I remember tears welling up in my eyes at the beginning of Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship Of The Ring, when Frodo confronts Gandalf, upon his belated return to the Shire. When Gandalf replies that “a wizard always arrives precisely when he means to,” all the love and wonder Tolkien’s books had given me came flooding back. For so many of us, The Lord Of The Rings was the cornerstone upon which all modern fantasy rests, and to see it brought so lovingly to life was a visceral, overwhelming experience which only escalated with the successive entries in the trilogy. For me, it was much more, for it forced me to confront unexamined feelings for my father, who died when I was eight.

I remember my father always had the Tolkien calendar on his kitchen wall, the lavish Hildebrandt brothers artwork burning scenes into my mind long before I understood their context. He had two cats, Gandalf and Gollum. I remember seeing Bakshi’s Lord Of The Rings in the theater with him and watching The Time Machine on TV, and getting Conan comics and visiting a park to see concrete dinosaur statues, the last time I saw him.

Only later did I understand how vital a refuge fantasy was for my father, in a dreary world that never seemed to give him a break. Always relegated to the dimmest corner of the local library or B. Dalton Bookseller, a creaky spinner rack in the drugstore, the graveyard shift on local TV, any glimpse of fantasy was like a transmission from another world more magical and pure than our own, and balm for souls rubbed raw by the button-down bullshit of modern life.

Fast-forward forty years, and, of course, fantasy fandom has become a monolithic mainstream phenomenon. We all hunger for escape, and epic fantasy is a staple. Even people who can’t name their own elected representatives and don’t know when World War 2 happened, know all about the Siege of Gondor and the Red Wedding. It is a golden age of escapism, and yet fantasy remains a stagnant cesspool of cliché, bloated excess, and reactionary, toxic fandom. The thing intended to deliver us from the pressure cooker of modern life has become as fraught with frustration, entitlement, and bigotry as the world we sought to escape from.

As I’m hardly the first to observe, much of the problem lies in fantasy itself. Born out of the romantic, decadent and exoticism movements of the late nineteenth century, fantasy fiction as a genre had its roots as much in the Arabian Nights as in the European culture heroes, from the Scandinavian sagas and Arthurian myths. The rejection of modernity and rediscovery of primal attributes in seminal fantasy by Saki, T.H. White, Lord Dunsany and others, the yearning for strange perfumes and foreign shores, for quests and tests of valor and bouts of courtly romance was a luxury spared for those who had successfully foisted their will upon the rest of the world, and languished in the comfortable leisure hours bought by colonialism and white supremacy. If they expected to be swept away from the mundane, they also expected to have their cherished inner myths valorized. From the childlike Aryan race theory of Robert E. Howard to the elaborate Christian allegory of C.S. Lewis, early fantasy took readers to far-off places while validating the core values they brought with them from home. Witness the furious backlash against the casting of Jason Momoa as the last cinematic incarnation of Conan, and you see how zealously the white core readership cherishes its fantasy icons not as vehicles for experiencing the Other, but as reflections of their own perpetually imperiled whiteness.

If Tolkien stirred our noblest aspirations, he also created a benign propaganda that mythologized cultural differences until nationalities became species, and denied basic humanity to its antagonists, rendering the defense of the divine right of kings into a Manichean conflict between absolute light and absolute darkness––arguably, in spite of his denials, an allegory for Europe’s agonizing crusade against Hitler. As noted contrarian David Brin observed in an essay coinciding with Jackson’s grandiose adaptation of Lord Of The Rings, the humans and their allies worship at the altar of absolute hereditary rule, and libel the one agent of merit, inclusion and technological progress in Middle Earth. Certainly, the notion that the land might incarnate itself in the form of a devoted ruler is a beautiful conceit, but it’s only the most richly embroidered defense of a myth that’s brought little but tribulation and tragedy, in the real world. If one were to ask the Saudi Crown Prince in a candid moment about the butchery of Jamal Khashoggi only this month, he would no doubt clothe his rationalization by noting that the Washington Post journalist dismembered with bone saws in the Saudi consulate in Turkey was just another orc threatening his divinely ordained kingdom.

