’s all gone to fuck in a dickbasket because I really want a smoke. His glare worsens, like it’s lowering us into our graves. “Arlo, how many were in this pack?” he cuts.

I flinch. I was on recon, so I should know. “Um, like, there were six,” I say. “Sir,” I add, already knowing what he’ll say.

He looks at all of us. “We’ve been watching this pack for months. We got all the goddamn fucking permits. You’re supposed to be guarding the perimeter, making sure they were all down there—and what the fuck do I emerge to find?” We don’t answer. “All of you—staring at your goddamn dicks—your phones in your hands! Our count is five. Now one of them’s out there—” He makes an accusatory motion with his cigar, “and so help me god, if it kills anyone, that death is on you. The way I see it—Jesus, I hope it’s only some fucking bum gets killed.”

We look to one another and I feel really hot, like I’m wedged in the heart of the burning stump. Will gives one look at the fire pit and the cinderblocks and he sneers.

I order coffee and eggs and bacon and three chocolate-chip pancakes, and I only have appetite for the coffee, so I just kind of sit there staring at the syrups. I’m always buying shit I can’t afford. Horace, who likes us all to call him Ace due to something that went down back when he was a kid—I’ve guessed probably involving a different nickname—orders waffles that look like they’ve been dressed in a whipped cream and strawberry tutu, and he avoids catching my eye. No one should blame me about what happened, but it’s pretty clear they all do because I’m the one Will barked at, and when he said that death is on you, his grave glare was right on me—even though all of us were distracted when we came up from the den.

Ace watches my coffee ritual. Two packets of Sugar In The Raw. One thimble of vanilla creamer. “R,” Ace says. “Dude. Are you going to eat that?” He stabs his fork at my bacon.

“No, dude,” I say, and I mean it to have a little edge, but it doesn’t. “It’s yours, man.”

Before we left for Denny’s we checked the junkyard’s perimeter a few more times and all that shit. A few of us pissed on the burning stump and the fire went out and then Will went home with some of the older guys and that was that. Lone wolves usually get picked off by the police if they’re spotted in the city and all of us figured it probably ran that way even though we don’t have a good reason. Abigail, who used to be called Abby until her little brother got his throat ripped out by a wolf or something, ordered hash browns with cheese and said, whatever, assholes, that wolf’s as good as dead anyway—so shut the fuck up about it, will you?

Now she goes by Gail, which Ace and I think is ugly but we’ve never said so.

“Hey,” she says now, nodding her chin somewhere behind me. She’s sitting opposite Ace and me, next to Logan—who has always just been Logan and a heaping pile of steaming bullshit. Logan ordered fries and a Diet Coke and he’s gay, so Ace always makes stupid jokes. Like I’m supposed to want to fuck every gay guy I come across, shit, man, and Logan’s not even my type. First of all, fuck Diet. Second of all, wolves have never fucked with his people, so, I mean, it’s kind of fucked he’s always hanging around with us. Now he double-takes at Gail’s nod, and raises his plucked-perfect eyebrows and that’s how I know even before I turn around that there’s going to be wolves in the far corner booth, scowling at us.

Both Ace and I sit up straight and turn around—what else are we supposed to do?

“Guys!” Gail hisses even though I know she can’t mind. “Jesus,” she grits, just like Will.

When we turn back, the wolves we saw—the wolf I saw—makes me feel like I’ve been stun-shot and now I’m sinking. Like I’m ghosting down through the booth and through the layers of the earth we learned about in school. Crust, mantle, outer core. I don’t make it to the inner core, though, because by that point, I’ve melted into liquid fire.

The wolf’s name was fucking Casper, so that’s on me, I guess. When he said his name I was grinning, I was like, “Ha ha ha, like the friendly ghost?” and when he gave me this “huh?” face, I should’ve figured and all that shit. Who never saw Casper? But I guess at the time I was more figuring, maybe I just remembered the movie real well because when I saw it growing up and Casper turned into a real human kid at the end it made me go fuck, well, I might be into guys.

We met at this gay bar that Logan likes that’s really chill on Tuesdays and sometimes I go with him, and then sometimes, but rarely, Gail will show up with Ace in tow.

Casper found me at the bar waiting for a drink, already drunk and kind of pissed because it was one of those nights. Ace was showing everyone this YouTube video back at our booth and they were crowded around him but I couldn’t hear shit. Three people around a phone is fine and all, but four is pushing it and just for the record, I’m not one of those anti-tech dickwads or anything, I’m just fucking poor and after my grandparents died, my iPhone cracked all to shit. They were footing the phone bill, so that’s that.

Anyway, now that I’m thinking about all this, I guess there were more signs than his stupid reaction to my teasing. His grin, for one. It was a very nice grin, but now that I’m looking back, it was maybe a little too wolfish. Like I could tell there was a little bit of hunger for human flesh lurking behind it, but at the time, that wasn’t the kind of human flesh I was thinking about. He had jet black hair shaved into one of those punk haircuts I used to wear but couldn’t maintain—right after my parents died I was really into the Dead Kennedys, and there was something weirdly sexy about Jello Biafra’s voice when he sang “Police Truck” that was loopy and aggressive but desperate all at the same time—and Casper reminded me of that sound. His eyes were narrow and brown, and they laughed really easy, but never at me. Also he had a tragus piercing and I mean, shit, man, I mean, really—how does that play out on a wolf’s ear?

So I got my drink, and then he was like, “You smoke,” but it wasn’t a question and like a total fuckup I was, like, yeah, how’d you know? And he tapped his nose and winked, and he was like, “I could smell it on you.” And now I’m thinking fuck, well, that was pretty obvious, Arlo, you fucking brainless dick, but at the time I was kind of relieved because he asked if he could bum one. I wanted everyone to see me leaving, having a good time, so we went out back together and we smoked the rest of my pack, and then we made out for a while and then we went back inside.

