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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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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