While lauded by critics and showered with awards, Jackson’s film adaptations were assailed by Tolkien-cult ingrates pining for Tom Bombadil, then pilloried for shoehorning in female characters with actual agency and blowing out gateway fantasy drug The Hobbit into a plodding trilogy of videogame cut-scenes and high-res irrelevance.

Aside from gleaming outliers like Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy and Gene Wolfe’s Book Of Å New Sun, epic fantasy since Tolkien seems to have taken up all his worst excesses without capturing his ineffable grandeur. Virtually all earlier incarnations of the genre were forgotten, despite the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line’s valiant attempt to capitalize on the boom by reviving Smith, Dunsany, Hodgson, Eddison, Beckford and others, in favor of the monolithic saga that foisted a humble peasant into the role of upstart challenger against some obligatory dark eminence from the east. Reactions to Tolkien tended to boil away the engrossing complexity into a stew of YA destiny-porn like Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles or David Gemmell’s Belgariad, or drag an all-too-human element into the plot in troublesome, if not always edifying ways. Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books, in particular, brought an ugly streak of self-loathing misogyny into his fantasy realm, in the form of a protagonist who utterly rejects the lofty role chosen for him by the guardians of The Land, only to accept it by committing a rape so monstrous, it obliterates any meta-message about fantasy vs. reality it might’ve hoped to send. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists Of Avalon, long championed as a feminist take on the Arthurian cycle, has since been condemned in light of its author’s creepy sexual proclivities, and John Norman’s risible Gor series endures primarily as a primer for sexual dominance play.

White men still rule modern fantasy, and women and people of color are still denigrated as magical elfin dream-girls and subhuman beast-creatures, respectively. In order to repay its influences while jockeying for mainstream success, the quest itself becomes a bloated mcguffin, as in the preposterously long grift of Robert Jordan’s Wheel Of Time series, and the idealized depictions of good and evil have become no more illuminating, but far less inspiring, with injections of banal and base human nature. Martin’s Song Of Ice And Fire is a morbidly obese but still-incomplete drag that only television can bring to a conclusion, its plot a brutalist soap opera following equally unworthy rulers as they wreak havoc and desolation not to exterminate some stereotypical evil, but for power itself. While Tolkien resisted the reduction of his magnum opus to a fairy tale about World War 2, Martin has embraced fan theories that his epic of incest and internecine warfare symbolizes contemporary political dithering in the face of global climate change, seeking to shake us to a realization we’ve bitterly resisted absorbing from the daily news. In too many ways, the real world has invaded our dreams. If Sauron and the orcs were to invade Westeros, they would be welcomed as liberators.

But nowhere is the regressive nature of modern fantasy more blatant than J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Justly lauded for inspiring millions of young readers to embark upon more ambitious reading journeys, yet as high fantasy, it reflects a turning away from the crucible of conflict into the warm cloister of an uncannily nurturing boarding school that tacks every hoary fantasy cliché onto the real thrill of being every teacher’s pet in an adverb-larded parade of inevitable accolades and cake-walk quests. That Harry Potter’s cozy, saccharine comfort food commands such unswerving loyalty among ostensible adults suggests that too many readers dream less of a harrowing quest that will test their mettle, and more of simply staying in school and having all the answers to the tests given to them because they’re destined to win, anyway.

The biggest problem is the way we’ve been trained to escape, and what we’re escaping from. The medium has too long been subject to the publisher-pushed notion that fantasy must come in multi-volume door-stop epics to be taken seriously. We’re not seeking adventure to leaven a dull existence, so much as seeking to escape real chaos and conflict bordering on the fantastical. When America becomes Mordor and Sauron a New York reality show slumlord, fantasy realms become our new homeland. The sheer volume of fantasy offerings in every medium makes escapism not a diversion from life, but a career, albeit an unpaid one, and less and less of a rewarding one.


The deep personal sense of nostalgia attached to our favorite works, long taken for granted and ruthlessly exploited by corporate media, dictates that fantasy should take us to other worlds while always looking, walking and talking like us, and so we’ve sealed ourselves in a bubble, huffing our favorite dreams like so many canned farts. Small wonder then, that so many who’ve never identified as racist or sexist find themselves raging at their peers as cherished fantasy properties are retconned, rebooted or otherwise adulterated from the “pure” forms they grew up with if everything in life is stagnating or being taken away, it might feel like they’re really raping your childhood, but get a fucking grip.

