In celebration of the release of THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS by Jane Yolen, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that “will haunt you in the very best way.” (Sarah Beth Durst, author of Race the Sands)
Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Seven years of bad luck. That’s what I think as I drag the piece of broken mirror over my forearm. Just to the right of a long blue vein, tracing the thin scars that came before.
There’s no pain. That’s all on the inside. It won’t come no matter how much I bleed. No pain. But for a moment . . .
For a moment.
Until Mr. L calls me again. “Hey, you, Little Red, come here.”
Calls me. Not any of the other girls. Maybe it’s because he likes my stubby red hair. Likes to twist his stubby old-man fingers in it. And I can’t tell him no.
“You want to go back home?” he asks. “Back to your grandmother’s? Back to the old sewing lady?” He’s read my file. He knows what I will say.
“No. Even you are better than that.” Then I don’t say anything else. I just go away for a bit in my mind and leave him my body.
The forest is dark but I know the way. I have been here before. There is a path soon, pebbly and worn. But my fingers and toes are like needles and pins. If I stay here, stray here too long, will I become one of them forever?
It’s morning now, and I’m back, looking for something sharp. Orderlies have cleaned up the mirror; I think Mr. L found the piece I had hidden under the mattress. It doesn’t matter—I can always find something. Paper clips stolen from the office, plastic silverware cracked just right, even a ragged fingernail can break the skin if you have the courage.
Alby faces the wall and traces imaginary coastlines on the white cement. She is dark and elfin, her hair shorn brutally close to her scalp except for one long tress that hangs behind her left ear. “Why do you wind him up like that?”
“Wind up who?” My voice is rough with disuse. Is it the next morning? Or have days passed? “And how?”
“Mr. L. The things you say to him . . .” Shuddering, Alby looks more wet terrier than girl. “If you’d just walk the line, I’m sure he’d leave you alone.”
Having no memory of speaking to Mr. L at all, I just shrug. “Walk the line. Walk the path. What’s the difference?”
“Yeah, play the game, let them think you’re getting better.” Alby straightens up, picturing home, I figure. She’s got one to go back to. Wooden fence. Two-car garage. Mom and dad and a bowl full of breakfast cereal. No grandma making lemonade on a cold Sunday evening. No needles. No pins.
It’s my turn to shudder. “I don’t want to get better. They might send me home.”
Alby stares at me. She has no answer to that. I turn to the bed. Start picking at the mattress, wondering if there are springs inside these old things. Alby faces the wall, her finger already winding a new path through the cracks. We all pass the time in our own way.
In celebration of the release of THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS by Jane Yolen, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that “draws readers into fully realized worlds with strong characters who reflect the strengths—and the darkness—in all of us.” (Susan Vaught, author of Trigger and Freaks Like Us)
Dog Boy Remembers
The Dog Boy was just a year old and newly walking when his father returned to take him into Central Park. It was summer and the moon was full over green trees.
The only scents he’d loved ’til then were the sweet milk smells his mother made, the fust of the sofa cushions, the prickly up-your-nose of the feathers in his pillow, the pure spume of water from the tap, and the primal stink of his own shit before it was washed down into the white bowl.
When his father came to fetch him that first time, his mother wept. Still in her teens, she’d not had a lot of knowledge of the world before Red Cap had taken her up. But the baby, he was all hers. The only thing, she often thought, that truly was.
“Don’t take him,” she cried, “I’ve done everything you asked. I promise to be even more careful of him.” Her tears slipped silently down her cheeks, small globules, smelling slightly salty, like soup.
His father hit her with his fist for crying, and red blood gushed from her nose. He hated crying, something Dog Boy was soon to find out.
But Dog Boy had never smelled blood like that before, only his mother’s monthly flow which had a nasty pong to it. His head jerked up at the sharpness, a scent he would later know as iron. He practically wet himself with delight.
His father watched him and smiled. It was a slow smile and not at all comforting, but it was all Dog Boy would ever get from him.
“Come, Boy,” his father said, adjusting the red cap he always wore, a cap that was the first thing Dog Boy recognized about his father, even before his smell, that odd compound of old blood and something meaty, something nasty, that both repelled and excited him. Without more of an invitation, his father reached into his pocket and pulled out a leather leash, winding it expertly about the Dog Boy’s chest and shoulders, tugging him toward the door. And not knowing why, only that it would surely be something new and interesting, Dog Boy toddled after him, never looking back at his mother who still simpered behind them.