He was like Joe Strummer, if Strummer were East Asian and at a gay bar and not dead.

The fucked up part is that I saw Casper a couple of times after that, which led to him getting my number, which led to him knocking on my door one night pretty drunk, and I guess things had been so good the past year, you know, that I wasn’t really paying attention to the moon anymore. I paid a lot of attention to it after my parents died, and I guess I always carry a vague awareness of it because I’m a hunter, but I never thought about hunting when I was with Casper and we never talked about it.

After he spent a few nights with me, he found my crossbow in the closet with its silver-tipped bolts and I found him staring, and I told him it was cool. I was like, you want to give it a shot? I know a place we could go. I have the license and all that shit, and he was like, “Have you ever killed anything, R?” and I told him yeah, I’ve killed plenty, and then he actually grinned. He was like, “Me too.” But after that he didn’t come around as much, so that was that.

It’s not like we were in love or anything, but I guess, lately, I’d sort of missed him.

They’re two booths down in the corner, but the booth between us is empty. Gail starts throwing these tiny little balls made out of Logan’s straw wrapper. Her aim is shit, but you’d never know it because when we’re down in the dens, a lot of the time there’s really no aiming involved. She starts using his napkin and Logan just lets her, nodding and smiling like isn’t this funny? We’re regulars at this Denny’s, so I don’t see how we’ve never seen them here before.

I start imagining how white trash we must look in our gear and how we brought our bows and bolts inside and how fucked up that kind of is. Back in school, Ace and Logan, who lived on the edge of some trailer court hinterlands, had these four-wheelers and we used to go down and shoot paintball and I’m starting to think maybe we never grew out of it because we’re still wearing all our stupid-ass shit. We have these bandanas around our arms with this wood-axe emblem. Like ha ha, get it, like we’re the huntsmen from that story where that girl gets eaten by a wolf, which by now, I guess, everyone figures was probably true.

I sink a little lower, trying to remember if any of them ever saw Casper with me, and then I get my answer. Logan shoulders Gail. He’s looking at me. “What’s wrong, R?” he says, and I can hear it in his voice, this cruelness he gets when he’s about to start whaling on someone.

Under the table, my hands clench and unclench, and my palms are sweaty.

Gail is laughing now, and Ace starts in on my eggs, and Logan winks at me.

“Hey, will you fucking shut up?” I say. I want to tell Gail to stop throwing shit, but I don’t.

“What crawled up your ass and died, R? Chill the fuck out.” Gail rolls up another piece of Logan’s napkin and dips it in my coffee—what the fuck, I growl, but she sends the wad sailing. “It doesn’t fucking matter,” she says for the thousandth time. “Just because you’ve got your panties in a bunch over losing one doesn’t mean we’ve got to share your shit mood, you know?” She snorts with laughter, “Fuck—they’re catching on, I think—”

I can’t help sneering. “The thing we lost wasn’t one of them, it was wild, it can’t even transform—” like the pack that killed your brother, but I don’t say that part. Gail’s still laughing, but Logan gets this frown going and I know he hears me. “And seriously, what the fuck?” My voice is a little louder now, “I’m not the one who lost it, why am I getting blamed? Ace was the one on his phone, and you’re the one who was fucking with Snapchat filters the whole time—”

“Dude, um,” Ace looks up from his phone, “you were the one staring at that fire pit—”

“Yeah, um, actually,” Gail chimes in, “that was weird, wasn’t it? I mean how’d a bunch of wild wolves cut a stump like that and light it on fire?” They’re all looking at me. “You’re the one who did recon,” Gail says, like I don’t already fucking know.

Then I see the flicker of dangerous excitement in Logan’s eye. “Hey guys,” he says, interrupting Gail, and I know he’s going to tell them. “Did you know R here fucked one of—”

“Excuse me.”

We look up.

It’s one of the wolves, but it isn’t Casper. The wolf-girl doesn’t say anything more, just dumps a cup of her yellowy piss right on Gail’s head. Gail screeches, chokes on it—and I’m out of the booth like lightning, Jesus, shit! not because I’m afraid of getting piss on me, but because everything is fucked and my heart’s thrumming crazy like it did on my first hunt and I’ve got to move. I push the wolf-girl out of the way and she’s howling, like, howling with laughter, and I think I’m totally leaving, but I don’t have a car, and even if I did, Ace always drives.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I say, once I’m out in the parking lot. I figure the cops will be here soon because this isn’t such a bad side of town, I guess, and it’ll be this whole thing. They’ll see we’ve got our bows and all that shit, not that it really matters, but we’ll have to stand around in this Denny’s parking lot all night showing them our licenses, getting looked up in databases—they might call Will, fuck, I mean, I doubt I’d lose my job, but maybe I could.

I pace, trying to remember. I don’t know. I didn’t see shit. I didn’t see that fire pit on recon, I just saw a fucking hovel, and wolves, and piles of junk. The moon’s been high the past few days, and just yesterday I was there, and I didn’t see any of them transform. Not the month before, not the month before that. I mean, it’s not like we just shoot up any old pack we find. They’ve got to be verified, you know? And they were, but even if they weren’t—who the fuck am I shitting? Will’s taken us to a few jobs way outside the city, in the suburbs that need a quick favor after a kid goes missing. It wasn’t my fault. It’s not my fault. No fucking way, man.

Casper doesn’t say anything, but I know he’s standing there. Watching me after he lights up his smoke, and I let him watch and take a few drags. Finally, he says, “They called the cops, I think, but Amadeus and Freya just ran—she’s the one who came up to you guys.” He shrugs and takes another drag and I want very badly to ask him for a smoke, and I know he wishes I’d ask.

“Why aren’t you running?” I say. I stop pacing, but now I’m shaking. I can’t get calm. They get to pick their human names, I heard. Whatever names they want and I don’t give a fuck why Casper picked his. Something is moving through me like a tremor now, the kind that splits mountains.

