We are all of us monsters. We are none of us monsters.
Through the work of twenty-six writers, emerging to award-winning and masters of their craft, The Humanity of Monsters plumbs the depths of humane monsters, monstrous humans, and the interstices between:
Monstrous heralds of change, the sight of whom only children can survive. Monsters born of the battlefield, in gunfire and frost and blood, clothed in too-familiar flesh. Monsters, human and otherwise, born of fear, and love, and retribution all, wrapped tight and inextricable one from the other: the Fallen outside of time, lovers and monsters in borrowed skin, and creatures from beyond the stars and humans who have travelled to them. Dreams of lost and siren-song depths—of other half-held, half-remembered lives. And the things we have survived, and the things we might yet survive, in the face of greater, eviscerating loss.
In stories by turns surreal, sublime, brutal, and haunting, there are no easy answers to be found, no simple nor uncomplicated labels to be had. Only the surety that though there be monsters, you will name them false. And when you meet those who truly are, you will not know them.
Featuring Nathan Ballingrud, Laird Barron, Polenth Blake, Leah Bobet, Indrapramit Das, Berit Ellingsen, Gemma Files, Neil Gaiman, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kij Johnson, Joe R. Lansdale, Yoon Ha Lee, Rose Lemberg, Livia Llewellyn, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Meghan McCarron, Sunny Moraine, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Chinelo Onwualu, Sofia Samatar, Rachel Swirsky, Sonya Taaffe, Catherynne M. Valente, Kaaron Warren, Peter Watts, and A.C. Wise.
With stories by a veritable Who's Who of writers kicking ass and taking names in the realms of horror and weird fiction: Nathan Ballingrud, Laird Barron, Polenth Blake, Leah Bobet, Indrapramit Das, Berit Ellingsen, Gemma Files, Neil Gaiman (who?), Maria Dahvana Headley, Kij Johnson, Joe R. Lansdale, Yoon Ha Lee, Rose Lemberg, Livia Llewellyn, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Meghan McCarron, Sunny Moraine, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Chinelo Onwualu, Sofia Samatar, Rachel Swirsky, Sonya Taaffe, Catherynne M. Valente, Kaaron Warren, Peter Watts, and A.C. Wise. I want to particularly point out Watts's story "The Things" which is a kind of love letter/piece of fan fiction to John Carpenter's film The Thing. A very, very, very upsetting love letter. (And winner of the Shirley Jackson Award.) – Sandra Kasturi
"The Humanity of Monsters doesn't just shine a light on our monstrous actions. It peels back the skin and digs greedy fingers into the whole bloody, twitching mess. Illuminating and transformative. One of the best anthologies I've read this year!"– Michael Kelly, Series Editor, Year’s Best Weird Fiction
Today is the day the new wife arrives. I had long known they were going to take a second to me. Old and barren as I am, it was only a matter of time. As I circle the square hole that looks down into the main courtyard, I note their shoes at the doorway to the main room: Shigoram's heavy army-issue boots, black and shiny in the yellow noon sun. Amah's large misshapen slippers, stretched out by her girth, and a new pair, small and delicate, stitched with pink flowers and almost new. I reach the heavy front door of polished cedar and begin to descend the stone steps that wind through the dark tunnel to the main house.
At the doorway of the main room, I slip off my battered grey slippers and enter. It is dark and cool inside, a welcome relief from the heat. I feel the sweat between my breasts and thighs begin to dry. The room is only large enough for six or seven, though we rarely have so many visitors at a time. The stone floor is strewn with several colourful rugs, but the carpet that dominates the raised dais at the end of the room was part of my dowry. It is a magnificent thing of red wool covered with intricate Hespian designs picked in gold thread. The leather cushions were also mine and still have the crest of my father's house stitched upon them. They were a rare gift Amah had once admitted to me, in the days when she had more than curses and orders for me. The walls are decorated with porcelain plates, glazed vases of blue and red, and rich tapestries. Someone has lit sticks of incense and the sweet, spicy smell of myrrh envelopes the space.
Amah and Shigoram are facing the doorway. Amah has leaned her bulk into the pile of cushions, her legs stretched out before her. She has taken off her veil and her grey hair has been scraped back into a bun. Her face is turned towards me but for once her heavy-lidded eyes, which conceal a sharp gaze, are not trained on me. As usual, Shigoram sits straight-backed and uncomfortable, his legs tucked beneath him as if this is not his house. He too has eyes only for the woman in front of him.
As I hang my headscarf and veil on the hook by the entrance, I note the new bride. She is performing a tea ceremony for them, pouring the tea from one pot to another to cool it. I cannot see her face, but I note her back and shoulders. Her dark hair hangs down to her waist in a thousand intricate braids each topped by a tiny coloured glass bead. Her shoulders are as pale as milk and her hips flare wide from a slim waist—what my mother used to call a water jug figure, designed to bear. Her feet, which peek out from under her ample bottom are small and pink.
She finishes the ceremony just as I come to kneel beside her. I help her pass out the tiny cups of fragrant mint tea. Amah takes the cup I offer with a small, triumphant sneer. Perhaps she expects me to be upset that she has married her son a new wife? Ten years in her house and she still does not know me.
"Galim Che," Amah calls to me. She has not used my blood name in a long time. "Greet our new wife. This is Gomoa; I trust you will treat her as your sister and daughter."
I turn to the girl, expecting the look of controlled fear one usually sees in young brides. Her face is broad and flat with high cheekbones and large almond-shaped eyes; her small bow lips are curved into a broad grin. She bows formally, head touching the tips of her fingers. I return the bow.
I had vowed not to hate her, this child who had come to take my place, but I did not realise that I would come to love her as I did.
That night, I wake with a start. I sit up on the straw-stuffed pallet and look around. The room is pitch black, still and cold. Faint moonlight peeps in from under the door. Even through the thick stone walls I can hear Amah snoring softly in the room next to mine. I am the only one in the room, yet I could have sworn I had felt someone tug at my leg. Shivering, I ball myself up into a foetal position and burrow deeper under my wool quilt.
I fall immediately into the dream, as if it has been waiting for me.
I am lying on my back, naked. The lamp at the foot of the bed casts a soft golden glow and I can feel its faint warmth at the soles of my feet. Shigoram kneels above me, hands on either side of my head, naked as well. His long wavy hair is unbound and falls about his shoulders. His face has the same look I remember from our wedding night: Hungry and apprehensive. I reach up and stroke his beard, something I have never done in life, feeling the coarse hair underneath my hands. He closes his eyes as if savouring my touch. I run my hands along his body, skimming the soft down on his chest and stomach until I grasp his penis. He dips his head down to kiss my neck and a jolt runs through me. His kisses fall soft across my throat and down, down until he reaches my breasts. He takes my right nipple in his mouth, sucking and teasing with his wet tongue until the pleasure is too much to bear. As I reach down to bury my hands in his hair, I take a moment to note that this body is not my own. My own breasts have never been so small, so pert. But then he is sliding himself into me and I part, wet and yielding to allow him entrance. He is filling me, his breath a warm moan against my ear. Together, we move in rhythm; I thrusting up to meet him, him plunging down into me . . .
I awake trembling with pleasure, my sex slick. It has been many years since Shigoram called me to his bed. I had forgotten what desire felt like and in forgetting I was able to endure. I fear this spark now ignited will grow to a conflagration. A true wife would turn away; gird herself for the sake of the family. But I am weak and it has been so long. . . . Blinking back tears of shame, I shove my hand down between my legs and, knowing the dream still waits for me, I will myself to fall asleep again.