Short Story Rec: MAIDEN, HUNTER, BEAST

“Maiden, Hunter, Beast” was written by Kat Howard, and was published in Lightspeed, issue 68 (Jan. 2016). You can read it for free here.


 

She could believe that a unicorn would make its way here, to this city. It was a place made of myth as well as of concrete and steel, and myth called to myth, even when both were tangible.

Kat Howard’s “Maiden, Hunter, Beast” is only 2,500 words long but manages to weave together three perspectives. The story is consumed by a chase: an ancient unicorn pursued by an old hunter, and a young, modern woman who gets caught in the middle. But Howard fills in enough lore that everything clicks into place.

It’s a story about roles and expectations, and about femininity. The unicorn appears to girl maidens. It’s hunted by a woman hunter. And then the unicorn stumbles across the maiden’s path–this nineteen year old girl who just wants some damn takeout–suddenly she knows what the unicorn is and that it is hunted and what she should do. She just knows.

But nothing is inevitable. There are rules, but within those rules there are possibilities. Howard wrings enormous tension out of the possible endings she lays out of this chase. And there is so much agency in this story. All three characters–the maiden, the hunter, and the beast–all three make important choices along the way. The ending that comes would not have formed had these three particular creatures come together, acted this way, chosen to play their roles or not the way they did. Just a masterful story the whole way around.

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Short Story Rec: “All In A Hot And Copper Sky” by Meg Arkenberg in Lightspeed, September 2015

The whole story is free to read here.

I was your replacement, your stand-in for the survivors, because I was a survivor myself. (And what good are survivors otherwise, but to read our sorrows and grievances against the dead, to listen to what the dead cannot hear?)

Meg Arkenberg’s “All In A Hot And Copper Sky” unfurls slowly; it’s like watching a doctor unwrap bandages on a wound. You catch glimpses of the damage, you know there’s something there, something vicious, but it’s slow methodical work to get to the thing underneath. And like a doctor unwrapping a bandage this story is also deeply intimate–a singular, personal character study of a woman who is not allowed, never allowed, to stop grieving someone she lost because her dead lover is a famous killer (savior? the jury of public opinion remains out) from a failed space colony.

The narrator, Dolores, survived. Dolores survived everything: she survived the failed colony which only had survivors, arguably, due to her lover, Socorro’s, actions, then she survived Socorro’s death, too. But survival is not escape. Dolores lives the rest of her life in the shadow of Socorro’s actions, carrying the weight of her lover’s choices forever.

It’s a haunting story. Like “Dustbaby”1, it’s about grief, but it’s about an altogether different kind of grief–a kind of ferocious and public grief that can’t be escaped.

~

1I will not deny that I am a sucker for stories about grief. For reasons.


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