“I will,” he says. He still looks the same, only he’s got new boots. He fidgets with his phone in his free hand and it lights his face up, the sharp of his bones, his narrow nose. Deep down I know he’s anxious, but he looks indifferent. Like whatever, man, you’re on your own.

“Fuck you,” I say. I let the words cut my mouth and they hurt and I want him to know how bad they hurt even though I can tell they’ve cut him, too. It doesn’t fucking matter.

He tenses when I move towards him, like he’s watching the earth crack wide open, but he’s not going to move, he’s just going to let himself fall in like a stupid fucking idiot. Like those wolf-kids at school or the wild ones in the den. Like they just exist to take it and do nothing, just lie down and die, only, I’m wrong—and he doesn’t take it. He flicks his smoke and then right here in some Denny’s parking lot we tear each other into hundreds of raw, bloody pieces, and we don’t say a word the whole time we just keep hitting and hitting and hitting and hitting and I don’t know how but it starts ripping me up inside, too, how easy it all happens.

When I moved to the city, I moved in with my grandparents who owned this little townhouse in a retirement community, I guess. They’re gone now too, so when I moved out on my own, I got this place near the city park and whatever’s left of the gardens. The trees aren’t like they were back home, but it’s about as close as I can get to real colors, you know?

I live in a basement apartment with one window and one room. It’s No Smoking, but I smoke anyway and all that shit. Some nights, I can’t stand the smell, so I wander outside in the dark, on the trails near a ravine that cuts through the park like a wide gash. The ravine goes on for miles that way. By my place, on the trails, there’s usually a shitload of litter and something strange will come over me and I’ll get right up next to the bank smoking my smoke, and fish out all the trash. I never put it where it belongs though—I sort of just pile it up beside me in the rocks.

The first few times, I liked it—the hunting, I mean—and this pack, it’s not like they were innocent and all that shit. They’d killed a few people living near the tracks, so at first, no one was saying much about the deaths, but then the police got involved and Will stuck his nose in, got us hired. Will calls them hunts. Lately, they’ve felt more like exterminations. My first kill was pretty scrappy and all that shit. Thing put up a fight. I’ve got scars, sure. I used to be proud about them, but one night, when Casper found one (and I guess he must’ve known but he asked anyway), I said it was from falling out of a tree when I was a kid.

I didn’t even know he was one of them so it’s weird, you know, that I lied.

Will’s always going on and on about the world dying, and getting worse, and how the apocalypse is nigh and all that shit, but lately I sort of feel like the world’s been totally shit-canned since probably forever, I guess. Since man first fucked some woman in a cave. There’s never been anywhere safe, or perfect. Not when people are always around to ruin it all to hell.

But now I get to thinking about the fire pit again, that stump cut into sections. How it reminded me of the lightning-struck tree seeping at the seams with fire, back when my parents were alive. I fish the last of the trash out of the water and sit, taking a long drag on the last smoke from Casper’s pack. My fingers are numb. Back at the hunt, that wild wolf tricked me, I guess. When he heard us coming, he was probably outside, keeping watch like we should’ve done on recon. I’ll bet he knew I was in his yard, made sure I saw what he wanted me to see. I’ll bet he was a sentinel, like I am.

I mean—or, I don’t know.

The cold moonlight bites Roque as he staggers down a steep ravine. There are no birds here. He is human. He is clumsy, naked. There is only the sound of rust, and grinding halts, and Roque is shivering. He has to stop so he can weep. Roque is human. He gags on his tears. They taste like slivers of silver. Near him there is water, and he laps it up to wash the taste of grief out of his mouth. Later, he will throw it back up because it is rotten and contaminated and his insides are raw. The trees hiss at him, his feet cut from the rocks of the stream. He is weeping, weeping, weeping. He is alone. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees a shadow in the dawn with smoke pouring from its mouth. Roque is human. When he sees the shadow, he knows it sees him.

Emily Lundgren is a student of fiction at the Northeast Ohio MFA where she is working on a fantasy novel narrated by a poet shapeshifter, a lost witch prince zombie-vampire, and a woman with an electric guitar. She is from South Dakota and is still getting used to Ohio’s narrow roads. This is her first publication. When not writing, she is probably lighting the bonfire at The Painted World in Dark Souls. You can follow her on twitter @emslun.

Run With Other Packs:

Painted Grassy Mire, by Nicasio Reed – Heat like a hand at her throat then a breeze kicked up from Lake Borgne to swat Winnie sweetly across the face. One of those breezes every hour. A muddy, warm thing that got her through the day. What would life be without a breeze off the lake? Nothing. Nothing, just everyone gone to moss and decay.

Another Beginning, by Michael McGlade – Ógán is twenty-one. He is studying history at Queen’s University, Belfast. Succumbed to a powerful drug fugue in his dorm room, he is paralyzed, unmoving for a whole day except that within himself he’s travelling through Indonesia; a trip he and his fiancée Niamh have meticulously planned for years, and which they intend to take after graduation. When he eventually comes to, Ógán realizes the places he wants to travel to will never live up to his dreams. He rushes over to Malachy’s.

Even in This Skin, by A.C. Wise – Mar has been binding her breasts for years by the time she starts visiting Jamie in prison. If the men stare, it’s at her ass; she can live with that. She isn’t packing today, so she doesn’t strut, just tugs her sweatshirt over her wrists before sliding into the seat opposite her brother. Today, she just wants to disappear.

Shadow Man, Sack Man, Half Dark, Half Light, by Malon Edwards

You keep running even though you know you can’t escape the fifty-foot-tall Pogo. But you were built for this.

You are taller than all of the girls and most of the boys in your Covey Four class. Your legs are longer. Your steam-clock heart is stronger. Your determination is unmatched. Even against the rocks they throw. Even against the insults they hurl. Even when they entimide you and chase you home after school every day, all because your mother could not save their friends.

