Vassa in the Night - Tor/Forge Blog



Download a Free Digital Preview of Projections

projections by s e porter digital previewS.E. Porter, critically-acclaimed YA author of Vassa in the Night, bursts onto the adult fantasy scene with her adult novel that is sure to appeal to fans of Jeff VanderMeer and China Miéville. Download a FREE sneak peek today!

Love may last a lifetime, but in this dark historical fantasy, the bitterness of rejection endures for centuries.

As a young woman seeks vengeance on the obsessed sorcerer who murdered her because he could not have her, her murderer sends projections of himself out into the world to seek out and seduce women who will return the love she denied—or suffer mortal consequence. A lush, gothic journey across worlds full of strange characters and even stranger magic.

Sarah Porter’s adult debut explores misogyny and the soul-corrupting power of unrequited love through an enchanted lens of violence and revenge.

Also by Sarah Porter:
Vassa in the Night
When I Cast Your Shadow
Never-Contented Things

Download a FREE sneak peek today!

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New Releases: 9/12/17

Happy New Release Day! Here’s what went on sale today.

Iraq + 100 by Hassan Blasim

Image Placeholder of - 43 In a calm and serene world, one has the luxury of imagining what the future might look like. Now try to imagine that future when your way of life has been devastated by forces beyond your control.

Iraq + 100 poses a question to Iraqi writers (those who still live in that nation, and those who have joined the worldwide diaspora): What might your home country look like in the year 2103, a century after a disastrous foreign invasion?

The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker

Image Place holder  of - 86 Humanity’s last hope of survival lies in space…but will a random death doom the venture?

Our planet is dying and the world’s remaining nations have pooled their resources to build a seed ship that will carry colonists on a multi-generational journey to a distant planet.

Everything is set for a bright adventure…and then someone is found hanging dead just weeks before the launch. Fear and paranoia spread as the death begins to look more and more like a murder.

When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter

Placeholder of  -77 A teenage girl calls her beloved older brother back from the grave, with disastrous consequences….

Haunted by her dead brother, unable to let him go, Ruby must figure out whether his nightly appearances in her dreams are the answer to her prayers—or a nightmare come true.


Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Place holder  of - 88 What if the African natives developed steam power ahead of their colonial oppressors? What might have come of Belgium’s disastrous colonization of the Congo if the native populations had learned about steam technology a bit earlier?

Fabian Socialists from Great Britain join forces with African-American missionaries to purchase land from the Belgian Congo’s “owner,” King Leopold II. This land, named Everfair, is set aside as a safe haven, an imaginary Utopia for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated.

Strikeout of the Bleacher Weenies by David Lubar

Poster Placeholder of - 75 Welcome to the Weenie Zone! Here are thirty hilarious and harrowing stories that will scare you, make you laugh, or get you to see the world in a whole new way. Find out where the author got the idea for each story at the end of the book.


Thessaly by Jo Walton

The goddess Athena thought she was creating a utopia. Populate the island of Thera with extraordinary men, women, and children from throughout history, and watch as the mortals forge a harmonious society based on the tenets of Plato’s Republic.

Meanwhile, following his famous spurning by a nymph, Athena’s ever-curious brother Apollo has decided to live a mortal human life on the island, in an effort to gain a better understanding of humanity.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out to buy lightbulbs in the middle of the night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…


Kase-San and Shortcake Story and art by Hiromi Takashima

Non Non Biyori Vol. 8 Story and art by Atto


Tor Teen Back to School Sweepstakes

It’s August, and that means we’re in the final days of summer. It’s nearly time to head back to school, but hopefully there’s still a bit of time—time to get that last beach trip in, that last dip in the pool, or that last lazy afternoon with a book and a frosty lemonade. Whatever your ideal last days of summer consist of, we want to give you a pile of books to keep you company and to last you well into the new school year. Take a look at the titles we’re offering:

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Sign up for to receive our monthly Tor Teen newsletter to enter for your chance to win:

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Tor Teen Back to School Sweepstakes


  1. To Enter: Submit your entry by fully completing the sign-up form found at (the “Site”). Sweepstakes begins online at 12:30 AM Eastern Time (ET) on Monday, August 21, 2017 and ends at 11:59 PM ET on Friday, August 25, 2017. Your entry will sign you up to receive emailed news related to Tor Teen as well as enter you into the sweepstakes.

Limit one entry per person or household. The entry must be fully completed; mechanically reproduced; incomplete and/or illegible entries will not be accepted. In case of dispute with respect to online entries, entries will be declared made by the authorized account holder of the e-mail address submitted at the time of entry. “Authorized account holder” is defined as the natural person who is assigned to an e-mail address by an Internet Access Provider, on-line service provider, or other organization (e.g., business, educational institution, etc.) that is responsible for assigning e-mail addresses for the domain associated with the submitted e-mail address. Entries become property of Sponsor and will not be returned. Automated entries are prohibited, and any use of such automated devices will cause disqualification. Sponsor and its advertising and promotions agencies are not responsible for lost, late, illegible, misdirected or stolen entries or transmissions, or problems of any kind whether mechanical, human or electronic.

