An excerpt from “Mermaids, Singing” in The Underwater Ballroom Society:
The hound with the scarred snout knew there was something different about him, and this could be ascribed partially to the fact that when he looked up at the old show posters lining the train car walls, he could comprehend them.
“Lord Halfang and the Wolf Queen’s Circus Spectacular!”
“Re-enactments of Mythic Grandeur!”
“Aquatic Enticements of a Forgotten Age!”
“Come Be Enraptured!”
All with dates and places that were smears in his memory.
The spiked iron hoops of the show routine spun in his mind; he dreamed constantly of leaping through them when he twitched in his cage at night.
The show this evening had been particularly cruel. The Wolf Queen, or Switchblade Sally, as the Ringmaster affectionately called her, had driven the hounds relentlessly through their paces with her whip, sending them through rings of fire, forcing them to dance on their hind legs until their hearts nearly burst. At the end, as was customary, the lights were dimmed and a modesty screen brought to the center of the ring where he had collapsed in exhaustion.
The hound had seen her do this many times to his comrades, but this was a first for him. She advanced, her crystal-blue eyes gloating over his powerlessness. From the ruffles at her bosom, she withdrew a phial of glimmering green dust. He knew the name of it, though he did not know how he knew.
“Behold!” the Ringmaster called from the darkness. “The true form of the Wolf Queen’s servant!”
She flicked the dust over him with gloved fingers, and the sparkling net settled over him, digging into his fur like tiny shards of glass. His howl of agony ripped and stretched into a gasp as he rose naked and shivering on human legs. None could see his nakedness save her; only his silhouette was visible to the audience through the modesty screens.
She smirked at how he tried to hide himself and memory knifed him: of sitting above this woman, as on a throne, watching her perform an acrobatic routine for him. How her final bow had been accompanied by this selfsame smirk and how, even then, though he had struggled not to show it, he’d been vastly discomfited by her.
In that moment he realized several things:
- He was not entirely a hound.
- He was also not entirely human.
- He and his comrades were being held against their will.
- He didn’t belong in this world.
- He was from another world.
- He had known the Ringmaster and Switchblade Sally in that other world, and they were dangerous.
Then, he’d crashed to the dirt again amid shouts and fainting from the women in the stands.
The show was over now and he was a hound again, bound by the rough magic the Ringmaster and Switchblade Sally used to keep all their mythical acts under control. The other hounds were busy licking savaged flanks or seared paws, some whining at the pain.
The scarred hound alone was silent. He did not know who he was or how he’d come here, but he knew two things: he had to escape. And he needed to help the others escape as well.