They have not caught you yet. And they never will. Because you will not let them.

But you are trying to do the impossible here. You are trying to outrun the Pogo, a kakadyab, an ugly, hideous entity no timoun has ever escaped. Not even your best friend, Bobby Brightsmith. And he knew the chant to send it slinking back into Lake Michigan.

Yet, you are confident. You have just rescued Bobby. You hacked his writhing, tentacled body off the Pogo’s scaly, diamond-shaped face with your machete, Tonton Macoute. You wrapped Bobby’s slimy, bloody snake-form around your torso. And then, you ran like you have never run before.

Kounye a la, your lungs burn, your legs are wobbly, and your steam-clock heart is going tanmiga tanmiga tanmiga in your chest. It has never beat this hard. It has never beat this fast. You can feel the overdrive of its tiny springs. You can feel the rotating thump of its miniscule cam.

You are worried.

You have one more block to run before you make it home. You’re almost there. When you arrive, you can ask Manmi to look at your heart. After all, she did design and build it.

But when you round the bend leading to your street, you see, through the gloaming of the half dark, a shadowed figure standing in front of your house. You stop. Or you try. But you can’t. Not at first. You have underestimated your own determination.

Your momentum continues to propel you forward. Only a meter or two. Your arms flail. Your legs give way. You skid across the hard, uneven cobblestones.

Your hands and knees press against the cold ground, bruised and skinned by your fall. It is in this position you heave—sèl fwa, de fwa, twa fwa—before you retch sticky, ropy bile that turns invisible in the weak light of the gas lamps when it hits the dark cobblestones. The gas lamps have never been this dim before. Not on your street. Not on Oglesby.

Your mother and father made sure of that when you moved to La Petite de Haïti in Chicago from La Petite de Haïti in Miami. They do not mind giving a few more pièces de monnaie to the Lamplighters Guild. They want you, Michaëlle-Isabelle, their ti fi cheri, to feel safe, especially on your walk home from school within the heavy shroud of the half dark. They want their patients to feel welcome when they visit, pandan jounen an, during the day, and a leswa, at night.

But this is not welcoming.

It is not safe.

It is not comforting.

And this is all because of the man standing in the middle of the street in front of your house.

You are certain the shadowed figure is a man. A woman would not participate in this awful game. A woman would not play jwe lago—hide-and-seek—in the darkness between the downcast lights of the gas lamps, clothed in shadows, hoping you find her. She would not even consider the notion, knowing an eleven-year-old girl would be walking home by herself in the half dark.

An plis, you have never seen a woman radiate such malevolence. It is apparent in the way this Shadow Man holds himself. It is apparent in the way he stands, hunched and menacing. You are quite certain you will never, in your lifetime, see a woman adopt this evil, wicked stance.

The Shadow Man is, as your mother would say, pa bon ki nan kò l. He ain’t no good.

Epitou, as if to confirm this, you hear the Shadow Man say, “Ah, ti chouchou, I thought you’d never come home from school.”

And he says this in your father’s voice.

You are a smart girl. You should not be surprised your father is the Shadow Man. Not if you had been nosy when you were living in La Petite de Haïti Miami. Not if you had been paying close attention. Not when it was just you and him.

You look confused. Allow me to remind you.

Your mother was called to La Petite de Haïti Chicago by the old and wizened Lord Mayor himself, John Baptiste Point du Sable. He enticed her with anpil lajan (more money than you or she had ever seen) and the title Surgeon General. He needed her to help him combat the polio outbreak in the city-state.

He wanted her to build steam-clock hearts for the children whose sweet flesh hearts had been withered by the disease. He assured your mother he had people who could implement an assembly line production to churn out the mechanical hearts faster.

He was desperate. Eighty percent of the children in his city under the age of twelve were stricken with polio. Limbs and organs, but especially the heart had no chance. He did not want one more timoun to die.

You were sad to see your mother go, but you are more your father’s ti chouchou than your mother’s ti fi cheri. An plis, you and he would join your mother in Chicago as soon as she stemmed the tide of the polio epidemic there.

Those were fond times for you, despite your mother tending suffering, faceless children one thousand three hundred miles away. Your father laughed a lot. He let you do anything you wanted. He had no rules.

Save two: Go to school every day, and don’t leave your room until daybreak after he tucked you in for bed.

Ah. You remember now. It has been three years past, but you remember. I see it. M ka wè recall in those big, beautiful brown eyes of yours. But you don’t know.

Not yet.

You take three steps forward. You are hesitant. You are tentative. You are wary.

You refuse to believe the Shadow Man is your father.

And yet, your father’s rich, melodic baritone has just slipped across the cobblestones and through the half dark from him over to you. This was the same comforting voice that wished you fè bon rèv—beautiful dreams—after he pulled the covers up to your chin each night in La Petite de Haïti Miami.

You do not think about how he did not do this often for you in Chicago. Soon after you two arrived, he disappeared.

In La Petite de Haïti Miami, you told yourself it was the coziness of your father’s voice that made you stay in bed until the sun painted the horizon with soft strokes of morning warmth and fun, and not the dark shadow that skittered across his face before he turned, left your bedroom, and closed the door behind him. But you cannot lie to yourself in La Petite de Haïti Chicago.

“Do you see what he is holding?”

Bobby’s husky voice startles you. The last time you heard it he was screaming as you cleaved him off the Pogo’s face when the Pogo crouched down to eat you.

You squint into the half dark, but you cannot make out any details. You believe the Shadow Man to be tall, trè wo, but the half dark plays with your eyes and the light from the gas lamps. The half dark is a tricky thing. It is a dangerous thing.

But you already know this.

