A bold, clever, and sublimely sinister collection that dares to ask the question: “Are you ready to be un-settled?” Featuring stories by:
Norris Black • Amber Blaeser-Wardzala • Phoenix Boudreau • Cherie Dimaline • Carson Faust • Kelli Jo Ford • Kate Hart • Shane Hawk • Brandon Hobson • Darcie Little Badger • Conley Lyons • Nick Medina • Tiffany Morris • Tommy Orange • Mona Susan Power • Marcie R. Rendon • Waubgeshig Rice • Rebecca Roanhorse • Andrea L. Rogers • Morgan Talty • D.H. Trujillo • Theodore C. Van Alst Jr. • Richard Van Camp • David Heska Wanbli Weiden • Royce Young Wolf • Mathilda Zeller
Many Indigenous people believe that one should never whistle at night. This belief takes many forms: for instance, Native Hawaiians believe it summons the Hukai’po, the spirits of ancient warriors, and Native Mexicans say it calls Lechuza, a witch that can transform into an owl. But what all these legends hold in common is the certainty that whistling at night can cause evil spirits to appear—and even follow you home.
These wholly original and shiver-inducing tales introduce readers to ghosts, curses, hauntings, monstrous creatures, complex family legacies, desperate deeds, and chilling acts of revenge. Introduced and contextualized by bestselling author Stephen Graham Jones, these stories are a celebration of Indigenous peoples’ survival and imagination, and a glorious reveling in all the things an ill-advised whistle might summon.
Release date: September 19, 2023
Print pages: 384
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Never Whistle at Night: An Indigenous Dark Fiction Anthology
STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES
I can’t deliver this as well as Joseph M. Marshall III did once upon a talk I went to—he’s got that delivery that makes you listen—but I can rough it out, anyway: someone’s driving an empty road…let’s say this is the Dakotas. The Great Plains. All that grass, the land rolling up and down real slow. It’s night, too—it’s always night in these kinds of stories.
I forget the setup, but not the final image: These four dudes on horses, booking it from here to there. Say, blasting out of this copse of trees, diving for a coulee or something a couple hundred yards across the way, their chests to their horses’ backs because you’re less of a target that way. And this line between here and there, it takes them right through the edge of this driver’s headlights.
“What?” I imagine this driver saying—I think Marshall was relaying a story he’d heard, not one he was in—and kind of letting their foot off the gas, so they can coast a bit, maybe convince themselves they’re not seeing what they’re pretty certainly seeing: four riders in traditional getup, on painted horses, going somewhere urgent at late thirty at night.
I’d probably take my foot off the accelerator as well, and lean forward shaking my head no, that this isn’t really happening, that this can’t be happening, or if it is, this has to be a joke, or some Scooby-Doo situation, or some kind of night shoot for a film.
The way Marshall told it, though, which I’m guessing is the way it was told to him, was that it most definitely was happening.
These riders were booking through that darkness, looking to duck into another.
Then, when it got to be time for them to cross the road this car was making its way down—and this was the part I, leaned forward in my auditorium seat to soak every bit of this in, was worried about, since horseshoes on blacktop can be ice skates, especially at speed—instead of thundering up and over, these horses, and their riders, they slipped through the road, and then…
Okay, I don’t remember the rest.
My guess is that those riders got where they were going, blipped away, and maybe the driver, or Marshall, for us, was able to cast them as players in this or that thing that happened a century and more ago, and knit it back to now.
Cool, great, wonderful.
What stories like this do for us is make the world just a smidge bigger, yes? We now have to expand the borders of the real, to allow for, say, two timelines to simultaneously exist. No, not just exist, but intersect.
To make that a horror story, though? To make it horror, then I think one of those riders needs to look back at the driver in that car, which would mean this is going a touch further than just “intersection.” There’s recognition, now. You, the driver, have been seen, and, who knows, maybe that means you’re officially an interloper now, and that’s when stories start to get complicated, and good.
So, to keep on with the horror version of this, the driver coasts past, audibly locks all four doors of their car, and then accelerates into the safe-safe night—only for a painted horse and rider to suddenly be standing in the road before them. Or maybe that driver, leaning down to dial a late-night show in on the AM, catches a shape in their rearview mirror: that painted rider is in their back seat now.