In celebration of the release of THE MIDNIGHT CIRCUS by Jane Yolen, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that “sings with magic, darkness, and wonder–perfect for anyone who has ever loved a fairy tale.” (Meagan Spooner, author of the Starbound Trilogy)
You could say it all began in 1827 (though my part of it didn’t start until 1963) because that was the year Tsar Nicholas I decided to draft Jews into the army. Before that, of course, only Russian peasants and undesirables had to face the awful twenty-five-year service.
But it was more than just service to the state the Jewish boys were called to do. For them, being in the army meant either starvation—for they would not eat non-kosher food—or conversion. No wonder their parents said kaddish for them when they were taken.
After Tsar Nicholas’ edict, the army drafted sons of tax evaders and sons of Jews without passports. They picked up runaways and dissidents and cleaned the jails of Jews. Worst of all, they forced the kahal, the Jewish Community Council, to fill a quota of thirty boys for every one thousand Jews on the rolls—and those rolls contained the names of a lot of dead Jews as well as living. The Russian census takers were not very careful with their figures. It was the slaughter of the innocents all over again, and no messiah in sight.
The richest members of the community and the kahal got their own sons off, of course. Bribes were rampant, as were forgeries. Boys were reported on the census as much younger than they were, or they were given up for adoption to Jewish families without sons of their own, since single sons were never taken. And once in a while, a truly desperate mother would encourage her sons to mutilate themselves, for the army—like kosher butchers—did not accept damaged stock.
In my grandfather’s village was a family known popularly as Eight-Toes because that is how many each of the five sons had. They’d cut off their little toes to escape the draft.
So many boys were trying in so many ways to avoid conscription that a new and awful profession arose amongst the Jews—the khaper.He was a kidnapper, a bounty hunter, a Jew against Jews.
My Aunt Vera used to sing an old song, but I didn’t know what it meant until almost too late:
I had already washed and said the blessing
When the snatcher walked right in.
“Where are you going?” he asks me.
“To buy wheat, to buy corn.”
“Oh no,” he says, “you are on your way,
Trying to escape . . .”
One of my uncles remarked once that the family had come over to escape the khapers in the 1850s, and I thought he said ‘the coppers.’” For years I was sure the Yolens were but one step ahead of the police. Given my Uncle Louis’ reputation as a bootlegger, why should anyone have wondered at my mistake? But I learned about the khaper—thereal one—the year I was sixteen. And I understood, for the first time, why my family had left Ykaterinoslav without bothering to pack or say goodbye.
In celebration of the release of Marie Brennan’s DRIFTWOOD, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that “celebrates the death-defying power of love and everlasting memory.” (Karen Lord, author of Redemption in Indigo)
The previews included:
In celebration of the release of Marie Brennan’s DRIFTWOOD, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that is “an exciting delve into a conglomerate land filled with magic and mystery”
The Ascent of Unreason
The world he chose for the launching point had two important lacks: people and wind.
It was, as Last had advised, close to the Crush—close enough that what little of it still existed had been abandoned quite some time ago. Nobody was around to object when Tolyat paid a pair of Ffes to knock down what remained of the only surviving building and flatten the ground, into which he set one half of each shauein pair. As for wind, none of the neighboring Shreds had storms that would spill over into this nameless world-fragment and threaten to knock the basket from its alignment above the stones.
By now the rumors had spread; half the population of the Shreds seemed to know that Tolyat the scholar was trying something mad, and most of them had come to watch. The prophesied leader of the Bhauish had taken an interest in the matter, and some of her people were keeping the mob away from Tolyat as he made his final preparations—or, more likely, keeping the mob away from their precious stones. But they parted to allow Last through, along with the cart he was dragging behind him.
Tolyat paused to stare. “What in the name of everybody else’s god is that?”
“Backup.” Last dropped the cart shafts, and a flounce of cloth spilled out the front. “Help me attach this to your basket.”
“Not until you tell me what it is.”
The guide sighed and stepped closer, lowering his voice so the watching crowd wouldn’t hear. “You’ve heard the stories about me, right?”
“The ones that say I can’t die.”
“Oh.” Tolyat scratched his earhole in embarrassment. “Yes.”
It was, he thought, the foundation of their friendship, or at least part of it: he never asked questions about Last. He’d given it some thought, back when they first met. If it was true that Last was immortal, that he was the one thing in Driftwood that didn’t die, then the trick to it must not be anything he could share with other people; otherwise he would’ve been the richest man in any world. If it wasn’t true, then the man was probably tired of people chasing after a secret he didn’t have. Either way, there was no point in Tolyat asking.
