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Authors: T. Kingfisher

Toad Words

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CONTENTS

Copyright Information

Praise for "Nine Goblins"

Title Page

Dedication

Introduction

It Has Come To My Attention

Toad Words

The Wolf and the Woodsman

Bluebeard's Wife

Loathly

The Sea Witch Sets The Record Straight

Never

Bait

Night

Boar & Apples

Odd Season

Acknowledgements

Other Works

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons, places, large waterfowl, events, or actual historical personages, living, dead, or trapped in a hellish afterlife is purely coincidental.
 

Copyright 2014
 
Ursula Vernon

All Rights Reserved

Published in the United States by Red Wombat Tea Company

Smashwords Edition

Artwork by Ursula Vernon

Praise for “Nine Goblins”

“…this story is charming…You like (or feel sorry for) everyone in it, and when you're done you're all rainbowy and happy and thinking 'the world is -sweet- and Imma gonna go out in it and glow!’”

—MCA Hogarth,
Even The Wingless

(Actual degree of rainbowy may vary by consumer. Author is not responsible for failure to glow.)
 

“Hey,
I
bought it!”
 

—Sabrina Jeffries,
The Truth About Lord Stoneville

(It’s true. She had the receipt and everything.)
 

“It does not shame your ancestors.”

—Kevin Sonney, voice of Reverend Mord of
The Hidden Almanac

Toad Words

And Other Stories

T. Kingfisher

For Ben

INTRODUCTION

For a very long time—rather an embarrassingly long time—I did not believe that I could write short stories.

I held this belief despite the fact that I had written several. Those didn’t count. They were some other thing, a story, yes, and one that was not terribly long, but not a
short story.
 

Because I didn’t write short stories.
 

It was mostly a belief that I was not capable of doing something so disciplined. I wrote long sprawling rambling epics. I could not possibly be brief enough for a short story. Those short…things…had probably started life as haiku and run to five thousand words. That seemed plausible.
 

(I wrote blog posts, of course, many of which were stories of things that had happened to me, but that was
different
. My life was never required to have a plot.)

And then one day I sat down and wrote the first half of a story—I believe it was “The Wolf and the Woodsman”—and because it was fundamentally the story of Little Red Riding Hood, I finished it up a few days later and it was done and over and I did not need to follow the heroine until she died or spend a chapter discussing the issues faced by talking wolves in modern-day society.
 

Some months later, I wrote another one, about Bluebeard’s wife. And another, and another. They were mostly based on fairy tales, which apparently had some power that allowed me to actually stop writing and not continue into hundreds of pages.
 

But I still did not think that I was writing short stories.

Because I did not write short stories, it did not occur to me that I might try to sell them. There were magazines in the world that bought short stories, but I had long ago filed them under “nothing to do with me.”
 

I posted them on my blog instead. My faithful readers have endured many indignities in that space, and they claimed to enjoy these, so occasionally I would write more.
 

(I also occasionally write poems, after first explaining carefully to the audience and myself that I am not a poet and this is not actually a poem and no poetry was harmed in the making of this blog post.)
 

People began asking that I collect these stories into a place where they could get at them more easily, rather than digging through LiveJournal looking for them. Some insisted that they would like to give me money for these things, which struck me as both hilarious and somewhat frightening, because if they gave me money for them, surely they would immediately realize that they had just done something very foolish, because these were
not
short stories and nobody in their right mind would pay that much money for a really really long haiku.
 

(Incidentally, this is why I have an agent for my day-job writing.)
 

And then Sigrid Ellis took over as editor of Apex Magazine, a fine publication of literary fantasy, and sent me an e-mail asking to commission a short story.
 

I stared at the e-mail for quite some time. No one had ever asked me that before. Why would she think I could write short stories?
 

She mentioned several of the fairy tale retellings I had done and said she wanted something like that.

I was not entirely sure that I could write such a thing on demand. I had about three months until she needed it, so I naturally sat down and hammered out the entire thing that night, while my husband was getting tattooed.

I then sent it off in an agony of terror because I had just done a thing that I didn’t know how to do, namely write a short story, and of course this nice woman was going to come back and say “You obviously tried really hard but I don’t want to buy this and incidentally please don’t ever contact me again or I’ll go to the police.”
 

(My sense of proportion gets a little skewed sometimes when I’m afraid of disappointing people.)
 

That short story—“Jackalope Wives”—does not actually appear in this collection, for which I hope you will forgive me. It does not appear because at the time of this writing, Apex Magazine still has the exclusive rights to it, because Sigrid sent the acceptance back about an hour later. (Thanks, Sigrid!)
 