  1. Random Drawing: A random drawing will be held from all eligible, correctly completed entries received on a timely basis, on or about Monday, August 28, 2017, by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, whose decisions concerning all matters related to this sweepstakes are final.
  2. Notice to Winners: Winner will be notified by e-mail. Winner may be required to sign and return an affidavit of eligibility and publicity/liability release within fifteen (15) days of notification attempt or prize may be awarded to alternate winner. Return of any prize notification as undeliverable will result in disqualification and alternate winner will be selected. If a winner is a minor in his/her jurisdiction of residence, prize will be awarded to minor’s parent or legal guardian, who must follow all prize claim procedures specified herein and sign and return all required documents.
  3. Prize: One (1) Grand Prize winner(s) will receive Flying by Carrie Jones, Enhanced by Carrie Jones, The Rains by Gregg Hurwitz, Last Chance by Gregg Hurwitz, Ferocious by Paula Stokes, Vicarious by Paula Stokes, Firebrand by A.J. Hartley, Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley, Roar by Cora Carmack, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, When I Cast Your Shadow by Sarah Porter, Seeker by Veronica Rossi, Riders by Veronica Rossi, The Dark Intercept by Julia Keller. Approximate Retail Value (“ARV”) of the Prize: $231.86.

    Approximate retail value of all prizes: $231.86.

  1. Odds of winning depend upon the number of eligible entries received. If any prize is won by a minor, it will be awarded in the name of minor’s parent or legal guardian. Each entrant selected as a potential winner must comply with all terms and conditions set forth in these Official Rules, and winning is contingent upon fulfilling all such requirements. Sponsor makes no warranties with regard to the prize. Prize is not transferable. No substitutions of prize allowed by winner, but Sponsor reserves the right to substitute a prize of equal or greater value. Prize is not redeemable by winner for cash value. All taxes, fees and surcharges on prize are the sole responsibility of winner.
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  2. Winner List: For winner information, available after Friday, August 25, 2017, send by Monday, August 28, 2017 a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Winner Information, Tor Teen Back to School Sweepstakes, c/o Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
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$2.99 eBook Sale: Vassa in the Night

Vassa in the Night by Sarah PorterPick up the ebook edition of Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, on sale for only $2.99. This offer will only last for a limited time, so order your copy today!

About Vassa in the Night: Step into the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, where magic – and danger – lurks around every corner…

When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out to buy lightbulbs in the middle of the night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair….

Order Your Copy

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This sale ends September 1st.


New Releases: 9/20/16

Here’s what went on sale today!

Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising by Jeffrey Mariotte

Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising by Jeffrey MariotteFear is abroad in the Deadlands as a string of brutal killings and cattle mutilations trouble a frontier town in the Arizona Territory, nestled in the forbidding shadow of the rugged Thunder Mountains. A mule train is massacred, homes and ranches are attacked, and men and women are stalked and butchered by bestial killers who seem to be neither human nor animal, meanwhile a ruthless land baron tries to buy up all the surrounding territory-and possibly bring about an apocalypse.

Death’s End by Cixin Liu

Death’s End by Cixin LiuWith The Three-Body Problem, English-speaking readers got their first chance to experience the multiple-award-winning and bestselling Three-Body Trilogy by China’s most beloved science fiction author, Cixin Liu. Three-Body was released to great acclaim including coverage in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. It was also named a finalist for the Nebula Award, making it the first translated novel to be nominated for a major SF award since Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities in 1976. Now this epic trilogy concludes with Death’s End.

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

The Family Plot by Cherie PriestChuck Dutton built Music City Salvage with patience and expertise, stripping historic properties and reselling their bones. Inventory is running low, so he’s thrilled when Augusta Withrow appears in his office offering salvage rights to her entire property. This could be a gold mine, so he assigns his daughter Dahlia to personally oversee the project.

The crew finds a handful of surprises right away. Firstly, the place is in unexpectedly good shape. And then there’s the cemetery, about thirty fallen and overgrown graves dating to the early 1900s, Augusta insists that the cemetery is just a fake, a Halloween prank, so the city gives the go-ahead, the bulldozer revs up, and it turns up human remains. Augusta says she doesn’t know whose body it is or how many others might be present and refuses to answer any more questions. Then she stops answering the phone.

Metaltown by Kristen Simmons

Metaltown by Kristen SimmonsThe rules of Metaltown are simple: Work hard, keep your head down, and watch your back. You look out for number one, and no one knows that better than Ty. She’s been surviving on the factory line as long as she can remember. But now Ty has Colin. She’s no longer alone; it’s the two of them against the world. That’s something even a town this brutal can’t take away from her. Until it does.

