Peril of the Short Story is an aspect of RIP which I often neglect, despite my best intentions. Not so, this year.
First, MOONSHOT, which is edited by Hope Nicholson for AH Comics (Alternative History) contains many elements which suit this reading season.
First,”The Qallupiluk: Forgiven” which was originally published in Ajjiit: Dark Dreams of the Ancient Arctic (Inhabit Media, 2011). With narrative by by Seon and Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and illustrations by Menton J. Matthews III, this is a suitably unsettling story.
There is also “Tlicho Nàowo”, a story about the ‘Night the Spirits Return’, which coincides with October 31st in the Dene First Nations community in the Northwest Territories: a “ritual that expresses love and respect to family members who have passed on, as well as to impolre the spirits of the Caribou people for a safe and plentiful hunt for the community”. It’s written by Richard Van Camp (with Mahsi cho to Rosa Mantla) and illustrated by Nicholas Burns.
I’ve also been reading from Ladies of Fantasy: Two Centuries of Sinister Stories by the Gentle Sex. Some of these stories are actually rather gentle, but others are not, like Madame Blavatsky’s “The Ensouled Violin” which is truly horrifying.
The stories are selected by Seon Manley and Gogo Lewis, and include works by E. Nesbit, Joan Aiken, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Grazia Deleddo, Madame Blavatsky, Jane Roberts, Grena J. Bennett, C.L. Moore and Lady Eleanor Smith.
Some are mostly about atmosphere, like E. Nesbit’s “The Pavilion”, in which “the starlight lay gray on the dew of the park, and the trees massed themselves in bunches of a darker gray, deepening to black at the roots of them”.
Similarly, “The Muted Horn” by Dorothy Salisbury Davis: “The music when he once more tilted the horn into the nght had a quiet sadness that soon grew into melancholy. It was a lament htat might have been winded over the last fires of a dead hero’s camp. The birds grew still.”
Others have a specifc hook upon which the tale turns, as with Joan Aiken’s “Searching for Summer”: “And they’ve never even noticed that that the sun doesn’t shine in other places.”
Mary Elizabeth Counselman plays the card for more overt thrills in “The Unwanted”: “A tall, spare mountaineer with a bushy red heard and a missing right arm had appeared, as though the rocky ground had sprouted him. His narrow blue eyes held an expression almost identical to the look of the rifle bore he held cradled in his left arm. It was pointed directly at my heart, which was pounding against my ribs like a trapped rabbit.
Jane Roberts’ “The Red Wagon” felt startlingly modern, with a young boy realizing that voices aren’t supposed to come out of thin air, which soon spirals into a tale of possession/loss of sanity.
The threats can take unexpected forms, as in Catherine Moore’s “Doorway into Time”: “There was a narrow space in the corridor between himself and it. The lightning had weakened one wall already. He swing it away from the oncoming colossus and played the fire screaming to and fro upon blackened stones, seeing mortar crumble between them and girders bending in that terrible heat.”
The short introductions to each story do place the works in a context which is helpful, but they also include some commentary which make it clear that women writing fantastical stories is something of an aberration in 1975, which adds a quaintness to the collection, which allowing the works to speak for themselves might have overwritten.
Also in shorter fare, Tom Hammock’s Will O’ the Wisp, which comprises the first volume of the Aurora Grimeon series, illustrated by Megan Hutchison, which contains six installments.
It caught my eye in the teen section of the library, because it has a gold clasp on it, like the quintessential young girl’s diary. This alone might not have lulled me in, were it not for RIP XI, but its illustrations are dramatic and suitably creepy.
The story contains all the hallmarks of the genre (from scorpions to skeletons, from fog to figments) and a particularly spooky house. This, Aurora only recently began to call hom in the wake of her parents’ death, with her grandfather’s sudden emergence as her only living relative in the swampland of the southern United States.
But my favourite part of the series is Missy, the raccoon, who is determined, smart and loyal, and who sleeps like a cat and offers Aurora the friendship she craves. Missy isn’t creepy, but she adds a bit of fresh flavour to a story which feels eerily familiar.
Next up, the collection of tales by Rui Umezawa, Strange Light Afar. It’s a slim volume, illustrated by Mikiko Fujita, and it will round out my story reading nicely.