Lovely Creatures: A Preview

Written By Sean Markey

Sean lives in an old farmhouse in northern Vermont, and is pretty sure the house isn’t very haunted… He works as a marketer during the day and is also the publisher of The Deadlands, a little magazine about beginnings and endings you may or may not have heard of.

This is a preview of our upcoming release: Lovely Creatures, by KT Bryski.

We hope you love this as much as we do–the link to pre-order your copy is at the end of this excerpt.

Chapter One

Doomsday Dot will wake the day the world ends. That’s what everyone says, yours truly included. One day, her little finger’s gonna crook just so. Her eyes are gonna flicker beneath lids purple with resting blood. Those rosebud lips will part, and maybe she’ll scream like she means to break the world’s bones, or maybe she’ll gasp like a swimmer clawing up from the last river, or maybe she’ll sit quiet and watch the stars fall.

Doomsday Dot’s part of a travelling show. There’s Rufus, who usually ends up taking care of her. They’re the gentlest wolf you ever did see; you can pay for a private tea with them. Tea-drinking’s a performance, see. You should hear their theories about pouring this way or that. Then there’s Emmaline, who’s sometimes a swan, and mostly a lady, and always good for warming up the crowd and doubling the take when the hat gets passed.

And then there’s Mr. Once-Upon-a-Time, impresario extraordinaire and all-around swell. More on him later.

They all travel in a wooden whale, a giant one. That’s important.

Doomsday Dot ain’t even the star attraction. Her glass-topped casket lies in a patched-up tent next to Mr. Once-Upon-a-Time’s canvas palace. But with the dust storms raging and no rain falling, most folks figure she’ll wake up soon. A nickel or a fresh egg buys you five minutes of her silent company. Don’t try to slip Rufus a week-old egg, they’ll sniff it out. Dot don’t offer compelling conversation, but everyone wants to be the first to catch sight of Doomsday. They turn out in droves to scrutinize Dot’s sleeping face and convince themselves they spy some twitch, some hitch, some switch in her breathing that heralds the world’s swift-coming end.

The day this story starts—if you can pick one day it starts—Bryony’s in line outside Doomsday Dot’s tent, clutching a damp nickel and a handbill ripped from the saloon wall. The handbill shows Doomsday Dot. It’s a pretty good likeness, enough that Bryony’s heart jumped into her throat when she saw it.

With afternoon wearing on, the crowd’s thinned out some, but the mood broods like the distant clouds, spiked with lightning-cracks of nervous laughter. A hot wind tosses grit into Bryony’s eyes. Wiping her face, she glances past the tents, past the Whale, all the way to the flat horizon. The sky looms black, but the air tastes like sweat, not ash. If a dust storm sweeps in, she’ll have to forget about seeing Doomsday Dot, so she rubs her nickel between her thumb and forefinger and prays the black blizzards stay put.

Two people ahead. The crowd’s mutters build. Not everyone wants to just look at Dot. They’re gonna bang on the glass and snap that girl awake. They’re gonna rattle the casket until the lid pops off, and then they’ll steal a kiss from her dreaming lips. Or they’re gonna wait until they’re alone, and they won’t ever touch her, but maybe they’ll undo their own trousers, and—

“Didn’t nobody teach you manners?” Bryony snaps, swinging around.

Two kids snigger. Fourteen years old, maybe fifteen. Bony boys with dust-stiffened hair. Their faces burn with the sort of hunger that can’t go anywhere, so it sharpens into cruelty instead. Bryony tracks their gazes as they rake her up and down. She likes boys’ clothes, moves easier in them, but her torn trousers and oversized jacket make her look like a kid herself, easily settled with a few quick punches.

She ain’t, she’s a decade past that. Sweeping her rush hat off, she adds, “Why you gotta be that way?”

Their grins falter when it turns out she’s a grown-up. One kid sneers. “Why you gotta be that way, lady?”

If she knew, she wouldn’t be stuck in line going nowhere fast. Her goddamn mouth’s responsible for every last problem in her life, and she’s trying hard to muzzle it. Burning, she tells herself to take her lumps, but then a soft voice calls, “Next, please.”

The kid stares coolly. “Tell Dot to get ready.”

Hating herself, Bryony stalks into the tent. Fabric and darkness smother her. The casket waits in the center, like someone dropped it there and forgot. Long, but narrow; glass blank. Smooth handles ring the casket all around, but the wood’s bleakly black, unornamented. Like the tent. No signs, no lamps, no nothing. Late afternoon spills through a gap in the canvas, rubs dusky light all over the glass. Bryony can’t see inside the casket yet, but her knees turn to jelly. As she casts about for something steadying, someone takes her elbow. “Goodness! Are you all right?”

“Just swell.”