But now Last had brought it up, and curiosity overwhelmed that logic. He couldn’t resist saying, “Are those stories true?”
Last’s mouth was set in a line that might have indicated either terror or suppressed hilarity. “I have no intention of giving you a chance to find out. The fabric’s a big sack, open on one end; we attach it to the basket, with the open end down, and light this furnace underneath to fill it with hot air. Once it’s full, we’ll float.”
Tolyat dropped his armful of fabric. “You want me to trust my life to magic floating hot air?”
“You’re already trusting it to magic floating stones, aren’t you? This works, trust me.” Last shrugged. “Hasn’t been used in Driftwood since Ad Aprinchenlin went into the Crush, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Falling hurts, Tolyat—a lot. I’d rather have two things between me and the ground, not just one.”
Grumbling, Tolyat helped. The sack was shaped like a bottle with a narrow neck; enormous as it was, he didn’t trust the flimsy fabric to hold anything. But the weight was negligible, even with the furnace, and it seemed to make Last feel better.
Once the sack was in place, Tolyat turned around—and realized there was silence. The entire crowd was watching in breathless anticipation. They packed the narrow streets of the adjacent Shreds, peering out of windows and from rooftops of abandoned buildings, in every world-fragment but the even smaller ones that lay Crushward. And judging by their expressions, they wanted a speech.
He’d been too busy with calculations and the gathering of supplies to plan any kind of speech. “Um,” Tolyat said, scratching his earhole again. It was Last’s original question all over again, with him feeling like he ought to have something grand to say in response.
“I’m going to go make a map of Driftwood,” he said. “As detailed as I can. Maybe you think that’s a waste of time, and maybe you’re right. But I’m going to do it anyway. So wish me luck—pray I don’t die—and when I get back to the ground, I’ll tell you what I saw.”
And with that sorry attempt behind him, he turned and climbed into the basket.
In celebration of the release of Marie Brennan’s DRIFTWOOD, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that “celebrates the death-defying power of love and everlasting memory.” (Karen Lord, author of Redemption in Indigo)
“He’s not dead!” The words burst out of a small kid: Dreceyl, older than he looks but still not very old. He stamps his foot and then runs down to the stage. “How can people think Last is dead? He’s survived everything.”
A clamor fills the amphitheater, which until that point has been more or less respectfully silent. If there’s one thing capable of thriving in Driftwood, it’s rumors, and in the days since word went around that Last was gone, this one has grown a hundred heads.
He went into the Crush. He traveled to the Edge and leapt off into the Mist. He committed suicide with a weapon that before its world’s apocalypse had been used to kill a god. He ate or drank something that turned out to be poison to his kind. The final artifact of his world was caught for ages in the depths of the Crush, but now it’s finally vanished, and it took Last with it.
The whole thing was never true in the first place. The stories about Last were just that: stories. He was never immortal; at best there was just a long series of men who looked enough like the stories to pass. And now he’s gone, just like everything else in Driftwood.
What began as a silent memorial and then became a tribute starts shredding into chaos. Dreceyl shoves Kuondae, who to him is just a disrespectful stranger. She hisses at him and raises a hand, but Ioi stops her from striking, which brings the Oneui in; Ioi may be only one-quarter of their blood, but Kuondae’s provocation has temporarily erased that gap. In the stands above, people begin to shout competing theories, points and counterpoints, few of them backed by solid facts. The dark-skinned woman with the gold wound into her hair watches silently, leaning against the crumbling sandstone wall with her jaw set hard. The man in the robe sets his pen down and waits.
In celebration of the release of Marie Brennan’s DRIFTWOOD, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that is “An exciting delve into a conglomerate land filled with magic and mystery.” (Kirkus)
Into the Wind
The tenements presented a blank face to the border: an unbroken expanse of wall, windowless, gapless, resolutely blind to the place that used to be Oneua. Only at the edges of the tenements could one pass through, entering the quiet and sunlit strip of weeds that separated the buildings from the world their inhabitants had once called home.
Eyo stood in the weeds, an arm’s length from the border. The howling sands formed a wall in front of her, close enough to touch. They clouded the light of Oneua’s suns, until she could barely make out the nearest structure, the smooth lines of its walls eroded and broken by the incessant rasp of the sands. And yet where she stood, with her feet on the soil of Gevsilon, the air was quiet and still and damp. The line between the two was as sharp as if it had been sliced with a razor.
“I wouldn’t recommend it, kid.”
