Apr 27 2012 5:00pm
The Devil Delivered and Other Tales (Excerpt)
Fans of the Malazan series are sure to love this excerpt from Steven Erikson’s upcoming book of short fiction! Take a look at The Devil Delivered and Other Tales:
In between writing his ten-book epic that changed the way many look at fantasy storytelling, Steven Erikson also wrote great stories set outside of his awe-inspiring Malazan world. These three tales contain all the same style and flavor that made him a New York Times bestseller.
This collection includes:
“The Devil Delivered”: In the breakaway Lakota Nation, in the heart of a land blistered beneath an ozone hole the size of the Great Plains of North America, a lone anthropologist wanders the deadlands, recording observations that threaten to bring the world’s powers to their knees.
“Fishing with Grandma Matchie”: A children’s story of a boy tasked with a writing assignment becomes a stunning fantastical journey with his tale-spinning grandmother.
Entry: American NW Aut. B.C. 8675 ±600 years
Larger shadows walk with the coyote, elder cousin ghosts panting the breath of ice.
He watches them, wondering who will speak first. The coyote seems a likely candidate with its nose lifted and testing the air. Human scents riding the wind, now fading, slipping beneath the overwhelming stench of sunbaked meat, its touch on canine olfactory nerves an underscored sigh beneath the old scream of death.
The coyote pads down the slope, winding a path round the dusty sage, pauses every now and then to read the breeze, cock its ears in search of wrong sounds, scanning the low bluffs on the valley’s other side, then continues its descent.
He watches the coyote, waiting. It might be the ghosts will speak first. It might be that, after all. They’re big, bigger than he’d thought they’d be, more than shadows as they slip closer, moving stretched and tall, shoulders bunched and heads swinging as if conscious of crowding tusks—a hunt long over, a hunt less than memory. But it may be that their days of remembrance are over.
The coyote is close now, and he can read its life. Like others of its kind, it has adopted a band of humans. It follows them in their wanderings, down onto the flats where the grasses grow high; and when the giant bison migrate north to the forest fringes where the bitter prairie winds are slowed, frayed by the trees, the humans migrate with them. And in their wake, the coyote.
The animal clings to their scent, sometimes seeing them but always at a distance. The animal knows its place—at the edge of the world, the world the humans now claim as their own. The world, reduced to a piece of flesh.
The stench hangs heavy here, in this valley’s dry basin beneath cliffs. Here, where the humans have made another kill.
The coyote pauses, ducks its head and sniffs the trampled red mud around its paws. It licks blood-soaked grass. Behind it, the shadow ghosts pace nervously, hearing yet again the echoes of competition, the battle they’d lost long ago. Still, the carpet of dead is welcome red. . . .
He smiles at the coyote, smiles at the ghosts. He stays where he sits, among the thousand-odd dead bison that had been driven, by a band of seven humans, over the cliff’s edge. Here and there around him, evidence of butchering on a dozen or so animals, most of them yearlings. Some skinned. Others with their skullcaps removed, tongues cut out from their mouths, eviscerated. A sampling of biology, enough for seven humans. More than enough, much, much more than enough.
Bison antiquus. Bison occidentalis. Take your pick.
A breed above. Ghost cousin shadows of the smaller bison that now cover the lands. Born in an age of ice, once commanding the plains, grazing among mammoths, giant sloths, horses—beasts whose time had ended—and now, with this final kill, so, too, ends the time for the giant bison.
Punctual as a cliff’s edge.
Smiling, he watches the coyote crouch down beside a gutted bull and feed. One last time. A world emptied of Bison antiquus, barring a holdout enclave in the forests north of the Winnipeg River.
He sees them now, all around, more ghost shadows, dull herbivores, shoulders bumping. And at the herd’s edges: the coyote’s dark kin, the cautious breed of dire wolves. Other predators in the beyond, others who’d run out of prey at human hands: lions, short-tailed bears, smilodons.
It seems then, that he is the one who must speak first. “Among the world’s killers,” he whispers.
The coyote looks up, fixes gray eyes on him.
“Among the world’s killers,” he says again, still smiling, “only we humans seem capable of seeking and finding new animals to hunt, new places to flatten underfoot in a jumble of bones. An accurate observation?”
The coyote resumes feeding.
“Oh, sure,” he continues, “you’ve an alacrity for adapting, there on the edge of our world. And your human host is far away now, well into their rounds. Does being so far away from them concern you?”
The coyote downs a mouthful of flesh. Flies buzz around its muzzle.
“After all,” he adds, “their scent’s growing colder by the minute, isn’t it.”
The coyote doesn’t bother looking up, just shrugs. “No trouble,” it says. “I need only test the wind, and find the smell of blood.”
A good answer.
He sits and watches the coyote feed, while around them the shadow ghosts howl at the empty sky, the empty land. In those howls, he hears the kind of smile reserved for shadows lost to the world. A smile he shares.