The grip on her arm lets off. A wolf stands on hind paws. Bryony’s head barely brushes their snowdrift chest. Tiny golden spectacles perch on their muzzle, and a neatly mended floral dress swishes around their legs. “Would you care to sit?” the wolf asks.

“Where is she?”

The wolf’s whiskers twitch. “Is this your first time visiting Doomsday Dot?”

“No. Maybe. What’s it to you?” The words burst hot and stinging from her lips. Now that she’s here, her heart’s thudding too hard and she doesn’t dare tilt the moment one way or the other.

The wolf coughs. “Entry costs a nickel. Or an egg. We’ll also take a vegetable, if you’ve got one. I’m dying for parsnips.”

Bryony fishes the nickel from her pocket. The wolf’s rough paw pads itch against her palm, and then the coin vanishes into a beaded pouch at their side. “You needn’t stay the full five minutes, if you’re frightened.”

Fuck frightened. She’ll feed the wolf nickels until next week if she wants to. But her legs don’t budge.

“This is Doomsday Dot.” The wolf’s murmurs creep under Bryony’s skin like dust getting past a window pane. “For three thousand years, she has slept without stirring. When the last trumpet sounds, when the last morning dawns, she will rise to cross the river…”

Heart quickening, Bryony kneels beside the casket. All this time searching, and she was right. She crumples the handbill without realizing, a sob knotting under her ribs.

“Mr. Once-Upon-a-Time succored and sheltered her in our little show. On our ever-winding way, we watch to see that she slumbers still…”

The sob hardens to a hot little coal.

“If you dare stay, see that she does not stir with vexing dreams, or mutter the stars to fall….”

“Bullshit.” The word cracks in the middle.

The wolf blinks. “I beg your pardon?”

“That’s my sister.”

But me, I want to tell you about the river at the end of the world. Broad and deep, smooth and silent. Mist veils its face; you can’t see the farther side.

That doesn’t stop people trying to swim it. The riverbed falls out from under their feet mighty quick. At the heart of the crossing, the waters open dark and depthless. You’ve got to swim through the mist if you’re going to make it, and I hear that greyness is even colder than the deeps.

Some swimmers return saying, “Yeah, I saw the other side. It’s a dead land, barren. All broken rocks and dried-up trees.” Then they go away and they never think of the river again, except to sigh out their disappointment in empty cups and lonely beds.

Others come back, and they keep their silence. They stand along the riverbank, staring at the mist and looking thoughtful. These swimmers all wade into the water again; they never return a second time.

The wolf’s jaws snap shut. “I beg your pardon?”

“That’s my sister.”

Fishing out a handkerchief, the wolf mops their forehead. “Excuse me.” Flinging wide the tent flaps, the wolf calls, “Dear friends, we have finished our visitations with Doomsday Dot for today. Mr. Once-Upon-a-Time waits to entrance and enthral! Do proceed to the larger tent, and beg assistance from the Swan Maiden in procuring your seat.”

With that, the wolf ties the tent flaps shut again. A pink tongue darts between curved fangs. Prickles run down Bryony’s spine, but she’s got bigger things to worry about than winding up lunch. The casket dares her to take a peek. She can’t look. She can’t stop looking. It’s Dahlia, but Dahlia done wrong.

“What’s your name?” the wolf asks.

Her stomach hurts. “Bryony Rush.”

“Rufus.” They lean forward. “Bryony, folks will claim kinship with Doomsday Dot.”


“And certainly, we’re all siblings on the winding road…”

“I can prove it.” She can’t uncurl her fingers; all her anger’s pulsing hot to her fists. “She’s got a scar. Above her left elbow.” Dad threw—but she’s not saying squat, not to someone she just met. “I’m right, yeah?”

What right does Rufus have, peering at her down their snout like she’s a half-squashed possum? “Well, yes,” they say. “But I’m not sure that’s proof, miss.”

“I’m taking her home.” She crushes her wrist against threatening tears; there’s no one gonna see her cry, never again.

“How long have you been searching for her?”

“Why do you care?”

Rufus holds their paws up. “Only curious.”

“Seven years. Almost eight.”

Rufus ducks their head. “I’m impressed by your fortitude.”

She’s a tough lady, skin of steel and everything, but that almost undoes her. They were gonna build a house together. That was the plan. That is the plan.

Rufus passes her their handkerchief. Waving it off, Bryony steadies herself. She’d rather Rufus eat her up, if they’re sending her away without Dahlia.

“You’ll have to speak with Mr. Once-Upon-a-Time,” Rufus says, soft-like. “Our manager and ringmaster.”


“His act’s about to start.”

“I’ll wait.”

Rufus’s smile comes out pained and toothy. “You’re more than welcome to see the show.”

