SHORT STORIES: 2013
A debutante ball goes horribly wrong, and there is a literary assassination. Horror/black comedy. If you want a very short, very fun thing to read during a coffee break, this is the one.
It is unclear which of us began the rebellion. Perhaps all of us at once. A glittering, star-shaped pin came unfastened from a bodice. A clutch clicked open and a vial of explosives rolled out. An elastic garter sprang back against a thigh embossed with the outline of a derringer.
TheToast.com (1800 words.)
THE BADGER BABY
A horror story regarding a real painting of a baby in a lake, by an artist named T.H. Badger. I stumbled on the painting on eBay, and have since been trying to exorcise it from my inbox. This story was an attempt. I put it up on my own blog as a free story, because the exorcism was time sensitive. :)
The baby had been painted in a lake, not in a baptismal way, but in a way that suggested the water was its habitat. It drifted unanchored, surrounded by mist. The portrait depicted only the baby’s upper chest, shoulders, and head. Its arms were at its sides in the lake, which was rendered in lavender and slate, shading to navy at the edges of the oval, a bit of yellow, some grayish pink where the baby’s body presumably was. The baby looked directly out at the viewer, with black-eyed certainty. From certain angles, the baby seemed inhabited by something other than a baby.
GlitteringScrivener blog. (2900 words.)
A politically rageful lark of an SF story involving an insufferable restaurant critic in outer space, and his best friend Rodney, a tag-a-long with a huge appetite. The two men face down the critic’s ex-wife Harriet, who has lately become president of the universe. The story isn’t online – it’s exclusive to the ebook and print editions of Lightspeed Magazine's Women Destroy Science Fiction Issue, guest edited by Christie Yant. There’s also an author spotlight in there about the story. And yes, yes, the title is a pun. On purpose. I wanted to see if I could break that rule, and I totally did. :)
“Rings of Saturn,” the chef says. “Deep-fried, flash drenched in Mars water-ice, and then fried again.”
His assistant is standing by with a fire extinguisher, but this is nothing. The rings are small, a bit blurry, and clearly crisp. They glow a little, which might be worrying for some, but Bert Gold and I are invulnerable. We’re connoisseurs of spice. These rings are fried in some kind of astral napalm. I take one, and crunch into it with my front teeth, feeling it beginning to burn the roof of my mouth. It makes me hard, I’m telling you. I miss onion rings. Back in the day, me and Bert were at a bar one night, and I put seven onion rings around my business. Didn’t end the way I thought it might. I was looking at the ladies. They were laughing at me. People, it turned out, didn’t feel the same way I did about rings. There’s a photo somewhere.
Lightspeed Magazine, Women Destroy Science Fiction (5500 words.)
"Hysterically funny stuff, highly inventive, ex-wife’s revenge in a gonzoid universe."
- Locus Online
"...Reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ Restaurant at the End of the Universe... A course-by-course story of betrayal and revenge that leaves one hungry for dessert. The evocative visuals here are worth the read."
- Tangent Online
THE TALLEST DOLL IN NEW YORK CITY
A Damon Runyon-style riff of a Valentine’s Day fantasy story involving a love affair between a couple of major NYC landmarks. This was exceedingly fun to write – the Runyon style is a challenge, and the idea of two buildings falling in love pleased me.
The Cloud Club’s open since before the building got her spire, and the waitstaff in a Member’s Own knows things even a man’s miss doesn’t. Back during Prohibition, we install each of the carved wood lockers at the Cloud Club with a hieroglyphic identification code straight out of ancient Egypt, so our members can keep their bottles safe and sound. Valorous Victor dazzles the police more than once with his rambling explanation of cryptographic complexities, and finally the blue boys just take a drink and call it done. No copper’s going to Rosetta our rigmarole.
I’m at the bar mixing a Horse’s Neck for Mr. Condé Nast, but I’ve got my eye on the mass of members staggering out of the elevators with fur coats, necklaces, and parcels of cling & linger, when, at 5:28p.m. precisely, the Chrysler Building steps off her foundation and goes for a walk.
Tor.com (2600 words)
"A totally cool conceit, and a love story to remember. Aside from which, it’s a Valentine to New York City and its history."
- Locus Online
WHAT YOU'VE BEEN MISSING
Literary theory, the word work of dead white men, the brain’s compartments, the way memories can be rewritten, and the last days of love and living for a long-married couple, Bette & Joe. This story has two hippocamps trotting in the oceans of Joe’s memory, along with a lot of me meditating on death and forgetting. It's sad.