Lena’s future depends on her family’s factory, a beast that demands a ruthless master, and Lena is prepared to be as ruthless as it takes if it means finally proving herself to her father. But when a chance encounter with Colin, a dreamer despite his circumstances, exposes Lena to the consequences of her actions, she’ll risk everything to do what’s right.

Red Tide by Marc Turner

Red Tide by Marc TurnerThe Augerans are coming. And their ships are sailing in on a red tide.

The Rubyholt Isles are a shattered nation of pirate-infested islands and treacherous waterways shielding the seaboards of Erin Elal and the Sabian League, a region even dragons fear to trespass.

The Augerans beseech the Warlord of the Isles, seeking passage for their invasion fleet through Rubyholt territory. But they are sailing into troubled waters. Their enemies have sent agents to sabotage the negotiations, and to destroy the Augeran fleet by any means necessary.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Vassa in the Night by Sarah PorterIn the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.


The Warren by Brian Evenson

The Warren by Brian EvensonX doesn’t have a name. He thought he had one—or many—but that might be the result of the failing memories of the personalities imprinted within him. Or maybe he really is called X.

He’s also not as human as he believes himself to be.

But when he discovers the existence of another—above ground, outside the protection of the Warren—X must learn what it means to be human, or face the destruction of their two species.


Nightwise by R. S. Belcher

Nightwise by R. S. BelcherR.S. Belcher, the acclaimed author of The Six-Gun Tarot and The Shotgun Arcana launches a gritty new urban fantasy series set in today’s seedy occult underworld in Nightwise.

In the more shadowy corners of the world, frequented by angels and demons and everything in-between, Laytham Ballard is a legend. It’s said he raised the dead at the age of ten, stole the Philosopher’s Stone in Vegas back in 1999, and survived the bloodsucking kiss of the Mosquito Queen. Wise in the hidden ways of the night, he’s also a cynical bastard who stopped thinking of himself as the good guy a long time ago.

Vienna by William S. Kirby

Vienna by William S. KirbyJustine is an A-list fashion model on a photo shoot in Europe. Adored by half the world, she can have whomever she wants, but she’s never met anyone like the strange English girl whose bed she wakes up in one morning.

Vienna is an autistic savant, adrift in a world of overwhelming patterns and connections only she can see. Socially awkward and inexperienced, she’s never been with anyone before, let alone a glamorous supermodel enmeshed in a web of secrets and intrigue.


Arpeggio of Blue Steel Vol. 8 by Ark Performance

NTR: Netsuzou Trap Vol. 1 by Kodama Naoko

Tomodachi x Monster Vol. 3 by Yoshihiko Inui


What Is a Changeling, Really?

Vassa in the Night by Sarah PorterAnd now, a few unsettling words from Sarah Porter, the author of Vassa in the Night.

The baby wakes everyone with an ungodly yowl in the depths of the night. Its head looks distended, its eyes bulbous and glowering. Surely it didn’t appear so grotesque when you sang it to sleep? And that cry: it hardly sounds human at all.

Conversely, the baby is so silent that you rush to its side, terrified that it might have died while you dreamed. It gawps at you with an expression morose and wooden. Its tiny limbs feel dry, airy, and rotten. But those eyes, bulging, pale, at once vacant and horribly knowing: they never leave your face, not while you change its diaper and tuck it in again, not while you croon at it, Sleep tight, my poppet, all is peaceful, all is well, and back out of the nursery. You can barely force yourself to switch off the light.

Feed it, and it will suck so ravenously that you will thrust it away in sudden dread, sure that it means to drain your blood once it has finished your milk.

What is this thing that lies in your cradle? Is it truly your own sweet child?

Anyone familiar with the ways of the world will tell you, Why, no. Your child has been stolen by the faeries. They have left you this hideous effigy in its place.

The folklorist Charles G. Leland wrote that the faeries who steal children are personified fevers, the spirits of pox and typhus and cholera that snatched so many infants in the days before antibiotics. There are other connections between faeries and the land of the dead: one is the well-known rule that eating anything in either Faerie or Hades will trap you there forever. Catherynne Valente called the law permitting human-stealing “the Persephone clause” in her Fairyland books. And the medieval English poem Sir Orfeo, a retelling of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, makes the association even more explicit. In it, the harpist has to rescue his wife not from the underworld but from the faerie king, who holds his court in the midst of a field of butchered, but still living, bodies: people wrongly believed to be dead when they were actually transported to his realm.

Take another look, then, at that monstrous, babyish lump staring at you with such resentment. Are you sure it’s even there? Are you sure you aren’t remembering your lost child, however imperfectly; that your longing has not made this projected memory appear as something solid and alive? The changeling’s distorted features are a bit too much like the warped and uncertain faces that those we love wear in dreams: He didn’t look anything like you, but I knew it was you anyway. And could anything living, truly living and present in the room with you, be quite so hungry? Only ghosts, monsters, or memories consume so much of us.

