February 19, 2020: “The Easthound” by Nalo Hopkinson

Good evening to you, Story366!

So, Rod Blagojevich is out of jail, just because. I sort-of remember him being on the Trump reality show about stars running a business, seeing a clip where he introduced himself as the governor of Illinois to room full of G-list celebrities, most of them wondering who he was, why he was a contestant, and what they’d have to do to get him to stop touching them. I don’t know how he did on the show—he went to jail soon after—but apparently, he made a powerful friend.

All of this reminds me of the chance I once had to do an impression of Blagojevich on TV. When Chicago Stories came out in 2012, my publisher booked a cool interview for me on Chicago Tonight, this cool daily new magazine show that runs on PBS every evening. Most of the show was taken up by a panel discussing the G8 (now G7) Conference that was happening in town that week, but they kept the last five minutes of the show for me and my kooky book.

In the green room before, all the reporters and important people talking about G8 were being adults, discussing this huge political event. Meanwhile, there I was, sitting off to the side, having no idea what G8 even stood for. Someone eventually asked me why I was there and I told them I wrote a book of stories, and they were actually nice about it, said that it was cool. Then they returned to going at each other, which poured over into the actual taping, then after as they all shuffled out of the studio.

I was up next and the host, Phil Ponce, was super-enthusiastic. He had to be relieved, somewhat, that this fluff portion of the show was ending his night, as that G8 panel had been intense. I remember it being super-hot under the lights and the time going really quickly. Someone—I think it was my editor, Jacob Fucking Knabb—had told them that I did an impression of Blago, and right as the segment ended, Phil Ponce looked at me, said, “I heard you do impressions, too,” giving me the perfect opening.

I froze.

After what seemed like an hour but was actually more like two seconds, Phil Ponce wrapped the show, chatted with me as the cameras went to dark, and then he shook my hand and that was that.

Today, I thought about that, Blago now out of jail. I can’t help but think, had I pulled off that impression—which, by the way, was laden with curse words and not suitable for PBS, anyway—maybe both our lives would have turned out differently. Guess we’ll never know.

Tonight, I read from Nalo Hopkinson‘s collection of sci-fi/fantasy stories, Falling in Love with Hominids, out in 2015 from Tachyon Publications. I hadn’t read Hopkinson before tonight, and I’m ashamed to say, I hadn’t heard of her before researching books for my Black History Month Week. But, that’s what Story366 is mainly for, to introduce me to writers I hadn’t know before. Here we go.

I really, really loved the opening story, “The Easthound,” so I’m writing about that tonight. “The Easthound” features Millie, a teenage girl living with a group of other teens/young people in some sort of group—a “warren,” Hopkinson calls it, like they’re a bunch of rabbits. Along with Millie are Jolly (Millie’s twin sister), Citron, Max, and Sai. When we meet this group, they’re sitting around a fire in a yard and playing a game called Loup-de-lou, sort of an oral exquisite corpse with rhymes and repetition. The kids play the game to pass the time and to keep their minds off something else, which Hopkinson is wisely coy about for a while.

As the story progress, we get a good feel for Millie’s relationship with the other kids, especially Jolly, her somewhat domineering slightly older sister. The kids argue, especially the twins, while they play, while they eat, while they keep warm beside the fire.

Turns out, it’s not a good idea to argue, or to make too much noise, as there’s something out there. Hopkinson reveals details at just the right pace, pulling us through the story, the evil becoming more apparent as the tension rises. What we find out, eventually, is this: The adults of the world have all “sprouted,” turned into horrible beasts of some kind, covered in fur with sharp teeth and claws. And they seem to get bigger and bigger as time goes by. The sprouted, the kids call them, now hunt the kids when it’s dark, when they make too much noise, or when they’re just plain hungry.

So, this is a post-apocalyptic story, kind of like a zombie story, only with these werewolf-type things called the sprouted. Hopkinson one-ups zombie lore, too: Not only have all the adults turned into these things, but the kids, when they become adults, they sprout, too. So, this means that all the kids in the group will eventually sprout and then try to eat the rest of the group. As a matter of fact, this has already happened, one of their band having changed in the middle of the night, the rest of the group barely escaping with their lives.

All of this, as you might guess, sets up a confrontation, the kids vs. the sprouted, as of course this has to happen because this is a short story. I won’t reveal any more plot details, but will stress that this a great story, full of interesting characters, a killer setting, and this creative monster-thing that’s going to lead to the end of the world. Hopkinson’s rate of reveal is working especially well here, as we always know something’s up, yet are never too anxious, the other elements of the story effectively distracting us as we slowly discover this horrible reality.

Along with “The Easthound,” I read the next two stories as well. “Soul Case” is about a civilazation of former slaves in South America looking to defend their home from a European invasion. “Message in a Bottle” is about this kid who has something called DGS, or Delayed Growth Syndrome, where kids’ bodies age at an incredibly slow rate as their brains reach genius-level just as quickly. I.e., super-smart pre-teens who can’t grow up. Both of these stories are cool and imaginitive, both of which I enjoyed a lot.

So glad that this project has led me to writers like Nalo Hopkinson and her collection, Falling in Love with Hominids. Hopkinson’s books number in the teens and her awards, especially from sci-fi and fantasy-type societies, are just as numerous. I loved exploring her imagination, her settings, and her characters, eating up her super-awesome stories one after another.

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