October’s best science fiction and fantasy short stories reimagined tales as old as time, took us to a scrapyard where the soldiers of the future live out their days, and sat us down for reading lessons with the devil himself.
“The Tailor and the Beast“, by Aysha U. Farah in Uncanny Magazine #30
There is something immensely satisfying in seeing a classic fairy tale reimagined with a twist that makes you see the original in a new light. In this story, Farah does exactly that, giving us a lovely and uniquely imagined version of Beauty and the Beast. Here, Belle is a girl called Lucia Bellomi, who is saved from captivity when her father, Andrea, trades places with her. He stays with the Beast (who is very beastly indeed) in the cursed castle while Lucia goes free. Andrea was once a gifted tailor, and in the castle he puts his skills to use again, awakening both old and new passions in the process. Farah skillfully uses the craft of tailoring to deepen the story, incorporating a tailor’s necessary attention to detail, and the love and care required to make a well-fitting outfit, as part of the plot.
“The Devil and Andrew’s Sprong” by William R. Eakin in Kaleidotrope
“There is a pitchfork in the ground just as you take the turn on County Road 64 over by Uncle Joe’s Corner Liquor Store and Gas. It’s where William Andrew Walkman got out of that deal he made with the Devil for his soul.” Those are the opening lines of this delightful, rollicking, and rambunctious tale of a man who asks the Devil to teach him how to read and ends up having to do some serious bargaining for his soul—while also annoying Satan to the point of exasperation. It’s a fabulously fun read that takes a lot of twists and turns along the way, while also delivering a strong message about the importance books and stories, and about what we leave behind when our lives are over.
“On Full Moon Nights“, by Idza Luhumyo in The Dark
At night when the moon is full and the tide is “high enough throw her out of the water” a dead girl called Kasicha comes to visit little Tatu, and when the wind blows the Kasicha into Tatu, they fly off together. One within another, the two girls roam the city, wreaking havoc on the living—but beneath the mischief lurks the terrible secret about how and why Kasicha died, why she cannot rest, and why she seeks out Tatu on those moonlit nights. In lyrical and compelling prose, this piercing horror story lays bare the hidden crimes and sins that turned a little girl into a restless ghost.
“The Valley of Wounded Deer“, by E. Lily Yu in Lightspeed
“The Valley of Wounded Deer” is an exquisite story, so beautiful that it struck me like a literary bolt of lightning. It has a power recalls that of ancient myth, of the hard-won wisdom and deep human truths you might encounter in folklore. E. Lily Yu’s flawless prose flows with a spell-binding rhythm of its own, as she tells the tale of a noble prince raised in secret to save her from a scheming queen, of dangerous quests in the wilderness, mysterious talking animals, dastardly crimes, and of good being pitted against the ruthless high and mighty. It’s a story that feels ancient and brand new all at the same time.
“The Scrapyard“, by Tomas Furby in Clarkesworld
A futuristic scrapyard doubles as a retirement home for a group of special soldiers: the last of the technologically enhanced fighters who, once upon a time, saved Earth from an alien invasion. Wearing their mech-suits, their bodies torn apart and put together again to be better and stronger, they hunted down the invading screeves, and for that, they were called heroes. Now, humanity is safe, and the soldiers are senior citizens, and no one seems to want or need them around anymore. However, one of the soldiers isn’t so sure the fight really is over. Did they really defeat the screeves, or might some of them still be lurking in the shadows? If they are: maybe the old gang still has one last mission to carry out. This is a gritty and rowdy science fiction story told in the fabulously gnarly voice of one of the old fighters, and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.
“As the Last I May Know“, by S.L. Huang on Tor.com
War threatens the powerful nation at the center of S.L. Huang’s story, as a newly elected president announces his intent to use the “seres,” the ultimate missile weapons in the nation’s arsenal against the enemy. These weapons are capable of wiping out entire cities, killing millions at the touch of a button. But according to the system of checks put in place, the president can only launch these destructive weapons by killing a child in order to access the launch-codes implanted in their chest. Nyma is that child, chosen to carry the codes in her body; with war on the doorstep, she must live in the presidential home in order to be close at hand if needed. From premise to execution, this story is an emotional gut-punch, and delves deep into the psychological repercussions of the central question—for Nyma, for the president, and for Tej, a representative of The Order, the organization that has tutored and cared for Nyma. It’s a tale that lingers in the mind long after reading.
“The Midnight Host“, by Gregory Neil Harris in Fiyah #12
Two brothers, Koda and Donnie, are on a road trip to rural Virginia with their grandmother to visit their Aunt Pearl. Soon after arriving, the boys end up at the nearby tobacco plantation where they have a seemingly benign run-in with the owner, Mr. Hammond. However, Mr. Hammond is not what he seems, and his plantation harbors old and terrible secrets, as the boys find out when they take a shortcut across the property later that night. Koda and Donnie end up tangling with spirits and magic as they uncover the truth about the plantation and the awful scarecrows guarding the tobacco fields. Harris deftly twines together supernatural scares with the real horror of slavery and racism.
“Some Kind of Blood-Soaked Future“, by Carlie St. George in Nightmare
“Here’s the thing about surviving a slumber party massacre: no one really wants you around anymore.” So begins a darkly funny, quite poignant story that makes excellent use of the conventions of the slasher movie genre, and the “final girl” trope in particular. What would your life be like if grisly death and mayhem followed you wherever you went, with murders and massacres claiming everyone in your life? The protagonist in this story tries to run away, to escape her fate again and again, but eventually, she decides to fight back, to try to stop the killings before they happen. St. George delivers a hugely entertaining and inventive slice of subversive horror with a protagonist who refuses to become just another victim.
“A Cut-Purse Rethinks His Ways“, by Kate Heartfield in Timeworn Literary Journal
Timeworn Literary Journal is a new publication focused on historical fiction “with a splash of the speculative.” In their first issue, they feature a selection of evocative and fascinating stories, including Heartfield’s wonderful tale about Pinch, a London thief who is in love with William but has decided he cannot be part of his life anymore. When Pinch tries to cut his ties with his old lover, strange things begin happen: every time he picks someone’s pocket, he ends up in possession of an item that reminds him of his past, and specifically of William. Heartfield masterfully crafts a gripping and moving tale, weaving together fantasy, romance, and historical fiction.
“No Folly of the Beasts“, by Wren Wallis in Mithila Review #11
Set in a richly detailed fantasy world where magic and monsters, as well as war and strife, are ever close at hand, Wallis’s riveting story follows the harpoon-wielding Ratri as she sets out to sea on board a whaling ship. Along for the ride is the newly recruited Shrike, an old woman with “three sights,” able to discern “the living, the dead, and the signs.” Shrike and Ratri share a bond of loss and grief. Shrike is the last of her people, the only survivor after her homeland was laid waste by invaders. Ratri’s loss is ever-present and haunts her in the form of two ghosts: the ghost of her mother, and of her unborn child. The ghosts and the grief cling to Ratri, and Ratri clings to them, unwilling and unable to let go. Her only remaining purpose in life is vengeance: to kill the giant sea-beast Krakatan that caused their deaths. Wallis has crafted a fierce and profoundly moving story about the tenuous bonds of a new friendship and the search for a purpose in life.
What’s the best short story you read in October?