The Cullng by Kelley Armstrong

We grew up with stories of how the Cullings saved us. Stories of the famines and the aftermath, a world that once grew grain and corn in abundance, the forests overrun with rabbits and deer, lakes and streams brimming with trout and salmon. How all that had come to an end, the water drying up and everything dying with the drought—the grain and the corn and the rabbits and the deer and the trout and the salmon. And us. Most of all, us.

Left with so few resources, it was not enough to simply ration food and water. Not enough to reduce birth rates. Not enough to refuse any measures to prevent death. We needed more. We needed the Cullings.

The Cullings removed surplus population by systematically rooting out “weakness. ” At first, they targeted the old and infirm. When that was no longer enough, any physical disability could see one culled. Even something that did not impair one’s ability to work—like a disfiguring birthmark—was said to be enough, on the reasoning that there was a taint in the bloodline that might eventually lead to a more debilitating condition.

The population dropped, but so did the water supply, and with it, the food supply, and eventually more stringent measures were required. That’s when they began targeting anyone who was different, in body or in mind. If you kept too much to yourself, rejecting the companionship of others; if you were easily upset or made anxious or sad; if you occasionally saw or heard things that weren’t there . . . all were reasons to be culled. But the thing is, sometimes those conditions are easier to hide than a bad leg or a mark on your face. It just takes a little ingenuity and a family unwilling to let you go.


“Who are you talking to, Marisol?” my mother says as she hurries into my room.

I motion to my open window, and to Enya, who had stopped to chat on her way to market. She says a quick hello to my mother and then a goodbye to me before carrying on down the village lane.

I murmur to my mother, “A real, living friend. You can see her, too, right?”

“I was just—”

“Checking, I know. ” I put my arm around her shoulders. Having just passed my sixteenth birthday, I’m already an inch taller and making the most of it. “I have not had imaginary friends in many years, Momma. ”

“I know. It’s just . . . I’ve heard you talking recently. When you’re alone. ”

“I argue with myself. You know how I am—always spoiling for a fight. If no one’s around to give me one, I must make do. ” I smack a kiss on her cheek. “I don’t hear voices, Momma. I’m not your sister. I have a little of what she did, but only a little, and I know how to hide it. I don’t talk about my imaginary friends, even if they’re long gone. I don’t let anyone see my wild pictures. I don’t tell anyone my even wilder stories. I am absolutely, incredibly, boringly normal. ”

She makes a face at me.

“What?” I say. “It is boring. But I will fake it, for you and Papa. ”

“For you, Mari. Our worries are for you, and yours should be, too. ”

“But I don’t need to be worried, because I am very careful. ”

“The Culling is coming. ”

“As you have reminded me every day for the past month. I will be fine. I’ll even stop arguing with myself, though that means you’ll need to break up more fights between Dieter and me. ”

“Your brother will happily argue with you if it keeps you safe. ”

“It will. ” I give her a one-armed hug. “I’ll be fine, Momma. ”

Excerpted from Strangers Among Us Copyright © 2016

Table of contents

Foreword------------------------------------------------- Lucas K. Law
Introduction--------------------------------------------- Julie E. Czerneda
The Culling---------------------------------------------- Kelley Armstrong
Dallas's Booth------------------------------------------- Suzanne Church
What Harm------------------------------------------------ Amanda Sun
How Objects Behave on the Edge of a Black Hole----------- A. C. Wise
Washing Lady's Hair-------------------------------------- Ursula Pflug
The Weeds and The Wildness------------------------------- Tyler Keevil
Living in Oz--------------------------------------------- Bev Geddes
I Count The Lights--------------------------------------- Edward Willett
The Dog and The Sleepwalker------------------------------ James Alan Gardner
Carnivores----------------------------------------------- Rich Larson
Tribes--------------------------------------------------- A. M. Dellamonica
Troubles------------------------------------------------- Sherry Peters
Frog Song------------------------------------------------ Erika Holt
Wrath of Gaia-------------------------------------------- Mahtab Narsimhan
Songbun-------------------------------------------------- Derwin Mak
What You See (When the Lights Are Out)------------------- Gemma Files
The Age of Miracles-------------------------------------- Robert Runté
Marion's War--------------------------------------------- Hayden Trenholm
The Intersection----------------------------------------- Lorina Stephens
Afterword------------------------------------------------ Susan Forest
About the Contributors
About the Editors
Copyright Acknowledgements
Appendix: Mental Health Resources


Nineteen science fiction and fantasy authors explore the delicate balance between mental health and mental illness and how the diverse societies and cultures we live in can set us apart, or must be concealed, or become unlikely strengths. Recommended by Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, School Library Journal, Locus, and Foreword Reviews. Winner of the 2017 (Canadian SF&F) Aurora Award and the 2017 Alberta Book Publishing Award. To learn more about this publisher, click here: http://bit. ly/2tWyJEm


  • Short-listed, Foreword INDIES Award (Best Anthology) 2016
  • Winner, (Canadian SF&F) Prix Aurora Award (Best Anthology) 2017
  • Winner, Alberta Book Publishing Award (Speculative Fiction Book of the Year) 2017


"Mental illness is an exciting theme for an anthology, leaving plenty of room for variety. " (Library Journal)

"The writers of these stories address such varied subjects as agoraphobia, depression, schizophrenia, autism, anxiety, and addiction. Though this book has some shortcomings, readers who have mental illnesses may find themselves somewhere in these pages and as a result may no longer feel so alone or isolated. " (School Library Journal)

" Stories do a masterful job of knitting legitimate and painful mental illnesses to characters who still retain agency and power. " (Kirkus Reviews)

"A solid effort, a mixed SF/fantasy original anthology, with a number of entertaining stories to be found within its pages. " (Locus - Gardner Dozois)

"The writing is excellent throughout . . . This is a unique collection that should attract readers of all genres. " (Foreword Reviews)

"The stories in Strangers Among Us are as varied in tone and approach as their authors. The power of the collection derives from this variety; while each story can be read in isolation, the assemblage of outsiders feels, on a whole, exultant. There is, indeed, strength in numbers, when each individual is accorded space and respect. " (Quill & Quire)

"Strangers Among Us . . . is important, shining a much-needed spotlight on issues that get far too little attention. A wonderful anthology, one of the major SF&F books of the year. Bravo!" (Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo award-winning author of Quantum Night)