The only reason all too many corporate purveyors of fantasy are in the business is because you’re buying what they’re selling. If you walk past the $28.00 tomes and sprawling movie franchises to seek out artists who create passionately on the fringes of the market, you’ll find that pure love, that escape from this world, that you’ve been craving. We say that to survive its own commercial success, fantasy must welcome everyone and embrace and let us empathize with the Other, and not reinforce dangerous jingoistic fantasies. We say that true escapism should playfully speak to our real world anxieties in the sublimated symbolism of dreams, resisting bald political parable and instead taking us to new arenas to challenge the enemies that go faceless and unnamed in our wretched waking lives. We say that the best fantasies are not epic, self-serious slabs of verbal masonry, but the sort of short, sharp daydreams that shock us awake, and let us see with new eyes.

We are tired of Tolkien and mad at Martin, but dreaming of Smith and Dunsany, longing for Leiber, and mad for Moorcock. In all of these, we see pure imagination win out over warmed-over Euro-centric myth cycles, where we are all equally foreign invaders. In Leiber, we see a love of swashbuckling fantasy for its own sake, nevertheless imbued with poignant critiques of humanity worthy of the most lauded mainstream literature. In Moorcock, we witness the deconstruction of the archetypal fantasy hero and divorce his obligatory quest from flimsy and dangerous labels of good and evil, unmasked as merely Law and Chaos. In all of these, we see the short story and novelette elevated to mythic status, and all the bullshit burned away. With this issue, we hope to rediscover what we’ve always loved about conventional fantasy tropes while destroying the tired conventions themselves and reigniting in our readers a love of strange shores and alien dreams. And as always with this labor of love, we hope to do our fathers, and our mothers, proud.



On a moonless, fog-swaddled Indian Summer night, Daddy Huntoon took his best dog and his worst boy into the vast brackish swamp south of Mergatroyd County, hunting for the Squonk.

Daddy Huntoon cut a dashing figure in the misty, mosquito-mad moonlight, with night-vision goggles and a bug-zapper hat perched atop his shrewdly pointed skull. He cradled his blunderbuss up tight under his ingrown chin-whiskers and towed Skillet, a mangy, toothless tick-hound with a jury-rigged two-stroke motor for a brain, by a rusty choke-chain.

The sucking black muck rose up to his elbows, yet Daddy surged through it under full steam without breathing hard, for he sat astride the mighty shoulders of his youngest and dumbest son, Jupiter. Slow but unstoppable, Jupiter trudged across the slimy bottom and paddled with hands like snowshovels, breathing, whenever it occurred to him, through a long, hollow reed.

When a broad, open channel yawned out of the mangrove trees, Daddy steered Jupiter to shore and alighted on a stump. Skillet limped out of the water and settled down for a nap.

They’d left the family skimmer in the shallows at the end of the Tarnation County turnpike at sunset and hoofed it into the deeps. Even the stealthiest of fanboats only stirred up trouble at the height of gator mating season, and they hunted skittish prey.

Jupiter loped along in Daddy’s wake, a pinheaded avalanche on telephone pole-legs, lugging a harpoon gun and an electrified butterfly net. Every pocket of his overalls was stuffed with loose vittles when they set out, but Jupiter had already run through them, and was still hungry enough to eat his own mouth.

Daddy tamped a resinous wad of moonweed into his corncob pipe and crouched to survey the myriad of spoor in the treacherous mud. No man alive could track like Daddy––unless you counted Stookeys, whose kinship with the family of man was a perennial topic of heated local debate––but the uppity swamp kept its own counsel, tonight.

Daddy’s hat zapped a wingworm bigger than a fruit bat. Ashes and cremated bits of legs sprinkled into his glowing bowl, but at least the sparking kept Jupiter’s attention. Times like this, Daddy could almost picture the critter he suspected was Jupiter’s real sire. Whatever it looked like, wherever it was it was laughing at him, tonight.

Jupiter’s stomach growled fit to fetch a lovestruck she-bear.

“Pussel-gutted bastard!” Daddy cuffed his dearest mistake across the buttocks with the shocky crown of his hat and struck off along the bank.

