This week’s stories are about transformations born out of joy, fear, loneliness, pain, and the fierce fire of retribution.
Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma | Tor.com
Trigger Warnings: child abuse, incest, and rape
“Eliza, tell me your secret.”
Sometimes I’m cornered at parties by someone who’s been watching me from across the room as they drain their glass. They think I don’t know what’s been said about me.
Eliza’s odd looking but she has something, don’t you think? Une jolie laide. A French term meaning ugly-beautiful. Only the intelligentsia can insult you with panache.
I always know when they’re about to come over. It’s in the pause before they walk, as though they’re ordering their thoughts. Then they stride over, purposeful, through the throng of actors, journalists, and politicians, ignoring anyone who tries to engage them for fear of losing their nerve.
“Eliza, tell me your secret.”
“I’m a princess.”
Such a ridiculous thing to say and I surprise myself by using Kenny’s term for us, even though I am now forty-something and Kenny was twenty-four years ago. I edge past, scanning the crowd for Georgia, so I can tell her that I’ve had enough and am going home. Maybe she’ll come with me.
My interrogator doesn’t look convinced. Nor should they be. I’m not even called Eliza. My real name is Lola and I’m no princess. I’m a monster.
This story is very dark and very engaging. The voice just sucks you in and holds you down as the story slowly builds and builds to the justified, disturbing end. This is the kind of horror I tend to gravitate to even though horror as a whole isn’t my favorite genre. The way it mixes the real and the supernatural and the woman’s tight point of view both contribute to why I highly recommend this story.
Image Credit: Jeffrey Alan Love
When Raspberries Bloom in August by Haralambi Markov | Weird Fiction Review
Varadin Karamazov found the raspberry blooms one late afternoon in August – a whole month after the last bush had been picked clean and every berry had been boiled into jam. The spindly bushes that lined the Karamazov’s garden now dipped under the weight of blossoms that reminded Varadin of the sights of his youth. Colors bright and varied – citrus yellow and evil eye blue, egg yolk orange and slaughterhouse red, bruise purple and pink of the flesh he’d enjoyed most in his prime.
The colors danced on petals the size of tea saucers and Varadin squatted in front the closest bush and took a whiff, his knees popping from the years he’d spent building other people’s houses. A gentle smell tinged the air; it reminded him of his firstborn, Maria – warm and sweet and wholesome. So warm it melted away the pins and needles in his bones. So sweet the punch of the August heat lessened. So wholesome his heart also bloomed with tenderness he’d thought he’d sown long ago raising his children, making them into men and women.
It took three big whiffs before he dragged two scratched wooden chairs with their white paint peeling and arranged them where the bushes were thickest. He brought two plastic lemonade bottles filled with water and he guided his wife, Ghena, rough hands over her eyes, to the spot. He did so slowly and with patience, for Ghena was a woman who had outgrown the silly surprises only girls cherished.
Her cursing ceased as she smelled the blossoms, and once Varadin revealed the iridescent petals, all further accusations of insanity, mentions of her age, and threats against his mother withered before uttered. Instead, she smiled as wide as her cracked skin allowed and searched for her husband’s hand the way she used to when boys sang songs about her hair and her feet could dance on burning embers.
Both took a seat and watched the petals, even though Ghena had to feed the chickens and cook the meat that dripped juices down the kitchen table’s legs, attracting flies, and Varadin had to water the rows of tomatoes and cucumbers, peppers and carrots, potatoes and squash. But the work would remain the same each day of the week, and didn’t they deserve a break?
This was how they spent the first day the raspberries bloomed in August.
Years ago when I studied song writing one of my assignments was to write a sad song about a happy thing and a happy song about a sad thing. Reading this story reminded me of that. What happens to this couple throughout the story is horrific, but they’re so happy about it there this undertone of joy and hope that seriously has no business in a plot like this. Markov expertly handles these disparities, making for a great story.
Florist by M. B. Vujačić | SQMag
Eve stared at the cocaine on the coffee table.
She was sitting on the living room couch, her legs bent beneath her, her shoes lying forgotten on the carpet. Sunlight streamed through the patio doors, giving everything a shiny, dreamlike quality. Somewhere outside, birds were chirping.
Eve sucked in her lips. She still couldn’t shake the impression that something was wrong with the house. The TV was the problem: it wasn’t turned on. Back when Joe was here, the TV was always on. Sports, music, talk shows, newscasts, whatever; the house was always live with its chatter. The only times Joe ever turned it off was when they slept and when they made love. Now, with him gone, the only projection on its screen was her own muddled reflection. In the ensuing silence, the coke was the loudest thing in the room.
She lit another cigarette, took a deep drag, coughed a little. She had quit smoking four years ago. For the baby’s sake. Earlier today, driving home from work, she stopped at a supermarket and bought three packs. A few lungfuls later, she realized she didn’t like the taste anymore. She kept smoking anyway.
Because there was no baby, and there never would be. That’s what all the doctors ultimately agreed on. Her uterus was not up to par, had never been up to par to begin with. That was three years ago. Since then she and Joe had suffered through dozens of tests and wasted a fortune trying out ‘groundbreaking’ new treatments like bioenergy balancing and homeopathic therapies. They couldn’t even adopt. Not with her past.
So Joe left.
Stories about women who can’t conceive and whose lives fall apart because they can’t conceive and who then have a supernatural thing happen and end up with a baby but the baby is some horror show are not new. What I like about this one is the transformation the main character goes through, and you have to salute a story that contains the line “It’s the same as if you cut off a bunch of dicks and put them in cellophane!”
K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction author, media critic, and issuer of the Tempest Challenge. Follow her on Twitter, G+, Tumblr, or her blog.