Summer update

I’ve had some questions from readers regarding my upcoming work, so here’s a quick update:
1) First up is LOOKING GLASS. It will be released in April of 2020.
What it is not: A full-length novel about Alice and Hatcher.
What it is: Four novellas (about 40-50 pages each) set in the Chronicles of Alice universe. Two stories are about Alice and Hatcher post-RED QUEEN, one story is about young Hatcher in the Old City, and one story is about a young girl in the New City with a connection to Alice.
Preorders are available from most bookstores now for LOOKING GLASS; I’ll be posting links on this page soon. I also hope to have some cover art for you to see pretty soon as well.
2) I have another book coming out in October of next year called THE GHOST TREE.
What it is not: A retelling of any kind.
What it is: A stand-alone horror novel about a midwestern town under a curse. I am really excited about this book and I hope that all of you love it as much as I do.
3) Finally, several people have asked if there will be a sequel to THE GIRL IN RED. There is no sequel planned at this time. Thank you so much to everyone who loved Red.

The Girl in Red!

THE GIRL IN RED is out today, and I’m so excited for all of you to read it! It was selected as one of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of June by Barnes and Noble as well as one of Amazon’s Best Book of the Month: Science Fiction and Fantasy. Kirkus included it in their June roundup of SFF and said, “With The Girl in Red, Christina Henry once again proves that retellings don’t necessarily lack originality.” Publishers Weekly gave it a great review and said “Satisfyingly upends the familiar tale of a clever girl, a dangerous wolf, and a brave savior, and folklore fans will enjoy this bloody near-future variation on a familiar theme.” Booklist says, “The versatile Henry has reimagined another classic fairy tale, this time with a fascinating narrative about surviving the apocalypse.” It was also included on The Verge’s 11 New Science Fiction and Fantasy Books to Check out in Late June list.

If you’re in Chicago, I’m having a book launch party at Bucket O’Blood Books and Records on Sunday, June 23rd at 4pm. There will be books and conversation and fun! I hope you can join me there.

U.S. edition published by Berkley Publishing, an imprint of Penguin Random House

To add THE GIRL IN RED to your Goodreads list click here

Grab the U.S. edition of THE GIRL IN RED from your favorite bookseller:


Anderson’s Bookshops


Barnes & Noble

The Book Cellar





Mysterious Galaxy


Unabridged Bookstore


Women and Children First

The U.K. edition of THE GIRL IN RED is published by Titan Books

Pick it up from your favorite bookseller:

Amazon U.K.



Forbidden Planet

C2E2 schedule!

Headed to C2E2 this weekend? So am I! I have panels and signings on Friday and Sunday, and my publisher will be giving away early copies of THE GIRL IN RED as a gift-with-purchase for anyone who buys one of my books at the signing. I hope to see some of you there!
Friday, March 22
1:45 PM – 2:45 PM: Panel in Room S405a
Once Upon a Time (But Also Different)
Think you know what’s really over the rainbow? Or the true story behind Alice’s adventures in wonderland? Come hear from authors and comic creators that are flipping your favorite fairy tales and iconic stories on their heads with delicious twists, turns and remixes that’ll keep fans turning the page!
3:00 PM – 4:00 PM: Autographing at Tables 41 & 42
Sunday, March 24
2:30 PM – 3:30 PM: Panel in Room S405a
Twists, Turns & Screams
Do you have a secret? Do you need answers! Put your detective’s hat, follow the clues and the things that go bump in the night to this can’t miss panel featuring a bevy of mystery, thriller and horror writers! What makes a compelling mystery? What will keep your readers on the edge of their seat till the very last page?
3:45 PM – 4:45 PM: Autographing at Tables 41 & 42

Are you ready to meet THE GIRL IN RED?

I can’t believe it’s 2019 already! I’m so excited to share a preview of my upcoming SF/horror novel THE GIRL IN RED (release date: June 18, 2019) with you. Read on for a sneak peek of the first chapter, the U.S. and U.K. covers and all the links you need to add it to your Goodreads list or preorder from your favorite bookstore.


The Taste of Fears

Somewhere in an American forest

The fellow across the fire gave Red the once-over, from the wild corkscrews of her hair peeking out from under her red hood to the small hand axe that rested on the ground beside her. His eyes darted from the dried blood on the blade—just a shadow in the firelight—to the backpack of supplies next to it and back to her face, which she made as bland as rice pudding.

Red knew very well what he was thinking, what he thought he would be able to do to her. Men like him were everywhere, before and after the world fell apart, and it didn’t take any great perception to see what was in their eyes. No doubt he’d raped and murdered and thieved plenty since the Crisis (she always thought of it that way, with a capital letter) began. He’d hurt those he thought were weak or that he took by surprise, and he’d survived because of it.

Lots of people thought that because she was a woman with a prosthetic leg it would be easy to take advantage of her—that she would be slow, or incapable. Lots of people found out they were wrong. Someone had found out just a short while before—hence the still-bloody axe that kept drawing the attention of the stranger who’d come to her fire without invitation.

She should have cleaned the blade, though not because she was worried about scaring him. She should have done it because it was her only defense besides her brain, and she ought to take better care of it.

He’d swaggered out of the trees and into the clearing, all “hey-little-lady-don’t-you-want-some-company.” He had remarked on the cold night and how nice her fire looked. His hair was bristle-brush stiff and close to the scalp, like he’d shaved it to the skin once, but it was growing out now. Had he shaved it because he’d been a soldier? If he had been, he was likely a deserter now. He was skinny in a ropy muscled way, and put her in mind of a coyote. A hungry coyote.

He didn’t look sick; that was the main thing. Of course nobody looked sick when they first caught it, but pretty soon after they would be coughing and their eyes would be red from all the burst blood vessels and a few days after the Cough started, well . . . it was deceptively mild at first, that cough, just a dry throat that didn’t seem to go away and then it suddenly was much more, a mild skirmish that turned into a world war without your noticing.