There had to be an easier way, even out of a boy as dumb and double-ugly as Jupiter, to make a man.

Once a common enough story to find in paper books, folks in Mergatroyd County nowadays mislike talk of the Squonk, since the Second War of Northern Aggression brought such dubious wonders to life. Some men stalk it for dreams of wealth and fame, while others have more immediate satisfaction on their minds.

“Wait up, Daddy!” hollered Jupiter. “I’s winded!”

”Shut it, Jupe. Tonight, we make a man of you, or eat a bowl of dicks!” Daddy powered up his goggles and swept the tumbling banks of volatile methane fog, the curtains of moss and vampire vines waving from mangrove trees like castles of melted wax. The branching canals of bubbling murk narrowed and deepened and gnarled into a maze unfit for man or beast. The shore they stood on was a mound of pulverized gator bones, marking the outer boundary of the Stookeys’ domain.

Jupiter hustled his nuts and picked his nose with the harpoon. Gibbering a tune about going to meet the finest gal in the hills, he came up short at the verse where he was supposed to describe her. “What she look like, Daddy?”

Daddy puffed his bowl into a white-hot dwarf star. “Nobody knows for certain, boy, but I hear tell she’s the purtiest gal ol’ God-daddy ever saw fit to make.”

Only smarts the boy ever got were all wasted on his mouth. To wit: “If’n nobody know, how you know she pretty? An’ if she so pretty, how come she always cry, an’ run away?”

Daddy punched Jupiter as high as he could reach, which was a mite south of his navel. “I done tol’ you all the tales, sang you all the damned songs, an’ you still go on, callin’ your Daddy a liar?”

“Daddy, I never said––“ Jupiter protested, but dutifully stooped down low, so Daddy could box his ears.

Daddy had, indeed, boned his youngest up on all the lore and hunter’s lies about the Squonk, but if you poured a jug of shine into a thimble, some spill was likely to occur.

There was only ever one immortal Squonk, and men spied her only when they got lost in the deep bogs. They heard the creature’s pitiable sobbing, but try as they might, even the best trackers seldom bagged her. When they did, the forlorn monster always dissolved in a shower of tears. Some who heard her cry, it was said, fell under the spell of the Squonk, forsaking hearth and home to haunt the swamp, never to return.

Jupiter had showed more sense than was entirely sensible, asking how they could catch the Squonk without melting it or falling under its spell. Daddy had the stepladder at home, and had administered all kinds of discipline. When he was through, Jupiter asked no more questions. He got born-again committed to the hunt.

As well he should be, since it was on his account, wasn’t it? Folks in Mergatroyd had begun to speculate about Jupiter’s manhood. Why, even the acephalic warbaby orphan ‘Bama, who was nothing but thin air above his goonish smile, had sired three litters of babies among the trashier clans in Trailertown, and God only knew how many more, among the hapless animal kingdom.

Doc Caulweather, Widow Cooney and the veterinary mech had all examined him, and judged Jupiter’s tackle was adequate to the task but to Daddy Huntoon’s undying shame, Jupiter proved too dense an idiot manchild to hear Nature’s call, so it had come to this.

Daddy wanted more for his youngest son than just a roll with a boxhead whore at the roadhouse, the Cockatrices the Stookeys ran with in the Hollows, or arranged marriage to a dumpy Dry County sow, like his own Daddy did for him. Although the best part of Jupiter was, sad to say, a heart-shaped stain on the seat of the truck in which he was conceived and birthed, he was still a Huntoon.

Daddy flipped a switch on his big silver belt buckle. Skillet twitched and jolted on invisible strings until he locked on a scent, then galloped off, baying at the moon, to the limit of his chain. Sparks and curls of blue smoke popped from his brainbox.

“Ol’ Skillet’s got the scent,” crowed Daddy. “Don’t you, boy? Her witchy-mone trail goes through there like a skunk sign, boy. We ain’t far off.”

It took Jupiter a spell to decipher, but finally, he clapped his hubcap hands and did a jig. “You smart, Daddy.”

