Short Story Rec: NETTLESTINGS by Sarah Caulfield

“Nettlestings: A Fairy Tale” was published in The Myriad Carnival: Queer And Weird Stories From Under The Big Top. You can read it here.

They asked him if he could fly and he said not anymore, said I used to, said I forgot how. His eyes peeled naked, they looked away from the desperation there and shrugged, said that’s fine, said it doesn’t matter, said we could use you anyway.

We could use you anyway, and there it is, there’s the thing, that last and single poignant thing: he had never felt of use before. He was a curse, a burden his sister carried upon her back, a guilty smear upon her brow: but not useful, never useful.

Caulfield’s story is a queer, magical retelling of “The Six Swans”. What happens to that last brother? The one that gets the unfinished shirt, the one with the missing sleeve? This story gives him an ending.

“Nettlestings” follows that brother, named Leda, as he runs away and joins the circus. There he finds some comfort, some solidarity. He’s a wounded creature, a wary boy. There, he meets Artemis: a mechanical boy made of jewels bewitched into life who can’t speak but can only sing, whose face is frozen into a single expression but who can feel the wide variety of life’s emotions anyway. And of course Leda and Artemis fall for each other, these two impossible boys, and of course I am rooting for them, days after finishing the story. Also, I loved that these two magic bird-boys had the names of Greek mythological heroines.

The writing is skilled: poetic without being gimmicky, flippant and casual but still polished. I will be watching out for more of Caulfield’s fiction.

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