It didn’t escape Red’s notice that underneath his raggedy field coat there was a bulge at his hip. She wondered, in a vaguely interested sort of way, if he actually knew how to use the gun or if he just enjoyed pretending he was a man while flashing it around.

She waited. She wasn’t under any obligation to be polite to someone who thought she was his next victim. He hadn’t introduced himself, although he had put his hands near the fire she’d so painstakingly built.

“Are you . . . ?” he began, his eyes darting over her again. His gaze paused for a moment when he saw the gleam of metal at her left ankle, visible just beneath the roll of her pants.

“Am I what?” she asked. Her tone did not encourage further conversation.

He hesitated, seemingly thinking better of it, then gestured at his face. “Your eyes are light, but your skin is brown. You look like you’re half-and-half.”

She gave him her blandest glance yet, her face no more expressive than a slice of Wonder Bread.

“Half-and-half?” she said, pretending not to understand.

Red had that indeterminate mixed-race look that made white people nervous, because they didn’t know what box to put her in. She might be half African or Middle Eastern. She might be a Latina or maybe she was just a really dark Italian. Her eyes were an inheritance from her father, a kind of greenish blue, and that always caused further confusion.

Their eyes always flicked up to her hair, looking for clues, but she had big fat curls that could have come from anybody. She was used to speculative glances and stupid questions, having dealt with a lifetime of them, but it always surprised her (it shouldn’t have, but it did) how many people still cared about that dumb shit when the world was coming to an end.

“I was just wondering what—” he said.

“Where I come from it’s not polite to start asking people about their folk before you’re even introduced.”

“Right,” he said. The intruder had lost some of the swagger he’d had coming into the clearing in the first place.

“What are you doing out here on your own? I thought everyone was supposed to go to the nearest quarantine camp,” he finally said, choosing not to introduce himself despite her admonishment.

They were not going to be friends, then. Red did not feel sad about this.

“What are you doing out here on your own?” she answered.

“Right,” he said, shuffling his feet. His eyes darted in all directions, a sure sign that a lie was on offer. “I lost my friends in the dark. There were soldiers and we got separated.”

“Soldiers?” she asked, sharper than she intended. “A foot patrol?”


“How many soldiers?”

He shrugged. “I dunno. A bunch. It was dark, and we didn’t want to go to the camp. Same as you.”

Don’t try to act like we have something in common. “Did you come from the highway? Do you know which way they were headed? Did they follow you?”

“No, I got away clean. Didn’t hear any of them behind me.”

This sounded like something he’d made up to explain the fact that he was alone in the woods with no supplies and no companions and sniffing around her fire looking for something he didn’t have.

Red sincerely hoped he was as full of shit as he seemed, because she was not interested in encountering any soldiers. The government wanted everyone rounded up and quarantined (“to safely prevent the further spread of the disease”—Red had snorted when she heard that announcement because the fastest way to spread disease is to put a whole bunch of people in tight quarters and those government doctors ought to know better) and she didn’t have time for their quarantine. She had to get to her grandmother, and she still had a very long way to go.

Red had passed near a highway earlier in the day. The experience filled her with anxiety since soldiers (and people generally) were more likely to be near highways and roadways and towns. She hadn’t encountered a patrol there, but she’d had a small . . . conflict . . . with a group of three ordinary people about two or three miles into the woods past the road. Since then she’d tried to make tracks as fast as possible away from anywhere that might be populated. Red wasn’t interested in joining up with a group.

She hadn’t asked the coyote to sit down and join her, and it was clear he didn’t know what to do with himself. Red could see the shape of what he figured would happen on his face.

He’d thought she would be polite, that she would offer to share her space with him. He’d thought she would trust him, because she was alone and he was alone and of course people were pack animals and would naturally want to herd together. Then when her guard was down or maybe when she’d fallen asleep, he’d take what he wanted from her and leave. She was not following his script, and he didn’t know how to improvise.

Well, Red’s mother hadn’t raised a fool, and she wasn’t about to invite a coyote to sit down to dinner with her. She stirred the stew over the fire and determined that it was finished heating.

“That smells good,” he said hopefully.

“Sure does,” Red replied. She pulled the pot off the fire and poured some of the stew into her camp bowl.

“I haven’t eaten a darn thing since yesterday,” he said.

Red moved the bowl into her lap and spooned a tiny bit of stew, just a mouse bite, into her mouth. It was too soon to eat it and hot, far too hot, and it scorched her tongue. She wasn’t going to be able to taste anything for a couple of hours after that, but she didn’t show it. She only looked at him, and waited for whatever it was that he was going to do.

He narrowed his eyes then, and she glimpsed the predator he’d tried to disguise under a charm mask.

“Where I come from it’s polite to share if you’ve got food and someone else doesn’t,” he said.

“You don’t say.”

She spooned up some more stew, never taking her eyes from him. She was going to lose what was in the pot in a minute when he charged at her, and she was sorry for it, for she was hungry and it wasn’t easy to carry those cans of stew around.

He pulled out the gun then, the one he’d been pretending not to finger the whole time.

“Give me what’s in your bag, bitch,” he snarled, his lips pulling back from his teeth.

Red calmly put the bowl in her lap to one side. “No.”

“Give it to me or I’ll shoot you,” he said, waving the gun in her general direction.

He thought he was being menacing, and it made her snort. He looked like a cartoon villain in a movie, a mangy excuse for a badass—the kind that threaten the hero when he walks through an alley and get thrashed for their trouble. She wasn’t dumb enough to think that he couldn’t hurt her, though. Even an idiot with a gun was dangerous.

“Are you laughing at me?” His face twisted in fury as he stepped closer.

He was coming around the side where she’d rested the pot, as she’d expected. He was afraid of the axe, though he didn’t want to acknowledge it, so he was giving the bloodied blade a wide berth. That was fine by Red.