Like fire eating a trail of gunpowder, Skillet ran down the perverse spoor of the Squonk, spooking goony birds and bog-trotting octopi with his fretful bark. Deeper they plunged into the swamp, slogging and battling through orgies of amorous gators skirting stagnant, bottomless pools hiding giant snapping turtles with whole human skulls in their shit skulking, with ears and noses stopped up tight against witchery, past the stilt-walking shack of the Mergatroyd Hag.

Soon enough, they were truly and totally lost. Daddy waded up onto a sandbar to take account of the stars when he blundered into a lively mess of crafty black tentacles. They whipped him up like a hare in a rope snare, then sucked him under so fast Jupiter saw only the splash, and Daddy’s bug-zapper hat spinning in the air.

Strings of bubbles stuffed with cussing breached the pudding-skin surface, but presently, the bog burst asunder from Daddy firing his blunderbuss deep down in the slime.
Petrified between dueling Gorgons of fear––the unknown and Daddy––Jupiter could only gawk, bellowing, “Where Daddy?” and eating the mosquitoes that alit in his gaping mouth. It fell to Skillet to tow Daddy to safety.

No sooner was Daddy shut of the last flechette-peppered tentacle, when Jupiter trampled him, running in panicked circles on a taut, sticky tether, flattening Daddy twice more before Daddy puzzled it out.

One of Jupiter’s huge, hammy arms was wrapped up in the tongue of a granddaddy hellbender. He chased himself round the misbegotten giant newt just like Skillet did, whenever his battery backup died.

Daddy took up Jupiter’s harpoon gun. He had to brace it on his knee, and could barely cock it, but he neatly skewered the hellbender’s huge froggy head through the roof of its mouth, pinning it to a fallen log. Monster’s tongue was so tough that Daddy polished off a pouch of shine and Skillet took a nap before Jupiter gnawed the stubborn appendage off at the root and dragged it along behind.

And deeper still…

Skillet lost the scent in a channel of putrid ooze dammed up with charred Chinese space station junk. Daddy crossed it piggyback atop Jupiter, with Skillet paddling frantically in front, his brainbox chugging like a weed-whacker cutting kudzu.

“Daddy, we there yet?” Jupiter piped, whenever he came up for air.


Daddy steered the ungrateful lummox onto an oil drum beach. Jupiter discovered the severed hellbender tongue still stuck to his arm, and happily chewed on it.

Skillet growled and pointed like a hood ornament on a banker’s fancy car.

Daddy hushed him and slipped on his goggles. The musky witchy-mones of their quarry hung so thick on the air that even Daddy could feel it, and not just with his upstairs senses.

The goggles outlined the night in bold, sun-bright lines against sweaty green shadows. Over the next rise and through a patch of nightlight fungi, the all-powerful aroma reeled them in like catfish too dumb to fight. The indigo glow of the mushrooms bedeviled his goggles, but he still picked out fading heat-spoor meandering off into a lonesome lagoon. A dappling of caustic will-o-wisp lights danced over the three-toed footprints written on the water.

Zeroed in on the trail, Daddy saw each print glow hotter than the last, hotter still… hottest…

“Judas git home,” Daddy whispered, “there she is.”

For just a second, no hunger or lust could shake Daddy’s wonder at the sight and scent of the curvy, girl-shaped slice of sunfire perched atop the vine-wreathed fuselage of an old-time chopper gunship. And the sound she made…

Skillet stood up on arthritic hind legs and danced with blood-frenzy. Daddy misliked the thought of the scrambled hound eating Jupiter’s intended. He went for the POWER switch on his belt marked DOG. Beside it, he had a switch for TRUCK, and another for WIFE, but they were long since broken.

Skillet’s brainbox shut off with a sputter and more smoke, and the old hound collapsed like a string-cut puppet. Nothing stood between the Huntoons and the mournful sobbing song of the Squonk.

Jupiter rocked beside him to the bodice-ripping melody, monsoon raindrops of drool pattering on his belly, but the miscegenated idiot was no more nor less poleaxed then his Daddy.

All Daddy had to say was, “Now,” and Jupiter would pounce. Boy couldn’t eat without biting his own fingers, but he could run for days, and if you told him to catch the sun, he’d chase it to China. But all of a sudden, “Now” was a very long word, a boring speech in a foreign tongue.