The voice was a stranger’s, speaking the local trade pidgin. Eyo knew he was addressing her, but kept her gaze fixed on the boundary before her, and the maelstrom of sand beyond. She didn’t care what some stranger thought.
People came here sometimes. Not the Oneui—not usually—but their neighbors in Gevsilon, or other residents of Driftwood looking for that rare thing, a quiet place to sit and be alone. The winds looked like their shrieking should drown out even thought, but their sound didn’t cross the border, any more than the sand did. As long as you didn’t look at the sandstorm, this place was peaceful.
But apparently the stranger didn’t want to be quiet and alone. In her peripheral vision she saw movement, someone coming to stand at her side, not too close. Someone as tall as an Oneui adult, and that was unusual in Driftwood.
“You wouldn’t be the first of your people to try,” he said. “You’re one of the Oneui, right? You must have heard the stories.”
Oh, she had. It started as a dry, stinging wind, after their world parched to dust. Then it built into a sandstorm, one that raged for days without pause, just as their prophecies had foretold. Eyo’s grandparents and the others of their town had refused to believe it was the end of the world; in their desperation, they gathered up their water and food and tied themselves together to prevent anyone from getting lost, and they went in search of a place safe from the sand.
They stumbled into Gevsilon. And that was how they found out their world had ended.
But not entirely. This remnant of it survived. And Gevsilon, their inward neighbor, had gone through an apocalypse of its own: a plague that rendered all their people sterile. There weren’t many of the Nigevi left anymore, which meant there was enough room for the Oneui to resettle. Just a stone’s throw from the remnants of their own world, and everything they’d left behind.
Of course some of them tried to go back. The first few returned coughing and blind, defeated by the ever-worsening storm. The next few stumbled out bloody, their clothing shredded and their flesh torn raw.
The last few didn’t return at all.
“Why do you lot keep trying?” the stranger asked. “You know by now that it won’t end well. Is this just how your people have taken to committing suicide?”
Some worlds did that, Eyo knew. Their people couldn’t handle the realization that it was over, that Driftwood was their present and their future, until the last scraps of their world shrank and faded away. They killed themselves singly or en masse, making a ritual of it, a show of obedience to or protest against the implacable forces that sent them here.
She meant to go on ignoring the stranger. It wasn’t any of his business why she was here, staring at the lethal swirls of the sandstorm. But when she turned to go, she saw him properly: a tall man, slender and strong, his hair and eyes and fingernails pure black, but his skin tinged lightly with blue.
In Driftwood, people came in all sizes and colors and number of limbs and presence or lack of horns and tails. Eyo didn’t claim to know them all. But she’d heard of only one person fitting this man’s description.
“You’re Last,” she said. Sudden excitement made her tense.
His eyes tightened in apprehension, and he retreated a careful step. “I am.”
“You can help me,” Eyo said.
He retreated again, glancing over his shoulder, toward the faceless wall of the Oneui tenements, and the nearest opening past them. “I don’t think so, kid. Sorry. I—”
She stepped forward, matching him. She didn’t have her full growth yet, but she was quick and good at running; she would chase him if he fled. “You’re a guide, aren’t you? Someone who knows things, knows where to find things.”
He stopped. “I—yes. I am.”
One of the best in Driftwood, or so people said. He knew the patchwork of realities that made up this area, because he’d been around for longer than any of them. The stories claimed he was called Last because he was the last of his own world—a world that had been gone longer than anyone could remember.
Clarity dawned. “Oh. You thought I was going to ask you to go into the sandstorm?”
He gave the howling storm a sideways glance. “You wouldn’t be the first.”
Because the stories also said he couldn’t die. Eyo scowled. “Someone asked you? Who? Tell me their name. I don’t care what the storm is like; the idea of sending an outsider in there, asking them to bring back the—”
She cut herself off, but not before Last’s eyebrows rose. “Bring back? You lost something in the storm?”
“It isn’t lost,” Eyo snapped. “We know exactly where it is.”
Now she saw clarity dawn for him. “That’s why your people keep going in,” he said thoughtfully, gaze drifting sideways again. “Look, whatever it is—it may not even be there anymore. This is Driftwood; things crumble and fade away, even without apocalyptic sandstorms to scour them into dust.”
Conviction stiffened Eyo’s crest, her scalp feathers rising in a proud line. “Not this. Everything else will fall apart and die, but not—” She swallowed and shook her head. “When we are gone, this will remain.”