“What’s the matter, bitch? Scared?” he cooed. He mistook her silence for fear, apparently.

She waited, patient as a fisherman on a summer’s day, until he was within arm’s length. Then she grabbed the pot handle and stood as fast as she could, using her real leg and her free arm for force to push upward and tapping her other leg down only for balance once she was on her feet.

The trouble with the prosthetic was that it didn’t spring—Red didn’t have a fancy blade that could perform feats of athleticism—but she’d figured out how to compensate using her other leg. She needed to prevent the coyote from killing her for her food.

Her sudden movement arrested him, his gaze flying to the axe that he’d expected her to grab. Red could have, she supposed, stayed right where she was on the ground and embedded the blade in his thigh, but that might have resulted in a protracted struggle and she didn’t want a struggle.

The goal was not to have a fancy movie fistfight that looked good from every angle. She wanted him down. She wanted him done. She wanted him unable to grab her.

Red flung the rest of the boiling stew in his face.

The intruder screamed, dropped his gun, and clawed at his skin. It blistered and bubbled, and she noticed she’d managed to hit one of his eyes. She didn’t want to think about how horrible that felt because it looked like something awful. Red forced down the gorge that threatened at the smell of his burning flesh. She grabbed up the axe then and swung it into his stomach.

All the soft organs under his shirt gave away—she felt them squishing beneath the pressure of the blade, and hot blood spurted over her hands and then there was an even worse smell: the smell of what was supposed to be inside your body coming out, and she did cough then, felt the little mouse bite of her dinner coming back up mixed in with bile. It stopped her throat and made her whole body heave.

But Red wasn’t about to let him get up again and come after her and so she pulled the axe straight across his torso before yanking it out. It made a squelching, sucking sound as it emerged. Red wasn’t accustomed to that sound yet. No matter how many times she used the axe it made her skin crawl.

The man (for that was all he was after all, just a man, not a coyote, not a hunter) fell toward her and she backed away as quick as she could, no fancy acrobatics involved. Red was not some movie superhero any more than the man was a movie villain. She was just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that didn’t look anything like the one she’d grown up in, the one that had been perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

The man fell to the ground, and the blood seeped from the wound in his stomach. He didn’t make any noise or twitch or anything dramatic like that, because he’d likely passed out once his brain was overwhelmed by the pain from his burn and the pain from the axe. He might live—unlikely, Red thought, but he might. He might die, and she was sorry not that she’d done it but that she had to do it.

Red didn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she wasn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she was a woman alone in the woods.

U.S. edition published by Berkley Publishing, an imprint of Penguin Random House

To add THE GIRL IN RED to your Goodreads list click here

Preorder the U.S. edition of THE GIRL IN RED from your favorite bookseller:


Anderson’s Bookshops

Barnes & Noble

The Book Cellar





Mysterious Galaxy


Unabridged Bookstore


Women and Children First

U.K. edition published by Titan Books

Preorder from your favorite bookseller:

Amazon U.K.



Forbidden Planet







U.K. Tour 7/29 – 8/4

Hey, U.K. fans, it’s nearly upon us! Want to get your shiny new copies of THE MERMAID autographed? Come see me on my first ever U.K. tour! I’ll be touring with Sarah Maria Griffin, author of SPARE AND FOUND PARTS, for all dates. Two dates will also feature V.E. Schwab (A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC) and the London Piccadilly date will feature Dhonielle Clayton (THE BELLES). I am so excited to meet all of you – hope to see you out on tour next week!

29th July

YALC – London, Olympia

2.00 – 2.45 Into The Ring Panel – Main Stage
3pm – 5pm Meet the fans – Signing Area


30th July

Birmingham Waterstones, 6:30pm

24-26 High Street


31st July

Manchester Waterstones, 6:30pm

91 Deansgate


1st August

Newcastle Waterstones, 6:30pm

Emerson Chambers, Blackett Street

With A Darker Shade of Magic author V.E. Schwab


2nd August

Edinburgh Waterstones, 6:30pm

128 Princes Street

With A Darker Shade of Magic author V.E. Schwab


3rd August

London Piccadilly Waterstones, 6:30pm

203-206 Piccadilly Street

With The Belles author Dhonielle Clayton


4th August

London Forbidden Planet, 1-2pm

(signing only)

Denver Comic-Con!

It’s finally June and THE MERMAID will be out eight days from now – June 19th, 2018! You can check out a sample chapter and preorder your copy here

I’ll be at Denver Comic-Con from June 15th-June 17th. I’ve got multiple panels and signings, so I hope to see you there! My schedule is as follows:

Friday, June 15______________________________________________________

When developing a villain, how does a creator navigate making them powerful, yet flawed, charming, yet diabolical? Bring your favorite antagonists and the panel will break down the strengths and weaknesses that went into building memorable characters.

Panelists: Scott Beckman, Scott Bergstrom, Peter V. Brett, Betsy Dornbusch (Moderator), Travis Heerman, Christina Henry

1:00pm—2:00pm: PRH BOOTH SIGNING (BOOTH #509)


In Booktopia on the Show Floor – near upper entrance to Hall F.


Great protagonists are only as memorable as the antagonists they must defeat! Instead of making all murderers crazy psychopaths and all adversaries driven by revenge, let’s discuss easy, practical ways to build villains that are as complex and formidable as our heroes.

Panelists: Terry Brooks, Kristi Charish, Delilah Dawson, Christie Golden, Liv Hadden (Moderator), Christina Henry, Aaron Mahnke


Saturday, June 16____________________________________________________


In Booktopia on the Show Floor – near upper entrance to Hall F.


Every story has a beginning and an ending. How do you start to fill out the culture, laws and rules of conduct? Building a world to explore takes time and thought. Interact with the panel as we discuss how they go about creating a world to put their characters in.

