Swords v. Cthulhu is our newest genre-blending anthology of original fiction, and as it shambles toward its summertime publication we’re going to be posting excerpts from each of the stories. Our next teaser is from Jason Heller’s “Daughter of the Drifting.” Melding crisp narration with an unreliable landscape, Heller forges a piece as haunting as it is downright weird…
Waves of mud from the Ocean Amorphous tugged at the hobnails of my boots as I trod the shore that morning. The soil undulated nauseously beneath my feet. It wasn’t a large quake. I trudged on.
The stench of rot, fetid and heavy, rose from the squelching sea. No gulls wheeled in the sky above its gray-brown swells; no fish wriggled in them, save for the lungfish that trawled its murky floor, occasionally to emerge, squinting in the dim light of the violet sun like an internal organ thrust into the cruel air.
I had partaken of such a creature the night before. Lungfish could only be eaten raw, as fire caused the meat to sublimate into a noxious vapor, and pickling it produced a mucus nigh on poisonous. Choking down its oily flesh, I had pondered my path thus far.
It was not a comforting path to retrace, nor an easy one. The small islands that comprised this world shifted constantly. There were no continents to of which to speak or islands so large they couldn’t be trodden across in a day. They morphed constantly, like blobs of sludge in the glutinous soup that was the Ocean Amorphous—the body of water, if indeed it might be called that, which encircled the world. One often awoke after a haunted sleep, adrift on a clump of slime and flattened ferns; it had been, just the night before, the promontory of an entire island. People lived upon these clots of muck, fought over them, died for them, only to have them dissolve and drift away before each sunrise.
It was a world that afforded no constancy, but my path was difficult to contemplate for another reason. Like the lungfish, I did not belong here. My body—its piebald skin, its pendulous breasts, its robust hips—was native to this filthy hell, all too true. But my spirit had long ago been hurled across the cosmic void and back by the hand of a Great Old One, whose immeasurable, skull-bejeweled hilt protruded from my eternal soul like some scabrous and cancerous growth.
My path, deformed as it was, had been prescribed by the arc of the Blade of Anothqgg…
For the rest, get Swords v. Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press
Jason Heller is the author of the alt-history novel Taft 2012; the Goosebumps tie-in Slappy’s Revenge; and the Pirates of the Caribbean tie-in The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook. He’s the former nonfiction editor of Clarkesworld and won a Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine as part of that editing team. His science fiction/fantasy/horror short stories have appeared in Apex Magazine, Farrago’s Wainscot, Sybil’s Garage, Expanded Horizons, and others. He’s a 2009 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and he writes about genre fiction for NPR, Clarkesworld, and The Onion A.V. Club (where he’s a Senior Writer). His writing on speculative fiction has also appeared in Weird Tales, Entertainment Weekly, Tor.com, and Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s The Time Traveler’s Almanac. Jason lives in Denver with his wife, Angie.