And that’s actually good, because I am hoping that it will be the title story in the next anthology I do. There will probably have to be another anthology. I’ve sold two more stories in the interim and apparently writing short stories is now a thing that I do, because I show no signs of stopping.
 

It is a trifle embarrassing.
 

Most of the stories in this anthology have appeared on my blog at one time or another, and are collected here. (The blog is in my real name, Ursula Vernon, but the book is written as T. Kingfisher—catch me sometime and ask me about brand separation and being a children’s book author.)
 
A few of the poems have been scattered about the web, frequently on the blog of Terri Windling, brilliant editor and author of the book
The Wood Wife
, which is a comfort read so precious to me that I now dole it out to myself only at times of illness or particularly intense heartbreak.
 

The one brand-new piece for this collection is the novella “Boar & Apples.” I wanted to put something new in for all those faithful readers who were giving me money for things that they might already have read in one form or another. Without them, there would have been no stories after the first, and I probably would have quit writing and become a medical test subject or a comic gravedigger or something.
 

Thank you all.
 

Ursula Vernon,
 

writing as T. Kingfisher

IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION

It has come to my attention

that people like me

are generally not welcome in fairy tales.

It's the talking birds that do it.

The minute a sparrow shows up to pipe a direful warning

it's all over

down at the first hurdle

done

The body in the fifty-fathom well

will have to wait

the old woman turned into a hare

the murdered mother in the juniper tree

as I whip out my Sibley guide and look for the entry
 

with the fieldmark labeled
capable of human speech.

For this crime
 

I have been accused of a failure of wonder

of having chained up my inner child and sent her

to work in the salt mines.

But the truth

(if you really want to know)

is that I have read too many fairy tales

and lived a bit too long

to be surprised by anything that happens in
 

the cottages of lonely woodcutters.

I can even venture a guess

to why the bear speaks with the voice of a maiden

(my heart goes out to her)

and why, when the animal has saved your life,

you will be required to make a harp out of its bones.

These are old familiar mysteries

as love is an old familiar mystery
 

the dwarf's name

the contents of the enchanted walnut

the thing which stands behind the mill.

Fairy tales are human things

which we have chewed over

since before we could eat solid food.

But a bird!

A bird that talks!

This is outside my experience

this un-parrot-like fluency.
 

I have so many questions—

Where did you learn?
 

and
How do you make the P's and B's and M's with that stiff beak?

and most important,

Are there more like you out there?

TOAD WORDS

Frogs fall out of my mouth when I talk. Toads, too.

It used to be a problem.

There was an incident when I was young and cross and fed up with parental expectations. My sister, who is the Good One, has gold and gems fall from her lips, and since I could not be her, I had to go a different way.

So I got frogs. It happens.

“You’ll grow into it,” the fairy godmother said. “Some curses have cloth-of-gold linings.” She considered this, and her finger drifted to her lower lip, the way it did when she was forgetting things. “Mind you, some curses just grind you down and leave you broken. Some blessings do that too, though. Hmm. What was I saying?”

I spent a lot of time not talking. I got a slate and wrote things down. It was hard at first, but I hated to drop the frogs in the middle of the road. They got hit by cars, or dried out, miles away from their damp little homes.
 

Toads were easier. Toads are tough. After awhile, I learned to feel when a word was a toad and not a frog. I could roll the word around on my tongue and get the flavor before I spoke it. Toad words were drier.
Desiccated
is a toad word. So is
crisp
and
crisis
and
obligation.
So are
elegant
and
matchstick.
 

Frog words were a bit more varied.
Murky. Purple
.
Swinging. Jazz.
 

I practiced in the field behind the house, speaking words over and over, sending small creatures hopping into the evening.
 
I learned to speak some words as either toads or frogs. It’s all in the delivery.

Love
is a frog word, if spoken earnestly, and a toad word if spoken sarcastically. Frogs are not good at sarcasm. Toads are masters of it.

I learned one day that amphibians are going extinct all over the world, that some of them are vanishing. You go to ponds that should be full of frogs and find them silent. There are a hundred things responsible—fungus and pesticides and acid rain.
 

When I heard this, I cried “What!?” so loudly that an adult African bullfrog fell from my lips and I had to catch it. It weighed as much as a small cat. I took it to the pet store and spun them a lie in writing about my cousin going off to college and leaving the frog behind.
 

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