Panelists: Robert Jackson Bennett, Peter V. Brett, Kristi Charish, Christina Henry, Naomi Novik. Jeffrey Twohig (Moderator)


You’re never too old – or young – to read fantasy fiction, as this all-star cast of authors proves. They’ll discuss why the modern fairytale resonates with them and readers, where they find their inspiration. They may even solve the time-worn question of whether vampires, werewolves, dragons, and trolls are really monsters.

Panelists: Jacqueline Carey, C. Robert Cargill, Emily Hash (Moderator), Christina Henry, R. F. Kuang, Melissa Jane Osborne

3:30pm-4:00pm: PRH BOOTH SIGNING (BOOTH #509)


Sunday, June 17_____________________________________________________

10:15am-11:00am: PRH BOOTH SIGNING (BOOTH #509)

11:30am—12:20pm: IT’S A MYSTERY TO ME! (ROOM 402/403)

Mystery, horror and suspense writers – both fiction and non – will discuss their latest books, and why readers like to be scared, surprised, or even disgusted when they read.

Panelists: Katherine Arden, Marguerite Bennett, Kristi Charish, Emily Hash (Moderator), Christina Henry, Stephen Graham Jones, Caroline Kepnes


In Booktopia on the Show Floor – near upper entrance to Hall F.

U.K. Book Tour for THE MERMAID!

Hey, U.K. fans! Want to get your shiny new copies of THE MERMAID autographed? Come see me on my first ever U.K. tour! I’ll be touring with Sarah Maria Griffin, author of SPARE AND FOUND PARTS, for all dates. Two dates will also feature V.E. Schwab (A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC) and the London Picadilly date will feature Dhonielle Clayton (THE BELLES). I am so excited to meet all of you – hope to see you out on tour in late July/early August!

29th July

YALC – London, Olympia


30th July

Birmingham Waterstones, 6:30pm

24-26 High Street


31st July

Manchester Waterstones, 6:30pm

91 Deansgate


1st August

Newcastle Waterstones, 6:30pm

Emerson Chambers, Blackett Street

With A Darker Shade of Magic author V.E. Schwab


2nd August

Edinburgh Waterstones, 6:30pm

128 Princes Street

With A Darker Shade of Magic author V.E. Schwab


3rd August

London Piccadilly Waterstones, 6:30pm

203-206 Piccadilly Street

With The Belles author Dhonielle Clayton


4th August

London Forbidden Planet, 1-2pm

(signing only)

So many events!

I’ve got several appearances coming up in the next few months so I’m collecting them here for easy reference. Some of these appearances don’t have full programming details yet – I will add them in as I receive those. Hope to see many of you this year!


April 07, 2018, 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Room S405b
Engrossing stories, fully-realized fantasy worlds…and the bad ass female characters that inhabit them. Join a panel of authors for a lively discussion of resistance, rebellion and female characters who aren’t afraid to break the mold. Featuring Justina Ireland (Dread Nation, Promise of Shadows), Rebecca Ross (The Queen’s Rising), Christina Henry (The Mermaid, The Black Wings Series) and Sarah Beth Durst (The Queen of Sorrow, Vessel).
Signing: 3:00-4:00pm at tables #35 and #36 in the autographing area


  •  Signing at Barnes and Noble  – Des Moines, IA
    Wednesday May 2nd 6-8pm

Barnes & Noble
Shoppes At Three Fountains
4550 University Ave
West Des Moines, IA 50266

I’m so excited to be the Author Guest of Honor for Demicon 29! Full programming/signing details to come.


I’m so pleased to announce that I’ll be appearing at Denver Comic Con for the first time! Full programming/signing details to come.
Wednesday June 20th 2018
Women & Children First
5233 N. Clark St. Chicago, IL 60640


  • I can’t say anything official yet but if you’re in the U.K. STAY TUNED


Convention season has begun, and my first event of the year will be at my hometown con C2E2! I’ll be on a panel on Saturday April 7th and there will be a signing afterward.
Details below – hope to see you there!
April 07, 2018, 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Room S405b
Engrossing stories, fully-realized fantasy worlds…and the bad ass female characters that inhabit them. Join a panel of authors for a lively discussion of resistance, rebellion and female characters who aren’t afraid to break the mold. Featuring Justina Ireland (Dread Nation, Promise of Shadows), Rebecca Ross (The Queen’s Rising), Christina Henry (The Mermaid, The Black Wings Series) and Sarah Beth Durst (The Queen of Sorrow, Vessel).
Signing: 3:00-4:00pm at tables #35 and #36 in the autographing area

Sneak peek of THE MERMAID!

I’m so excited about my forthcoming release, THE MERMAID, that I just had to share the first chapter with you! I hope that you enjoy this sneak peek.


Once there was a fisherman, a lonely man who lived on a cold and rocky coast and was never able to convince any woman to come away and live in that forbidding place with him. He loved the sea more than any person and so was never able to take a wife, for women see what is in men’s hearts more clearly than men would wish.

But though he loved the freezing spray on his face and the sight of the rolling clouds on the horizon, he still wished for somebody to love. One evening after a long day he pulled up his net and found a woman in it—something like a woman, anyway, with black hair and eyes as grey as a stormy sea and a gleaming fish’s tail.

He was sorry that she was caught, and told her so, though the storm in her eyes rolled into his heart. She stopped her thrashing and crashing at his voice, though she did not understand his words. The fisherman loosed her and she dove back into the water the way a wild thing returns to a wild place, and he watched her go.

But her eyes had seen inside him the way that women’s eyes do, and his loneliness snaked into her, and she was sorry for it, for that loneliness caught her more surely than the net.

She swam away from his boat as fast as she could and she felt his loneliness trailing between them like a cord. She did not want his feelings to bind her, to pull her back to him, so her tail flashed silver in the water and her eyes looked straight before her and never behind.

