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“Kneaded” in Phantazein

Some stories you get really really excited about and “Kneaded” is one of those for me. It’s a detour away from my usual fare, a dark yet sweet fairytale. Phantazein launches officially on October 4th at Conflux, but you can buy the ebook now at Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords, and/or pre-order the print book via the Fablecroft website.

Shiny Table of Contents:

“Twelfth” by Faith Mudge

“Bahamut” by Thoraiya Dyer

“The Nameless Seamstress” by Gitte Christensen

“How the Jungle Got Its Spirit Guardian” by Vida Cruz

“The Seventh Relic” by Cat Sparks

“Rag and Bone Heart” by Suzanne J Willis

“Kneaded” by S. G. Larner

“The Village of No Women” by Rabia Gale

“The Lady of Wild Things” by Jenny Blackford

“The Ghost of Hephaestus” by Charlotte Nash

“A Cold Day” by Nicole Murphy

“Scales of Time” by Foz Meadows & Moni

“Love Letters of Swans” by Tansy Rayner Roberts

 

Excerpt from “Kneaded”:

I hugged Mama from behind, peering around her generous form to watch her shape the doughy lump.

“Is it a gingerbread man?” I asked.

She shook her head, body shuddering with the movement. With a satisfied grunt she poked raisins into the ‘head’.

“What is it, then?”

“It’s something for me, sweetling,” she said, and I let go of her waist, stepping back so she could put it on a tray. I considered the little loaf.

“It looks like a baby.”

“Mmm.” She smiled at me. “Harold Croft visited while you were walking with Daniel. Annie’s in early labour. I said I’d go around when it was time.”

“Exciting,” I said. “So that’s not for her?”

“No, nor for you.”

I pouted, then asked, “Mama, why don’t other people taste like me?”

She tipped her head to the side and looked at me. Heat crept up my cheeks.

“I mean, when I kiss your forehead, you’re salty. But I’m not. And Daniel…”

Mama’s eyebrows shot up.

I bit my lip. “No one smells the same as me. Not even you. Is there no one like me?”

She wiped her hands on her apron, took it off and hung it on a hook. “You’re just special.” She kissed my cheek. “You’re my sweetling.”

I glanced at the dough baby. “Mama, am I a real girl?”

 ***

Go! Off with ye! Buy the book! ;)

So one of the awesomes that has happened recently is my inclusion in Fablecroft’s new anthology Phantazein. It’s launching at Conflux, on Saturday October 4, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. (As usual, LOVE the artwork by Kathleen Jennings!)

In the meantime, there is a Goodreads giveaway to win one of two copies. The giveaway ends on September 30 so go enter!

Suspended In Dusk NEWSuspended in Dusk is available! This anthology is edited by Simon Dewar, an all ’round awesome person, and features some fabulous stories by some fabulous authors and me. ;)

“Disquieting and at times terrifying, SUSPENDED IN DUSK shows that horror can, and should, have substance.” ~ Kaaron Warren, Shirley Jackson Award winner, and author of Slights, Mystification, Walking the Tree.

“SUSPENDED IN DUSK offers a delicious assortment of chills, frights, shocks and very dark delights!” ~ Jonathan Maberry, Bram Stoker Award winner and New York Times bestselling author of Fall of Night and V-Wars

So where can you get it? It’s currently available on Smashwords and Amazon, with print and epub versions to come.

Our lovely editor was interviewed by Ian McHugh if you want to check it out here (the anthology had a bit of a rocky start!)