At which point we have to decide whether this driver’s Native or not, yeah? If not, then, no,
you don’t want to see someone in traditional getup suddenly, and wrongly, in your back seat. Because you know some justice is probably coming for you. There’s not a lot of room to swing a war club in the tight confines of a car. But I bet there’s enough room.
If the driver is Native, though, then maybe this is a team-up? Maybe this is the origin story of the comic book drama about to spool out for fifty issues: you and this warrior from back-when, settling some certain scores.
That’s not horror, though. That’s fantasy.
No, for the horror version of this where the driver’s Native, I think what they need to see in the rearview mirror when they look, it’s not a shape they don’t recognize in the back seat, it’s the paint on their own face that they can’t account for. Generally speaking, Indians are pretty nervous about possession narratives, since those are more or less stories about a body being colonized, which we know a thing or two about, but…the way to twist that, it’s to make the entity possessing you itself Native, yeah?
This can put a protagonist in a good bind, and then the story can go horror, as it’s easy to be all “down with the invaders,” “out with the settlers,” “fighting terrorism since 1492,” but it’s different when some of them are your friends, and family, and you’re coming to out of breath, standing over a body in a living room, the walls painted with blood.
Maybe I’ll write that—with all due thanks to Joseph M. Marshall III, of course.
Could be his story’s already horror, yeah? Sure, the way he told it was more…it was more about how there’s more to the night, and the land, than we generally acknowledge. Which is to say: when we feel his story in the base of our jaw, in the hollow of our chest, in the sway of our back, then the world clicks that smidge wider, to allow more stuff to be going on.
Or, rather—and I get this more from his delivery, that evening—actually the world’s this big and bigger, we just have to have the right eyes to see. Which is pretty Philip K. Dick, really, and sort of Lovecraft, too: there’s more here than we thought, and, now that we’ve gotten a glimpse of that, there’s no going back to the way it was.
Compelling stuff; Joseph M. Marshall III’s a good speaker, a good storyteller. Good enough that, come one in the morning the evening he told that story to us all, at a table way in the corner of an emptied-out hotel lobby, me and some other people are still talking, doing that thing Indians tend to do when it gets dark: whispering scary stories to each other, stories I won’t repeat here because…like the title of this book says, you don’t invite bad stuff, right?
But…let’s say there was more than one bigfoot story that night, maybe some little people stuff secondhand, but, mostly, the stories were all doing that thing Indian stories tend to do, that Marshall’s had done as well: end inconclusively. Which isn’t any kind of failure. It’s more like a handoff: “Here, this is yours now, it lives in your head, and it’ll keep going, and growing, sending tentacles out into your life.”
Thanks, man. Just what I wanted.
It’s kind of what we all want, really.
And, sure, the anthropologists and social scientists and literary critics can all shrug and say maybe we like stories that function like that because they mean our story—the story of us in what’s for the moment called America—hasn’t quite processed all the way through yet, hasn’t completed. Things can happen. This place can be ours again. Why not.
I’ll buy that, no problem. Makes sense.
But what feels like an even better explanation for why we tend to like our stories to end like that, with bleeding over, bleeding across, haunting us, it’s that it feels kind of fake and wrong and all too American to throw up walls between what’s real and what’s maybe not real. So, telling ourselves stories about the world being bigger than we thought, big enough for bigfoot and little people, that’s really kind of saying to the so-called settlers that, hey, yeah, so you took all that land you could see. But what about all this other territory you don’t even know about, man?
Or, really: Why you don’t come over here into the dark with us, into that other land? We can show you a thing or two, maybe. About the way things really are. And about the way they should be. The way they can be. The way they will be again.
I can’t wait.
Part of me’s still sitting at that table in that hotel lobby, I mean. And, I say all of us sitting there, scaring ourselves with stories, were Native, but, at some point in it all, I clearly remember someone going back through Joseph M. Marshall III’s story piece by piece, and then someone—maybe not Native?—calling foul, asking us to slow down, slow down.
Their objection was that the story made no sense, because why didn’t those riders’ horses clamber up onto the blacktop, spark across? First, it would have been more dramatic, and, second, it would have meant they were corporeal, not just smoke and light and wishful thinking.
