introduction

For the month of December, Short Fiction Friday is being upgraded to feature daily stories as part of an advent calendar exchange I’m running with a friend! Every week, Black Forest Basilisks will be shining a spotlight on each of the short stories, novelettes, or flash fics that we exchanged for each day of advent. All of these stories will be available online for free. 

Part 1 is available here

day 5.png

December 5th

Shvaugn’s pick: Spar by Kij Johnson

This story is available online for free at: Clarkesworld. Click through to read!

In the tiny lifeboat, she and the alien fuck endlessly, relentlessly.

They each have Ins and Outs. Her Ins are the usual, eyes ears nostrils mouth cunt ass. Her Outs are also the common ones: fingers and hands and feet and tongue. Arms. Legs. Things that can be thrust into other things.

The alien is not humanoid. It is not bipedal. It has cilia. It has no bones, or perhaps it does and she cannot feel them. Its muscles, or what might be muscles, are rings and not strands. Its skin is the color of dusk and covered with a clear thin slime that tastes of snot. It makes no sounds. She thinks it smells like wet leaves in winter, but after a time she cannot remember that smell, or leaves, or winter.

Its Ins and Outs change. There are dark slashes and permanent knobs that sometimes distend, but it is always growing new Outs, hollowing new Ins. It cleaves easily in both senses.

It penetrates her a thousand ways. She penetrates it, as well.

Content warning: this story is essentially one long rape. It’s brutal, gory, and focuses on the erasure of personhood during the act. Communication is pointless; telling it to stop does nothing. It brings back thoughts of normalcy, of people who she loved or appreciate in life… yet those memories are in turn tarnished by the fact that she thinks of them now, during this obscene rape. 

Ultimately, she does pull herself out. There is a path back to being a person again, and she reaches for it – but it’s acknowledged that this is the start of a journey that will always have connotations connected to her trauma. 

This story was horrific, but excellent. 

My pick: The Things by Peter Watts

This story is available online for free at: Clarkesworld. Click through to read!

I remember my reawakening, too: dull stirrings of sensation in real time, the first embers of cognition, the slow blooming warmth of awareness as body and soul embraced after their long sleep. I remember the biped offshoots surrounding me, the strange chittering sounds they made, the odd uniformity of their body plans. How ill-adapted they looked! How inefficient their morphology! Even disabled, I could see so many things to fix. So I reached out. I took communion. I tasted the flesh of the world—

—and the world attacked me. It attacked me.

December 5th was clearly a day for strange and obscene life forms. Peter Watts does an incredible job at putting himself into an alien consciousness – one that raises up the ability to change and commune with other life forms above all else. When this life form visits Earth and discovers the blasphemy that is humanity, with their tumors growing in their skulls and their soulless, homogenous bodies, it finds itself attacked. It’s disgusted and horrified at us, and we, in turn, are horrified that it takes us over and erases us even as it tries to communicate and share. 

day 6.png

December 6th

Shvaugn’s pick: Old Media by Annalee Newitz

This story is available online for free at: Tor.com. Click through to read!

Last year, he’d found sanctuary in Saskatoon. John’s new master wasn’t like the other ones, at least in some ways. She was a scientist, and she was working on some kind of secret project with Med. He didn’t understand everything about what they were doing, but he knew they were trying to help people who’d gotten addicted to corporate pharma. After the project went live, his master went into hiding. She left him behind with Med—but not before buying him a franchise that granted him full rights in the city. That night, he kept activating the readout from his chip on the mobile’s login screen: Enfranchised. The English word morphed in his mind as he tried to feel its reality. Enfranchised, enchanted, ineluctable, incredulous

I was a little torn on this one. It felt… a little incomplete to me. I loved the ideas, the feelings, and the scope, but it felt like the abstract edges simply didn’t give me enough. I would love to read a novelization of this story, or even a novella or novelette. As it stands, however, I was taken in with empathy for the main character and the difficult position he’s found himself in. 

My pick: Above It All by Caroline Emshwiller

This story is available online for free at: Fantasy Magazine. Click through to read!

Suddenly here was this baby girl and I said, okay. I didn’t have a lot to do right then except for the baby birds who had lost their mothers. They had to be fed every two hours. . . and so did she. It wasn’t much extra work. That year I had three baby ravens, one wounded jay, one wounded owl…. I also had an almost-road-killed baby raccoon, though I usually stick to birds. I’m a certified raptor rescuer, but I take in anything. That year I didn’t have as many as usual.

I liked this story a lot the first time I read it. On a revisit, I still like it, but maybe not as much as I did the first time. It’s a kind story about the difficulties of parenting; how to balance keeping someone safe and also letting them become who they ought to be? And even more, how to help them become who they should be when society pressures them to become someone they aren’t? How can you let them fly?

day 7.png

December 7th

Shvaugn’s pick: No Flight Without the Shatter by Brooke Bolander

This story is available online for free at: Tor.com. Click through to read!