“How do I know you won’t run off with Dahlia?”

“You don’t.” More teeth crowd in. “But the Whale won’t move if he isn’t driving. I wouldn’t get far.”

Teeth aside, the smile makes her unclench, just a bit. “You swear to me?”

“On my mother’s den.”

The earnestness stings. Bryony hates it. “If you’re not here when I get back…”

“I will be.” Rufus moves to untie the tent flaps, and then hesitates. “Do you want to say goodbye? Just for now,” they add.

Bryony crouches at the casket. In the gloom, Dahlia’s face gleams sickly pale. Bryony’s guts twist harder. She’s back in the room they shared as kids, peering at Dahlia’s sleeping face across the bed. The lonely years crash down all at once, and before she realizes what she’s doing, she raps on the glass.

Dahlia doesn’t move. Of course she doesn’t.

A warm, furred foreleg wraps around her shoulders. “I know it’s hard.”

“You don’t know shit.”

“Go see the show,” Rufus says, like they didn’t hear. “Talk to Mr. Once-Upon-a-Time. I’ll keep your sister safe.”

Chapter Two

Stragglers linger outside, scrounging cigarettes. Ragged kids, faded women. The Whale holds court, windows dark along its flanks. Its painted grin gleams in the dimness, like it’d be pleased to meet you and eat you. Bryony ignores it. A double row of lanterns borders a path stamped flat to the big tent. Inside the globed lantern glass, sparks drift in circles. Fireflies, she reckons at first, but they move wrong. Too steady, too cold, like caged stars.

At the main tent’s entrance, the flaps are already tied shut. After Rufus’s song and dance, she isn’t expecting that, let me tell you. Light leaks between canvas and ground. What’s she gonna do, knock? Feeling ridiculous, Bryony taps the tent’s side. Nothing happens.

She squints into the wire of light between flap and flap. Not enough space to see. The blaze spilling out dazzles her anyway. Bryony steals a glance behind.

Since no one’s paying attention, she drops to her knees. The tent’s lashed tight to the ground, but she hoists it enough to belly under and in. Inside, the tent’s a bubble of sunset lamps and shifting shadows. Wooden benches make loose horseshoes a few rows thick. Bryony’s nose wrinkles. It smells like you’d expect. Half these folks wouldn’t know soap if it halloed to them at Sunday church, the other half sweated buckets on the walk here, and they’re all packed together cheek by jowl, stewing in their own reek.

Looking left and right, she finds they’ve strung up a second set of canvas walls, carving the tent into playing space and a backstage passage. Since Mr. Once-Upon-a-Time’s not in front of the crowd, he must be awaiting his cue, so she sidles backstage.

Well, she tries. Someone grabs her shoulder. “Where are you going?”

Dropping low, Bryony wriggles free and spins to face an honest-to-Almighty ghost. Except ghosts don’t grip that strong, so she tells her juddering heart to knock it off. It’s a lady, after all. At first glance, she looks ancient, dead white hair hanging past her shoulders, but not a line creases her chalky face. Her eyes burn like pitch on snow, hot enough that Bryony’s gaze drops. Dirt edges the hem of the lady’s long white dress. Her feet poke out bare.

Bryony frowns. There’s something funny about her toes, but it’s too dark to tell exactly what. Anyway, the lady’s glowering fierce. “How’d you get in here?”

“Bought a ticket.”

The lady laughs, but it’s more like a bark, her lips uncurving. “I remember every coin I take, and you didn’t give me a thing.”

Bryony’s out of nickels, but she’s got an apple she meant for later. She offers it.

“Thanks.” The lady tosses it, catches it, and slips it into an unseen pocket. “Next time you’re late, you visit Doomsday Dot instead.”

“I did,” Bryony snaps. “Rufus sent me.”

“They did?”

“Dahlia’s my sister.” When the lady stares blankly, Bryony adds, “Dahlia. Doomsday Dot. We’re sisters.”

 “Of course you are.” The lady sighs. “All right. Fine. You can watch from here.” She gestures to a crummy bench right at the back.

“I gotta speak to Mr. Once-Upon-a-Time,” Bryony hisses, sliding into place. “You’ll have to introduce me.”

“You’ve got some nerve.” A pause. “I like that.”

Without moving her head, Bryony tries to steal another glance at her face, but the lamps in the ring beyond are extinguished one by one. In the darkness, something stirs.

Preorder Your Copy Today!

(Release date: June 11th)

About KT Bryski

KT Bryski is a Canadian fantasy author. Their short fiction has appeared in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, and Apex, among others. They have been a finalist for the Sunburst, Eugie, and Aurora awards, and they co-founded and-co-chaired the ephemera reading series. When not writing, they frolic about enjoying choral music and craft beer.