But though she didn’t look back she felt him watching, and she remembered the shape of his boat and the rocky curve of the land not too far off and the lines around his eyes, eyes that were dark as the deep sea under the moon. She remembered, and so she returned again to watch him.

She was called a name that meant, in her own tongue, Breaking the Surface of the Sea. When she was born she’d come in a great hurry, much sooner than all of her six older sisters and brothers. The attendant who’d aided her mother had been astonished when she tried to swim away before the cord that bound her to her mother was cut.

Her mother and father and siblings spent most of her childhood trying to find her, for she was never where she ought to be. She was warned repeatedly of the dangers of the surface and of the men who cast nets there, and of their cruelty to the denizens of the ocean.

They should never have told her, for in the telling she wanted to know more, and wanting to know more led her farther and farther afield.

Her home was deep in the ocean, far away from the land that pushed up against the water on either side, and this was because her people feared the men with their hooks and their nets and the boats that floated on the surface of the waves as if by magic. The storytellers told of silver fins caught by cruel metal, and dragged to the decks of ships where blood ran red and spilled back into the water, calling things that swam the ocean in search of dying creatures.

Sometimes there was a storm, and that storm would batter a ship to pieces and the men would fall into the water and sink, sink, sink to the bottom—the lucky ones, that is. The unlucky ones were devoured by roaming hunters with their silver-grey bodies and black eyes and white, white teeth.

When the ships were sunk the mermaid would go to the wreckage and explore, and pick up odd things that humans used, and wonder about them. And then one of her brothers or her parents would find her and she would be chided for her foolishness and dragged home by her wrist, staring with longing over her shoulder all the while.

One day she was swimming near the surface—far too near the surface, her family would have said—and saw a large, large ship of a sort she had never seen before. On the prow of the ship she saw a strange thing.

It looked like her—like a mermaid, but frozen and sealed to the ship.

She swam alongside the ship for a long time, trying to see how the sailors had bound this mermaid to their craft. It was not easy, for the proximity of the ship necessitated keeping out of sight of the sailors. She would break the surface to catch a glimpse of the other mermaid and then would be forced to plunge below the water again before she was spotted.

There was a fine wind and all the sails were full, and so the ship clipped along the surface and after a time the mermaid grew tired. But she wanted to see, she wanted to know, and so she followed and followed even when she could no longer stay alongside. Her tail started to drag, and her swimming slowed, and then suddenly the ship was far ahead of her, disappearing over the flat line of the horizon.

And the mermaid was alone, and far from home, and did not know how to find her way back again.

This ought to have made her sad, or frightened, or any number of other distressed feelings. But while she was sorry she might never see her family again, she wasn’t as upset as she should be.

Rather, she felt the freedom to go where she chose, and do what she chose. Yes, there would be consequences (she was not so silly as to think there wouldn’t be), but they would be her choices and her consequences and not the ones laid out for her by someone else.

Freedom was far more intoxicating than safety could ever be.

She wanted to see and know more than she ever could at the bottom of the ocean. So she swam after the ship, because the ship would go to land and the mermaid had never seen land before.

And so she crossed the ocean, and came to the place where there was land. The mermaid spent many days watching the people on shore and the ones who came out to the sea on boats. Always, always she was careful to avoid the hooks and lines and cages and nets, because she had found her freedom and she loved it, and she would not be bound to someone else’s will again.

Until the day she was busy trying to loose a fish caught on a hook, as it was shaking and fighting and she was trying to help, but it was too panicked to let her. She didn’t see the net come down from above, and then she was caught.

She panicked then too, just like the fish she’d been trying to aid; she thrashed her tail, pulled with all her might, but all her thrashing entangled her more securely than before until she was hauled, furious and weeping, to the surface.

His eyes were dark and full of surprise when they saw what was in his net. Surprise, and wonder, and then a little sadness that she almost missed. When he raised the knife she was sure he would fillet her then, but he only spoke some words she did not understand and cut away that which bound her.

She swam away and wondered about the man who’d let her go.

That night the fisherman watched the sea from his cottage, which was perched on the rocks above a small cove where he tied up his boat at night. It was cold, for it was coming on winter and it never really was warm in the North Atlantic anyhow. He buried his hands in the pocket of his coat and stared out at the churning mass of water, and looked for her under the moon. But though he turned his head at the sound of every faint splash he did not see that which his heart most longed for—the sight of her fin silhouetted against the moonlight.

He’d likely been a fool to let her go. Nobody would believe the story if he told it, and he wasn’t about to make a fool of himself down at the tavern in the village. He was old enough to be past the bragging flush of youth, though not so old that he would have minded seeing the light of wonder in their eyes had he brought a mermaid home.

He could never have done it. That he knew for certain. He could not have taken that wild thing that looked on him with such wild eyes and forced her to stay with him, to make her a prisoner, to profit by her hurt.

She hadn’t looked as he expected her to, the way he’d been told since he was a boy listening to tales that a mermaid should look. Those stories spoke of pale bare-breasted women with long flowing hair, human women in every way except for their tail fin.

What he’d caught in his net had been far more alien, a creature covered in silver scales all over, with webbing between its fingers and teeth much sharper than any human’s. But her eyes had been a woman’s, and they’d looked into his heart as a woman’s eyes do and seen all the loneliness there.

He’d felt in that moment that his heart was visible outside his chest, that if she’d wanted she could have grasped it in those long scaly fingers and taken it away with her.

Then he’d come to his senses and loosed her because he knew he should and the state of his heart was no concern of the mermaid.

But still he watched the water in hope, for the dearest wish of all fishermen is to see a mermaid, to brush up against something magical and hope some of that magic would stay with him for always.

He watched and watched, but he did not see her.

When finally the moon was past its zenith he put away his dreams and went inside to sleep. He knew he would never see her again, and in his own practical way thought at least he’d seen her one time. That was more than most fishermen. He’d touched magic, and he should not want for more.