You realize Bobby’s eyes, as small and black and beady as they are, can see far better than yours in the half dark now that he is one of the Pogo’s face tentacles. Was one of the Pogo’s face tentacles.

“I can’t tell,” you whisper to Bobby, hoping the Shadow Man does not hear you. “What is he holding?”

Bobby slithers around your ribs, across your chest, and up to your neck, leaving a trail of coagulated black blood, but not as much as before. He wraps himself around your throat, like a scarf, and tugs you forward, another step or two. His touch is cold and slimy, but gentle.

Enpi, you see it. The Shadow Man is holding a gunny sack.

Once, and only once, did you leave your room after your father had tucked you in for the night.

You were a bit of an odd child then. The dark did not scare you. But you were more of a curious child. An intrepid child.

When you think back upon that night, time has dulled your memory. You are no longer sure if you truly saw a shadow flit across your father’s face. The thought of it does not bring you unease. Not much unease, manyè, since the more you think about that night the less defined that memory is.

It does not make sense for such a malevolent cast to have been upon your father’s face. That comforting voice you know so well is also playful, always hinting at an oncoming laugh. An infectious laugh. A belly laugh. A laugh you associate with your father more than anything else.

An plis, as you play that night through your mind over and again, for what seems to be the thousandth time, you only remember being eksite. You only remember the flip-flop thrill in your stomach as you disobeyed your father and got out of bed.

The house had been dark. It felt empty. It felt lifeless. You and your father had said so the night your mother left for Chicago. But the night you sneaked out of bed something was different.

You knew where you were going: to your father’s side of the house. You knew the route to his office by heart. It was forbidden to you, one of only two such areas in the house. The other was your mother’s office.

Your parents barred you from their professional space because they thought you might play with the sharp, stainless steel instruments. They were concerned you might open the dark bottles of medicine or uncap the flat tins of unguent, and smell and drink and taste.

You were curious, but you were not foolhardy. Except for this one time.

You made walking through the darkness a game. If you bumped into something, you lost a point. If you stubbed your toe and cried out, you lost five points.

That did not happen, though. You knew that house like you know the lines on your palm—every turn, every corner, every hallway. You arrived at your father’s office with all of your points intact. Your glee did not last long, though.

The gunny sack was in the middle of the floor, knotted tight. Something was in it. It bulged. It moved. It seemed to be stained dark and wet in places.

You could not tell by the sputtering light of the kerosene lamp, but the dark and wet looked like blood. And that’s when you heard it: the whimpering, the crying.

Someone was in the gunny sack.

You gasped. You heard the sloshing of water in next room. In your father’s bathroom. He was in the bathtub. He was washing off the blood. He was the Sack Man. He snuck into houses at night and carried naughty children away. You were sure of it.

You heard sloshing again. Louder, this time. Your father was finished bathing. He was getting out of the bathtub.

His bathwater would be pink. Its warmth would have dissipated. He would be cold. He would want to warm up. He would want to eat. He would want a full belly. He would walk back into his office any moment now. He would eat the child in the gunny sack. And if you were still here when he stepped again into this room, he would eat you, too.

His daughter. His only child. His ti chouchou.

So you turned and ran back to your bedroom. You did not lose your way. You did not make a wrong turn. You did not run into a wall. You did not stub your toe.

You jumped into your bed. You pulled the covers over your head. And you never got out of your bed again after dark.

“I’m not a naughty child, Papa.”

You say this to your father from quite a distance away. You still cannot see his face. You do not want to see his face. It may not be the face you remember.

“Ah, ti chouchou, I know you got out of bed.”

Your father’s voice has its familiar playful tone, as if he’s admonishing you with a smile. You believe, if he is smiling, his teeth are long and sharp and dripping with saliva. Not like the teeth you remember.

“Papa, you cannot eat me. It would not be right.”

You do not want to cry. You refuse to cry. But you have never been so scared in your life. Not when your father went missing after you came to Chicago. Not when you liberated Bobby Brightsmith from the Pogo. Not even when you saw the gunny sack in your father’s office three years ago.

“Come here, ti chouchou. Come closer.”


Bobby’s whisper is close to your ear. He uncoils from around your neck, glides down your left shoulder, and twines himself around your left arm. His severed end rests in your palm, and his mouth latches onto your bicep. He bites down, hard, with his many small, needle-sharp teeth. You cry out.

“Don’t worry,” Bobby whispers. “If your father eats you, my poison will kill him soon after.”

You do not have much time, so you move forward and halve the distance between you and your father. You can see his face now. It is lean. It is gaunt. He looks as if he has not eaten in days. Weeks. This is not the hale, handsome father you know.

“Pa kriye,” your father says. “Wipe your tears.”

“I’m not crying!”

You have never screamed at your father before. Not in anger. But it is true; you are not crying. Yet, you are close. Your eyes burn with tears. You refuse to let them fall. You do not want to show your father or Bobby or the half dark just how afraid you are right now.

Instead, you reach behind your head, between your shoulder blades, and slide Tonton Macoute from the sheath you sewed into your knapsack. Your father gave you this machete. Your father taught you how to use this machete. And if he tries to eat you, your father will die by this machete.

“Pitit fi, eske ou sonje—”

Your father switches to English. You have always thought he sounded unlike himself in that language.

“My beautiful little daughter, do you remember when I gave you Tonton Macoute?” You nod. “Do you remember what I told you?” You nod again. “‘I give this to you so you will always remember and I will never forget.’ Do you know why I said that?”

He does not wait for you to answer. Your father bares his teeth, and in two quick strides he is standing over you. He is as tall as the street lamps. His empty gunny sack is slung over his shoulder. His teeth are as long and sharp as you imagined.

“Well, it’s time for you to remember, pitit fi, because now I am the Sack Man, and I have forgotten my daughter.”

The Sack Man lunges at you, his hands wide, holding the gunny sack open to swallow you whole with it. But your father taught you well. You are faster. You unleash three swift Rising Butterfly strikes with Tonton Macoute and rend the gunny sack to shreds.