On the shore, a paper umbrella left too long in the sun burst into flame, and two cocktail glasses splintered. Three children made sand castles. One buried himself beneath the castle walls, and the others dug a moat. The second hippocamp trotted up partway onto the sand, its serpentine tail trailing, and the little boys watched it come, amazed. It ignored them.
Then one little boy was gone beneath the castle, quicksand, the moat growing larger.
The seahorses rose up and over the waves, brushing aside a foam of nouns and verbs, last lines, similes. They butted heads, and their tails lashed, scaled and gleaming, and another little boy was gone, a rogue wave rising over his head.
Apex Magazine. (2900 words)
Stylistically, this the lushest thing I published in 2013. It’s a riff on Thomas Browne’s Musaeum Clausum. A love letter from one far-flung oddity collector to another, a catalogue of imaginary objects, and a sand-loving hourglass dwelling insect that can make time move backward and forward at will.
I read once, Dearest Sir, of an hourglass filled with powdered eggshell, inside of which the shells realigned themselves one afternoon into an egg, perfect, gleaming. An hour after that, there was heard a cracking, and the shell opened to reveal a singing bird, and an hour after that, the bird cracked open to reveal a bee which flew to the upper chamber. An hour later, the hourglass dripped with honey, and then the hours passed more slowly than they had done before.
Unlikely Story #7: The Journal of Unlikely Entomology (2213 words.)
Locus Magazine Recommended Reading 2013
The Year's Best Science Fiction 2013
editor Gardner Dozois
A love story. A pair of katalogophiles exchange favors, listing fascinating and fantastic rarities. Pure imagination. I totally savor this kind of thing."
- Locus Online, RECOMMENDED
SUCH & SUCH SAID TO SO & SO
Pulpy funny-dark noir involving a copy, his ex, a speakeasy club full of sentient cocktails, and the problems of liking one's drink too much. Written for John Klima, Lynne Thomas, and Michael Damien Thomas, editors of Glitter & Mayhem.
Gloria ran her finger around the edge of her glass like she was playing a symphony, and her drink unfolded out of it, elbow by elbow until a skinny guy in a white and silver pinstriped suit was sitting on the bar, looking straight into Gloria’s eyes, and grinning. Pinkie diamond. Earrings. Hair in a pompadour, face like James Dean.
I heard the bartender snort, and followed the chain on his wrist to the vest pocket of Gloria’s gin martini.
Glitter & Mayhem anthology, 4271 words.
"It starts as if it were a police procedural, but it’s really dark fantasy humor, perversely spoofing the other genre...Fun stuff."
- Locus Online, RECOMMENDED
The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2013, editor Rich Horton
Locus Magazine Recommended Reading
BSFA Award 2013 Longlist
The Year's Best Science Fiction 2013
editor Gardner Dozois
This story was the Earth entry in The Lowest Heaven, an anthology about celestial bodies.
It's a horror-y hollow-earth item involving volcano sacrifices, observatories in reverse (i.e. looking down instead of up) and a child protagonist whose astronomer father cannot see for stars.
This one’s a bit of me fussing with binary gender too, as can be seen in the variety of genders assigned to my narrator in reviews.
I’d seen a television program about the explosion of Krakatoa, and in it, there was a fact that haunted me. Rafts made of hardened lava had floated up onto the coast of Africa, even a year later, passengered by skeletons. But maybe those people had been sacrificed to the volcano, and their bones thrown up into the air by the explosion. Maybe Krakatoa had exploded because it didn’t like what it was being fed.
I wondered about my mothers. I wondered about Mr. Loury’s wife. I wondered if there was a hole in the floor of the observatory, and if through it you might be able to see things beneath. I didn’t want to wonder, but I wondered.
The Lowest Heaven & simultaneous reprint in Nightmare Magazine (4857 words.)
Year's Best Weird Fiction Volume 1, Editor Laird Barron
"The Krakatoan" by Maria Dahvana Headley brings the anthology to Earth—up to its elbows in earth, in fact, as an astronomer's daughter digs her own volcano beneath the shadow of Mt. Palomar to observe the stars that shine underground...This story will reward the thoughtful reader...
- Strange Horizons
Shirley Jackson Award Finalist 2013
Post-apocalypse collapse involving giant worms + The Gift of the Magi + J.G. Ballard’s sensibility regarding sex. What can I tell you? It’s scary. It’s hot. Also, it’s funny, out the side of its mouth.