The cries of the Squonk bewitched the whole danged swamp to lie still. It was almost a song, like a mockingbird or a jinglebug––pattern enough to beguile you into pity, chaos enough to nail you to lust. Subhuman, yet it overflowed with superhuman grief. No human or mankin could bear an hour of such punishing sadness they would kill themselves or keel over with their hearts cracked in twain. The Squonk wept for its ugliness, and it seemed a cruel trick, for God-daddy to put such powerful sense into such a godawful face. Daddy kept the goggles’ resolution just low enough to see her fine enough outline.
The Squonk was a critter, but also, undeniably, a woman. Daddy well knew how women saw only flaws in the mirror, just as he knew how to comfort them in those short, sweet days when they were wrong.

Strange, but it didn’t raise Daddy’s hackles the way women’s weeping always did. He had no urge to slap it the urge he did feel cut against his grain, but he dreamed of taking it in his arms, not as a hunted beast, but as a man takes a woman––

“God’s balls, it’s witchcraft!” Daddy primed the launcher under the barrel of his blunderbuss and discharged a milky white torrent that turned solid in midair and clothed the shamelessly cavorting critter in a rubbery net. “I got her, boy! I got––“

The Squonk bolted. Even mummied up in the silicon webbing, she dragged Daddy Huntoon like a monster truck through the muddy lagoon and off into the trees.

Jupiter doggedly plodded after them with his charged butterfly net. About a mile deeper into the swamp, he caught up close enough to snare Daddy’s head, and shocked him stupid.

Try as he might to dig in his heels, Jupiter slid, slipped, fell on his face and got dragged, too. The Huntoons together weighed less than an empty promise, for all they slowed the galloping Squonk.

And then, Jupiter hit a stump. It missed both his legs but stopped him dead, and made him scream louder and higher and sadder than the sorrowful beast they’d caught. Anchored by Jupiter’s considerable groin, the chase finally ground to a cursing, heaving halt.

Daddy woke up in quicksand up to his belly, but he still clung to the gun like grim death. At the end of its tether, the Squonk wailed like a white lightning hangover. Its struggles were at an end. It almost broke him to hear that pitiful note of surrender, but Daddy was no mere man. He was a Huntoon.

Daddy dragged the thrashing bundle close and bashed it over the head with his blunderbuss. At last, it fell silent. Jupiter loped up, rubbing mud into his crotch. “Now what, Daddy?” “Jupiter Huntoon, this is your day.” Daddy stood with one bootless foot on the flank of his catch. “Now, it ain’t the normal way, but as no woman in Mergatroyd County, in or out of the clan, will have you, it falls to you to tame the wild Squonk, and so become a man. Are you ready, boy?”

Jupiter swatted at the flies that always came buzzing round his head when he tried to think.

Daddy stroked his boy’s back like burping a baby. “Now, what you see with the Squonk ain’t exactly what you get, y’hear? It’ll bewitch you into thinkin’ she’s powerful ugly, but at the same time…”

Jupiter picked his nose and ate the leech he found amongst his boogers. “Aw, Daddy, I don’t want no ugly gal… an’ what about the curse?”

With the deed so close to done, Daddy tried manfully to be soothing, so as not to spook the boy. “That’s old maid talk, son. Women spread that story to stop menfolk chasing the Squonk, but men of the world, like us, we know the truth…”

“What’s that truth, Daddy?”

“The magic is in them tears. Those tears have a powerful charm, which makes men mad with lust, and ignites fires in the blood. Only a real man can survive its burnination, but then no woman can resist him, see?”

“Why it always crying, Daddy?”

Daddy sheared the silicon net away with a wicked bowie knife, and laid the creature bare. “How the hell should I know? Now get your damned drawers off, before the damned critter melts…”

Jupiter didn’t obey, but Daddy didn’t hit him.

The Squonk––she––lay naked and helpless between them. A vile hybrid of opossum and amphibian, yet the Squonk was no more nor less than a hot eight-breasted chick from the neck down, albeit with loose, warty skin that slid lasciviously across its otherwise inviting chassis like a wet velvet nightgown. Its great, veiny bat ears, feathery tufted gills, lidless bubble-eyes and tendril-festooned snout only riled Daddy all the more for their unholy fusion to such voluptuous beauty.