The Sack Man is surprised by your ferocity. But you do not pause.

You sidestep the Sack Man as he tries to snatch you up with his thin, gnarled hands. You let him go by you. As he does, you step into Form of Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing, whirling to gather momentum. Your footwork is precise. As you complete your turn, facing the Sack Man again, you disembowel him with one vicious slice.

Your father falls to the cobblestones. He holds his intestines in his hands. He looks small. He looks frail. He is dying.

And so are you.

Your legs give way. You collapse next to your father. Bobby’s venom is swift and powerful. The cobblestones are cool against your cheek.

Enpi, the half dark gathers above you and your father, coalescing into an opaque, full dark cloud. You cannot see this, for your eyes are now closed as you lie dying, but black, wispy tendrils of the half dark rush from every part of the city-state to be here. To be here with you. To be here with your father. To be a part of this cloud.

To become one with me.

For the first time in the three years since I have arrived in Chicago, I can see the half-light of dusk. I can see the evening as it truly should be, for the half dark no longer obscures it.

La Petite de Haïti Chicago used to look this way, especially now, especially in winter. Enpi, I arrived, and I did not save the children of Chicago. I could not save the children of Chicago.

It was not my fault. The Lord Mayor’s assembly line production was flawed. It churned out defective steam-clock hearts. Those hearts—my hearts—killed Chicago’s children with their brittle springs and their wobbly cams.

And so, the half dark descended. And with it, came the Pogo. I was distraught. My despair was great.

This must be a shock to you, finding out your father is the Sack Man, and your mother is the half dark. But the Children of Night are drawn to one another.

Sometimes, the results are horrible—like the Pogo.

Other times, the results are lovely—like you.

But never did I think the repercussions would be catastrophic—like this.

But this I can fix.

Do not be alarmed; that cold you feel entering your nose and your mouth is just me. Just the half dark. Just La Sirène de la Nuit, healing you, removing the poison.

And do not worry; your father will be well. I will get him a child. A sick one. A dying one. One whose heart is flawed.

That is what the half dark does. That is what I have been doing here. Your father will heal once he has eaten. His strength will return.

You may not like this. You may hate your father for who he is. You may hate me for who I am. But you are of us. You are a Child of Night. And now, you have found your way.

The people of Chicago do not love your father and me, but they will love you. You are brave. You fight well. Their children will no longer be terrorized by the Pogo.

But you will not be able to save them all.

Do not fret. Pa enkyete w. Do not worry. Do not feel guilty. You cannot help this. You are not like me. You cannot be everywhere in this city at once. You must sleep. You must eat. You must go to school.

Tandiske, you will save enough of them. Mothers will thank you in their bedtime prayers. Fathers will commission machetes from the local blacksmith for their precious ti chouchou. Children will chant your name out on the schoolyard. You will become their champion.

So get up. Pick up Tonton Macoute. Go reclaim another tentacular child for her mother. Go fight your monster.

Malon Edwards

Malon Edwards was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, but now lives in the Greater Toronto Area, where he was lured by his beautiful Canadian wife. Many of his short stories are set in an alternate Chicago and feature  people of color. Malon also serves as Managing Director and Grants Administrator for the Speculative Literature Foundation, which provides a number of grants for writers of speculative literature.

More Shadow Men:

The Half Dark Promise, by Malon Edwards – Something moves in the half dark two gas lamps ahead of me. I hold fast at the edge of a small circle of gaslight cast down from the street lamp above me. I don’t breathe. I don’t move. I just hold my breath so long that I get lightheaded as I try to drop eaves hard into the half dark around the gas lamps ahead. But all I hear is my steam-clock heart going tanmiga tanmiga tanmiga in my chest.

Cantor’s Dragon, by Craig DeLancey – Georg Cantor waits while his wife Vally pulls at the heavy door to the Nervenklinik. The crisp air smells of leaves and wood smoke, but as they pass into the white-tiled halls disinfectant envelops them. The nurse comes and introduces herself. Cantor says nothing. He has not spoken in a month. He rarely even focuses his eyes. The nurse leads them down long passages. Their shoes snap at the marble floor. After many turns, they stop at a white door that opens to his room: a narrow bed covered with taut white sheets, a comfortable chair facing a window that looks out onto a lawn edged by waving oaks, a round rug on the cherry floor.

The Seaweed and the Wormhole, by Jenn Grunigen – Three months ago, Peregrine had started sleepwalking. He said his night’s mind was always full of abandoned taxidermy shops, and tea brewed from obsidian dust and anise and silkworms. But his waking mind was full of these things, too, so they hadn’t worried Ebb. It was something else—other—that was making him anxious. After a month of the sleepwalking, he’d started to wonder what Peregrine wasn’t saying. He could tell when his lover was holding back; it was their nature to know each other. When he realized Peregrine was keeping something he couldn’t have, Ebb knew it had to be wrong. Invasive.

Hic Sunt Leones, by L.M. Davenport

It’s true that the house walks. It’s also true that you can only find it if you don’t know about it. Once, a boy in my high-school art class drew a picture of it, but didn’t know what he’d drawn; the thing in the center of his sketchpad had ungainly, menacing chicken legs caught mid-stride and a crazed thatch roof that hung askew over brooding windows. I knew it was the house right away because his eyes had that sleepy, traumatized look that people get once they’ve seen the house. I was used to seeing this look, mostly on my mother’s face.

He didn’t come back to school the next day, and even though everyone else was puzzled I knew that he had gone to search for the house. I still look for him under bridges and on traffic islands when I go into the city.

Inside my own house, I have many pictures of the house. In the oil painting over the fireplace, it is a houseboat on the Thames, moored at night in a meadow outside Oxford. The photograph next to my desk shows it as a glass-and-stucco fortress with a flat roof, temporarily alighted in the mountains that cut Los Angeles in half. I even have a linocut that captures the house as a yurt somewhere in Mongolia.

