Friday, May 10, 2024

Blog Tour ~ Calvaria Fell: Stories by Cat Sparks & Kaaron Warren

 CALVARIA FELL: STORIES by Cat Sparks and Kaaron Warren

RELEASE DATE: April 30, 2024

GENRE: Science Fiction / Dystopian / Dark Fantasy

BOOK PAGE:  Calvaria Fell: Stories – Meerkat Press


Calvaria Fell is a stunning collaborative collection of weird tales from two acclaimed authors, Kaaron Warren and Cat Sparks. It features previously published stories from both authors, along with a new novella by Kaaron Warren and four new stories by Cat Sparks. The collection offers a glimpse into a chilling future world that is similar to our own. Readers will be drawn into experiences at once familiar and bizarre, where our choices have far-reaching consequences and the environment is a force to be reckoned with. The title of the collection tethers these stories to a shared space. The calvaria is the top part of the skull, comprising five plates that fuse together in the first few years of life. Story collections work like this; disparate parts melding together to make a robust and sturdy whole. The calvaria tree, also known as the dodo tree, adapted to being eaten by the now-extinct dodo bird; its seeds need to pass through the bird’ s digestive tract in order to germinate. In a similar way, the stories in Calvaria Fell reflect the idea of adaptation and the consequences of our actions in a changing world.

BUY LINKS:  Meerkat Press | | Amazon

The Emporium

Kaaron Warren

Chapter One

Things improved once the mattresses arrived. Before that they’d slept curled up in massage chairs or stretched out on couches that were too short for them and stained with old spills; drinks, food, body fluids, drips from the leaking roof.

They cleared out the secondhand furniture shop of everything except the bedframes, which mostly rested up against the wall.

That area had been a mess, anyway, filled with objects found over many years, the “miscellaneous,” items no one knew what to do with. It was stacked dangerously high; boxes of picture hooks, crates of broken wineglasses, piles of true crime magazines. Things they no longer understood and could barely recognize. They moved the broken things upstairs, finding nooks and crannies in the old shops there, trying to keep some sort of order.

In the front corner of the shop, near the small register, were stacked boxes of ancient cat food. Maud said, “We should take that up to the roof. The birds might eat it if we spread it around.” The other children all agreed, so they piled it outside the shop next-door, a newsagent still stocked with ancient news and magazines. They added the true crime magazines to that collection and headed back to the furniture shop.

Marty stood with his hands covering his face, his shoulders shaking.

“Marty! What’s wrong?” Maud said. “You’ll get a mattress, don’t worry! There’s enough for everyone.”

“He’s sad about the fish,” Bean said. She was so short she could barely see over the counter, but she stretched her toes and pointed. At seven she was the youngest of the children in the Emporium and she hated that. She wanted to be old, like the rest of them. Yet she carried a sack full of soft toys and would bring them out for conversation and cuddles.

Maud looked. Revealed once all the mess was cleared away was a large fish tank. It was filthy, covered with moss and slime, with five centimeters of sludgy water at the bottom. Maud stepped closer. It stank; in the bottom were a dozen long-dead fish, their flesh mostly rotted off, their bones poking through. She sobbed as well, and that set all of them off, all of them sobbing over the starved dead fish. There was much they didn’t remember but all of them remembered the pets they’d left behind.

Carlo pressed his head up against the glass. “Which one is which, do you think? Who is who?”

“You can’t tell, once they’re a pile of bones. They won’t be able to know who’s us when we’re bones,” Julian said.

They dragged the mattresses onto the bedframes and laid some in the spaces in between. Bean wanted to take hers into the entrance atrium, a glass-ceilinged dome, so she could sleep under the stars. Maud said, “You’ll freeze to an ice block. Maybe when it gets warmer,” so Bean crankily dragged her mattress into the furthest corner, tucked under an old counter.

The children collapsed, exhausted but happy, on the mattresses. They weren’t very clean, though, so the next job was to traipse up to the first floor for new sheets and pillows. The Bedroom Bonanza store had been small but well-stocked. A lot of it had gone to customers outside (everyone preferred their bed linen unused) or in the looting, but there was one alcove the children had been saving for this occasion. They mostly used the stuff that came in through the dock in great mounds. They used the worst-stained bedclothes for other things, like an outer lining for the building as insulation, or they’d tear them up for bags of rags they’d leave outside in the delivery dock. They didn’t get much in return for the rags: a crate of yo-yos (none of them had any idea what to do with them but luckily Julian found a book and that was fun) or a box full of broken, salty crackers, stale but still good for soup, a carton of books, all the same and with the front cover torn off. That sort of thing.