Kind of as one, I recall, with, like, a single set of quotation marks, we all explained that the reason those horses didn’t do that was that, a hundred-plus years ago, that roadbed wasn’t there. Of course. The horses not going
up with the blacktop wasn’t a mistake in the story, it’s the thing that makes the story real, it’s the fantastic element that serves as proof—all we needed, anyway.
That roadbed in Joseph M. Marshall III’s story didn’t necessarily just have to be absent in the nineteenth century, either.
Those riders gliding through it might not be born yet.
There’s scary stuff in stories, sure, there’s stuff that keeps you up at night, there’s stuff that makes you watch the darkness you’re driving through that much closer.
But there’s hope, too.
Just—some nights you have to wade through a lot of blood to get there.
So, for these next pages, let these writers take you by the hand, lead you into the darkness at the heart of—let me put some quotation marks around it—“America.”
Just, don’t look back at your footprints.
Best to not look back at all, really.
stephen graham jones
“You don’t have to love him, just make his baby,” Mama said, hanging the fleshy swath of salmon to dry. “It might have colored eyes, you know, maybe blue eyes. He’ll pay you to keep quiet about it.”
Mama had always been Machiavellian, but this was next level. Not even the old ladies who gossiped about her would have guessed she’d try to pull something like this. I shuddered and slid my knife up the side of another salmon, severing a long fillet of red flesh and silver scales. The cold, wet flesh reminded me of Hank Ferryman’s lips, which he constantly licked while talking to us village girls. His hands were wide and stubby, his cheeks were pocked and ruddy, and his breath smelled like a caribou carcass that had been left in the sun for a week.
“He’s rich,” Mama reminded me unnecessarily, “and I’m sure he wouldn’t be wanting his wife back in Kansas knowing he’s got a kid up here. The money could really help, you know.”
“He’s probably got kids all over the Kobuk Valley,” I muttered, “and I don’t want to make anyone’s baby.”
Except maybe Pana’s, but even then, that’s not happening until after I finish college. Which costs money. That we don’t have. Which is why this conversation is happening in the first place.
I brought down my knife too quickly through the filet and caught the side of my thumb. Blood blossomed along the cut and I brought it reflexively to my mouth, the taste of my blood mingling with the fish’s.
Mama sucked her teeth. “Stupid girl! Go inside and clean that up. You’re getting blood everywhere.”
The cut stung, but it was a way out of this conversation and away from Mama. I jogged back to the house, pressing my jacket sleeve around the cut, which extended from the tip of my thumb down the side of my palm. Not wanting to take the pressure off it, I kicked the door with my toe.
It was Pana, not my aana, who opened it. My heart fluttered a little, despite having known him my whole life.
“What are you doing here?”
He grinned that perfect grin, complete with deep set dimples and one eyetooth missing. “Having tea with your aana.”
“Why?” Not that I minded, but he was supposed to be on shift in the mines.
“There was an accident down at the mines. Frankie and Aqlaq and a couple of the white guys too. You know, the ones visiting from Kansas.”
“Which white guys?” Maybe one was Hank Ferryman. Maybe Mama would leave me alone then.
“Jim and Bob. They all survived, but they’re in really rough shape. Had to be flown to Fairbanks.”
“Oh.” My heart sank a little. “How did they get hurt?”
Pana’s face darkened. “Maybe you should come inside.”
Aana waited on the overstuffed chintz sofa, her dark eyes smiling at me from their nests of deep wrinkles. She was aged but ageless. I swear she hasn’t changed since I was four years old.
“It was Sedna,” Aana
said by way of greeting, “she’s the mistress of the underworld, and they’re mining into her domain.”
Pana shook his head. “The foreman said it was a bear, or maybe some wolves.”
“A bear or maybe some wolves?” Aana repeated, cackling. “He didn’t even see what happened, he is throwing guesses into the dark.”
I sat down next to Pana. “Sedna is mythology, Aana—”
“Sedna is angry,” Aana interrupted. “They’re coming uninvited, and taking what’s ours. They don’t belong here, in our land, in our beds—” She clenched her jaw tight, swallowing hard. “—But Sedna is gracious enough to give warning. She only tore their guts out. A wolf or bear would have stayed to eat the guts. They wouldn’t be alive in the hospital right now if it weren’t for Her grace.”
