Read The Wildside Book of Fantasy: 20 Great Tales of Fantasy Online

Authors: Gene Wolfe,Tanith Lee,Nina Kiriki Hoffman,Thomas Burnett Swann,Clive Jackson,Paul Di Filippo,Fritz Leiber,Robert E. Howard,Lawrence Watt-Evans,John Gregory Betancourt,Clark Ashton Smith,Lin Carter,E. Hoffmann Price,Darrell Schwetizer,Brian Stableford,Achmed Abdullah,Brian McNaughton

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Myth, #legend, #Fairy Tale, #imagaination

The Wildside Book of Fantasy: 20 Great Tales of Fantasy

BOOK: The Wildside Book of Fantasy: 20 Great Tales of Fantasy
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COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

“The Dead Man,” by Gene Wolfe, originally appeared in
Sir!
magazine in 1965. This revised version is copyright © 1987 by Gene Wolfe and originally appeared in
Weird Tales
, Spring 1988 issue.

“The Dolphin and the Deep,” by Thomas Burnett Swann, originally appeared in
Nova #4
. Copyright © 1963 by Thomas Burnett Swann.

“Bright Streets of Air,” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman, originally appeared in
Battle Magic.
Copyright © 1998 by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. Reprinted by permisison of the author.

“The Swordsmen of Varnis,” by Clive Jackson, originally appeared in
Slant
in 1950.

“The Emperor of Gondwanaland
,” by Paul Di Filippo, originally appeared in
Interzone
. Copyright © 2005 by Paul Di Filippo. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“Space-Time for Springers,” by Fritz Leiber, originally appeared in
Star Science Fiction Stories #4
. Copyright © 1958 by Fritz Leiber.

“Red Nails,” by Robert E. Howard, originally appeared in
Weird Tales
, July-October 1936.

“Arms and the Woman,” by Lawrence Watt-Evans, originally appeared in Sword & Sorceress XVIII, copyright © 2001 by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“The Bride of the Man-Horse,” by Lord Dunsany, is taken from
The Book of Wonder
.

“The Woman,” by Tanith Lee, originally appeared in
Clockwork Phoenix
. Copyright © 2008 by Tanith Lee. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“Dreamtime in Adjaphon,” by John Gregory Betancourt, originally appeared in
Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine
, Fall 1988. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“The Power of Prayer,” by Brian Stableford, originally appeared in
Paradox
#1, Spring 2003. Copyright © 2003 by Brain Stableford. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“The Black Abbot of Puthuum,” by Clark Ashton Smith, originally appeared in
Weird Tales
, March 1936.

“Black Hawk of Valkarth” originally appeared in
Fantastic Stories
, September 1974; © Ultimate Publishing Company Inc. Reprinted by permission of Lin Carter Properties.

“The Devil’s Crypt,” by E. Hoffmann Price, originally appeared in “The Devil’s Crypt” originally appeared in
Spicy Mystery Stories
, February, 1936. Edited version copyright © 2008 by Wildside Press LLC.

“Vandibar Nasha in the College of Shadows,” by Darrell Schwetizer, originally appeared in Adventures of Sword & Sorcery #7. Copyright © 2000 by Darrell Schweitzer. Reprinted by permission of the author.

“The Secret of Kralitz,” by Henry Kuttner, originally appeared in
Weird Tales
, October 1936.

“Light,” by Achmed Abdullah, originally appeared in
All-Story Weekly
, May 18, 1918.

“The Lost Race,” by Robert E. Howard, originally appeared in
Weird Tales
, January 1927.

“Ringard and Dendra,” by Brian McNaughton, originally appeared in The Throne of Bones. Copyright © 2000 by Brian McNaughton.

