|Art by Flavio Bolla|
It’s a new nicely paired issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies to look at, with two new short stories that both lean a bit on the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Not in ways that might seem obvious, either, both of the stories wandering rather far afield when building their versions of events. One is fairly faithful but extends far beyond that story, to the magical repercussions of what happened. The other completely changes things, creating an entirely new world of myth and magic for the action to play out in, and ditching a girl bringing her grandmother a basket of goodies to a new mother bringing home her child through a moonlit wood. Both stories are filled with darkness, external and internal, and both feature women trying to reach safety through a deadly dangerous situation. To the reviews!
“February Moon” by Josh Rountree (5016 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is an immigrant from Europe, from some German-language speaking country during the time of America’s invasion and colonization of what is now Texas. Her situation is...not great. Her husband and oldest son are missing, and there’s a wolf around, one big and strong enough to pull door off hinges. The locals think that it’s native violence that they’re facing, but the narrator knows exactly what it is, and where it came from. This is a rather visceral and violent look at a family trying to survive in an inhospitable place. A vulnerable family who is surrounded by predators of different sorts.
Keywords: Language, Wolves, Shifters, Fairy Tales, Family
Review: Well wow that’s dark. The piece for me takes on a definite grimness, taken in part from the fairy tale it seems to elude to, with the narrator as Red Riding Hood and her husband, Mattias, the man who killed the wolf and won her heart. Only of course it’s not so simple, and the wolf wasn’t exactly just a wolf. And now that Mattias and the narrator have come to the New World, to Texas of all places, in hopes of escaping the curse that he picked up when he killed a wolf that had killed the narrator’s grandmother. And the piece for me is a bit gothic, about isolation and danger and a hungry and hostile countryside. The escape that the characters wanted became a new kind of prison, one where those around them were even less safe than ever, where the more established Americans at turns resent, look down on, and lust after the narrator for her vulnerability. It’s a place of deep prejudices, and perhaps Mattias picked it in place for that, part because the violence he authored would be obfuscated and part because be wouldn’t mourn so much the lives he took if he didn’t like his neighbors. Whatever the case, the narrator is now left to clean it all up as best she can, expecting in some ways the punishment she feel she deserves for her role in all of it. The piece gets bloody and visceral, and there are some intense shadows as the full scope of what has happened sinks in and the truth about what happened to Mattias and the narrator’s son becomes clear. Unlike traditional gothic stories, the big reveal isn’t some woman in the attic, or even the monster bursting through the door. In a much more modern twist, the revelation comes as the narrator reveals some information she had been holding back, a truth she hadn’t wanted to face because of how much it hurt, and a future that might hold deeds even darker. It’s a great take on fairy tales and historical fantasy, on the dangers of isolation as well as the reasons for it. And there’s still a hope left after everything, even if it’s probably a lie, even if it, too, will come to blood before long. A wrenching and brutal read, but carefully and beautifully rendered!
“Fox Red, Life Red, Teeth Like Snow” by Devin Miller (2288 words)
No Spoilers: Hryggda is a trollwife, a person who was exchanged away into the forest, into the wild magic where she now lives with her two wives. And on this night, guarded by the moon, she is making a new exchange, taking a daughter in exchange for a changeling. It’s gone smoothly, except that she feels something following her, shadowing her, and as the night wanes she gets a few surprises on her journey home. The piece is strange and lovely, the system grim but with a warmth and love that’s compelling.
Keywords: Changelings, Night, Moons, Wolves, Family, Queer MC, Fairy Tales
Review: This story builds a very interesting world around Changelings and wolves, mixing fairy tale, mythology, and a dash of something wholly original. What results is strange and a bit familiar, grim in some ways but very much about the magic of family and connection. And while I hesitate a bit about the way that the Hryggda seems to know that the baby they steal will be trans before said baby is likely sentient, I have hopes that maybe that’s something that’s handled through world building or some similar magical mechanism, because if not I’m not sure how I feel about that. While it seems to be a large way the story justifies the child-theft, it’s not a huge part of the story, and there’s a general feeling I get that the setting is larger than what we see here. The piece takes on fairy tales through the allusions to Little Red Riding Hood, crafting a more fantasy-laden world where the moon herself can be attacked, the sky stained with her blood. The piece focuses on only the return of Hryggda to her wives, the way that the child she carries is received, and the promise she might represent. There’s action and confrontation, though not a whole lot of closure. The resolution is a temporary one, heavy with implications, and it opens up enough that I’m quite curious to know what happens next, what might be in store for young Morn. Which isn’t to say that it’s not satisfying. The piece does close out this episode, this specific series of events, while still leaving things open enough that the setting and stories could continue. And I love the mythology it builds and melds, love the personalities of the trollwives and the wolf both, and just really appreciate the ways the story brings everything together, with its deep shadows and gentle light of the moon and the dawn. A wonderful read!