QSFer Scott Mooney has a new Ace/Gay urban fantasy out: “Screaming Beauty.”
Twenty-three-year-old Briar Pryce has earned a little rest and relaxation. She’s rescued her best friend from being transformed into a cat and stopped a war in the Poisoned Apple, New York City’s hidden neighborhood of counterfeit curses and fairy tale trickery. All Briar wants is to have a carb-filled brunch, gossip over a couple of mead-mosas, and maybe figure out if she’s actually in a love triangle with her high-school crush and her strait-laced business partner.
But relaxing is hard when the city starts screaming.
Some malevolent curse has invaded the dreams of the sleeping princesses across the Apple, spreading nightmares and violence throughout the city. What’s worse, a militant new faction of knights has used the chaos to grab power and trap Briar’s community in its authoritarian grip. If Briar’s going to be able to free the princesses and stop these fairy tale fascists, she’s going to have to solve a deeper mystery: the origins of her own uncontrollable, emotion-altering powers. Briar and her friends will journey from the depths of the enchanted Afterwoods to the penthouses of the Upper East Side to stop the knights, wake the princesses, and save the Poisoned Apple.
And hopefully still fit in that brunch.
I slammed the doors to the street open with relish and let the cool September air whisk away any lingering stench of day traders and dividends. The wet breeze off the river led us a few blocks south to Battery Park; framed by the old stone buildings of downtown on one side and the water of the Hudson River on the other, the open space felt like we were finally escaping the tightened fist of Manhattan. The park was still crowded in the light of the setting sun, but everyone was enjoying the good weather too much to give me side-eye for my ridiculous outfit. We split off from a crowd of commuters trying to make the next ferry to Staten Island and walked next to the railings by the edge of the water.
The path we were following was dotted with whimsical statues of cartoonish cats and little men in top hats. Alice drifted to a standstill, pausing to look out over the water at the Statue of Liberty, distant but still magnificent. “You know, when I was younger, back in North Dakota… that cocktail bar would’ve been my dream. Rich people, fancy clothes, strong drinks…” She looked over at me and smiled. “It’s funny how that’s all there is for some people. That’s their happily ever after.”
I returned her grin. “I think I prefer ours.”
“Hell yeah. Magic beats money any day of the week.”
Jacqui turned to face us from farther down the path. “Are you bitches coming or not?”
I snorted and waggled my eyebrows at Alice. “Our fair princess calls. C’mon.”
A little way down the path, a series of huge log posts stuck vertically out of the water, some holdovers from the time this was all a harbor and Alexander Hamilton was still alive and rapping. I counted three posts in and then motioned at my friends to stop. Tilting my head, I used the posts to perfectly frame a row of buildings across the water.
“Whatcha doin’?” Jacqui muttered.
I nodded in the direction of the view. “Look closer.”
She squinted for a moment, then her eyes widened as she broke into a goofy smile. Instead of seeing the line of New Jersey office blocks and construction sites reflected in the water, there was a shimmering image of thatched-roof cottages, ramshackle witches’ towers, and a looming castle of white stone. A passing boat broke the surface of the river into ripples, adding to the otherworldly beauty of the sight.
The vistas of the Poisoned Apple never disappoint.
As I stared, I noticed the railing in front of us was different from those around it. The sheen on the metal was slightly off, like it had been doused in petroleum. What looked like random scratches or engraved initials, on closer inspection, formed into the grooves of looping sigils and complex runes. I walked closer, feeling the thrum of the magic inside the gate start to drown out the bustle of the people in the park behind us. Soon, the light and noise of Battery Park began to dim, as if we were in a giant celestial spotlight, separating us from the everyday world of the Manhattan evening.
“Well, they’re certainly pulling out all stops for this new Door,” Jacqui said, sniffing the air. Every so often, she still pulled out a mannerism that was a holdover from the year she’d spent cursed to live in a cat’s body. One nibble from a cursed muffin basket, delivered with my name on it, and she’d had her whole life put on hold.
But she was right. The amount of power it took to mask our disappearance from the middle of Battery Park was much more than your average spell. I guess even the magic in the Financial District is swanky. No doubt some well-connected fey had pulled strings to make this happen.
The gate opened of its own accord when we got close enough, leading to a set of stairs on the other side that definitely wasn’t there thirty seconds ago. The smooth stone steps were wide enough for all three of us to spread out on, leading us straight down into the choppy waters of the river.
“…are we supposed to swim to the Apple?” Jacqui said, her Royal haughtiness somewhat lessened when she ended the sentence with a whisky burp.
“There must be a trick. They wouldn’t expect—no one would use a Door that required a dip in the Hudson.” Alice shrugged, and Jacqui looked unimpressed.
Well, this was my idea.
I climbed down the next few steps and paused on the step above the water. I was wearing black ballet flats—I’m tall enough that heels make me go from being impressively statuesque to crashing through Tokyo skyscrapers. The water sloshed around beneath me, an oily residue on the surface that definitely didn’t look magical.
Sometimes you gotta just close your eyes and kiss the frog.
Scott Mooney is a writer, improviser, and director from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Even before he could hold a pencil, he dictated stories to his parents. He currently lives in Chicago after time in New York, Los Angeles, England, and a dozen fantasy worlds of his own creation. His debut novel, Pricked, was written during his studies at Cornell University and Oxford University.