For your second anniversary, he gives you two teeth, wisdom. The traditional gift is cotton, but you’ve sold most of your clothes. He gives you ivory instead. The teeth aren’t quite white, because of the drinking of tea, back before it all. They’ve been out of his mouth for a while. The world’s shifted away from dentistry, or rather, the world’s shifted from cosmetic dentistry into tooth-retention, but his were removed before all that. He’s lost other things, too. He has no appendix. He has no tonsils. He still owns both his kidneys, though. You only have one.
Lightspeed Magazine, Reprinted in Wastelands 2: More Stories of the Apocalypse. (3824 words.)
Shirley Jackson Award Finalist 2013
"Here’s extreme, audacious stuff, grotesque variations on the traditional anniversary gifts: paper, cotton, leather, etc. Here, instead, we get mutilation, cannibalism, madness, and the end of the world, all edging into the surreal. The prose is sharp and intense, defying the limits. And it’s a love story. RECOMMENDED."
This one’s a little dark lark about a wandering forest, a teenage girl, and the role of the girl and her town in managing said forest. It’s funny, sarcastic, and you know. Deals with my ongoing obsession regarding women’s societal roles and how they could be more interesting. I co-edited this book with Neil Gaiman (who has a story in it as well) - it's a charitable anthology for 826DC, and the funds it raised, as well as our fees, were all donated to 826.
My town started about a hundred years ago as a Utopian community in a beautiful forest. The forest got littler, and we got bigger, and the whole Utopia thing began to melt down. By the time people realized that the woods were shrinking, we’d become a town surrounding a one-block by one-block mini-forest. But obviously, by that point, we’d figured some things out, and it was necessary to stay.
Unnatural Creatures Anthology, 2915 words.
SHORT STORIES: 2012
A combination of maritime curiousities and Bertolt Brecht. This story's the first story I wrote after a nearly decade long hiatus from short anything. A Jenny Haniver (similar to a Fiji mermaid) takes the role of Pirate Jenny, and rampages villainously through a town, despite being contained inside a glass bottle.
Inside the bottle, the Jenny hissed, mouth experimentally open, then filled with alcohol. Instantly drunken, she rolled in her prison, shifting slowly like a fetus in a womb, but the hotelier did not notice. He trundled her along, over cobbles, the wagon padded with straw. In the bottle, the Jenny arched backward around herself, and clasped her own toes in her fingers. They were not exactly toes. They were pointed though, as though she was a dancer. She was not. She was a Jenny, and she came from the sea.
Subterranean Online, Winter 2012 (5353 words.)
GIVE HER HONEY WHEN YOU HEAR HER SCREAM
Nebula Award Finalist 2012
Two couples, one monster. Two people meet at a wedding and fall madly into the kind of love love stories are made of. Unfortunately, neither of them is single. She's married to a magician and he's married to a witch, and the jilted parties combine resources to do a little bit of warfare. There's a monster in the middle of all love affairs. This monster does some minotauring.
The witch coughs violently, and removes a tiny, red-smudged white rabbit from between her lipsticked lips. She holds the rabbit in her hand, weighing it.
The magician stares steadily at her, one eyebrow raised, and after a moment, the witch laughs, puts the rabbit back into her mouth, chews, and swallows it.
The magician blinks rapidly. A moment later, he chokes, and tugs at the neck of his tuxedo shirt, where his bowtie was, but is no longer.
He glances sideways at the witch, and then fishes a black bat from his own mouth. The bat is wild-eyed and frothing, its wings jerking with fury. It has a single black sequin attached to its forehead.
“Are you ready to stop fucking around?” asks the witch.
Lightspeed Magazine (4581 WORDS.)
Nebula Award Finalist 2012
Locus Magazine Recommended Reading 2012
StorySouth Million Writers Award Finalist
The Year's Best Fantasy & Science Fiction, 2012
Unnatural Creatures was a Locus Award Finalist, 2013
In “Moveable Beast” the titular creature lives in a mini-forest surrounded by the town of Bastardville, where awful customer service is a major tourism draw; it and the snarky heroine are clearly forces to reckon with, as a collector of beasts discovers to his extreme detriment. - Tor
The delicious brevity of Ms. Headley’s writing complements the story’s unexpected turns very well. - The Sunday Indian
Recommended Reading 2012 - Tangent Online
" It took me a bit to figure out what was going on, until I realized that the story was a nod to the classic Weill/Brecht song, "Pirate Jenny."... Ultimately, it's a good reworking of the song that doesn't so much follow the story as it extrapolates from it into a fantasy setting.