He did not see her, but she watched him from beneath the water near his cottage, and she knew he was looking for her. She couldn’t say how she knew this except that his eyes had been a little sad when he let her go. His loneliness had burrowed into her heart and the ache of it burned inside her.

The mermaid had heard stories, spoken-under-the-breath-in-secret-places stories, about those of her kind who had left the deep and walked upon land.

There was no special magic about this unless you considered that mermaids were magical in and of themselves; the mermaid did not consider herself anything special because she had always known her own kind.

In those stories, those secret stories, the mermaid only had to touch dry land and her fin would be transformed into legs to walk about. If she touched the water of the sea again, her fin would return.

The mermaid had never wished to walk upon land before, but suddenly she found she wanted this with all her heart. She could think only of all the things she’d never seen that were hidden past the shore: all the people and all the things for which she had no name and wanted to name so she could place them in her memory and keep them there.

It was dark, even with the moon, and there was a stretch of sandy beach hidden in the rocks, a little cove where the fisherman tied up his boat at night.

The mermaid thought she would swim to that place and touch the dry shore and see if the stories were true. Her heart was bursting with anticipation—how wonderful, how free, how perfect it would be if she could pass between the shore and the sea. Not like a man did, of course—men swimming in the water were awkward, flopping things with their limbs splashing out in all directions.

No, she would be as lithe as a fish in water and graceful as a human on land and all the world would be open to her. All the world and its wonders and she would see them, every one.

She swam into the cove, and when her head rose above the water she saw the jagged rocks rising on either side and the boat nestled inside. Beside the boat was a small wooden pier and a short beach that connected to a set of steps leading up to the fisherman’s cottage.

There were no lights in the cottage and the mermaid was certain the fisherman was inside and asleep and would not look out and see her there. Even if he did, she reasoned, he would only see a shadow moving against another shadow—the light of the moon did not reach this place.

The mermaid swam to the shore, until she could feel the wet sand dragging beneath her fin and she could no longer kick up and down for there wasn’t enough water. She reached for the dry land just beyond the lapping waves—reached, and then paused.

What if it did not work? What if those stories, those always-whispered stories were not true? What if her heart longed always for the land and for the man with the lonely dark eyes and she was to never, ever have what she wished for?

For some the possibility of failure would be a check, would make them turn back to the familiar. Not the mermaid. She had to know, and the only way to know was to reach out, to touch the shore.

Her fingers brushed the dry sand, and she reveled in the wonder of it, of the feel of each grain as it passed through her hands free and unencumbered by water. It made her laugh out loud, to touch this thing she’d never touched before.

And then she felt a horrible wrench deep in her gut, and a tearing in her fin, and she tried to cry out but it was caught in her throat. This was terrible, terrible, there was no wonder here at all—only pain and then cold, the most profound cold she had ever known. The waves lapped against her bare legs and she could feel the chill of the ocean. She had never felt the ocean’s cold before. It seemed to sink into her blood and marrow and freeze her from her muscles and bones out to the delicate skin that covered her instead of scales.

How do humans live with this cold? she thought. Every part of her felt fragile, as if she would burst into pieces if someone put a fingertip on her. The sand, so wonderful only a moment before, scraped her raw wherever it touched and her shoulders shook with cold.

Her teeth clattered together in her mouth and she reached up with sandy fingers to touch them because they felt different, somehow flatter. They were flatter, not pointed as they had been before, and more like a human’s teeth.

Her scales were gone and her teeth were gone and in return she had these things, these legs, which felt not free and light like her fin but like heavy bonding weights pulling her into the earth.

Had she thought it would be marvelous to be a human? Had she thought she would have all the world before her? The world was not open to her. Her legs were like a net, a net that caught her and kept her from swimming free.

She almost let go then, to push back into the water and let her scales cover her body and swim back, all the way back to the deep, deep ocean where her family would be waiting for her.

Then she shook her head hard, though she trembled all over with cold and fear. She would not return in shame so they could shake their heads and say she never have left in the first place.

She wanted to know what it was like to be a human. Humans walked on their legs. So she must stand.

But how? Nothing about her body seemed familiar. She did not know how things connected, how to push and pull all these alien parts to get what and where she wanted.

The first thing, she felt, was to get clear of the ocean. Her human form was not meant for this place. The mermaid put her arms in the sand and pulled the rest of her body out of the water—slowly, so slowly, gritting her teeth as the sand scraped against her.

Once she was out of the water she discovered the night air was nearly as cold, and that it blew into the cove and swirled in eddies around her. It made the water that clung to her freeze, and her delicate human skin rose in bumps.

This is why humans put the skin of other creatures on their bodies, she thought. She’d seen them in wrapped in furs, or in sealskin boots, and thought them barbaric. But now she realized that they must have these coverings, or else they would die. She felt, at that moment, like she might die from the cold.

Cold. She was so cold.

She craned upward to see the fisherman’s cottage. Inside there it would not be cold. He would cover her with a fur and dry the water away and she would be warm, warm, warm. And then he would smile because she had come to him from out of the sea so he would not be lonely anymore.

The fisherman. She must reach him. To reach him she must walk. To walk she must stand and it didn’t matter that she didn’t know how.

Her legs had a bend in the middle. She could feel it, feel the place where the leg separated into two connected parts like her arms.

She pushed up to the palms of her hands, and bent her legs until her knees were in the sand, and she huffed out her breath in the cold air because everything seemed so much harder than she expected. How did humans simply stand up on these stiff fins at the end of their legs and walk?

The mermaid rolled her ankles experimentally, curled up her toes, and by slow and careful practice found herself standing (wobbling) on her new feet. She did not feel very certain about what to do next.

She’d seen humans walking on their ships and knew that each foot took turns leaving the ground while the other stayed. This seemed almost impossible as she stood there trembling all over and feeling that at any moment she might find her face in the sand.