I turned to Pana, my own innards tightening. “Their guts were torn out?”
Pana nodded. “Torn up across the abdomen. Torn up everywhere, in fact.”
I raised a skeptical eyebrow. “And they’re saying it was wolves?”
Pana shifted defensively. “If they weren’t saying it was wolves, you know who they’d be accusing.”
Us. All of us. I nodded my head.
“What did you do to your hand?” Aana said, reaching for me with one hand and smacking Pana’s knee with the other. “Pana, why didn’t you see she’s hurt? Go get the bandages.”
Pana jumped up to get them. He didn’t need to ask where; he knew my house as well as I did.
As soon as he was out of the room, Aana leaned toward me. “He wants to marry you, you know.”
I sighed. “I know.” Pana had been saved last year by a visiting preacher and was now determined to marry me before I moved in. Common-law marriage was what basically everyone else did, but not Pana, no. He wanted to go to a little white chapel and promise God he’d love me first.
“Your grandfather married me first,” Aana reminded me, smiling.
“I know,” I repeated. I’d heard the story a million times, how he’d waited and saved till he could take Grandma and Eddie, her baby from a visiting schoolteacher, all the way out to Fairbanks for a marriage and adoption. He’d wanted to do it properly, he said. She thought it was stupid at the time, but it had grown to be a major point of pride with her.
I wasn’t sure I saw the point—it was a lot of money, but Pana cared about doing it that way, and I cared about him.
Pana returned with the first aid kits and pulled my hand into his lap, gingerly unwrapping
it from the jacket sleeve.
“I’m taking Hank Ferryman’s boy hunting this weekend,” he said, pouring some iodine onto a bit of gauze. “Hank says he wants him toughened up out there on the tundra.”
I rolled my eyes. Pana and his crew would do no such thing—not if they wanted repeat business. They would take the kid out there, make him feel like a big, tough hunter while doing all the actual work of packing things, unpacking things, and hauling things, and he would have stories to take back to his buddies in Kansas. It was about the kid’s ego, and the dad’s too.
“I’m sure he’ll shoot the biggest caribou known to man,” I said, “with razor sharp teeth.”
Pana grinned. “By the time he gets back to Kansas it’ll have turned into a polar bear.”
“That he killed with his bare hands,” added Aana, her face splitting into a wide grin, revealing teeth worn down by years of leatherworking. “Like this—” Her hands made violent strangling motions. Pana and I melted into a fit of giggles, as if we were both ten instead of nearly twenty.
Pana finished my hand and I stood reluctantly. Here—with him, with my aana—this was my heart’s home. Outside that door lay wolves and bears, and Hank Ferryman and Mama.
When I returned to Mama, she was smiling.
“You have a job this weekend.”
“With Hank Ferryman. He’s having a party at his lodge. He needs hired help. You know, cooking, cleaning.”
A curdling feeling gathered around my ears. “Why don’t you go work for him?” It was a stupid question that we both knew the answer to. Mama rolled her eyes.
“I already told him you’d go. You’re going.”
“No?” Mama’s hand tightened on the knife she was holding. I did my best not to look down at it. My heart trilled like it was trying to beat for three people.
“I don’t want to.”
To my surprise, Mama’s grip loosened on the knife and she shrugged. “Maybe I’ll send Esther, then.”
My mouth went dry. Esther was my fifteen-year-old sister. My sweet, compliant sister. Mama wouldn’t. She couldn’t. As I stared at her, though, I knew she would.
“I’ll go.” I picked up my ulu and rocked it across the salmon, chopping its head.
“That’s what I thought,” Mama replied.
Some days, I hate her.
“The Land of the Midnight Sun,” bellowed Hank Ferryman, punching my shoulder playfully, “more like the Land of the Six P.M. Bedtime.”
Was he always this loud or was the closeness of the truck amplifying his voice? He chortled
at his own joke.
“Tapeesa. Hey, Tappy,” I cringed at the improvised nickname. “Tell me a Native story.”
I shook my head. “That’s a bad idea.” The sun had set an hour ago and we were bumping over the half-frozen ground in the dark, with nothing but the truck’s headlights standing between us and the darkness. Snow had begun to fall, thick and fast. Alone with someone like him, in the darkness like this, seemed like the worst possible place to bring up the stories that could catch the attention of a spirit.