- Tangent Online
Above illustration by Lars Leetaru for Tor.com
Above image by Galen Dara for Lightspeed Magazine.
Above image by Galen Dara for Lightspeed Magazine.
TAXIDERMIST IN THE UNDERWORLD
A taxidermist is brought to Hell to work on a collection of ghosts. Is it because he's fantastic at stuffing, or because of something else?
Louis is working in the basement of the museum when the Devil takes him.
“Boy,” says the Devil, and Louis looks up from his diorama. A normal-seeming man with a disturbingly full head of hair, and very red lips, neither young nor old.
“Surely you’re not speaking to me,” Louis says. He’s on the Nile, crafting a landscape out of papier-mâché and paint. Each blade of grass is lined in bronze, and each scale of the crocodile’s back is polished to a gleam.
“Boy-O,” says the Devil, more formally. “I need a stuffer.”
“A stuffer?” Louis shudders. He’s busy positioning the tiny legs of an extinct lizard.
“A stuffer,” says the Devil. “A veritable stuffer.”
Clarkesworld (3957 words.)
WHO IS YOUR EXECUTIONER?
Childhood games, inadvertent conjuring, a thirty-year friendship between three people, seen in reverse. This one's horror. I wanted to see if I could scare myself. I wanted also to explore those strange childhood friendships that tilt into and out of love affairs over decades. My 20th highschool reunion is coming up. I hope nothing like this story happens.
I look up at her. I’m sweating, like I’ve played another childhood game, a dizzying prelude to a blinded hunt. Her boyish body, her long white throat, her thighs in her cut-offs. Oona’s head is blazed out by the sun behind her, and for a moment it’s like it’s gone. The way I’m seeing her is not the angle I should be seeing her from. I feel like I’m looking up from too low, and from behind myself. I feel like I’m on the ground, and I start to turn to see what’s there.
The next moment, I’m down on my hands and knees, puking in the grass.
“You’re so sensitive,” Oona says, holding back my hair, her fingers on the back of my neck, and I shiver. She got down from that tree faster than she should have. I didn’t hear her land.
Nightmare Magazine (7458 words.)
IF YOU WERE A TIGER, I'D HAVE TO WEAR WHITE
The oddest one this year. Also my favorite story I wrote this year, because it's a ton of different things at once. It's not so classifiable genre-wise, which is why I was delighted when Uncanny Magazine came into being, just in time! Lions, tigers, a bear. Garbo, Gable, Mabel Stark, a riff on Gay Talese's Frank Sinatra Has a Cold... It's a story about the Jungleland Theme Park in Thousand Oaks, CA, and it's, oh, half truth and half fiction. A young reporter attempts to interview one of the MGM lions, and learns far more than he imagined. The audio has Amal El-Mohtar reading the story, as well as an interview by Deborah Stanish. And the written interview has many crazy links.
I took a sip of my Tanqueray and tonic, smuggled in from the hippos, and waited for the lion to speak.
Leo coughed. His velvet voice was not in form. His roar was hardly marketable, and I tried for a moment to imagine the way Leo, as a young lion, had tossed his mane. There was plenty of filmic evidence. Though he was still majestic, Leo was now missing at least one tooth. Jungleland had dismissed its dentist.
It was bad out here and I wanted to go home, but the words I needed were sealed behind the lips of the most famous lion in America, the lion who, even now, was smoking two cigarettes at once and flexing his claws.
“Talk to me about Garbo,” I pleaded, for the hundredth time. “Just a little detail. Just a small something or another. I’ll take an anecdote. What are you going to do, Leo? Keep quiet forever?”
“He ain’t gonna give it to you, Mitchy,” said Lola.
“He never done before,” said Lila. I’d already failed at seducing them both, first with compliments, to which they were immune, and then with new glittery leotards I’d commissioned for that purpose in the garment district. Lola and Lila didn’t care about me. They were the lion’s blondes.
Uncanny Magazine (5366 words.)
This story is pitch-perfect where tone, voice, and setting are concerned; reading it I felt awash in the kind of California sunlight that feels grim and desolate in its inescapability. The story’s pace is a beautiful thing, too, a slow unfolding of narrative sleaze running parallel to an urgently building emotional crest."