The trembling Squonk cringed with its forepaws over its gruesome face and wept black molasses tears. Daddy averted his eyes and tried to remember a prayer. Jupiter was lost in contemplation.

“No man who ever returned has been strong enough to withstand the lovin’ of the Squonk, boy! If you do this, you’ll bask in the awe of kin and strangers alike. Nobody’ll dare to call you stupid or beat on you ever again, son. You’ll be a man! An’ if it goes ill for you, I ain’t got no shortage of sons…”

Jupiter yawned. “I dunno, Daddy…”

Daddy tuned him up with the blunderbuss, but he had no heart for it. “You dadgum idiot! Got to strike fast, or she’ll melt in her own tears! Boy, I’ll… just have to… show you… how it’s done… Oh, my Gawd…”

Daddy looked again at the Squonk, and beheld the creature transformed wholly into a beautiful woman, a weeping preacher’s daughter crouching in the slime with her backside fetched up high to beckon him closer.

“You… harlot… Jezebel… get thee behind me…” Daddy rebuked her, and yet his bib overalls slipped off as he fell upon her, and his hands were no use at hitting. Parting the satiny pantaloon folds of her hind legs, he mounted her from behind and plowed the lagoon with her wailing face. “Oh, you Whore of Babylon,” he roared in glossolalian ecstasy, “you black she-goat, abgablabluhkabab, shabashoothoogablahhh!”

The bodacious swamp critter wriggled like a ferret in rut, twisting double on itself and climbing the air, clawing his thighs bloody while humping Daddy as no earthly woman could be paid or charmed to do.

How long it went on, only Jupiter could tell, and he never learned to read a digital watch. At last, Daddy let fly a rebel yell from the soles of his feet, and spent his seed.

In Daddy’s moment of greatest weakness, the wily critter toppled him and drove him under the black water.

The bubbles came few and far between to the surface, but Daddy put up no fight as the Squonk tried to drown him with her tears.

“Hey!” Jupiter sprang into alertness. “Where Daddy?”

The Squonk knelt over Daddy’s dwindling stream of bubbles, wracked by fatal waves of sobbing. Jupiter took hold of her and shook her gently. All at once, the Squonk dissolved into whittled water, and was no more.

Jupiter fished for Daddy, digging a hole in the water like a dog. ”Daddy? What you do to her? Where my gal go?”

“HOOOOOWEEE!!!” Daddy Huntoon rose up out of the swamp, mud streaming off his shorted-out hat, the brim drooping down over his face. “Boy, that was sweet… Hey, where’d she go? Damn it, boy, did you let her get loose?”

The idiot manchild’s wounded stare and the salty taste on his tingling lips told Daddy what happened. “You stupid bastard, I tol’ you to hurry! You cain’t be no fruit of my loins, ‘cos now you ain’t never gonna be a man!”

Jupiter looked confused, but then he blushed and his thick lips squirmed into a gobsmacked grin. “There you are…”

Skillet growled and whined, just behind him. Belt must’ve shorted out, too. Skillet was a damn good dog. The old hunting hound still had the scent. Green sparks spat from his brainbox.

“What the hell’re you lookin’ at, Jupe?”

Daddy Huntoon reached out to box Jupiter’s ears but good, when he took note of the daintily webbed forepaw with which he did it.

He ogled his reflection in the water and let out a mournful wail that still bewitched him, even now that it came from his own throat.

Daddy’s wiry old body had softened and filled out like a thirsty sponge, soaking up the sizzling gumbo of swampwater and Squonk tears. Bones turned to rubber and warped him onto all fours. Lean coils of swamp-rat muscle and lush mounds of sleek feminine flesh swelled under the loose, warty velveteen folds of his skin.

Worst of all, his proud Huntoon face, chiseled by untold generations of selective inbreeding, rotted off while something wet and raw and red pushed out through it. Seeing that tendril-whiskered possum-frog mask in the black liquid mirror, what else could he do, but howl?

Jupiter was slow as a cement enema, but he could sometimes learn to do a job, if you showed him how. His empty eyes glazed over and his tongue hung down to his Adam’s apple, ripping his overalls off as he ogled the newborn Squonk. “Daddy… you… purty!”

And Daddy learned, at last, why the Squonk cries.