First Story: “The Frog King, or Iron Henry” by Daniel Quinn
What is to be remembered, I suppose I remember; everything else dissolves and vanishes: breath on an icy mirror.
I am alone now. There is no one. A rectangle of moonlight blazes on the floor like a shield—this is all that’s left of my visitor.
Nevertheless, without any real feeling of hope, I call out into the darkness: “Iron Henry?”
His departure is something I feel in my blood, now dry as dust in my veins. Beside the window, a shadow stirs in the darkness, and it is he, slipping away into the night.
“Iron Henry,” I whisper, knowing that, for all that he loves me, he will not stop for my sake: “Please.”
He hesitates and mutters, “I may not.”
“Speak to me more.”
“It will soon be dawn,” he says, “and the queen will be sighing in her bed.”
“That hardly matters, Iron Henry; what little I haven’t actually forgotten has become meaningless to me.”
Daniel Quinn is best known as the author of the novel Ishmael, published in more than 25 languages and winner of the 1991 Turner Tomorrow Award, the largest prize ever given a single literary work, established to encourage authors to seek “creative and positive solutions to global problems.” He and his wife, painter Rennie MacKay Quinn, have lived in Chicago, Madrid, New Mexico, and Austin, TX, and currently reside in Houston. “The Frog King” was published in 1994 in the collection Black Thorn, White Rose.
Learn more about him at www.ishmael.org.
Second Story: “The Scariest Place in the World” by Mark Morris.
Holly resented daytime callers. Most of them weren’t to know that she worked at home, but even so, her first response when someone rang the bell or banged on the door was to grit her teeth and ball her hands into fists, as if in imitation of the tight knot of resentment she felt clenching in her belly. It had been several weeks after moving in before the old lady who lived next door had got the message. The first time she turned up she’d been clutching a dented biscuit tin containing one of those old-fashioned sponge cakes, the ones with jam and cream in the middle and a light dusting of icing sugar on top.
“Hello, dear,” she’d said, her thin shoulders hunched like vestigial wings within her pale green cardigan and her grey hair drifting like a wind-stirred mass of cobwebs. “I’m Mrs Bartholomew. I’m your new neighbour – or rather, I suppose you’re mine, as I’ve been here for donkey’s years. I just thought I’d pop round to see how you’re settling in.”
Holly had kept the door half-closed, and positioned herself firmly behind it, as if wary the old lady might try to force her way inside. When Mrs Bartholomew smiled, her face crumpled like a brown paper bag and her beige-yellow teeth sprang forward, reminding Holly of a row of clothes pegs on a washing line.
“We’re fine, thanks,” Holly had replied, responding to her neighbour’s grin with a half-hearted grimace. “We’re a bit busy just now. Lots to do.”
She’d begun to push the door shut. Quickly the old woman said, “Just the two of you are there?
”Holly had hesitated, then nodded. “Yes, me and my husband, Mike.”
“Ah.” The old woman looked thoughtful. “Well, it’ll be a lovely house to bring up little ones. When the time comes.”
“Yes.” Holly inched the door further closed. “Well, thanks for coming round, but we really are busy.”
“Oh, I brought you this.” Mrs Bartholomew raised the biscuit tin as though making an offering to an arcane god. “A little house-warming present. Home-made.”
Holly had thought of the old woman’s bird’s-claw, liver-spotted hands buried in cake mix, perhaps even scraping it from under her yellowing fingernails, and her stomach turned over. Mustering a smile she’d said, “That’s very kind of you, but Mike and I don’t really eat cake.”
“Oh.” Mrs Bartholomew looked crest-fallen.
“Sorry,” said Holly. “Well, goodbye.”
She’d pushed the door shut, and then tensed as, from the other side, she heard the old woman call, “Goodbye for now, dear. Perhaps I’ll pop round again when you’re less busy.”
Mark Morris became a full-time writer in 1988 on the Enterprise Allowance scheme and a year later saw the release of his first novel Toady. He has since published a further 16 novels, among which are Stitch, The Immaculate, The Secret of Anatomy, Fiddleback, The Deluge, and four books in the popular Doctor Who range. His short stories, novellas, articles and reviews have appeared in a wide variety of anthologies and magazines, and he is editor of the highly acclaimed Cinema Macabre. His most recently published or forthcoming work includes a novella titled It Sustains for Earthling Publications, a Torchwood novel titled Bay of the Dead, several Doctor Who audios for Big Finish Productions, a follow-up volume to Cinema Macabre titled Cinema Futura, and a new short story collection, Long Shadows, Nightmare Light.
About the Narrators:
James Silverstein is a budding author and role-playing game designer, with credits from the 7th Sea and Stargate RPG lines. He’s working on the upcoming ‘Cairn’ RPG, as well as a series of stories about a 1940s private eye in a city of the undead. James feels that there are always more amazing stories that need to be told, and he writes, narrates, and runs games to share them with the world. He loves speculative fiction, noir detective tales, and pulp fantasy, and is honored to be a returning reader in the District of Wonders.
Katherine Inskip weighs galaxies for a living, and builds worlds in her spare time. She is addicted to chocolate and Japanese logic puzzles.