- Rich & Strange, Amal El-Mohtar on Tor.com
"I appreciate that Headley takes what could be an almost cartoonish concept—talking animals who perform alongside and in concert with the big stars—and twists it to a believable and stark narrative of power, money, and in some real sense betrayal."
- Brit Mandelo, Tor.com
"Like many folk tales and songs about golden fiddles where the Devil has sway over the main character, I expected a story of deals, backstabbing, and soul bargaining. But Headley has a different set of surprises lurking under the intentions of her characters. The ride toward the ending is gorgeous and just a little bit cruel." - Gillian Daniels, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination
SHORT STORIES: 2014
SHORT STORIES: 2015
AND THE WINNERS WILL BE SWEPT OUT TO SEA
An immortal water elemental with thousands of years of secrets falls in love with a man who has secrets of his own. There's also a pagan festival, one part Burning Man, one part Venice Biennale. This one is sad, sexy, and by all accounts, intense and dense reading. I think it's worth it. If you've ever gotten your heart broken and then stayed entwined, you're gonna feel this one. John Joseph Adams and Wendy Wagner edited it for Lightspeed.
Sometimes, when I sit out there, I see the monster under the surface, the tension scraping over its scales. It’s big. What I can see of it is only a spine, or a tail, sometimes, and then it’s gone. I sit on that rock, looking over the edge, and think about how I used to love swimming. When I was a girl, I could hold my breath for a month. I’d sit on the bottom of a river in the mud, or on the pebbles, and wait for the season to change. Once I tried to come up but the river had frozen, and I ended up swimming just under the surface for a while, waiting, waiting, until I found a fisherman by seeing his shadow. The fisherman had made a hole in the ice. He was crouched beside it, with a thermos and a fishing pole, and I rose up naked from beneath him. I took him in my arms, and he screamed with such terror that ice cracked elsewhere, a spiderweb of fractures, trees black and leaning, wolves howling, and his blood in my mouth. I was not sorry.
Lightspeed Magazine (5718 words.)
IVORY DARTS, GOLDEN ARROWS
I wrote this as a Valentine's Day lark, and it's about a postmistress in a strange mountain town, snails, an albino elephant named Lemon, and general oddities. It's pretty damn nonbinary when it comes to gender, and it's also a giddy, funny, strange riff on all the Cupid mythos. Michael Damian Thomas and Lynne M. Thomas edited it for Uncanny.
There was cooing and whirring ahead, and Miss Kisseal revised her thinking. A cote of something nasty, then. Lovebirds. There’d been a shipment of those too, two years back, someone from one mountain looking out with binoculars, thinking to romance someone from the other. The birds arrived stuporous in a crate, dyed pale pink, and once fully awakened they’d revealed themselves to be cannibals. That hadn’t been a pretty day in Fley. The lovebirds had eaten one another, all over the trees, and then, when they’d finished eating one another, they’d eaten a chihuahua. They’d not been lovebirds at all, it had turned out, but some ferocious variety of tiny falcon. Love and these mountains did not align.
Something zinged past Miss Kisseal’s ear, and she flung herself sideways to avoid it. She turned her head slowly. She wasn’t inclined toward speed, even in emergencies. She liked to get a full picture of a situation, and who would dare to shoot at the postmistress?
Embedded in a tree, though, there was an arrow, and this a hundred years past those first wars. Fletched with a red feather, and bearing a golden tip. She tugged it from the bark and considered it. It was very, very sharp.
Uncanny Magazine (3666 words.)
THE SCAVENGER'S NURSERY
I've been working on this story for a while. It's a garbage monster tale, but incorporating a lot of end of the world appreciation for the things we've had and spilt and lost, combined with a lot of love for the possibilities of resurrection - even resurrections that aren't human. So, though it's pretty dark, it's also something from which one can see the stars. E. Catherine Tobler edited it for Shimmer.
A heap of cell phone parts glimmers green as beetle shells. Children sort them. A goat minces its way through a thousand ghost voices, recorded messages crushed into oblivion, texts, naked photos, emails, and pleadings. The goat’s white-yellow fur is splashed with turquoise powder from a festival that’s now over. It nibbles at a bit of metal, faintly annoyed at the new thing rising from the heap of broken. Children crouch on their heels and watch as a newborn creature stands, twelve feet tall, flashing in the sun. It opens its mouth and screams, and all across the sky, satellites tremble.
Shimmer Magazine (4430 words.)
