The story concerns a young girl named Dorota in the village of Szukowo. The village is plagued by ghosts of soldiers. If you have the misfortune to be caught outside after dark during the winter, you can be shot or bayonetted. Some years ago, Dorota’s father stole a fire-flower from a witch, and since then the villagers have been able to defend themselves. Unfortunately, as the story opens, Dorota’s father has died in a drowning accident, the details of which we’re not given. What matters is now the village has no defense against the ghosts. Mocked by her grandmother for not being as brave as her father, Dorota decides to find the witch and try to bargain for another flower. Of course, it’s not going to be that easy.
Daly does an excellent job of gradually revealing to the reader that things are quite what they seem. Did I say “quite what they seem”? Things aren’t at all what they seem. The inside of the witch’s house is bigger than the outside and truly creepy. There’s been a pattern in recent years to make witches good and beautiful. I view this trend in much the same way I view the current fad of vampires being sensitive, attractive, and glittery in sunlight. In other words, a bunch of bunk, a heap of horse puckey, and a cartload of crap. (I toned that last sentence down in the interest of being sensitive to those of differing taste.) I’m pleased to say that Daly has made her witch truly vile and despicable. The woman is evil, but not without understandable motives. This is a tough thing to pull off, especially in a short story, and most especially when the witch is only onstage for a what would be a few pages in a print venue. Oh, and I thought the antlers were a nice touch, Eljay.
I don’t normally care for stories involving witches, partly for the reason listed above, but I enjoyed this one. Eljay Daly is a new writer, and if this story is typical of her work, she’s going to be one to watch. While this wasn’t heroic fantasy in the strictest sense, Dorota definitely shows courage and heroism and isn’t afraid to fight with whatever at hand can be used as a weapon.
As I’ve said before, I’m not very familiar with BCS, but based on what I’ve read so far, that is going to change. If you’ve not checked out Beneath Ceaseless Skies, do. The stories are high quality and well written. The magazine advertises itself as a literary fantasy magazine. Usually when something promotes itself as literary, I tend to treat it with a bit of skepticism since much of what’s called literary sacrifices story for style. That’s not the case with BCS. They’ve combined the best of story and substance. I hope they’re around for a long time.