Themes and synchronicities keep popping up in my short story reading. Many of this week's stores are about witches and demons and dangerous feminine magical powers of awesome. Not all of them. The others are just about cruelty and theater and magic and desperation. Normal stuff.

image credit: Rebecca Huston, "Grooming," on Strange Horizons

Belly by Haddayr Copley-Woods | The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Excerpt: I had thirteen long years in the witch's belly to contemplate what I'd done. I believed her at first that I deserved it, that this was fit punishment for my impertinent thievery of her bread in the market. But after two or three years of experiencing everything she ate, I realized something: the witch was a carnivore. She never ate bread.


If you haven't gone and picked up the July/August issue of F&SF based on the stories I've already recommended from that issue then I don't know what to tell you at this point. C. C. Finlay did an excellent job as guest editor, to the point where I got through this entire issue without wanting to throw it across the room once and found multiple stories I loved a lot. This hasn't happened for me with this magazine since... ever.

But here I go with one more story to entice you. "Belly" is visceral and gross and claustrophobic and everything you'd expect from a story about a person trapped in the stomach of a witch. And the theme is all tied up in cycles of violence and messed up mother/daughter relationships.

The World Resolute by E. Catherine Tobler | Strange Horizons

Excerpt: The trees are growing hollow here. The trees are long dead, striping the snowy land with dark shadows. The hag sits among shadows and trees alike. She is as hollow and withered as the trees, as dark as the shadows, hunching inward with her branch-arms resting in her stick-lap. The sky above is as blue glass and a low wind stirs old snow from branches.


This flash piece is evokes fairy tale sensibilities but is much more in the vein of a myth. I'm really interested in hearing how io9 readers react to this one.

Witch, Beast, Saint: an Erotic Fairy Tale by C. S. E. Cooney | Strange Horizons

Excerpt: Once upon a time I found a monster in the woods. In the manner of most witches, I had a knack for discovering lost things. He was crawling with vermin, so wasted he barely flinched when I tested his nose and tongue, checking texture, temperature, moisture. He was half an inch and kissing close to dying.


Do not make the mistake of ignoring the word "erotic" in the title here.

Now go enjoy yourself.

Death and Death Again by Mari Ness | Nightmare Magazine

Excerpt: That evening, she kills him again. This time, she works slowly, exquisitely slowly, taking frequent stops for food, for wine, for blood. Once or twice she even excuses herself to go to the bathroom, apologizing for leaving him alone. They both know she doesn't mean it.


You won't find all that many dark stories on my list of favorites. The ones I do like tend to be etched in beautiful language or have some element of revenge to them (I love a good revenge story). This is not revenge story.

Sleep Walking Now and Then by Richard Bowes |

Excerpt: Like many New Yorkers, Jacoby Cass saw the rising waters as a warning of impending doom but, like most of them, Cass had bigger worries. None are as superstitious as the actor, the director, or the playwright in the rehearsals of a new show. And for his drama Sleep Walking Now and Then, which was to be put on in this very building, Jacoby Cass was all three.


This novelette is worth settling in for. Bowes spools the story and characters out at a deliberate pace that drew me in so effectively I nearly missed my subway stop. The play described in the story is clearly based on Sleep No More, an immersive theater experience based on Macbeth. In the near future, this type of play is far more common than the stage versions that dominate now, and it's easy to see how semi-interactive entertainment could become a bigger draw. One step away from the holodeck.

What stories did you read this week? Shout out your faves in the comments.


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