SOLDER AND SEAM
This is a science fiction story about revolution, wooden whales, interplanetary colonization, war, and the expanse of America after everything has gone wrong. I've been writing a lot of things exploring myth in America, and this is one of those, a little bit Cormac McCarthy, a little bit...well, a lot of aliens. That said, it's a quiet story. I wanted to write something that dealt with trauma and war, as well as aftereffects of colonization, in a plainwritten way, while still invoilving spaceships. You know. John Joseph Adams edited it for Lightspeed.
The man sat on his heels looking at his whale. He hadn’t had any kind of dream of angels. No one had told him about a flood. He’d come out his front door one morning and thought it was time to do something. It wasn’t a summons, not the kind he’d been waiting for, but he felt like he’d been called.
There were windfarms around him, and oil wells. He could see their spigots pouring out the black blood of dinosaurs, and at the horizon, the mills gobbled the sky, grabbing it bit by bit, tugging it out of place and chewing it. The sun had developed a ring of red around it, and one day a flock of geese fell out of the clouds, each one of them nothing but bones and feathers. He harvested their skeletons and added them to the whale, feathering the inside with their wings.
A long time before all this, he’d been a revolutionary. He’d overthrown a government and gone on the run for thirty years. No one knew his real name. He’d been married twice to women who thought he was somebody else. He had a son he’d lost track of. He was that kind of father, and maybe he was that kind of man. It was hard to say. No one ever thought of themselves that way, but statistically, it had to be true that some people were exactly what they thought they weren’t.
Lightspeed Magazine (4555 words.)
THE CELLAR DWELLER
A riff on the "most beautiful words in the English language," cellar door. Also a little horror story about children, ferocity, grit, and monsters being banished. I am always on the side of the monsters. John Joseph Adams edited it for Nightmare.
The Banisher isn’t one of these pretty little children. The worst children on earth are the pretty ones, and that’s something that’s been known to ugly children for centuries.
The Banisher’s teeth are crooked, and her hair grows in knots the color of mud. Her elbows are too pointed, and her eyes are shifty and make people nervous. She’s had three broken noses, and she’s also had worms. She may still. Once, all of her fingernails fell off, and another time, she lost all of her hair, even her eyelashes, which made her even uglier than she was before. When that happened, she went underground for a while to avoid being busted. She’s got the kind of nose that runs, and the kind of skin that breaks out in rashes. She has all her limbs, which is somewhat miraculous, but she’s missing the little finger on her right hand.
The Banisher wears a coverall she found at a Salvation Army, a hat with earflaps she acquired at a lost-and-found, and a pair of cowboy boots with spurs. The Banisher doesn’t have friends, nor does she have family. She’s the only Banisher in the area. There’s no competition. This is her own business.
Nightmare Magazine (4732 words.)
SOME GODS OF EL PASO
I took the Hollywood-y mythology plus the anecdotal history of Bonnie and Clyde, and gave it a spin into a wild west story of two renegade lovers dealing in stolen emotions. It's light, and fun, because it's in a certain kind of tall tale tone, but it's also about love and death, because hey, that's what I love writing about. Ellen Datlow edited it for Tor.com.
After that, everybody knew that Lorna and Vix came as a set. They got spotted at diner counters time to time, drinking coffee, tea, and lemonade, eating sandwiches just like regular folks, but Vix and Lorna weren’t regular.
It was a myth, as Lorna and Vix already knew, that everyone who sorrowed longed specifically and only for joy. Many people wanted darker medicine. Prohibition of alcohol had created a countrywide yearning for other forms of depressant—though no one referred to alcohol as such—and by the time Lorna and Vix met, ten years into Temperance, everything to do with high and low had become illegal. People were supposed to be living in the middle, but nobody liked the middle. New cures for pain were being distilled in basements and bathtubs.
Tor.com (4198 words.)
(Illustration by Ashley MacKenzie)
THE THIRTEEN MERCIES
This story began with a discussion of my taxidermied crocodile on Twitter, and ended with the torture memos, along with things I read about WWII and the Pacific, Vietnam War crimes by Americans, and some surrealist elements. Well, many surrealist elements. It's a sort of Borgesian tale about a group of soldiers sent to a jungle for punishment post-war crimes. The war crimes are spells, the reverse of the 13 Mercies. C.C. Finlay edited it for F & SF.
Out in the jungle where it rains in perpetuity, there’s a woman who’s lived for seven hundred years.
We were informed on the first day of our deployment that she’d looped a spell around us like a corral and that we’d suffer here for our sins. This was the arrangement the military court had come to.
