A little while ago, I won an award. I’m usually an “honorable mention” kind of person, so to actually win something felt a little bit unprecedented. But the wonderful people who frequent the r/fantasy subreddit had a vote and my story “All Ends” won for Best Short Fiction of 2019.
(Some notes: I tied with Alix E. Harrow, author of The Ten Thousand Doors of January.)
(The story can be found in the anthology Heroes Wanted, currently available for FREE on Amazon)
The award arrived yesterday. It is aptly named “The Stabby.” I am giddily proud of this little sticker.
In – minor – celebration of this event, I’m going to post “All Ends” in its entirety here (I mean, the anthology has nineteen different fantasy stories from authors like Michael Sullivan and Will Wight and Phil Tucker and K.S. Villoso and many more, so my suggestion would be to check that out) for those who just want a quick click and read.
So without further ado, here is… “All Ends.”
She is such a small thing. Small and delicate, made all of limbs and sharp angles yet to be grown into. Marit notices this first before anything; the slightness of her, how she seems to have shrunk with the absence of breath and life.
Pale hair, stiff and straight as straw scattered across the floor. Eyes closed, thank God. Lips gray and parted. Nostrils still flared with fright, or anger, as if she is ready to clamber up from her pose on the floor and admonish everyone around her for letting such a thing come to pass.
And there is her neck. Broken, Marit thinks. Decorated with livid bruises.
The dead don’t bruise.
The thought slips away as swiftly as it came. Marit brushes her hands across the front of her skirt – once, twice, three times – and steps forward.
“Fetch the police.”
The other girls stand around, still in their shifts and dressing gowns. Yesterday’s rouge and face paint is smeared across their cheeks, smudges of kohl deepening the shadows beneath their eyes. Mrs. Talbot has yet to be roused, so it is Marit’s voice that carries above the hum of restless worrying.
“The police!” She tugs at the sleeve of the girl closest to her, a more recent arrival to Mrs. Talbot’s establishment and the one who is the nearest to being properly dressed for the day. “Stop gaping like a trout and go!”
Now that she’s spoken the others begin to press in, but Marit shoos them away. “Someone wake Mr. Fanny. Clear him out of here before we’ve got everyone traipsing in and out of the house.” One of the kitchen maids glances around at the assembled company before peeling away from the group and rushing towards the back stairs. “The rest of you go to the dining room. There’ll be breakfast, for those of you who still want to eat it.”
They shuffle away, some of them twisting their heads around to look back, the strips of rags tied into their curls bobbing around their shoulders.
“Julia,” Marit calls, and one of the women pauses at the door leading out of the bedroom. “Will you wake her?”
Julia sets one hand on the side of the doorframe, her lacquered fingernails scraping at the soft, peeling paint. “I’d rather not.”
Marit stands beside the body. Her fingers twitch again and she looks towards the bed, wondering if she should take one of the sheets and use it to cover the girl.
Cora, she reminds herself. The girl’s name was Cora.