His shrug said he didn’t agree, but he also didn’t care enough to argue anymore. “So if you don’t want to send me into that, what do you want me for?”
Eyo smoothed her crest with one hand, as flat to her skull as she could make it. If he knew her people, he would recognize that as a gesture of humility and supplication. “I want you to help me find a way to survive the sand.”
In celebration of the release of Marie Brennan’s DRIFTWOOD, Tachyon presents glimpses from the book that is “haunting, timeless, and timely.” (Max Gladstone)
No one know how it starts, because no one is there to see.
The amphitheater has been abandoned for ages, and for good reason. Any living creature that remains within its truncated bowl when that world’s sun rises dies . . . or disappears and is never seen again, which amounts to the same thing. As a result, it is that rarest of commodities within the Shreds: a piece of uninhabited dry land.
Not unused, though. The timeworn sandstone benches are solid enough, if not precisely comfortable, and now that someone has knocked down the creepy, insectile statues that used to stand in watch—or possibly in threat—at the top of the stands, the amphitheater is a nice enough place for all kinds of uses, from performances to markets to punishment for the remaining one-bloods of Skyless. They permit others to use the space as they please, but personally consider its open-air nature to be the next worst thing to hell.
Only at night, though. Throughout the day, and for a generous margin before sunrise and after sunset, the amphitheater tends to be deserted. With the differences in cycles between worlds, nobody quite wants to risk guessing wrong about what time it is—nor do they want to experiment and find out just how long the dangerous period is. And since these days only one tunnel leads from Skyless onto the amphitheater floor, and the people of Soggeny and Up-End don’t make a habit of climbing the amphitheater’s walls, there’s not a lot of traffic in or out.
Which means that as near as anyone can tell, the wreath of flowers simply appears, laid there by some unknown hand, their unfading sapphire petals shining with a faint light of their own in the darkness.
It could be for some other purpose. But the sapphire flowers with their ruby stamens come from Aic, growing like hair from the heads of the few remaining Ta-Aici, and the news—the rumor; the joke; the lie—went around Aic just a little while before. So somebody, it seems, has made an assumption.
More than one somebody. The next night, which is supposed to be a market night, the wreath has company: a tiny stone pyramid, three candles, a shoe, a blunted knife, six torn pieces of fabric. The meaning of the things left there varies, and sometimes they don’t have any beyond the personal, but the ripped cloth is clear.
In the Shreds of Driftwood, that is a sign of mourning.
After that, everybody sees the pile grow. The market goes on as it should, but other people come, too: Drifters and one-bloods alike, from farther Shreds like Pool, from the nearer parts of the Ring, even an Edger or two who happens to be close by. Some come to lay their own tokens on the floor of the amphitheater. Others come just to watch the spectacle, to murmur questions and doubts at each other.
Is it true? The whole thing is a joke. I don’t believe it anyway. Never have. This is Driftwood; we all know how it works. How can anybody be sure?
Febrenew is there before the second night ends. He keeps the latest iteration of a long series of bars called Spit in the Crush’s Eye—or rather, kept. It most recently conducted its business in an improbable cavern, carved out of solid rock beneath a stretch of viscous mud that sucks in anyone who sets foot on it. The entrances lay through the safer terrain of Nidroef and Whitewall, burrowed underground and propped up with enormous rib bones pillaged from some creature that didn’t need them anymore.
But probability has caught up with that cavern, flooding it with mud, and flooding Febrenew out. He hasn’t yet found a new home for the bar, and while the amphitheater certainly isn’t a candidate, it will do as a temporary source of profit. With so many people gathering, some of them are bound to want food and drink.
Answers, too—but unlike some of his predecessors, Febrenew is scrupulous about his gossip. When a woman asks him if he knows anything, he tells her the truth, which is that he knows no more than anyone else. But it doesn’t stop her from loitering nearby, then making periodic arcs through the amphitheater, questioning other onlookers. She’s a one-blood, her skin as dark as rich soil, hair coiled against her scalp in intricate gold-threaded knots. The sort of style people only bother with when there’s still meaning behind it. An exile from her own world, maybe; there are enough of them around.
And even Febrenew doesn’t know everyone. The Drifter community is too complicated for that, held together by its differences as much as anything else. He doesn’t know that woman, or the silent old man who takes up station at the top of the benches and sits there eating seeds, or the small, lizard-like creature that conveys through mime that it will conjure water to wash cups for him in exchange for some beer.
Nor does he know the man who approaches the growing mound of trinkets not long after the sun sets on the third night, bearing an ancient mask in his hands.