General Steng ordered us not to disrespect the directive, though he laughed himself, in his tent. We all heard him, and we laughed, too.
We felt encouraged, held in the gentle hands of our government, given a false punishment that’d look real to the public, a pseudo-imprisonment on a verdant island. We expected that the sun would rise a hundred times and then we’d be returned to the world. This was only a joke. An old woman. What could an old woman do to us? What could an old woman do to anything?
Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine (5467 words.)
co-written with China Miéville
The Dead Letters anthology involves a piece of purportedly lost mail being sent to each contributor. China and I decided to merge our mail, and make a modern-day Arthuran myth about the problematic adventures of Merlin and Nimue, the London Crossrail, and stoats.
I chant a single powerful word, and my body shrinks. I wriggle up from a heap of jacket and trousers, flipping myself through the cloth. I rather can’t breathe, and my skin hurts, and my eyes are bulging, to my alarm. I look out from my man clothes, and discover Adam staring at me, his stoat teeth bared.
'Fishie?' croons Adam, with savage longing.
I can feel my scales. Errors! I shout another word, before he leaps. Panic subsides: I’m ermined.
DEAD LETTERS, Titan Books.
This story is what happens if I mash Lorca and Lovecraft. A house full of angry daughters, and a big monster trapped behind a door in the dining room. Ellen Datlow edited this collection of Lovecraftian short fiction.
Bernardine, the newly widowed mistress of the house, wafted over the polished floors, vibrating with triumph. Oh, she was delighted. The servants knew it. Everyone knew it.
No marriage of forty-three years was without its revulsions, but particularly not a marriage in which one party had sold a piece of the other without the other’s permission. Sharing a house with a man whose heart you’ve fed to a monster was nothing nice.
It was only a small ritual, the theft of the heart, taken one night with a sharp knife and a spell made of wax and twine, the heart wrapped in cotton and bundled into a copper pot, boiled with saffron and delivered to Mr. Doornail. Unfortunately, the old man roused partway through it and in half sleep, bespelled and bemused, he told Bernardine that he’d never forgive her, and that this was the end of their marital conversation.
Those were the last words she heard him speak, but he stayed alive out of perversity.
CHILDREN OF LOVECRAFT, Dark Horse Comics
SHORT STORIES: 2016
This story is from the What the #@&% Is That?!, anth, edited by Douglas Cohen and John Joseph Adams – and published concurrently by Nightmare Magazine. It’s a tale of teenage girls who survive a cult suicide, and it’s weird and funny, no matter how that sounds to you. There are dinosaurs in it too.
I was fourteen and at a sleepover when the cult drank poison. The sleepover mom turned on the TV and said “Oh my lord, Mary, would you look at this? It’s the feds is what, and a bomb, right out there where you come from.”
But it wasn’t the feds, and it wasn’t a bomb. It was us. We were destined to die. I watched it burn, and listened to the news call us a cult, which was not what we called ourselves. We called ourselves Heaven’s Avengers. I watched it for a while, and then I threw up hamburger casserole.
WHAT THE #@&% IS THAT?!, Saga Press
Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2016
Guest Editor Karen Joy Fowler
World Fantasy Award Shortlist, 2016
SEE THE UNSEEABLE, KNOW THE UNKNOWABLE
A sort of Bradbury + Le Guin + Denis Johnson story about a circus, a woman on the run, and a cat named Susurrus.
The woman has used up the name she had before, and now she doesn’t have one. She opens the flyer stuck in her screen door, and finds her old name written across it in a filthy blot, as though by a thumb pressed in ink.
She crumples up the paper, tears it into tiny pieces, and then buries it in the back garden, but two hours later, she feels the need to dig it up and put it in the oven on broil, until it’s ashes. She realizes only after she’s burnt the broadsheet that she has looked at the drawing underneath her name. When she shuts her eyes that night, she can see the dark, smudgy rectangle at the center of the trees, and she can see something inside it, far off in the black, something moving. The date on her flyer, the only one like this, is neither in the past nor in the future.
She opens her eyes and pours herself a drink. It’s four in the morning. She pours herself another. It isn’t as though she’s going to this performance. She’ll get drunk instead, and maybe drinking will put her to sleep.
Outside the window, she can see that it’s started to snow. It’s summer, not winter. At last, she goes out in her underwear and discovers that the snow isn’t snow, but popcorn. She picks up a kernel. It’s cold and flat, muddied. Whoever made it doesn’t know much about popcorn. That, or it’s been falling a long time.