In my kitchen, there’s a map covered in colored pushpins. It marks all the places where I think the house has been. There are so many pins now that I can’t make out the borders of most of the countries, and even the oceans are furred with bright circles of plastic.

A middle-aged woman backpacking through Vietnam found the house’s footprints in the jungle. She photographed them, and when I saw the images on her blog, immense hollows in which the crushed vegetation had only just started to grow back, I ran to the map and looked to see if there was already a pin, the kind that had started showing up on their own, on the spot. There wasn’t, so I opened my box and put one there.

My mother went into the house, before I was born. She told me that inside, there are doors that open underground and others that swing open like precipices on the cold high reaches of the air. Sometimes she wrote down things that she had seen in the house, and once I found a list in the drawer where we kept the stamps that read:

Blood-bright lipstick smears on the rims of china cups.

A crow mask dangling from a newel post, shedding feathers.

Maps tacked four deep to a wall, filmy lace curtains billowing in gusts of wind and scattering thin sunlight over the hardwood floor.

One lit candle guttering, its light mirrored in the lenses of rows on rows of spectacles laid out on dirty black velvet.

She told me that she had never met any other people in the house. But sometimes she heard them in the walls.

Though the house has many doors, it has only one true entrance and one true exit. They are the same door. (The architect of the first labyrinth must have been inside the house.)

When I was a child, I liked to picture my mother as she must have been when she found the house: younger than I am now, her thick braid a glossy brown like the wing-case of a beetle, with tiny gold pinecone earrings and wide, deep-set eyes. When she caught the house taking a step, she would have halted on the thick, spongy pine needles and wondered at its bulk, its many chimneys, its great clawed feet. It would have towered over her, and she would have been afraid yet unable to turn away. Then her hand on the door, her first steps into the interior, and me turning over within her, safe in my own house of flesh.

On the night that I set up the map, I placed two pushpins: one on my hometown, where the vanished boy from my art class drew the house without ever having seen it, and one on the Tennessee forest where my mother had walked into the house while I rode inside her. When I came downstairs the next day to make coffee, there were seven pins on the map, some of which were tacky with clear film and would not come out of the paper. After that I left the box of pins from the office-supply store mostly alone, and new ones appeared on the map every so often when I wasn’t looking.

That first morning, I drank my coffee very quickly, in huge gulps that scalded my tongue and cheeks and palate. One of the five new pins marked a location in the middle of the Atlantic, right below the medieval cartographer’s admonition I’d blocked in the night before: HIC SUNT LEONES. When I finished my coffee, I got in my car and drove to the city to see my mother.

I found another list in my mother’s recipe binder when I was looking for the proportions of the many dairy products used in chocolate mousse:

A room built, walls, floors and ceiling, out of animal skulls. Birds and raccoons and cows and elephants and cats and other animals so twisted or so enormous that I do not recognize them. My boots leave a trail of crushed eye sockets.

Dirt roof, this room barely a cavity, wired with one bare lightbulb.

Water, half-light, perhaps an inch of air at the top of the room.

So low and narrow that I must crawl nearly flat to the floor. The baby doesn’t like that.

A room laid with a banquet, but the opulence of the dishes makes me sick.

The first time I asked my mother how she had left the house, she looked blank for a moment, and then said only, “The way most people do, I think.” After that, I asked her the same question at odd intervals, when she seemed distracted, hoping to jar her into a more interesting answer. But her response never changed, and eventually I gave up.

I can’t ask my mother these things anymore. Nobody can, because the person who sits in an armchair in the living room of the apartment in the city is no longer my mother.

This woman woke up six years ago at the bottom of a flight of stairs in the house she used to live in with my father. The first words out of her mouth, and the last ones for a long time after that: “My head. I hit my head.”

I know this because I was there. I was the one who had turned and knocked her off-balance at the top of the stairs. It was my scream that had followed hers as she fell, my hand that had missed hers by half an inch.

The house changes people. That’s true, too. Some people are afraid of going in and coming out different than they were before. If only they knew that they do the same thing in their own houses, day in and day out.

I do not like visiting my mother. But I went, on the first day that the new pins showed up in the map. I got there just as the man who brought Meals on Wheels was leaving, so I didn’t have to wait for her shuffle to the door. Her chair faced the living room window, and one pale hand angling off into space told me that she was sitting there. I walked up on her right, making my footsteps louder so she would notice me coming, and sat down on the ottoman. We looked out the window together. In the glass, the faintest hint of our reflections, side by side.

“Hi, Mom.”

The voice, slower and fainter than I wanted it to be, every time.

Part of me (the same part that keeps looking for the house although I know perfectly well that the more I learn about the house the less likely it becomes that I will ever find it) still believes that one day I will find my mother here exactly as she was before she landed on the hardwood floor and lay with her body splayed wide as a starfish. I want to walk in and find her ready to pick up the fight we were having as we went up the stairs, and I want to hear whatever she was going to say after I finished asking when she was going to deal with my father’s things.

“There’s a map now, Mom. That’s all.”

She smiled at me, and because my mother had never smiled in that closed, vague way, without showing any teeth, I wanted to hit her. Instead, I turned to the window so I wouldn’t have to look at her, and took her hand. She didn’t move away.

Some things that are not true about the house:

That it is not a house at all, but an entrance to the underworld.

That it is owned by a witch who scouts the countryside in a flying kettle, and who steals the genitals of young men to string on her bloody necklace.

That it can never be found by the same person twice. In 1880, a Rhode Island man who suffered from short-term memory loss entered the house twice in one year; both visits were recorded in his pocket diary.