But the fisherman was at the top of the stairs. And so she must climb.

The mermaid lifted one of her feet, and the wonder of being able to do it at all struck her then. She stared down at her legs, at the foot stuck in the sand and the other lifted in the air, and laughed out loud.

And then she did fall forward, landing on her elbows and knees, and had to start it all over again.

She struggled to stand. Once there, she shuffled one foot forward very carefully and then the other—one after another, scritch-scratch across the sand. All the while she clutched her body with her arms—they seem so thin and frail, so incapable of protecting her from the frozen air that bit through her skin and into her blood.

Then she reached the stairs and looked up, and had the horrible realization that she would not be able to shuffle here. Each step was high and made of wood and there was nothing to hold except the rock face.

The mermaid felt very tired then, and wanted to do anything but climb the steps. But climb them she did, and later she had no notion of how she’d done this, except that it took a very long time.

When she reached the top, the moon had almost disappeared beneath the horizon of the sea. Her hands and legs were bloodied and covered with splinters from where she fell on the stairs and her teeth chattered with such force that she felt they might break.

The mermaid stumbled to the door of the cottage and reached for the handle, as she had seen the fisherman do when she watched him from the water.

The door swung open and she clung to the frame. Inside the cottage there were many things that were strange to her—things the fisherman would teach her the names for, things like a kettle and a pan and flour in a jar and tea in a wooden box and a table and a chair (soon he would need two chairs, one for each of them).

Beyond the room full of strange things there was another doorway, this one without a door in it, and she heard the sleeping-breathing noise that humans made and knew the fisherman must be there.

The doorway seemed a long way from the one she was in, and the rough wood of the floor would hurt if she tried to slide across it as she had done the sand—this she knew from climbing the stairs, where unpredictable splinters had jabbed into her tender new skin.

It took a long while for her to cross to his room. When she reached it she saw him asleep in bed, the blankets pulled up tight past his chin. He lay on his side and only the lids of his eyes and the black tufts of his hair were visible.

The room seemed warmer than the others, heated by his sleeping breath, and she wanted so much to be where it was warm. She knelt beside his bed, stroked her fingers into his hair, and watched as his dark eyes opened. She saw the recognition in them, and she never wondered how he knew it was her, the same mermaid he’d caught in his net.

A long time later he told her that it was her eyes, that her eyes were the same no matter what form she took and when he saw them he knew she’d returned to him.

He lifted the blanket, and she saw that underneath was his man’s body with no coverings on it as humans usually wore. She went to him then, and his warmth covered her, and his love filled her heart and made her want to stay.

He taught her how to speak his human-speak, and told her his name was Jack. Her name was not something they could say in human, so he told her many names for many days until he said the one she liked, and so she was called Amelia.

Amelia loved Jack, but she could not leave the sea altogether, and at night she practiced transforming from a mermaid to a woman, until she could pass easily between one and the other without the pain that had struck her down the first time.

So she stayed with him, and loved him, and lived as a woman on land and a mermaid in the sea for many years. At night, when there were no other fishermen about and her husband lay sleeping in their bed, she would go out to the rocks and leave her human dress there, and dive into the black water and there she would stay, at least until her heart remembered the eyes of the man she loved and she would return to him.

She loved him almost as much as she loved the sea, and so they were well matched, for he loved the sea almost as much as he loved her. He’d never thought any person could draw him more than the ocean, but the crashing waves were there in her eyes and the salt of the spray was in her skin and there, too, was something in her that the sea could never give. The ocean could never love him back, but Amelia did.

Many years passed, and they were happy and content, but there were no children. Neither of them spoke of their secret hopes, or their secret sorrows, but sometimes they would sit upon their deck and watch the water churning below the rocks and he would take her hand and she would know he was thinking of the children that never became.

They lived near a village—close enough to supply them with what they could not provide themselves but not so close as to force them to be neighborly when they had no wish to be. Jack loved Amelia and the sea, and Amelia loved the sea and Jack, but they did not love the questions that too-keen neighbors asked, questions about where Amelia had come from and where were her people and when had they gotten married and oh this was so sudden, wasn’t it?

Still, they grew accustomed to Amelia after a time, as folk will. They were a good people, but suspicious, and the mermaid’s eyes were always too direct, too beautiful, to make them comfortable. And where there is discomfort there is sometimes jealousy, and sometimes curiosity, and the two mingled on their gossiping tongues until the villagers were accustomed to the taste.

“That wife of old Jack’s, they say she goes out in the moonlight and dances with the devil and that’s how she stays so young and lovely.”

“That’s foolishness, Martha, where would she go to dance up there? Their house is perched on the rocks just so. A good nor’easter would push it in to the sea, I expect, and there are no forest clearings for dancing to be seen,” her companion replied, with more than a touch of New England asperity.

There was more than a touch of New England superstition lingering, though, enough that some folk believed the tales of moonlight and demon-dancing. Many treated Amelia just the same when she came into the village, but there were those who never would.

The years passed, as years will. Jack grew old, though Amelia did not, and after a time the people of the village began to remark on this—even the ones who were inclined not to believe the worst of her in the first place.

They had not known, Jack and Amelia, that when she crawled out of the ocean to be at his side that they would not grow old together. Mermaids, it happened, lived a very long time, though they did not reckon time in the same manner as men. Amelia watched her young strong husband grow brittle, his face as grey and weatherbeaten as the prow of a ship.

Still she loved him, and loved him more for she knew his heart, and after many, many years she found she loved him even more than the sea.

And so the sea, who can be bitter and jealous herself, took Jack away—perhaps in hopes that Amelia would love her best again.

It was an ordinary day, mostly grey but with peeks of sun, and the wind was light and fine. Jack kissed her good-bye as he always did and made his way—slowly now, so slowly—down the many steps to the cove.