One traditional way to get rid of a changeling is to subject it to sadistic abuse. In theory, its otherworldly parents will be so appalled that they will remove it from your custody, and return your rightful child. I wouldn’t count on it, personally.

The other method is to make the changeling laugh. Brew coffee in an eggshell, say; the creature will betray its real nature by cackling in surprise, and once exposed, protocol demands that it go.

That’s what the stories say. In practice, your changeling might stay right where it is, and keep on laughing at you. The one you mourn was taken, like Eurydice was taken, and like her will not be returning. What laughs in the cradle is your own swollen, relentless, and insatiable grief; that is what the faeries leave behind.

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Follow Sarah Porter on Twitter and on her website.


On the Road: Tor/Forge Author Events for September

tor-Everfair-2 forge-Stripped-Bare teen-Dark-Talent

Tor/Forge authors are on the road in September! See who is coming to a city near you this month.

Shannon Baker, Stripped Bare

Wednesday, September 7
Boulder Bookstore
Boulder, CO
7:30 PM
Also with Kevin Wolf

Thursday, September 8
Old Firehouse Books
Fort Collins, CO
6:00 PM

Tuesday, September 20
Albuquerque, NM
6:00 PM

Wednesday, September 21
Op. Cit. Books
Taos, NM
11:30 AM

Saturday, September 24
Barbed Wire Books
Longmont, CO
3:00 PM

Sunday, September 25
Hampden Hall
Englewood, CO
3:00 PM

Tuesday, September 27
Barnes & Noble
Cheyenne, WY
4:00 PM

Wednesday, September 28
Rapid City, SD
6:00 PM

Thursday, September 29
Tattered Cover
Littleton, CO
7:00 PM
Also with Kevin Wolf

Friday, September 30
Barnes & Noble
Pueblo, CO
4:00 PM

Robert Brockway, The Empty Ones

Saturday, September 3
Village Books
Bellingham, WA
7:00 PM

Blake Charlton, Spellbreaker

Wednesday, September 14
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
7:30 PM

Max Gladstone, Four Roads Cross

Sunday, September 4
Decatur Book Festival
Decatur, GA
5:00 PM

David Hagberg, End Game

Sunday, September 4
Decatur Book Festival
International Covert Ops Panel, with David Hagberg, Bret Witter, moderated by Alice Murray
Decatur, GA
5:00 PM

Thursday, September 8
Bookstore 1
Sarasota, FL
7:00 PM

Kij Johnson The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe

Thursday, September 15
Kansas University, Jayhawk Ink Lounge
Lawrence, KS
5:30 PM

Sarah Porter, Vassa in the Night

Sunday, September 18
Brooklyn Book Festival
Magic and Mayhem in New York
Brooklyn, NY
4:00 PM

Sunday, September 25
Oblong Books
Also with Danielle Paige
Rhinebeck, NY
4:00 PM

Monday, September 26
Books of Wonder
Also with Kerri Maniscalco
New York, NY
6:00 PM

Thursday, September 29
One More Page Books
Fall for the Book YA Panel
Also featuring A. J. Hartley and Carrie Jones
Arlington, VA
7:00 PM

Cherie Priest, The Family Plot

Tuesday, September 20
Barnes & Noble
Chattanooga, TN
7:00 PM

Thursday, September 22
Star Line Books
Chattanooga, TN
6:00 PM

Brandon Sanderson, The Dark Talent

Tuesday, September 6
The King’s English Bookshop
Salt Lake City, UT
6:00 PM

Nisi Shawl, Everfair

Tuesday, September 6
University Bookstore
Seattle, WA
7:00 PM

Friday, September 9
Malvern Books
Also with Christopher Brown
Austin, TX
7:00 PM

Saturday, September 10
Poisoned Pen
Scottsdale, AZ
2:00 PM

Monday, September 12
Mysterious Galaxy
San Diego, CA
7:30 PM

Tuesday, September 13
Eso Won
Los Angeles, CA
7:00 PM

Monday, September 19
A Room of One’s Own
Madison, WI
7:00 PM

Wednesday, September 21
Nicola’s Books
Ann Arbor, MI
7:00 PM

Friday, September 23
Charis Books & More
Atlanta, GA
7:30 PM

Kristen Simmons, Metaltown

Tuesday, September 20
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Crestview Hills, KY
7:00 PM

Thursday, September 22
Joseph-Beth Booksellers
Lexington, KY
7:00 PM

Friday, September 23
Anderson’s Bookshop
Also with Paula Stokes
Downers Grove, IL
7:00 PM