“It’s a swell idea! Hank Ferryman doesn’t make bad ideas! Don’t forget, I hired you for the evening.”
The last sentence fell like lead between us. He hired me to cook and clean for his party, not tell him stories. I wasn’t hired to do whatever he felt like doing. My hands curled into fists. Still, maybe it would shut him up.
“Fine. Fine.” I wracked my brain, but in the darkness, I could think of nothing bright and benign. “There was once a girl named Sedna. Her father threw her over the edge of his fishing boat. She tried to save herself by catching on to the edge of the boat, but he brought a knife down onto her fingers and cut them all off. They became the first seals, walruses, whales. She became the goddess of the Underworld.”
Hank waved his hand impatiently. “I already know about Sedna. I got your buddy Pana to tell me about her. Tell me something new.”
I pulled my coat tighter around me. “There are kushtuka. They appear to us, taking on the appearances of those we love. They try to get us to go with them.”
“To go with them where?”
I pulled my coat even tighter, suddenly feeling cold. “I don’t know.”
Hank was quiet for a blessed minute. Then he let out a guttural snort that blossomed into full-blown laughter. “You call that a ghost story, missy? Your ghost stories are as bad as your watermelons up here.”
“We don’t have watermelons up here.”
“Damn straight you don’t. I can tell you some ghost stories from Kansas that’d put hair on your chest. In fact—”
My head slammed into the dashboard as Hank floored the brake, sending us into a fishtail. When the car finally stopped, he sat, his chest heaving as he stared out at the road ahead of us.
A figure stood before us in the headlights, cloaked in heavy furs. Black hair tumbled down in wild rivulets to her elbows. She pushed back the ruff of her parka. She was me. Or would have been, were it not for the pupils
that covered the whole of her eyes, and the hideous, obscenely wide grin that distorted the lower half of her face.
Hank let out a small scream and floored the gas, ramming straight into her. A thunder roll of sickening thuds juddered through me as she tumbled up and over the hood of the truck.
I looked behind us but saw nothing in the taillights as Hank continued to pick up speed, his breathing ragged and shallow. He muttered to himself thickly for a moment before looking over at me with a little nervous laugh. “Some deer you got out here, huh?”
I stared. “That wasn’t a deer.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Hank scoffed, “I saw it with my own two eyes. You saw it with yours. It was a deer, plain as the nose on my face.”
A gentle tapping noise sounded on the glass behind me. I shuddered, unable to turn around.
“I think there’s something in the bed of the truck.”
Hank’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. “No there isn’t.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
“Don’t you hear that?” I felt those eyes on the back of my head. Those eyes, all sea-black pupil, wide and hungry.
“All I hear is you trying to amp me up. Wasn’t enough to tell me your ghost stories, you want to spook me now.”
Tap. Tap. Tap.
His body stiffened at the noise. “Stop it. Tapeesa. It’s not funny at all.”
“It’s not me.” Surely he could see both my hands, silent in my lap.
He huffed impatiently, but didn’t say anything else. The tapping stopped. He relaxed, laughed a little.
“You really had me going for a minute there.”
I didn’t reply. There was no point.
By the time we reached his lodge, an oversize monstrosity on the edge of a lake, he was back to cracking bad jokes and resting his hand on my knee, removing it when I batted him off, only to drop it there again a second later.
“You’ll love this place. I can’t believe I haven’t taken you out here yet. I had everything flown in from Anchorage, it’s all custom. Top of the line.” He was grinning like a kid. I hated his familiarity, as if I were a friend who hadn’t gotten around to visiting, instead of a village girl whose mother he’d leveraged to drag me out here.
He slipped out of his side of the truck, swinging his keys and whistling. I sat on the passenger’s side, my dread growing in the stillness.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
I turned this time, and saw her. She was me, this kushtuka with inky black eyes and black
hair, billowing and wild. When our eyes met, her face split again into that freakishly wide grin that nearly reached her ears and revealed pointed molars. Meat-eating molars. Flesh-ripping molars.
Hank’s voice registered from somewhere in front of the truck. “Aren’t you coming, Tapeesa?”