She hears a machine start up, and a moment later, the janitor drives by, pushing the popcorn ahead of him, a rolling wave, a dry tsunami.
“Strange weather,” she ventures, calling out to him from her steps, but if he hears her, he doesn’t have a reply. Maybe it isn’t strange at all. She doesn’t know. She’s new to town. She can’t tell how people speak to one another here. He hasn’t even looked at her, and here she is, standing outdoors, the better part of naked.
Lightspeed Magazine (4995 words.)
SHORT STORIES: 2017
This was written for the djinn-themed anthology THE DJINN FALLS IN LOVE, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin. It's a story in the world of the west, and it involves an old black powder rifle which has bullets that contain captive djinn. It's a few thousand years of history, and there's also a djinn Huntress, a Kid on a bad mission...basically it's a djinn story by way of Cormac McCarthy. There's also a heroic gay couple: a pawn shop owner and a priest. It's my reimagining of what a trapped girl polishing magical lamps might do if left to her own devices, and the repercussions of same.
The smoke was dense and final, a black cloud in his eyes and lungs underlining each cell, a fog like a forest fire. It took a moment to clear, but by the time it did, Yoth already knew what he’d done.
He’d put a bullet in the heart of the thin man in the white shirt, string tie, and black suit, a bullet from a singing rifle pawned over by a hunter. On his back on the floor lay the love of one man’s life, his heart something unclaimable by ticket.
Out of the bullet casing came the singer Yoth had been listening to for twenty years, smoke like a roomful of pipes, and in the center of it—
Yoth fell on his knees as something, someone, expanded from out of the wound in the chest of Weran Root, toes still in the place where the bullet had entered, fingers stretching long and gleaming, body undulating up.
“Are you the devil?” Yoth Begail whispered. “Am I the devil?”
He was weeping, his hands full of bent wedding rings and crushed cash from the box, things to bribe back his beloved from the land of the dead.
You get one wish, the smoke said.
And so Yoth wished.
THE DJINN FALLS IN LOVE, Solaris Books
This little story was written for the Tor's Nevertheless She Persisted project, and edited by Liz Gorinsky. The assignment was flash fiction on the above theme, and I'd been thinking for a while about writing about a certain underknown pioneer of American space travel, Miss Baker. The project, published on International Women's Day, also included Alyssa Wong, Kameron Hurley, Carrie Vaughn, Seanan McGuire, Charlie Jane Anders, Nisi Shawl, Brooke Bolander, Jo Walton, Amal El-Mohtar, and Catherynne M. Valente.
Miss Baker remembered her first sight of destiny. She’d seen a shuttle go up, from a window facing the Cape. She’d stood at that window, staring, as something small and bright broke the rules of the known world, and from then on she’d been certain.
Now she was that bright thing.
Nevertheless She Persisted, Tor.com
MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY COUNTRY
This story was commissioned for the Boston Review's Global Dystopias issue, guest-edited by Junot Diaz and edited by Deborah Chasman. It's a hollow earth/hollow skull story about Casanova, his Utopian novel Icosameron, colonialism, and sexual tourism to imaginary - and thus not off-limits - places, among other things.
What explorer has not longed to bring his guns to an undiscovered country, so that he might casually become king? In your bathtub, you crowned yourself, and looked at me, and raised your scepter. This was nothing new. I’d seen your kind before.
In the other version of your stories, the part you weren’t writing down, you put my sister in a sack. I leapt in with her. We were kept in the darkness, thrown over your shoulder, smuggled out of paradise and into hell. We traveled, whispering to the surface, and when we arrived in your city, you opened the sack and smiled, because you’d brought us to a better place. Or, perhaps, you had made your own place better by taking us from ours.
In the version you wrote, my sister and I were one person, constituted entirely of love. We opened our shirt to feed you from our breasts, though we were ourselves starving. We were awed at the sight of your sun, dazzled at the wonder of your world. You grieved when you thought we might die, though this would make your own journey less complicated. You’d been thinking of where to put us: a zoo, a museum?
Global Dystopias, The Boston Reviews
"Some of the best contributions, many of them by women, include nuanced examinations of gender-based oppression. In Charlie Jane Anders’s astoundingly good “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue,” the narrator is forced by the government into a body she doesn’t want and didn’t ask for. Maria Dahvana Headley’s “Memoirs of an Imaginary Country” explores the connection between the colonization of women’s bodies and colonization of non-Western countries." - Publisher's Weekly