Pretend you are the land. Pretend you are a place far away, the last vibrant V of green and gold and tessellated rock before the sea and sky slither south unchecked for three thousand lonesome turns of a tern’s wing. Once upon a time the waters rose to cut you off from your mother continent, better independence through drowning. Some day soon, when the ice across the ocean turns to hungry waves, all the rest will follow, sliding beneath an oil-slick surface as warm and empty as a mortician’s handshake.

So, uh. Shvaugn may or may not be seeing this exact same story in a few days on my calendar for her. Whoops? I take it to mean we both have wonderful taste. I was first introduced to Brooke Bolander through her novella, The Only Harmless Great Thing (review), which I frankly adored. I later realized I’d read her other short story, The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat, which, well, I also adored. Bolander writes weird, surreal, strange little tales filled with heart and hurt, and I cannot get enough of it. 

This particular story is one that is better experienced than described. If you read for the experience of reading, this is the story for you. 

My pick: The Zahir by Jorge Luis Borges

This story is available online for free at: MIT.edu. Click through to read!

My friend Borges once described a Zahir, which in Buenos Aires in 1939 was a coin, a ten-centavo piece, with the letters ‘N’ and ‘T’ and the numeral ‘2’ scratched crudely in the obverse. Whomsoever saw this coin was consumed by it, in a manner of speaking, and could think of nothing else, until at last their personality ceased to exist, and they were reduced to a babbling corpse with nothing to talk about but the coin, the coin, always the coin. To have one’s mind devoured by coins, that is a terrible fate, although one which is common enough in these mercenary times. But to have one’s mind devoured by the thought of a coin, that is strange and far more terrible. With such stories as these Borges kept me awake at night, to keep him company when he could not sleep.

Borges is a very experimental writer, tending towards the mundane surreal. He writes of cities that do not exist, yet which exist, of coins which demand absolute attention. His anthology, Labyrinths, is excellent. His writing is classical, in some ways dry by modern standards… and yet, I always find myself drawn in. 

day 8.png

December 8th

Shvaugn’s pick: You Can Make a Dinosaur, But You Can’t Make Me

This story is available online for free at: Uncanny Magazine. Click through to read!

Leo believes in himself. He has to, to leave the house wearing a skirt or heels, with his flat chest and facial hair. To hand his coat to the cis restaurant host, who isn’t sure whether to call him “sir” or “ma’am.” And you love him for that. You love him for so many more reasons—for naming himself after Leonardo DiCaprio (not da Vinci); for being just as excited about his manicure the hundredth time he holds his fingernails out for you to examine, as the first; for knowing which queer YA books he can safely recommend to kids whose parents might not approve, when he’s at work.

He’s perfect and you’re a farce. He’s made peace with his body and you only tolerate yours. And you can’t believe you’re nervous to say this out loud, but you don’t want him to validate your body. You want him to remember what it’s like to need to change part of himself.

I love, love, love the use of second person in this short story. I’ve been meaning to read it for a while – ever since I saw K. M. Szpara speak on a panel back in October at Capclave. Discussion centered on how second person is often used as a method for people, especially victims, to try to place someone else in their own shoes to engender empathy. It is supremely effective in this short story, allowing the reader to slip into a skin that’s not their own… and which creates its own kind of dysphoria, independent of the narrator’s. 

My pick: The Lily and the Horn by Cathrynne Valente

This story is available online for free at: Fantasy Magazine. Click through to read!

War is a dinner party.

My ladies and I have spent the dregs of summer making ready. We have hung garlands of pennyroyal and snowberries in the snug, familiar halls of Laburnum Castle, strained cheese as pure as ice for weeks in the caves and the kitchens, covered any gloomy stone with tapestries or stags’ heads with mistletoe braided through their antlers. We sent away south to the great markets of Mother-of-Millions for new silks and velvets and furs. We have brewed beer as red as October and as black as December, boiled every growing thing down to jams and pickles and jellies, and set aside the best of the young wines and the old brandies. Nor are we proud: I myself scoured the stables and the troughs for all the strange horses to come. When no one could see me, I buried my face in fresh straw just for the heavy gold scent of it. I’ve fought for my husband many times, but each time it is new all over again. The smell of the hay like candied earth, with its bitter ribbons of ergot laced through—that is the smell of my youth, almost gone now, but still knotted to the ends of my hair, the line of my shoulders. When I polish the silver candelabras, I still feel half a child, sitting splay-legged on the floor, playing with my mother’s scorpions, until the happy evening drew down.

always get excited to read a new Cat Valente. Her prose, her ideas, everything about her writing is utterly delightful. My first experience with her was in her novella, Silently and Very Fast, after which I promptly sought out more of her work. The Lily and the Horn has every inch of what makes Cat wonderful. 

bar

Past featured short stories can be viewed here. Part 1 of the Advent series can be found here

Have you read this story? What did you think? Do you have any questions about it?

Let me know in the comments below!