I opened my mouth and closed it again, unable to bring myself to make a sound.
The kushtuka tapped the back window of the truck once more with a long, black fingernail and disappeared.
I tore my eyes from the back window to see him trundling over to my door. “You’re one of these fussy, old-fashioned girls, aren’t you? You want a big strong man to open the door for you, is that it?” He chuckled to himself and opened my door.
I climbed out, scared to take my eyes off the truck bed, as if doing so would make the kushtuka materialize again and leap on us, ripping at us with those pointed teeth.
The lodge was massive, with vaulted ceilings and mounted animal heads everywhere. Above the fireplace hung two spears, crossed over each other like they were European swords or something. But they weren’t European. They were Inuit. I recognized the carvings on them, the worn leather bindings that secured the pointed stone ends.
“Artifacts. They’re incredible, aren’t they? Genuine ancient artifacts, you know.”
“They’re my grandfather’s.”
Hank Ferryman’s smile stayed frozen on his face. After a pregnant pause, he laughed. “You’re mistaken. There are so many spears out there like these.”
“I recognize the carving.”
“They’re nothing; Indigenous motifs that have been carved a thousand times over.”
The back of my neck felt tight—beyond cringing. “If they’re not his, where did you get them?”
Hank shrugged, as if I’d asked a stupid question. “My secretary found them for me.”
“Found them?” Stole them, more likely. From my widowed aana.
“Found them, bought them, it doesn’t matter. You’re here to work. There’s the kitchen—” He pointed to a corner of the lodge sectioned off by granite countertops. “My secretary was here earlier—they’ve dropped off recipes and groceries for tonight’s dinner.”
I stalked over to the kitchen and grabbed the ulu that was sitting on a wooden holder on the counter. Hank bounded over and snatched it from my hands.
“That’s an artifact. It’s for decoration.”
I looked down at the ulu in his hands. It was newly sharpened. The baleen handle was worn, polished to a bright shine from all the times it had been gripped. I wondered whose aana he stole this from. “It’s a tool. For cutting.”
Hank rolled his eyes. “You are basically white. Your dad’s dad was white, your mother is white. You should be able to understand that modern knives are better.” He pointed to the block of knives on the counter. “Carbon steel. Flown in from Japan. Top of the line. Try them, honey, I promise you’ll never go back to an ulu.”
If he saw I was shaking with rage, he didn’t show it. I strode to the knife block and drew out the largest one, grabbing a cutting board and a bag of potatoes before I could give in to my urge to run him through with it.
“See, now? Isn’t that fabulous?” Hank Ferryman pumped a fist as if he had just taught me to fish and I’d caught one. He didn’t wait for a reply before continuing, “I gotta take a piss. Make sure the champagne is in the fridge, will you? No one likes it warm.”
I made dinner. Other men showed up and ate, made passes at me, laughed and talked to Hank. I passed the hours in a deep fuzzy rage, forcing myself through the motions of arranging canapés on a plate, pulling a roast from the oven, slicing it up on a serving tray. I couldn’t bring myself to fake smile at them. There was something outside the house that was clearly murderous and looked just like me. There was something inside me that was clearly murderous and felt nothing like me.
Someone popped the cork off the champagne bottle and I jumped, letting out a small scream. The room exploded with laughter and Hank grinned at me, pushing a champagne glass over the counter toward me. “You clearly need to loosen up.”
I pushed it back toward him and left for the bathroom. I needed to be somewhere, anywhere, away from these people.
I locked the bathroom door and pulled myself onto the counter, leaning my head back against the mirror. It was colder here, a welcome relief from the heat in the main area. I breathed deep, sizing up my options, wondering if I could get the police to look into how Hank got my grandfather’s spears, if they would actually care at all. Probably not.
A heavy dragging sound slid along the hall outside the bathroom. I looked down, watching a shadow pass along the crack under the door. The air filled with the thick smell of old fish. The shadow paused. I pressed my lips together, hardly daring to breathe.
After an eternity, the
shadow continued on, past the bathroom door and down the hall. I slipped off the counter and stood in front of the door.
The murmur of laughter and conversation went silent.
Hank Ferryman’s voice broke the silence. “Tapeesa, I told you to leave the artifacts alone.” His voice should have sounded plaintive, ...
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