Paula Stokes, Vicarious

Thursday, September 22
Left Bank Books
St. Louis, MO
7:00 PM

Friday, September 23
Anderson’s Bookshop
Also with Kristen Simmons
Downers Grove, IL
7:00 PM

Fran Wilde, Cloundbound

Tuesday, September 27
Barnes & Noble
With Chuck Wendig
Philadelphia, PA
7:00 PM

Anne A. Wilson, Clear to Lift

Thursday, September 22
Coronado Public Library
Books provided by Bay Books
Coronado, CA
6:00 PM

Simone Zelitch, Judenstaat

Saturday, September 3
Decatur Book Festival
Decatur, GA
12:30 PM


Vassa in the Night Sweepstakes

Vassa in the Night by Sarah PorterVassa in the Night, Sarah Porter’s modern retelling of the Russian folktale “Vassilissa the Beautiful,” goes on sale September 20th, but we’re offering you the chance to read it now! We’ve got advance reading copies to give out to five lucky readers.

Comment below to enter for a chance to win!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 or older as of the date of entry. To enter, leave a comment here beginning at 10:00 AM Eastern Time (ET) August 16, 2016. Sweepstakes ends at 12:00 PM ET August 23, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.


Sneak Peek: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

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Vassa in the Night by Sarah PorterIn the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair….

Inspired by the Russian folktale “Vassilissa the Beautiful” and her years of experience teaching creative writing to students in New York City public schools, acclaimed author Sarah Porter weaves a dark yet hopeful tale about a young girl’s search for home, love, and belonging.

Vassa in the Night will be available September 20th. Please enjoy this excerpt.


People live here on purpose; that’s what I’ve heard. They even cross the country deliberately and move in to the neighborhoods near the river, and suddenly their shoes are cuter than they are, and very possibly smarter and more articulate as well, and their lives are covered in sequins and they tell themselves they’ve arrived. They put on tiny, feathered hats and go to parties in warehouses; they drink on rooftops at sunset. It’s a destination and everyone piles up and congratulates themselves on having made it all the way here from some wherever or other. To them this is practically an enchanted kingdom. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now, but not the part where I live.

Not that there isn’t any magic around here. If you’re dumb enough to look in the wrong places, you’ll stumble right into it. It’s the stumbling out again that might become an issue. The best thing you can do is ignore it. Cross the street. Don’t make eye contact—if by some remote chance you encounter something with eyes.

This isn’t even a slum. It’s a scrappy neither-nor where no one arrives. You just find yourself here for no real reason, the same way the streets and buildings did, squashed against a cemetery that sprawls out for miles. It has to be that big, because the dead of New York keep falling like snow but never melt. There’s an elevated train station where a few subway lines rattle overhead in their anxiety to get somewhere else. We have boarded-up appliance stores and nail salons, the Atlantis Wash and Lube, and a mortuary on almost every block. There are houses, the kind that bundle four families close together and roll them around in one another’s noise as if the ruckus was bread crumbs and somebody was going to come along soon and deep-fry us. Really, it’s such a nothing of a place that I have to dye my hair purple just to have something to look at. If it weren’t for those little zigs of color jumping in the corners of my eyes, I might start to think that I was going blind.

It seemed that way even before the nights started lasting such a very, very long time.


We can’t prove it. By the clock everything’s fine. The sun goes down around seven p.m. these days, right on schedule for your standard New York April, and comes up at six the next morning. The effect was so sneaky at first that it was months before anybody worked up the nerve to say anything. Then, maybe around November, I started hearing diskreet wisecracks, muttered like they were something embarrassing, like, “Hey, Vassa! Long time no see!” when I walked into school in the morning. But winter was coming on then, anyway, so you could tell yourself that, hey, the nights are supposed to feel long now.

By January, though, it was getting harder to ignore. It gets to the point, when your whole family is waking up around two a.m., and eating cereal, and shuffling around, and watching a lot of old movies, and then it’s still only three thirty so you all go back to bed, where you might kind of mention that it seems a little unusual. And when it gets to be February, then March, and the nights are officially getting shorter but everyone can feel how they drag on and on, the hours like legless horses struggling to make it to the end of the darkness, then you might even start to complain. You might say that the nights feel like they’re swallowing your drab nowhere neighborhood and refusing to cough it back up again the way they ought to. And the more the nights gobble up, the bigger and fatter and stronger they get, and the more they need to eat, until nobody can fight their way through to the next dawn.

I’m exaggerating. Morning does always come around eventually. At least, it does for now.

See, to whatever degree we have magic around here, it’s strictly the kind that’s a pain in the ass.