Julian pushed up the roller door of the Bedroom Bonanza and exclaimed. The smell washed over all of them; damp cloth and mold.

“Oh, no!” Kate said. She was the one most looking forward to the new beds. Somehow she remembered the comfort of climbing into a freshly-made bed.

Water had leaked through. They had buckets all over the shopping center and the rhythmic plink plink of water droplets calmed some of them, annoyed others.

The walls were damp and the alcove holding the sheets was inches deep in water.

“It’ll be all right. They’re still in their plastic,” Julian said. He stepped into the smallest puddle and stretched out, passing the packages of sheets out one by one.

Carlo led Bean downstairs to the laundromat. It was dark; the line of high windows were dirty and cracked. The lights flickered on when he hit the switch and buzzed quietly; they would keep flickering until they were turned off.

Carlo organized the loads, saying, “I’m not doing it all.” But they knew he would. Carlo used to run the machines alone, and he’d still help when any of them forgot which buttons to push. He got tired of the state of clothes and bedding. With someone else washing it, they didn’t care about how dirty those items were. Once everyone had to wash their own, they took more care.

There were piles of washing in each corner and piled up behind the counter, way higher than the bench top. It had an odd smell, not bad exactly, but kind of meaty. Unpleasant.

Carlo timed it perfectly, filling the machines, adding soap (who knows how old, but it still smelled of soap at least) and closing the lids, then racing from one to the other pressing START. All six machines slowly filled with water and one by one most of the other children crept out. Carlo was mesmerized by the machines and their rhythm, hearing music that made him want to dance.

The machines followed one second after the other, and he spun around, click-spin rock and roll, not caring there was no one there except Bean.

“It’s okay! I know it’s loud! It’s really loud! But the good thing is we know it will stop. Or maybe I’m magic and they will stop on my command.”

Bean shook her head and giggled.

“You doubt the great Carrrlooo?” He rolled his rrrs until Bean joined in. She sat some of her soft toys on the machine and watched them vibrate.

When the machines stopped, Bean went to get the others while Carlo emptied each machine into a different basket. These were ones taken from the supermarket; the laundromat ones had fallen apart long ago or, perhaps, had been used to carry away loot when the shopping center closed suddenly.

The children weren’t sure why it had.

Carlo gave each child a basket of wet washing and they all made their way to the roof. They didn’t like to use the elevators unless they had to, for fear of being stuck between the floors. They told stories of ghosts, forever trying to get out.) The elevators worked before their time, but not since the children had been there.

There was the Very High Roof, but they rarely went up there at the top of the eight story tower.

The much bigger Lower Roof was only two floors up and was flat. The children had found ropes strung up here, with some aprons and workman’s clothes, stiff from hanging in the weather for a long time.

This was where they dried their clothes, and where they hung the freshly washed sheets and pillowcases. They pegged pillows to the line as well, hoping to air them out.

Marty had grabbed a box of the old cat food and shook handfuls out to feed the birds. There weren’t many (the manager had told them it was because the trees were too skinny) but sometimes they did come and perch on the cracked walls, perhaps on their way to elsewhere, somewhere greener. Two black birds and one that was a sickly gray came and pecked at the food, squawked, pecked again. Marty threw more and then the others did. Maud felt momentary joy in this, and she made sure everyone got a handful to toss.

For many miles around there were gray buildings, most of them less than four floors high. “Gravity Leaks,” they called it, meaning tall buildings could not be expected to stay sturdy anymore. Beyond them lay the forest. And way beyond that was the water. From the high roof you could see the trees, or at least the concept of trees, way off in the distance; sometimes Maud would go up there, just to see something green. They didn’t know what sort of trees they were.

Between the forest and the buildings, the Great Fire had laid waste to most everything. When the sun was out, you could sometimes see silvery trails through the black mess, left by people walking toward the forest, perhaps, or to the innumerable mounds that perhaps covered useful items.

Some of these items came as deliveries to the children: dinner plates, cake tins, barbeque grills, coats. Sometimes they were damaged beyond cleaning by ash and smoke, but most things they could wipe clean and sort, awaiting the next time someone needed garden chairs, or metal fence posts, or glass jars, or saucepans. Things the children didn’t always understand, or had forgotten about. Before he ran away, the manager had tried to teach them stuff about the past but they forgot so easily.

They made the beds and snuggled down. Maud went into the supermarket and brought back some fizzy drinks and the oldest of the potato chips. If it was a really special occasion, they’d open a fresher packet. Like the birthday they all shared, or perhaps the arrival of someone new. Maud set her suitcase beside her mattress, laying it down flat so she could use it as a table or as a shelf. The others followed suit; they often followed Maud’s ideas. Maud’s suitcase was brown leather covered with stickers.