Table of Contents:

Alan Baxter – Shadows of the Lonely Dead
Angela Slatter – The Way of All Flesh
Anna Reith – Taming the Stars
Armand Rosamilia – At Dusk They Come
Benjamin Knox – The Keeper of Secrets
Brett Rex Bruton – Outside In
Chris Limb – Ministry of Outrage
Icy Sedgwick – A Woman of Disrepute
J C Michael – Reasons to Kill
John Everson – Spirits Having Flown (Reprint)
Karen Runge – Hope is Here
Ramsey Campbell – Digging Deep  (Reprint)
Rayne Hall – Burning (Reprint)
Sarah Read – Quarter Turn to Dawn
Shane McKenzie – Fit Camp (Reprint)
S. G. Larner – Shades of Memory
Tom Dullemond – Would to God That We Were There
Toby Bennett – Maid of Bone
Wendy Hammer – Negatives

So excited to be part of this project, and I hope you enjoy reading the stories! Here’s a snippet from “Shades of Memory”:

Patrick reined Constance to a halt to study the bent metal sign. It should have said ‘Miriam Vale’, but some unknown vandal had gouged at the paint, so that it now proclaimed: M   an Vale. Beside the sign, an upside-down, blackened ute rusted by the crumbling highway. Black sand drifted against the useless vehicle, carried on scorching winds from the endlessly burning coal seam gas fields to the west.

The tightness in his chest might have been from anxiety or exhaustion. This was the first town he’d seen in the past three days of horseback travel under a blazing Queensland sun. Razed homesteads littered the verges of the highway, remnants of the Upheaval. Patrick licked cracked lips, his throat dry, and longed for decent food and a bed.

Patrick gave Constance a gentle kick and her hooves thud-clopped on the disintegrating road.

They passed a rotting old Queenslander, its roof missing, lantana strangling the walls. Parched dust and spiky weeds filled the space once occupied by lawn.

Down the road a mangy yellow dog barked and then disappeared behind a large black object. Patrick squinted through the orange haze of sunset, but couldn’t make it out. As he approached it resolved into a giant fibreglass crab, charred and twisted and riddled with bullet holes. It blocked the doors of what had once been a petrol station, but was now a burnt husk. The bowsers had melted into blackened lumps from the heat of the conflagration.

A tiny smear of yellow caught his eye. He nudged Constance closer, although she snorted and trembled. A scraggly dandelion flower lay between the crab’s claws.

Photo by (Waiting for) Godot on Flickr (2014 CC Some Rights Reserved)

Photo by (Waiting for) Godot on Flickr (2014 CC Some Rights Reserved)

I don’t really believe in evil as an absolute concept that exists outside of human consciousness. Evil is relative. Only humans have the capacity to intentionally inflict harm and actually understand the suffering of their victims (as far as I am aware! Clearly if intelligent aliens fly in tomorrow I will retract that statement). Therefore evil, to me, is a uniquely human construct and a matter of perception.

Where stories deal with supernatural expressions of evil, I tend to see them as one of two things: either a way to project a human evil on something external to humanity (like werewolves as symbols for the base, animal instincts in humans), or an experiment to see how humans will behave when an (imaginary) objective evil threatens them. (There are probably more variants but I can’t think of them right now). In “Perfect Soldiers”, for example, the evil isn’t so much the demonic beings—as problematic as they are for humankind—the evil lies in the choices made by the people trying to survive. I wanted to explore the ethics of the ways in which the humans were trying to overcome the supernatural evil. And that “evil” itself, in absolute, objective terms, isn’t evil at all, in the way that hurricanes or volcanic eruptions aren’t evil.

I’ve always been more terrified by stories that deal with the normalisation of human evils. Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” struck at the very heart of my fears, that of the creeping normalisation of atrocities. Recently Kaaron Warren’s “Sky” (in Through Splintered Walls) had a similar effect. What evils are humans capable of in the name of culture and tradition? In deference to authority, and a desire to fit in, our nicest and most agreeable people will inflict pain and suffering on other human beings. We know this to be true in war (also here); when mob mentality rules; and in normal, civilised society.

We (in general terms of course, on a societal level) prize people who conform and who obey authority and are agreeable. If, then, evil is just a matter of relative value, of subjective judgement, and we’ve become blind to our society’s corruption (or convinced of a dire need that justifies morally questionable actions)… how then, are we to determine if an act is evil, or if it is actually good because it is necessary?