So it’s the middle of the night—unprecedented, I know—and the kid upstairs is practicing skateboarding on some kind of janky homemade half pipe and wiping out at ten-second intervals and I’m watching a random black-and-white movie with the girls people call my sisters, though they’re sisters step and fractional. I forget, but I think Chelsea is step-half and Stephanie is third-step once removed, or something like that, or possibly it’s the other way around. Whatever they are exactly, they’ve been assigned to me by the twitching of fate, and they’re usually at least plausibly sisteresque. We even share a bedroom. The woman who it’s fair to assume must have given birth to at least one of us, but by no means to me, is off at the night shift at the pharmacy where she works in Manhattan. Seems awful to be stuck with the night shift now, but she says it’s not as bad there. She says people barely notice the difference yet in Manhattan. She says they can afford all the day they want. Maybe they’ve found some slot where you can stick a credit card and order up a new morning.

Steph whirls in with a bowl of microwave popcorn and sets it on the bed between her and Chels. She scowls a bit when I come crawling across their pink-fleeced legs to snag some, piling it on the back of my chemistry textbook and then carrying it to my own bed. However carefully I balance, there’s a fair amount of drift over the book’s sides. Popcorn is hardly ideal, too noisy, but it’ll have to do.

It’s a rotten movie for my purposes. Ingrid Bergman is kissing somebody. Personally I prefer guys who are less gray, though I guess she’s in no position to be picky. “Let’s watch something else.”

“Shut up, Vass. It’s almost the end!”

“Then you won’t be missing much, right?” But there’s no hurry. They’ll put on something nice and loud eventually. There’s a lot of squirming in the pocket of my sweatshirt and I cover it with my hand. Tiny teeth nip at my thumb, though the thick fabric keeps it from hurting much. So impatient.

Static abruptly drowns out Ingrid, forcing the issue. That happens a lot these days and then there’s nothing to do but change the channel, which Stephanie does after casting a scowl my way. Just because it’s convenient for me doesn’t make it my fault.

The next movie is tenderly devoted to chasing and shooting and blasting. When the first car goes up in a fireball I slip a puff of corn into my pocket and then start crunching loudly myself for good measure. Chels and Steph don’t seem to notice. They’re mesmerized by the flashing lights. I can hear it, though, the shrill styrofoamy nibble-squeak from my pocket. I can feel the slight vibrations against my waist as she chews. A tiny fist prodding my guts. Erg wants more. Such a little thing, but she never stops eating, and why should she? When you’re carved out of wood you never gain weight. I’ve seen her gnaw through a candy bar bigger than she is in two hours flat. I’ve seen her actually burrow under the crispy batter on a chicken leg and then pop out near the bone, leaving the skin sagging into the tunnel left by her mauling.

Erg and I have gone on this long without Chels or Steph or anyone getting wise to her. My sisters think I’m the greedy one, always stashing cookies in my pockets for later. They think I suffer from strange compulsions. All my clothes have grease stains on the right hip. Sometimes I get sick of how demanding she is. Sometimes I’ve even toyed with the idea of letting her go hungry for a few days, or even not feeding her again. She’d complain at first but eventually, I’m pretty sure, she’d just go back to being inanimate.

Instead I stuff a whole handful of popcorn in. No matter what I pretend I’ll never actually starve her, and she knows it. She’s the only thing I have from my mother so there’s nostalgia working in her favor, and then I made a promise.

Little crunching noises squeak from my pocket. I’m way ahead on my reading for school, we all are—Chels has already moved on to college math and science textbooks, just to have something to do—but I get out Great Expectations anyway and try to concentrate.

In the window it’s night, with cottony puffs of light clinging to the streetlamps. In the window there’s no hint of dawn. It’s been 4:02 a.m. for an astoundingly long time. Then 4:03. Progress!

I look up at the TV for a moment to see a girl with big curls and a plaid cap walking past shuttered stores. The street is dark and she jumps as a rat skitters over her boot. She looks lost and lonely, hunching her shoulders to hold off the night. Then a tide of light washes her face and she looks up in rapture to see a BY’s. Wow, you can see her thinking, it’s still open! The store dances and spins and as the girl pirouettes ecstatically more BY’s stores appear around her, and more, all dancing on spindly legs of their own, until the whole dark night gets crowded out by the flash of their windows. “Turn around,” the girl sings. “Turn around and stand like Momma placed you! Face me, face me!”

We’ve all seen this ad a million times, of course. None of us can be bothered to make snide remarks anymore, or to mention that they left out the all-important ring of stakes skewering rotting human heads. All the mockery we could possibly mock is too done and too obvious and wasn’t really all that funny in the first place. We used to sing, “Turn around. Turn around and run the other way! Chop me, chop me!”

We don’t bother. Maybe it means we’re getting old. Maybe the nights are so long now that we’re only superficially kids, and we’ve lost years to the darkness.

Steph suddenly puts a hand to her throat and lets out a gasp.

“What?” Chelsea asks her. “You lost your locket?” She shoots me a significant look. The slight squirming in my pocket stops dead.

“I was wearing it! I hope—maybe I just knocked the clasp open?” Steph starts ransacking her pillows.