Published by Wildside Press LLC.

www.wildsidebooks.com

THE DEAD MAN, by Gene Wolfe

When the peasant came out of his house in the morning, the Brahman was sitting cross-legged in the sunshine before his own door. The Brahman was old, and emaciated by fasting in the way often seen in wandering fakirs but seldom in settled members of the highest caste. And although the peasant was early abroad to escape the banter of the women (water-carrying being unfit for a man), the Brahman had been about before him, for when he neared the ford he could see floating in the slack water the marigold wreaths the Brahman had cast in to propitiate the river and the magar and the other powers of the waters.

The magar was a crocodile. Nine days ago it had taken the wife of the peasant’s half-brother as she waded across the ford, so notifying the villagers that the crossing was unsafe again, as it was said to have been in their grandfathers’ time but had not been within living memory.

That same day, his own wife had been bitten on the foot when she kicked a jackal snuffing too near the spot where their son was playing. She had cursed, then laughed at the bloody scratch left by the frightened jackal’s teeth; but next morning her foot was hot to the touch and twice its healthy size. Now, after prayers and poultices of dung, it was better. She could hobble on it, though not far, and cook and care for the child; but it would be long yet before she could bring water, and his mother—who had cried, and shrieked that the gods intended the destruction of the wives of all her sons—was too old.

With a pad on his shoulder, he could carry their largest jar easily, for he was strong man, brown and lean from hard work in the fields of millet and upland rice. Stepping with care so as not to stir the mud, he bent slowly; and where the depth was great enough to take the jar, he filled it with the morning-cool, nearly stagnant water. There was nothing at the ford to disturb the peace of daybreak, though a hundred feet away, where the village stood just above the flood mark, many were stirring into wakefulness.

The magar was not to be seen. The peasant knew well how cleverly a crocodile assumes the very angle and position most natural to a stranded log on a sandbar, and how softly shadow-like it slips through still water without rippling the surface; but it was not there. He shouldered the jar again and began the walk uphill.

He and his fellow villagers, ignorant of the comparative religion of the schools, would cheerfully have killed the magar if they could. Indeed, one of the boatmen had been fishing for it with an iron hook as thick as a man’s thumb hidden in the well-rotted haunch of a goat. Still, until the boatman caught it or they found it far enough from water to be slain with axes and spears, they would have been fools not to try to persuade it to be content with homage from their village and, especially, to move on up or downstream. Possibly in the dry season, when the river would dwindle to a trickle, something might be done. The peasant set down the water jar carefully so as not to waken his family. He heard his mother’s rasping breath; as the jar made a soft chunk on the earthen floor, his wife moaned and moved her arm.

The second jar was smaller and older than the first, with a chipped place at the lip. He took it up and left the dimness of his home again for the brilliance of the street. The house had smelled of smoke; outside a breeze brought the rank, indescribable early-morning smell of second-growth jungle, a jungle cut fifty years before for timber, now growing up again in hardwoods. By the water, the river-odor of rotten vegetation returned, and the gray warmth of dust under his bare feet changed once more to the cold slipperiness of mud.

This time he was not quite so careful, and one of his feet slid a trifle, sending out a slow cloud of fine black sediment. He took two more steps in the direction of the barely perceptible current before bending to fill his jar.

Without warning, his left calf was struck by steel bars, simultaneously from front and rear. A hip-dislocating wrench sent him sprawling in the shallows while the half-filled jar rocked in the waves of his struggle. Because he was a strong man, taller and bigger of bone than most of his people, he had time for one full-throated scream, and time to draw the breath for another, before the water closed over his nose and mouth.

For a few seconds he resisted before instinct, or reason, or the passivity of India and the East made him swallow, hug his chest with his arms, and submit, feeling the dark, cold fingers of the river loose his rag of turban and tangle his long, black hair. Then, as his heart pounded and his ears swelled and the trapped breath tried to burst past his closed throat and locked lips, he fought again, ignoring the pain already creeping into his numbed leg.

