On Tuesday I told you about how Arcana was kinda sorta my first anthology ever. And then yesterday I shared the artwork and excerpts from the first five pieces (four stories and a poem). Today I would like to share some more artwork and excerpts with you, but there are six this time instead of five so, without any further ado…
(All these interior illustrations are by Marge Simon)
Excerpt from “Better Angels” by Angela Slatter:
Fionnuala returns to her vigil. Outside the French doors, out in the garden, close to the house is a silhouette, which she fails to notice because her husband sits up, straight from the waist. The pillow falls to the floor. Patrick twists his head on his neck to face her, but at least she can’t see that terrible wound. She blinks, swallows, clutches at her own throat.
“I know what you did, Fionnuala,” he vomits the words. She knows from examining him that he’d bit his tongue in the fall, almost taken it off, so it’s no surprise that forming sounds is so hard for him, so discordant. Fionnuala closes her eyes, hard, counts to three before she opens them.
Patrick is lying down again, the pillow beneath his head still; the fabric on which he lies is untroubled. But now a trickle of blood leaks from the corpse’s nostrils, and out from under his lids too. Fionnuala rises, takes hesitant steps to the table. She stares at the crimson-black, then looks at the doorway that Donovan’s left not long ago.
The blood bubbles as if there’s breath behind it, but Patrick’s chest doesn’t move, he’s not alive. There’s just the echo of his words in her ears: “I know what you did, Fionnuala.”
“No,” she says softly, “you don’t.”
Excerpt from “Thorns” by Gabrielle Harbowy:
It had been their one-year anniversary present to each other. They’d gotten inked together, though they hadn’t gone for anything as cloyingly sweet as identical designs. Body art had been a common interest and needles had been a common fear, so they’d faced both together.
The fortune teller in the cramped storefront at the corner of Main and Spring had been first; as if her single needle was somehow a warm-up for the hours in the tattooist’s chair… Or maybe it was that they had sought the safety of needles in greater duration to chase the finality of that other, more frightening single sting away. She’d been at her craft in the same little shop for over a hundred years, people said—one of the Transhuman Collective, who’d taken the age-halting treatments before the serum had proven to have unpredictable effects. Supposedly she could tell, from rubbing a drop of blood between her fingertips, how a person would die. Supposedly, she had never been wrong. Cryptic, perhaps, but never wrong. They walked away from her scarf-strewn parlor in silence.
They’d decided on their tattoos en route. Celia had gotten the briars, protecting Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
Excerpt from “Anime Gamelle” by Sara Dobie Bauer:
What a shame to have to destroy someone so brutal. He is gorgeous, too, which I remember from when we first met, years before in my father’s court. I would not have predicted an army general to be without blemish. He stands before me now on this hellish plain in Calabria, shirtless and sweating, perfect as I recall.
The spattered blood on the side of his head belongs to the unconscious man on the ground. This is a game he plays, my General Devlin. He welcomes the challenges of his soldiers to prove his worth. He has beaten his own men almost to death as a reminder that he deserves to lead them in battle. From what I have gleaned, he has never lost. Anything.
I have only been the queen of Albion for two months—a battle in itself to prove that a woman can rule alone. I have traveled weeks to get here. The ground still teeters beneath me from time spent in my carriage. I smell nothing but horses and smoke as I preside in all my queenly adornments. Soldiers surround us, whispering, staring. I see only Devlin: this man who would ruin me.
Excerpt from “The Marriage of Ocean and Dust” by Alexandra Seidel:
The searing copper is an ocean without end.
The sky was trying to drown me. There were many thoughts that came to me in the white delirium of blood loss and sheer fatigue, but that is the one that stuck, something blue among all the white. I must have spent almost two days lying there, dying in a puddle that smelled of wetness and metal. The light that came through the ghost-of-summer leaves clinging to the trees made all the earth around me look wet; so red with me, this earth of copper, this earth so coppered.
Apart from becoming a little obsessed about the sky drowning me, here’s a revelation I had about why alchemists are a dying breed: they have all these strange rules, like for example don’t make a golem, but they don’t bother giving a reason. Perhaps if somebody had told me that golems are blasting strong, very nearly uncontrollable, and angry all the time, I wouldn’t have lost my right arm that day.
Excerpt from “The Hermit” by Joseph Halden:
“Are you all right, Ainsley?”
Ainsley winced as she crossed the parking lot, unsuccessful in her attempt to outpace and avoid Jared. She’d spent the day avoiding people because she knew small-talk would probably delve too close to the topic of her mother. After the holo sim visit last night, it suddenly felt far too raw despite it being almost ten years since Mom’s death.
Murder, she thought, correcting what she’d tried to deny for quite a while now. Murder.
“Yes, sorry,” she said, her voice cracking a bit from having been used so infrequently throughout the day. “I’m just a bit stressed, is all.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He caught up to her, pushing his glasses up and scratching at his buzz-cut. “Is it anything I can help you with?”
She sucked in a breath. “I don’t think so, Jared.”
“All right,” he said. “I didn’t mean to bug you. I apologize if I held you back.”
Ainsley closed her eyes. She wished she knew more about socializing, all the rules that others seemed to read so easily in the unspoken. She was hurting right now, and she knew friends could, in theory at least, or on the shows she watched, help her through the pain. However, she couldn’t imagine telling him about her mother.
Excerpt from “The Mysterious East (Fredericton, NB)” by Greg Bechtel:
Andrew’s first fare was a writer whose day job was the night-shift at Cendant, a local call centre based in a dying mall on the Northside and dealing with worldwide car rentals. (When looking for work, Andrew had drawn the line just this side of a call centre job, the only other sure-fire employment in this town if you didn’t work for the government or the University.) The guy said he hated the place, all the people he worked with, and every single idiotic customer he’d ever talked to. He never showed anyone what he wrote, though. He didn’t want them to get the wrong impression, what with all the graphic, extended torture scenes incorporating his co-workers and assorted call centre clientele.
“I mean, you’ve got to write what you know, right? But it’s all, like, imaginary. Nothing autobiographical. ‘Cause that’d be, like, seriously fucked up. Still, gotta put all that pent up frustration somewhere, right?”
“So once you’ve written it out, does that mean you’re not frustrated any more?”
“Not really, no.”
That first day, Andrew made fifty dollars for a twelve-hour shift: four dollars and seventeen cents an hour. To celebrate, he bought bagels, instant noodles, eggs, coffee, and a pack of smokes. Rent could wait at least another week. The sage stays behind, thus he is ahead.