Amelia watched from the door of the cottage as he rowed out of the cove. He waved to her when he saw her standing there, and she waved back. She had a feeling then that this would be the last time he would wave to her, that this was their final good-bye.

This feeling clutched her heart so strongly that she believed it was truth, and she ran from the cottage down the steps to the cove to call him back.

It was too late then, far too late, for the wind was blowing into the cove and it took her voice and threw it against the rocks instead of carrying it out to the ears of her beloved.

She watched him row farther out, farther away from her, and join all the other boats out to draw their trade from the sea.

For one wild moment she thought of changing into a mermaid to follow him, to bring him back home. But the presence of all the other boats stopped her.

There were nets there, and hooks and lines. The one time she’d been caught in a net it had led her to Jack, but she had no desire to be caught again. What if the fisherman who caught her didn’t believe that she was Amelia, that she was Jack’s wife? What if he carved her up with his knife to sell at the market?

This fear made her slightly ashamed, for she’d always been brave, but it was easier to be brave when you had nothing to lose. And she did have something to lose now—her home, her life, her happiness.

After all, what if this feeling was only that—a feeling? Would she put her—their—secret at risk for nothing? And what could harm Jack on that sort of day? It was a fine day with no signs of storm.

She was only worrying because he looked so frail lately, she reasoned. But when he came home that night she would tell him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t to go so far out to sea alone any longer.

All day she tried to go about her chores as usual. She found that she was constantly at the window, looking and hoping, but the sun went on its usual journey and the fisherman did not reappear at the horizon.

As night fell she went out to the rocks and waited. The cold air bit into her bones as it had done the first night she’d walked as a human, so long ago. Amelia didn’t go back inside, to wait by the fire or to put on a coat. She stared at the ocean as if the intensity of that stare would make her Jack appear there, tired and careworn but safe—Above all things let him be safe.

But she could not make him appear, no matter how hard she wished it, so when night fell and all the other fishermen had tied up their boats until the morrow, she went down to the cove and took off her dress and touched the water of the ocean.

In a silver flash she was in the water and swimming faster than any human ever could. Amelia followed the line she thought Jack had taken, out to the open water where he could cast his net.

She swam and swam. It was dark and the land slowly disappeared behind her, but still she swam. She swam, surfacing to look for his boat, always sure that when she came up she would see his dear face looking sheepish and saying he’d lost track of the time.

Finally she broke the water and saw it—his boat, the one with her name carved in the side so she knew it was his. It sat still and empty, the ocean lapping against its sides, and no sign of Jack anywhere.

Amelia swam to the boat and heaved herself over the side, her fin trailing in the water, sure that he was only asleep in the bottom. But there was no Jack, or nets, or fish that he might have caught. There was only the empty boat, oars tucked neatly inside.

She cried out then, and plunged back into the water and down to the deep. Mermaids can see through the dark of the ocean.

Amelia was sure, absolutely certain, that if only she looked far enough she would find he’d fallen in the water and was trying to swim back to the surface. She knew he was trying to swim back to her. He would never leave her. Not her Jack.

She would find him soon. Very soon. She was sure of it. He was just out of sight, but his hand was reaching up for her and she would find him and she would save him and they would go home, home where they belonged, home on the cliff by the sea where they could see the ocean they both loved.

But she didn’t find him, though she looked and looked. After a long time she went back to the surface and found his boat again. She searched all over it for any clue, any sign of what might have happened to her Jack.

There was nothing, only the empty boat and the folded oars and no sign that Jack had ever been there at all.

Amelia knew then that the ocean had swallowed him, torn him away from her, and a great bitterness filled her heart. She hated the ocean, hated the vast and heartless expanse that had taken Jack from her.

She wanted only to be out of the water then, away from the lapping waves and the boat that had borne her love away from her and delivered him into the cruel depths.

Mermaids do not cry, but Amelia had spent too long as a human, and so as she swam back to shore the tears streamed over the scales on her face and mixed with the brine of the sea.

When she touched the sand of the cove she put on her human dress again and climbed the stairs back to the empty cottage. There she sat by the cold ashes in the fire and wept bitter tears until she felt wrung dry.

Jack’s boat never came back to the cove, and some of the other fishermen noticed the empty pier, and they told their neighbors that they saw Jack’s strange wife standing on the rocks every day, staring out at the sea.

They assumed poor old Jack had been taken by the ocean, as was not uncommon, and some of them even spared a kind thought for his wife who watched for him day after day. But mostly they wondered when she would give up and leave, for she was not from that part of the world, and now that Jack was gone they thought that she too would go.

But Amelia did not leave. She stayed there in the cottage on the rocks, year after year. The wood of the cottage became white from the wind and the salt spray, and Amelia’s dresses grew as thin as her face, but she would not leave.

And she did not grow any older.

The people of the village could not help themselves talking, for winters were long and brutal where they lived, and a mystery is good for many an endless night. They wondered what kept her there on those rocks, and where she might have come from, and if, perhaps, she might have come from the sea.

This idea was met with less derision than that of Amelia dancing in the moonlight with the devil. These were an oceangoing people, and everyone knew that mermaids swam the ocean. Everyone knew that a mermaid might fall in love with a human man.

And far from making the people frightened of her, this knowledge seemed to comfort them, for it meant that in her own way Amelia belonged to them. She, too, was part of the ocean that gave and took everything from them.

Because she was one of them they would protect her, and when she came into the village (much less often now) their eyes and their voices were softer than before. She was their Amelia, their wonder, their mermaid.

But the rumors about this strange and unusual woman who never grew old, and who might be a mermaid, traveled from village to village and town to town, as they do, until they reached the ears of a man whose business was in the selling of the strange and unusual.

His name was P. T. Barnum, and he’d been looking for a mermaid.


THE MERMAID will be released by Penguin Random House and Titan Books on June 19th, 2018.

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