When next he came to know our world—may a, that which is not God—it was as a small circle of pale blue far above his eyes. He tried to blink and discovered that he could not, and that his mouth was filled with water and mud (or perhaps with blood) which he could not expel. Even the muscles that controlled the motions of his eyes had forgotten their function, so that he could not direct his gaze to right or left; but he found, in the absence of this ability, that he could treat his field of vision as a window and shift his attention to one side or the other, so as to peer slantwise across his own eyes and examine the edges, where the ghosts of the newly dead and the more material demons flutter away from a man’s view.

He was lying in a dark abscess in the earth, on mud, as his shoulders told him. Toward his feet was the carcass of a young blackbuck, its belly stretched by the rapid decomposition that attacks dead ruminants.

To his left (he strained to see, and in straining felt the vertebrae of his neck move ever so slightly, grating one upon another) nearly hidden in shadow, rose the familiar, undulating curves of a young and not unslender woman lying on her side—the roundness of the head, the concavity of the neck, the rise of the shoulder declining to the waist, and the strong domination of the child-bearing hips tapering to thighs and knees lost in darkness. A drugged and whirling concourse of surmises rushed through his mind, until simultaneously and without consciousness of contradiction he felt that he lay in the palace of a scaled river-spirit and asleep beside his wife.

His attention was drawn from the woman by an alteration in the light, the passage of some dark object across the disk of blue. It came again, hesitated, and returned by the path it had come. This it did three times in what could have been a hundred breaths; and while he watched it, he became aware of a stench indescribably fetid in the air that stirred sluggishly through his nostrils.

The dark object crossed the light for the fourth time, and he saw it to be a leaf at the tip of a twig. Then he understood that his shadowy vault was the den of the magar, hollowed in the mud of the river bank, where he lay with his face beneath the “chimney” providing the minute ventilation necessary to prevent the den from filling with the gases of putrefaction. When the sun rose higher, it would become an oven in which decay would luxuriate and dead flesh rise like dough until the bodies were soft enough to be dismembered easily. He did not connect this with the crocodile’s teeth, which were of piercing shape only, unable to grind or cut; nor with its short front legs, which were unable to reach what its jaws held, although he knew these things.

He knew all these things and the habits of the magar—the rotting-den and the sudden grab at the ford or the rush up from the water—but he was unafraid, though he knew without looking a second time the identity of the woman beside him.. After a long while he rose and began working his way out through the chimney, uncertain even as he did whether he laboriously pushed the earth aside to enlarge the hole or merely drifted through, and up like smoke.

The village was quiet now with the emptiness of noon, when the men were in the fields. He heard sobbing from his house as he dragged his injured leg along the village street, and the softer sound of chanted prayers. Sunlight shone brighter than he could recall having seen it ever before, the dazzle from the dust and the sides of the mud houses so great that he scarcely cast a shadow as he stood in the doorway of his home; neither the young woman, nor the old, nor the Brahman saw him until he entered the gloom of the interior where they sat, though his son ceased his gurgling and stared with wide brown eyes.

When they saw him at last, he could not speak, but looked from face to face, beginning and ending with his wife, conscious of having come to the close of something.

After a moment the Brahman muttered, “Do not address it. It is seldom good to hear what they will say.” He took up a handful of saffron powder from the brass bowl beside him and flung it into the air, calling upon a Name that brought dissolution and release.

BRIGHT STREETS OF AIR, by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

In this war of words, my best friend Jessamine has all the advantages. She speaks faster than I, and with more heat.

I set a pansy-decorated teacup in front of her on my kitchen table, then take my place across from her. Westering sun strikes through the window on a bowl of oranges, lifting the true color out of them in a way no other intensity of light can do. Light silvers the cobwebs near the ceiling, too; I hadn’t realized how long it’s been since I dusted. I’m an indifferent housekeeper, but I always have cookies.

A plate of chocolate chip cookies sits between us on the yellow tabletop. I baked them this morning. I love that smell.

I curl my hands around my teacup, treasuring its warmth. The tea I have chosen for myself is smoky and black, with gunpowder notes. Jessamine has chamomile, as she usually does.

