(cover by Jacob McMurray)
I just turned in my story collection The Third Bear to Tachyon. The table of contents is as follows:
The Third Bear
The Goat Variations
Shark God Versus Octopus God
Three Days in a Border Town
The Secret Life of Shane Hamill
The Surgeon’s Tale (with Cat Rambo)
“The Quickening” and “Komodo” are new stories, and, to be honest, I’m still working on both, but will still turn them in before advance copies need to be created–the collection will be approximately 95,000 words in length. The publication date for The Third Bear is late May 2010.
As I wrote in a brief end note in the collection, my novelette “Errata”–published in January of this year and available to read here–isn’t included because no collection can work as a cohesive unit if there are two major pieces that both function as endings. In this case, “Appogiatura” fits the themes of The Third Bear much better than “Errata.” Still, it’s in the collection in ghost form, since I provide the link therein. (Another story, “The Three Quests of the Wizard Sarnod” fell afoul of timing, since it’s exclusive to the Songs from the Dying Earth antho for awhile.)
Here are brief teaser excerpts from the new stories.
In the photo Sensio has been dressed in a peach-colored prisonerâ€™s uniform made out of discarded tarp and then tied to a small post that Aunt Etta made me hammer it into the ground. Sensioâ€™s long white ears are slanted back behind his head. His front legs, trapped by the crude arm holes, hang stiff at a forward angle. The absurdly large hind feet with the shadows for claws are, perhaps, the most monstrous part of Sensioâ€”the way they seem to suddenly shoot from the peach-colored trousers, in a parody of arrested speed. The look on Sensioâ€™s faceâ€”the large, almond-shaped eye, the soft pucker of pink noseâ€”seems caught between a strange acceptance and an inchoate rage.
Sensio was, of course, a rabbit, and in the photo, Aunt Ettaâ€™s stance confirms this bestial factâ€”she holds the end of the rope that binds Sensio to the post, and she holds it, between thumb and forefinger, with a form of distaste, even disdain? Such a strange pose, delicate against the roughness of Sensio; even a gentle tug and his humiliation would be undone.
Or maybe not. I donâ€™t know. I know only that Aunt Ettaâ€™s expression is ultimately unreadable, muddied by the severe red of her lipstick, by the book-ending of her body by a crepe-paper bag of a hat and the shimmering turquoise dress hitched up past her waist, over her stomach, and descending so far down that she appears to float above the matted grass of the ground. (Between the two, a flowsy white blouse that seems stolen from a more sensible person.) Sheâ€™d dressed me in something similar, so that I looked like a flower girl at a wedding. The shoes Aunt Etta had dug up out of the closet pinched my feet.
Sensio had said nothing as he was bound, nose twitching at the sharp citrus of the orange blossoms behind them. Heâ€™d said nothing as weâ€™d formed our peculiar circus procession from the bungalow where we lived to the waiting photographer. No reporters had come, despite Aunt Ettaâ€™s phone calls, but sheâ€™d hired the photographer anywayâ€”and he stood there waiting in white shirt, suspenders, gray trousers, black wingtip shoes. He looked hot even though it was only spring, and was so white I thought he must be a Yankee. His equipment looked like a metal stork. A cigarette dangled from his lips.
The rest of my journey in the giant head went badly. I walked to the river, lost my balance, and fell into the water, head-first. I bobbed downstream, legs in the air, staring at upside-down fish and tadpoles, with just enough air to breathe. A strange murky beauty, and from that perspective the river weeds draped down, the alligators all pale belly, long throat, and legs weirdly paddling above their torsos.
So then I managed to get caught in some branches just as the giant green head I was wearing filled up with water. Wedged thusly, I was able to turn right-side up. By then, I was miles from town and sopping wet. With difficulty, I made it up the steep bank, only to be confronted by a startling and horrible sight.
But now I need to back up and tell the truth. There were other people involved. There was a reason I left the house in such a hurry. There was a reason why I ended up in the river. Someone was after me. Someone caught up. I had no choice but to jump in the river. The head began to fill with water for a reason, too. The bullet.
They smelled funny. Not bad, just different, like lime mixed with pumice and salt. They didn’t hold their shape like most people. They appeared in the sky over my refuge diving down with golden wings folded. Their wings were burning, ravaged. Like a damselfly, theirs were filigreed, and the flames tore holes. By the time they’d reached the ground, their wings were gone. If not for that, I would never have been able to escape them.
Here’s another thing I’ve not yet said: I was expecting them. Just not so soon. Does that sound strange? It’s not nearly the strangest thing.
The strangest thing? Once, I had been one of them.