“It will show up soon, I’m quite sure,” Chelsea says, taking time to enunciate each word, and arches her eyebrows my way.

I excuse myself to the bathroom and perch on the toilet lid. The bathroom is bright pink, with this cheesy mermaid wallpaper Steph picked out when she was five; the shower curtain is stained with garish purple streaks from my hair dye. I can feel the lump in the pocket of my hoodie but it’s as still as a wad of used tissues. Erg is pretending to be asleep. I get her by one tiny wooden foot and drag her out anyway. She dangles upside down, her eyes closed, her painted black hair gleaming in its flat spit curls. She doesn’t react when I drop her in the sink, which is enough to prove that she’s faking.

I turn the water on full blast. I’m not a kleptomaniac, really. I just harbor one. Erg leaps up sputtering, water sheeting off her spherical head. Her feet clop on the pink porcelain as she leaps around but the sink is too slippery for her to climb out; she’s lacquered so she doesn’t have much traction. She lands on her carved blue rear, legs clacking. “You turn that off! Vassa! You’d better stop!”

“Are you going to give the locket back?” I’m not going to yield quite so easily. I’m sick of getting blamed for Erg’s lousy behavior.

“Probably. Eventually. If you don’t do anything to provoke me in the meantime.”

I reach toward the knob that lowers the stopper into place. “How about you do it tonight? You can put it in her bed. So there’s at least some plausible deniability in regard to my being a thieving psycho?”

Erg squeals and snaps her legs closed, wedging her feet below the metal disk that stoppers the sink. I could just pull her out of the way, though. Being fierce doesn’t get you too far when you’re an imposing four and a half inches tall. “You wouldn’t dare!”

“Oh, Erg,” I say. She reminds me of my mother more than I like to admit. “Just quit the damn stealing and we won’t have these problems. Okay? Say you’ll put it back tonight and I’ll dry you off.”

“And oil me?”

I turn off the tap. No matter how mad she makes me, Erg is still my doll. Her painted lashes flick up and down, batting droplets out of her flat blue eyes. “Sure. Just put it back.”

“You’re going to ruin my finish if you keep doing this,” Erg complains. “I might even split.” She waits for me to pick her up, buff her in a warm towel. Instead I stare at her. I know her ways. “I’ll slide it in her bed tonight, and she won’t have any reason to accuse sweet Vassa of doing anything untoward, okay? Okay?”

I pick her up between my thumb and forefinger and wrap her in a hand towel. She’s a pretty thing with her swooping violet eyelids and tiny ruby mouth, her thin arched black brows and perfect curls. She has a carved wooden dress, sky blue with white painted loops standing in for lace at the collar and cuffs. Her exposed skin is just varnished pale wood, then her legs end in white socks with more of that curly trim and black Mary Janes, all painted. Her knees, elbows, and waist are jointed and she can pivot her head. Nice workmanship. Too bad they didn’t spend more time on her personality.

In spite of myself, I kiss the top of her shiny head. She tries to bite my lip, but I yank her back in time and her little wooden jaws snap on empty air.

When I said that magical things in Brooklyn should be shunned like the plague? I’m sorry to say that’s not always an option. I was leaving Erg out of the equation although, with her being a talking doll and everything, she’d be magic by anyone’s standards. I don’t have much chance of avoiding her, since we’re bound to each other for life. And no, I didn’t name her that. It’s what she calls herself. When I was younger I tried to get her to accept names like Jasmine or Clarissa but she wasn’t having it.

I plonk Erg down on my lap and get out the bottle of lemon oil from under the sink. It’s her favorite and I always try to keep some around. Dab the oil on some toilet paper and give her a nice rubdown, working it up and down her limbs while she makes little purring sounds. Getting oiled makes her sleepy and she rolls on my black flannel pajamas and rubs her face against me like a kitten. She can be cute sometimes. She’d better be cute, really, considering all the trouble she causes.

“You don’t like Stephanie anyway,” Erg murmurs. “She’s kind of a bitch.”

“I like her fine,” I say. “You need to quit projecting.” Erg snuggles into the folds of my pajama leg, yawning and wrapping her tiny arms around the loose fabric. By the time I slip her back into my pocket she’s fast asleep.

When I get back to the bedroom Chels and Steph are both glowering at me like they have synchronized brainwaves. “You were gone a while,” Chels observes coolly.

“What?” I say. I’m still standing against the door. “Like two minutes?” We all know how meaningless minutes are now, at night anyway. “Did you find your locket, Steph?”

“Yeah,” she says, then pauses. “I did.”

“So where was it?” I try to sound uninterested.

“In your shoe. One of the ones with the spikes.”

My guts tighten up just a bit. “Weird.”

“Under your bed.”

“Double weird.” Erg will be lucky if she eats again this week.