As I reach into my pocket to take out the fossilized spell I just found in the hills, Jessamine extracts her palmtop computer from her purse, sets it on the table by her teacup, and flips up the lid so she can stare at the tiny screen. Electronic light the color of foxfire glows on her face. “Wait’ll you hear this one, Ellowyn,” she says. “My best yet. And...”

I lay my spell on the table. It looks unimpressive. They usually do. Just another river-rounded sandstone egg, fine-grained but unremarkable brown, though my fingertips itch from the sparks of potential in it.

“You won’t believe what it does,” says Jessamine.

It is too much to hope that she will be excited by my find. She never is. She has no interest in the past. Her favorite word is
upgrade
.

“What is it this time?” I ask. “A formula for shrinking parked cars so more can fit into available space? A spell to make everybody’s clocks run just fast enough that people will arrive on time wherever they go? Something to make your VCR understand the exact right moment to start and stop recording so you never lose the first few seconds of a program?”

“Better,” she says.

“You’ve debugged the Internet?”

She bites her lip. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have guessed that big. “Less global than that,” she says.

“But your spells are always global.”

“I made this one especially for you.” She sips her tea.

Tingles of apprehension creep up my back. I don’t like her even
considering
tailoring a spell for me. We have been friends for ages -- since days of cobblestone roads and horse-drawn vehicles, since men delivered ice and milk to one’s home. We have watched each other’s choices all these years and had our own thoughts.

We come together for tea every week. Jessamine casts her spells out into the world and I cast mine, and we sometimes work at cross purposes, but we try not to cancel each other out. I don’t always approve of what she’s doing, and I know she doesn’t care much about my concerns either, but we almost never speak aloud our doubts. Censoring each other is not something we do.

“Plus, I have a new delivery system,” Jessamine says, smiling down at her tiny computer. “Infrared data transfer.”

She is speaking a language I have no desire to learn.

She taps the screen with a small black stylus, angles the back of the computer toward me, and a red light strobes into my eyes.

It hurts.

Blinking does not stop its invasion. I can see the light even through my eyelids, and I feel old and paper-thin for the first time in a long while.

What is she ensorcelling me with? Does she
want
to hurt me? Weaken me? Kill me? Only because I’m not sure I like the devicing of this century in all its manifest glory?

I collapse back in my chair, feeling like a marionette with cut strings. The pulsing pain of the red light ceases. For a moment all I feel are myriad aches, screeches from muscles that haven’t scolded me in years.

My mind falls open, like a flower forced by time-lapse photography to bloom.

Then Jessamine’s true assault begins. Snowing down on my unguarded edges, the structure of her reasons, the imprint of her influences, the chemistry of her choices. My mind lies quiet as her beliefs and impulses press down on it, and then I understand everything about her.

I feel her delight and terror in everything newest and next. Her burnished curiosity that wants to poke copper fingers everywhere. Her impatience with anything slower than she.

Her buried fear that if she sits still long enough so many things will catch up to her.

I crank open my eyelids and stare across the table at my friend, and then I
am
my friend. Her desires shape and restrict me; her joy flares through me and her fears gnaw at my heart. Falling gold and scarlet leaves of memory drift against a celadon green backdrop that is the edge of her consciousness. I can touch any leaf and tumble into one of our yesterdays.

I pick one, let it rest on my palm. It flattens against the skin, a damp silken kiss.

Sixty, seventy years ago. I am back in Brooklyn in the middle of a sweltering summer, and Jessamine and I are sitting side by side on steps in front of a brownstone, holding ice cream cones, mine strawberry and hers chocolate. Except I remember this moment from my own memory, too, and I had the chocolate cone. The ice cream melts faster than we can lick it, flowing down across our fingers, cool and sticky. In this moment we are only girls together without thought, lost in delicious taste, sweating and sticking to each other without caring, reaching across to offer tastes of each others’ cones.

It is a moment most like this present one in how close we feel to one another.

