Sometimes with short stories, as with chocolate, you crave something deliciously dark with the barest hint of sweetness. In that case, you’ve come to the right post. Here are a few dark – but not bleak – tales for your consideration.
“The Green Woman” by Meghan B. Collins is narrated by a single woman who lives beyond the edge of a small village, to whom visitors come almost entirely after nightfall, for they do not wish everybody to know that they need to consult a witch. That dangerous title is not one the protagonist considers accurate, however; her ability to heal, to bring life, or to end it, is founded not on arcane secrets but on careful observation of the virtues of plants – root and leaf, hung to dry or compounded wet, harvested at the right cycles of the moon. Almost the sole visitor who arrives by daylight is the local priest, who finds in her an educated and sympathetic companion, and who is concerned for her body’s welfare as well as that of her soul, until the day the wife of the local lord comes by with a very delicate problem, and with certain potent threats should the desired solution not be attained.
I thought this story did particularly well at creating a protagonist with a personal history that is both part of the wider community’s history, and outside of it. Her memories of her mother and grandmother and the precarious continuity of their line are depicted delicately, as are her current relationships, both platonic (the priest) and romantic/sexual. The protagonist is a complex character motivated by several concerns, and deeply aware of what she stands to lose. The final lines are particularly exquisite.
“Wolfland” by Tanith Lee is very Tanith Lee – there are layers of meaning and (non)understanding woven into characters and events. This tale features a young, spoiled heiress who has been summoned by her grandmother, Anna the Matriarch, away from town during the social season. Our protagonist is not pleased, but knows better than to risk her inheritance. Themes of cruelty, violence, survival, revenge, and the terrible beauty of wilderness and wildness make this a haunting recreation. If you like Tanith Lee’s works, don’t miss this one; if you haven’t read much of or don’t admire her bloodier stories, this is a good (re)introduction.
“Faith” by Sherwood Smith has a younger protagonist and smaller, but no less important, stakes. When Fay (short for Faith) comes to school claiming that her dog talks, even her best friends don’t believe her. Why would they? Fay has told tall tales all her life, and mostly they’ve gone along, but now their bully of a principal has it out for Fay. Narrated by one of those two best friends, this is a beautiful, slightly gritty tale of poverty, wealth, and friendship.
“Rapunzel” by Sara Henderson Hay is not a short story, but I found it in an anthology* and it is so lovely and so dark that I will recommend it here. Seriously, I have part of it memorized already and want to learn the whole. Rapunzel tells her story, or just enough of it, in tantalizing and achingly eloquent few lines.
(I’m not sure how to cite this. I found it here, which reposted it. Before that I don’t know where it came from. Apologies to owner for any infringement; let me know and I’ll update the info or remove.)
*”The Green Woman,” “Wolfland,” and “Rapunzel” have been published in Don’t Bet on the Prince, ed. Jack Zipes. I have mixed reactions to the essays, but the tales, for the most part, are excellent. “Faith” can be found in “A Wizard’s Dozen,” ed. Michael Stearns.