In the face of such uncertainty, it is little wonder so many story-tellers choose to project evil onto an external, supernatural figure. Viewing evil from a distance helps us to process and understand it, but we also run the risk of forgetting the source. Fighting the demons outside of us is easier than fighting the ones within.

What Came Before, and What Comes Next

For the first blog post in the Equilibrium Overturned “Uncovering Evil” blog tour, pop by and read JG Faherty’s thoughts on the matter of evil.

Next stop: Sean Eads, on the 15th of September.

“Heat, Flies, and Cane Toads” is a childhood nostalgia poem, and the wonderful Stuart Barnes (who, by the way, is Runner-up in the 2014 Arts Queensland Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize!) very kindly decided he loved it and wanted it for Tincture Seven, so here it is!

As usual you can buy a Tincture at many different places.

Tincture website

Kindle

Kobo

Tomely

Tinctures are full of short fiction and poetry that tease your mind and tug at your heart so please support small press and writers and grab a copy to read with your beverage of choice :).

pumps

Photo credit: Lloyd Barrett

As much as writers are allowed to have favourite stories, this is one of my favourites. I was gripped with the urge to write this story three weeks after the Goo-boy was born, as I was lying in bed trying to rest. Instead I propped myself up and wrote the first thousand words, based on the image that jumped into my mind that I couldn’t purge. I “saw” a girl huddling behind a rusted old petrol bowser, but she wasn’t a normal girl: her skin was red, she was naked and completely hairless.

And thus “Banned Girl” was born.

This story was semi-finalist in the Writers of the Future contest, and finally found a home at Fictionvale. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! (Click the image below to buy).

Excerpt from “Banned Girl”:

Just north of Boonah, an abandoned petrol station rotted on the outskirts of the Forbidden Zone. The rusted gas pumps thrust up against a tainted, toxic sky, like giant robot warriors standing guard against the threat to the east. Normally the only menace was the odd mutant wallaby or giant goanna, but there were more sinister dangers to look out for. The adults would’ve been angry if they knew we were there, but they didn’t, and we were well inside the Wards, so it was okay.

I was there with Abby and Alice, the mayor’s daughters, when I saw the banned girl. She’d crept out of the Zone and hidden behind one of our robot warriors—useless as a sentinel, obviously. Abby hadn’t seen her and ran toward the line of warriors.

“Abby, ’ware!” I called. “Banned girl!”

Abby turned midstride and bolted for the crumbling building. Alice met her on the step and, huddled together, they turned and peered with dreadful fascination at the banned girl’s red skin, which oozed from every pore. Her hairless body trembled, poised on the brink of flight.

Through all this commotion the girl hadn’t moved. She clung to the rusty pump and watched us. Fear and disgust welled inside me. I stooped and grabbed a rock. Abby and Alice, strengthened by the support of each other, egged me on with matched, twinny glee.

“Throw it, Ben! Don’t let it come near!”

I hefted the rock and pretended to toss it. The banned girl swayed and flinched but her grip didn’t falter. With the shouts of the twins echoing in my ears, I pegged the rock at the banned girl.

It hit her naked belly and she cringed but didn’t let go.

“Another one, Ben.” The vicious harpy cries nudged my darker side. I hurled another rock at her head. It hit her and she was felled, a stunted red tree cut down by my ax. Without thinking, I started toward her, but the twins crept up behind me and their little hands tugged at my sleeves.

“C’mon, Ben, they’re dangerous. Even dead.”

I wanted to see if she was dead, but I let them pull me away.

“Don’t tell anyone. If they knew we was here…” Truth was, I’d get in more trouble than the mayor’s girls.

The twins shrugged in unison, twirling fat ginger plaits. “Okay.”

FV4-final

I was lucky enough to make the Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot this year, and even luckier to have my lovely friend Helen Stubbs interview me. I managed to get away with an elf photo as my bio pic too ;).

If you’d like to read my blatherings, head over to The Edge of Time. And thanks for your support!

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