Under my house are innumerable tunnels, some flooded, some collapsed, and some simply empty. The ground is rich, veined with metals. Some of the mines, including the one that runs beneath my house, have been abandoned and now harbor only echoes. One hill away, though, when miners blast into the ground, I feel the vibrations through the walls and floors.

When he was alive, my father would have told you there was no such thing as the house. If you looked at all doubtful, he would have said that the real house is inside us, that we visit it when we read Bulgakov or Borges or Angela Carter. (My father should have been an academic, but he wasn’t. He never finished college.)

My parents’ opinions differed on many subjects. My mother wrote, in the very first note I ever found, that she gave birth to me the way animals do, alone in the dark in a distant part of the house. My father told me, when I asked him, that I was born in a private mental hospital.

I decided after a while that they were both right. I pictured my mother, her distended belly rising and falling, asleep in her room, unaware of the house or anything else. Something enormous treaded softly on the wet grass, walked up to her window, which suddenly gaped wide. (The house changes objects as well as people. The world is mutable.) The house reached through the window, lifted my mother out as she slept, took her inside itself to give birth.

The house cannot walk on water, but it can walk under it.

The only true records are those that are never kept.

I was born in the house, and one day I will find it. I will be a true record, after I have forgotten everything I know, and no map will chart my course. Maybe I will find my mother, too, in the place on the map where there are only lions.

Until then, I will lie in my bed at night, listen to the explosions in the far-off mine, and feel the trembling of the earth, my house set on the earth, my body set inside this house. And I will smile in the darkness, and think how much that trembling feels like footsteps.

 L.M. Davenport works as a magazine intern at the same Southern university from which she received a B.A. in English in 2016.  She has read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness a ridiculous number of times, and once knitted a five-and-a-half-foot-long giant squid.  Her work has previously appeared at Hobart.

Other Houses:

The Fifth Gable, by Kay Chronister – The first woman to live in the four-gabled house fermented her unborn children in the wine cellar. When they came to term, she broke them open on the floorboards. Her heartiest son weighed half an ounce at birth. His face, curved to the shape of the Mason jar womb where he developed, stayed pink for an hour before he died in a puddle of formaldehyde and afterbirth.

A July Story, by K.L. Owens – Iron red, linseed-cured, and caked in salt, in a place where the mercury never crept much above fifty Fahrenheit, the two-room house chose to keep its back to the sea. A wise choice, given the facing of the windows and the predilections of the wind. Still, in other Julys, Kitten had stood naked between ancient trees or buried his toes in sun-warm sand. In this new July, he donned the buckskin jacket from the peg by the door and used wool socks for gloves, swaddled his head in a gaily-patterned scarf given to him by a gray-haired marm in some other July on some other island. Shivering on a shore made of black cobblestones—waves did not break, but clattered and rumbled—Kitten watched a bazaar of common murres bob on the wind and wondered which side of what ocean the house had selected this time.

Spirit Tasting List for Ridley House, April 2016, by Rachel Acks Welcome, honored guest, to Ridley House; the acquisition of this charming 18th-century Palladian Revival villa has been something of a coup for our club and we are beyond pleased to present a wide array of tastes for your pleasure, if for a limited time. Take a moment to enjoy the grounds, particularly the stately elms with their attendant garlands of Spanish moss, and the mist rising from the ponds and nearby irrigation canals.

Shimmer #35

This issue of Shimmer contains stories that tell us evil may be overcome even if we’re small and unsure. Love can be a weapon and a shield. Keep fighting in whatever way you can.

We’re excited to share with you Malon Edwards’ sequel to “The Half Dark Promise.” We also welcome Mary Robinette Kowal to the pages of Shimmer for the first time since she was Shimmer‘s art director. Two new-to-Shimmer authors also join the party, with stories of exploration, revelation, and ultimately, love.

Hic Sunt Leones, by L.M. Davenport
It’s true that the house walks.  It’s also true that you can only find it if you don’t know about it.  Once, a boy in my high-school art class drew a picture of it, but didn’t know what he’d drawn; the thing in the center of his sketchpad had ungainly, menacing chicken legs caught mid-stride and a crazed thatch roof that hung askew over brooding windows.  I knew it was the house right away because his eyes had that sleepy, traumatized look that people get once they’ve seen the house.  I was used to seeing this look, mostly on my mother’s face. (2000 words)

Shadow Man, Sack Man, Half Dark, Half Light, by Malon Edwards
You keep running, even though you know you can’t escape the fifty-foot-tall Pogo. But you were built for this. You are taller than all of the girls and most of the boys in your Covey Four class. Your legs are longer. Your steam-clock heart is stronger. Your determination is unmatched. Even against the rocks they throw. Even against the insults they hurl. Even when they entimide you and chase you home after school every day, all because your mother could not save their friends.  (3400 words)     

Trees Struck by Lightning Burning From the Inside Out, by Emily Lundgren
It is sweet and fitting to die with one’s pack under the full moon, but the sky is clouded by the city lights: orange and yellow and red like fire. Roque is running. Like a cracked whip, without sense. Under a sliver of jagged sound, under the leering fray of glossy towers, he smells a dog without a leash, the sharp of silvered bolts. He sees a woman with a cardboard sign reading something-something about the world, who catches his eye, whose own eyes widen, whose mouth opens and makes a howling noise: something-something about wolves! wolves! The road towards dawn outstretches before him, choking on cars and steam and fur and bone. Roque is running, running. His paws thump in tandem with the code of his heart, and he transforms. (5100 words)

Your Mama’s Adventures in Parenting, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Your mama adjusted her face mask and checked the chronometer on her eyepiece. Darn it. The filter would only be good for another fifteen minutes. She was nowhere near finished with the job. And this particular theft would fetch a good price on the energy market, what with the price of methane. She slid the siphon tube across to the capture valve and turned on the suction pump. If your mama could get most of the gas into the polysteel tank on her back… (1400 words)


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