“No one is very hungry for dinner after all those snacks, are they?” Julian said. He had not eaten the snacks himself; that food made him feel sluggish.

“Me me me!” Bean squealed. “Sausages!” Bean always wanted sausages.

“It’s not really dinner time yet,” Josh said. The only clocks they had were the ones in the clock shop, broken most of them, and only one, which used sunlight for power, still running. Kate could keep time by the music that played, and she was teaching the others to do so as well. They didn’t know the names of most of the songs and couldn’t understand half the words, but they all sure knew the music.

“Carry on,” Kate said. “It’s time for dinner.”

Izzy jumped up. “I’ll do it,” she said. She always did it.

There was no big oven in the kitchen, but there were salvaged burners and a toaster oven and a microwave, and with these Izzy wrought miracles. Most of the saucepans they received were only good for melting down, but they had gathered three good ones, still in their boxes, and these they used. They sometimes got fresh food delivered. Fruit and veggies. They didn’t like that too much, preferring the frozen food. The old manager used to make them eat boiled vegetables. Disgusting.

Izzy made sausages (skinless frankfurts) from the can for Bean, then a big pot of soup. Tins of asparagus soup and asparagus pieces, a can of evaporated milk, a packet of herbs, and with some crackers it was a feast. They took their bowls into the food court and sat in small groups. They didn’t always sit together but after the excitement of the mattresses, they felt like they wanted to be cohesive. There were old menus left on some of the tables, describing food long since forgotten. Sometimes they tried to cook by the menus, invent what they thought Spaghetti Carbonara was, or Eggplant Parmigiana. They’d say, What should we have for dinner, as if anything was possible.

The roof was leaking in the food court, so there were buckets everywhere. Over in the corner, one of them had a drowned rat in it. They’d all vote Julian take that away after the meal. Until then, they’d ignore it. He’d toss it over the dark side of the building. Below, a dozen cars sat rusting. This was where they threw all the dead creatures they found.

Josh gathered up the dirty dishes and dropped them down the elevator shaft. He was the first to do this when it was his turn, arguing that they had thousands of dishes so why waste time washing them? Now they all did it.

Bean was the first to jump from mattress to mattress, squealing with delight and the others soon followed, hollering and screaming with laughter as they jumped from one end of the large showroom to the other. Someone put a CD in the boombox. They sorted most sound equipment for sale but held one back every now and then when another broke. The broken ones were sold for parts and elements, like all the phones were. Carlo had the job of pulling them apart. Each of them took responsibility for something. They had to turn it up loud to drown out the playlist, but this way at least they felt they’d chosen what to listen to.

If the manager had been there he would have said, “If you’ve got enough energy for bouncing around, you’ve got enough energy to work.”

But he had long since disappeared. He’d left with pockets full of salvaged (stolen) coins. Maud kept a list of all the things that came into the Emporium, as well as a tally of what went out, so she and the others knew what coins he’d taken. A lot of them were scrounged from the wishing well, but everything that came in was checked for money. He’d given them all lessons in value, but Maud was only fourteen then and remembered very little. That was a long time ago. She was fifteen now and thought she’d be better at learning if someone wanted to try. He’d stopped teaching them things; Carlo said it was because he didn’t want them to know the value of what he was stealing, and that seemed as likely as anything else. Although he was very tired, always, so tired. He didn’t say goodbye when he left but he did leave a map for them, directions to the stash of small, sealed cakes, dozens of boxes, that he was saving for a special occasion. They were stacked carefully on the third floor, in If It Fits, mixed in with the shoe boxes full of footwear that didn’t, in fact, fit.

They hadn’t seen that manager in a long time. It took a while before anyone outside the Emporium noticed. Julian took charge of the orders and Maud (after Rachel left to go to medicine school) was the boss of things delivered, so they didn’t need a manager. It was only when the nurse came in to do the immunizations that the manager’s disappearance was revealed.


Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning Australian author, editor and artist. Career highlights include a PhD in science fiction and climate fiction, five years as Fiction Editor of Cosmos Magazine, running Agog! Press, working as an archaeological dig photographer in Jordan, studying with Margaret Atwood, 78 published short stories, two collections—The Bride Price (2013) and Dark Harvest (2020) and a far future novel, Lotus Blue. She directed two speculative fiction festivals for Writing NSW and is a regular panelist & speaker at speculative fiction and other literary events.

Kaaron Warren has been publishing ground-breaking fiction for over twenty years. Her novels and short stories have won over 20 awards, from local literary to international genre. She writes horror steeped in awful reality, with ghosts, hauntings, guilt, loss, love, crime, punishment and a lack of hope.

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