I blink and I am back in my own head. Yet the whole tapestry of Jessamine’s thoughts and motivations still weaves through my mind, inextricably tangled, forcing me to filter past it. I cannot tell where she begins and I end, and I feel hopelessly confused.

Jessamine has come around the table and is standing over me. “Are you all right?” she asks, her amber eyes staring into mine. She leans forward, presses her palm to my forehead. “Ellowyn? Are you all right?”

I shudder deep and long. Webs of foreign feelings drape my thoughts, feelings not my own, feelings that force me to feel them. Thoughts I don’t want to own flicker through my brain.

I stare at my kitchen with stark clarity, see the careless stains on the cupboard doors, dustmice under the outthrust cabinets, spiderwebs in the corners, scratches in the dishes, all the things I don’t mind because I don’t wear my glasses in the house. There is that smell of orange peels rotting in the bag under the sink. I never notice that; I don’t mind mold; things are only doing what they are supposed to do, everything changing into other things across time. But now this odor affronts me.

“Ell? That spell wasn’t supposed to hurt you! Ell?” Jessamine grips my shoulder.

I try to cast the invasion out of my mind, but it is knitted and knotted too tightly to me. I struggle to reclaim myself. Everywhere in me are shards of someone else.

I feel my age. I let out a long breath and stop fighting, and all of Jessamine snaps into place within me. I feel...brisk. I sit upright. I gulp tea. Its smoky taste no longer pleases me, but I know I don’t want chamomile either.

“Are you all right?” Jessamine asks for the fiftieth time, perhaps. Why should I pay attention to her when she is already inside me?

“Leave me alone,” I say. I rise and go to the cupboard, find a tea called Plantation Mint that I usually share with my neighbor James when we play gin rummy on Sunday night and watch
60 Minutes
.

That’ll do. I drop a teabag into a new mug. I put the kettle on the stove and turn on the burner. (Where’s the microwave? Oh. I don’t have one. Tomorrow I’ll get one.) I run water into the sink until it’s hot. I dump soap and sponges in, and then I begin to scrub.

It is odd. I wear glasses for distance, and Jessamine doesn’t. I never knew what she saw when she looked at my house, and I never tell her what I think about her chrome and glass furniture or her love of plastic fabrics. A guest doesn’t criticize the host’s house no matter how long they have known each other.

“Ell?” Jessamine shakes my shoulder. “Stop it. What are you doing?”

There is dust everywhere. Housekeeping has never been my strong point. I scrub a film of ancient cat vomit off the linoleum and fight with myself. To care, or not to care? Well, says Jessamine in my head, simplest if we spell it away, and that way both of us can relax.

I sit back, drop the sponge on the floor. My hands flash through a series of mudras. I feel the dust and dirt shifting away to somewhere it can be more comfortable, and my house becomes a strange sacred space outside of the normal world where things will not stain it. Jessamine is happy here.

I, Ellowyn, feel as though I’ve sliced off my roots.

From the living room come the screams of three different cats. I jump up and run there and see that the couch where they usually lie in a furry heap is repelling them. They scramble in air, trying to swim to safety, but the table repels them, and the carpet. They float, claws extended, an inch above the ground. Their cries become more frantic.

“What did I do? What did you do?” I cry, snatching at my frantic cats, who cling and claw and screech.

“Damn, I forgot about cats. This is a people-only house now,” my internal Jessamine says with my mouth.

“Well, stop it! Change it back! Stop it!” I am talking to myself.

“You’ll have to free the hands.” My second voice is an approximation of Jessamine’s, higher and more forceful than my own.

I am supporting Sprite’s hind legs with my right hand. Fleet clings to my shoulders, and Dobro stands on my left forearm, his paws wrapped around my upper arm. They all moan, an eerie, ascending sound like the end of the world.

“What happened?” Jessamine asks from behind me. Her voice is thin with fright.