“You think that just because you can get away with murder with boys, you can mess with me, too? My mom gave me that locket, Vassa!” Maybe that’s why Erg was attracted to it. Another mom-present, like she and the locket could be comrades and start an insurrection.

“I didn’t touch it,” I say. But this is one of those times when truth is utterly worthless. They won’t stop scowling.

“Vassa,” Chelsea hazards, “if you won’t admit you have a problem then there’s no way we can even try to help. You’re basically our sister, and we both really want to be able to trust you. Right? And you’re a great person, but you have this serious issue which is making everyone feel like you’re bad news to be around. I am saying this,” she adds carefully, “out of love.”

“I appreciate the love part,” I tell her. “But I didn’t do it.”

“Then who did?”

I can’t answer that, is the problem. Everything would be so much simpler if I could just tell them the truth, and I want to. I could pull Erg out of my pocket and let her take some responsibility for once. But, well, I promised my mom, an hour before she died, that I would keep Erg completely secret forever, and feed her and take care of her, and—like three more times—that I would really, truly never tell anyone. I don’t want to lie to Chelsea, though. “Not me. That’s all I can tell you, Chels. Okay?”

Very not okay.” Chelsea is nobody’s fool. She has huge dark eyes that could make anyone feel ashamed. “Very, extremely not. When you decide you’re ready to try some honesty, V., you let me know.”

Since there’s nothing else to say I go to my bed and curl up with my book. They both keep watching me to see if I’m embarrassed yet, which I am, so I turn my back. In a way it’s my fault that this keeps happening. If Erg can’t control herself, then it’s my job to keep her in line. I start thinking about those metal key chains that snap shut. Maybe Erg is going to get one installed around her neck, though I’m not sure if there’s a way I can attach the other end inside my pocket that she won’t be able to undo. Her hands are shaped like mittens with nothing but thin lines to show the separations between her fingers, but she does have opposable thumbs and she can work them like a fiend. You’ve never seen a human being with hands that quick and sly.

Maybe Stephanie dozes off at some point, because a while later I feel my bed sinking behind me. I roll onto my back and Chelsea is there, looking down at me with concern. “Hey,” she whispers, “I can understand if you don’t want to talk about it in front of Stephanie, V.” I just look at her. She’s trying to be sweet but there’s nothing much I can say. “Look, okay, I have a theory, Vassa? That you’re compensating for your parents being gone by stealing things that represent the love you deserve? Symbolically? And you’re right, you do deserve that love, but I’m just trying to tell you that this isn’t the way to get it. Nothing you take can make up for your mom dying or your dad being … away.”

None of us ever say directly what happened to him. The facts of the case just howl for euphemism.

“I know that,” I tell her. “Chelsea, look, I really do appreciate what you’re trying to do, or what you think you’re doing, but I’m not going to confess when I didn’t take the damn locket!”

“A present from our mother? When you lost your mom? Really?” She does a fantastic job of loading every syllable with significance. “Anyway he’s Steph’s dad, too. It’s not like you’ve got some special relationship with tragedy. Do you ever think about how all of this affects her?”

Maybe not. I maybe tend to repress the reality that Steph and I share a father.

“Not when I’m trying to read,” I tell her.

Chelsea sighs. “I’m here whenever you want to talk. Just think about what I’m telling you. Please?”

She gets up again, but she’s only going back to her own bed a few feet away.

I’ll try to break it down for you. Chelsea and Stephanie have the same mother but different fathers; Steph and I have the same father but different mothers; Chelsea is oldest, Steph is second, and I’m the youngest, but only by a week; and yes, that means my dad got both our moms pregnant at almost the same time, maybe on the same night for all I know. He spent the next ten years going back and forth between them, depending on who made him feel guiltiest, I guess, and then my mom considerately died and simplified his decision-making process. So he married Iliana, making her actually my stepmother for all of five months, and then bailed on all of us in dramatic style.

In consequence of our scrambled parentage we’re all different colors: Chelsea is chestnut brown, Stephanie is kind of beige, and I’m almost disturbingly pale. If I didn’t dye my hair I’d look a lot like a human version of Erg, all blue eyes and raven tresses. Chelsea is the smartest, due to get the hell out of here in September on a full scholarship, assuming September ever comes that is, Stephanie doesn’t have two brain cells to bang together, and I get by. So Chelsea and I aren’t actually blood but she more or less considers me a sister, and we might even love each other most of the time, but Steph, who is related by blood, definitely thinks of me as an interloper, and we maybe hate each other just a microscopic bit, though sometimes we have fun anyway.

If all of that sounds messy, well, it surely is, but to put it in perspective there are plenty of things that are messier. My own emotions, for example, which could make a city dump look like a library. And the big blue world outside of our apartment is messier and grubbier and more chaotic than anything we’ve ever personally come up with.

I say that with complete confidence.

Copyright © 2016 by Sarah Porter

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