I turn and force Sprite and Fleet into her arms. “Your silly spell,” I say in my own voice, “your silly banish-dust, repel-pests, eternal-stainfree spell has turned my house into a tomb.” Hands freed, I shape the mudras again in reverse order, stumbling a little because this is not my usual spell method. The Jessamine overlay in my mind prompts me, sighing all the while. She craves cleanliness that is close to hermetic, and now I know why all the way down to my bones. I can remember the apartment where Jessamine lived before we met, filth and cockroaches and rotting food, her mother’s older sister spreading pestilence and chaos everywhere around her in a way that Jessamine did not learn until later was magical.

Such stains, set deep into her image of her childself. Such a compulsion to escape them.

I shape my hands around the final mudra, and my roots regrow; the house is connected to the everyday world once again. The cats, still moaning, drop to the floor and vanish into their safest hiding places.

Jessamine is crying. We both go to the bathroom to put Neosporin on our bleeding scratches and to spell for healing. “Ellowyn, what happened?” Jessamine says.

“You should know,” I say. “It was your spell.”

“It wasn’t supposed to work this way!”

“What did you imagine it would do?” Now, from my view of the inside of her mind, I know what the spell was: a spell of total understanding. I can even ferret out her thinking about it, why she devised it: she is lonely in her passions, and she only wanted me to appreciate them more than I do. We have been getting together for years. We are best friends. Yet, there has been this film between us, areas we have kept separate from each other where we might clash, and finally her frustration about this place where she is still and always alone built to the bursting point.

And, in her straightforward Jessamine way that sometimes frightens me, she reached for what looked like the best solution.
Make
me understand.

“I thought maybe you’d
listen
to me,” she says.

I stare at a particularly long cat scratch on my arm and listen to the conflict in my head. My body needs protection. I dab some antibiotic ointment on my index finger and look at the red edges of my wound. My Ellowyn self has sympathy for the microorganisms that have found this entrance into blood heaven, the ones I am about to kill. My Jessamine self is appalled that I even hesitate. I smooth the ointment along the scratch and sigh.

“How can I hear you now?” I ask. “I have voices in my head.”

Her nose is pink with stifled tears. “I’ll uncast it. I’m so sorry. I didn’t know it would work like this.”

“You can’t uncast it,” I say, because I know how carefully she built it , and which of the ingredients are permanent. I stare at my face in the mirror, and two people look out of my eyes. I fear that once the Jessamine inside me has time to look around and analyze things, she will gradually send more and more of my true self to sleep and happy dreams until she is all that is conscious in me.

I hate this thought. Fighting has never been my strength, though.

I get the Band-Aids down from the cupboard, and, moving with uncharacteristic determination, slap them onto myself and Jessamine where they will do the most good. Jessamine’s pathological hatred of infection spells out of me as I work. I don’t even think as I mouth these words. I know they have been a mantra for her over the years.

Cats, part of me thinks with disgust. Horrible messy things. No more events like this! We have to get rid of them!

Horror curls through me. The cats are my companions, my friends. They greet me when I return from anywhere. We all live our separate lives in this shared space, and intercept each other for caresses. I love them.

In my head, Jessamine apologizes for her thought, but I know she still thinks it. Finally I understand why the cats never come into the kitchen while Jessamine is visiting me. She has a repel spell for all animals. She cannot rid herself of the conviction that they carry disease.

No. I can’t live like this.

We head back to the kitchen. I make yet another cup of tea, this time English Breakfast, fully loaded with caffeine. While the water heats, I take Jessamine’s little computer, tap the screen with the stylus to find the spell-processing program, scroll through the spell she constructed. It is just as I remembered: Jessamine exact, Jessamine elegant, all parts interlocking so tightly that I can’t get a fingernail in to split it apart. What about transmission errors? I check the data-sent log, and it says SENT OK. Frowning, I set the computer on the table and discover Jessamine staring at me, her face pale.

BOOK: The Wildside Book of Fantasy: 20 Great Tales of Fantasy
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