We’re so pleased to introduce the third place winner of our Fall Fiction Contest, “Good Creatures, Small Things.” In this haunting story, author Cate Fricke plays with chronology, leading readers back through fifteen days to the start of a strange outbreak and the emergence of odious creatures in the forest outside a family’s cabin. In describing her own work, Cate Fricke says: “A dark fairy tale with no happy ending, set in a place that’s as unforgiving as any old-world European forest. I’ve already told my mom she should probably skip this one.” This story is entirely unforgettable and we’re thrilled to include it in our New Voices library.
Selected by Kelly Link
“There are creatures out there waiting for a sound to tell them that Ida is still here for the taking. Ida does not know what they are, or where they came from, but she knows that they are there, just beyond the trees.”
Pennsylvania, October 1895
There is enough tea left in the can for three more cups. There is the end of a loaf of bread on the shelf, as big as two of Ida’s small fists, and one potato. Six matches. Eleven bullets.
Ida doesn’t sleep in her own bed anymore, but in Momma and Papa’s bed, alone. She doesn’t change the blankets the way she knows she ought to. There doesn’t seem to be much point. Momma is gone, and Baby Joe. There’s no one else to catch sick, and Papa, well, don’t know what happened to Papa.
During the night she began to whisper a song to herself as she lay unsleeping again. Bheir me o, horo van o . . . It felt like the right thing to do—people need songs, small things—but then she heard a rustle from outside, over by the fence where the old mule is heaped, and she stopped. She’s tried not to make a sound since. She’s started coughing though—the thick, gut-deep coughs that Momma started having just before the rashes, and the teeth coming loose. When she feels one coming, she presses her face as far into the pillow as she can and she tries to swallow it back. When she brings her head up from the bedding, she holds her breath and listens closely to the silence for any snapping, any shift of the air outside, in the woods. There are creatures out there waiting for a sound to tell them that Ida is still here for the taking. Ida does not know what they are, or where they came from, but she knows that they are there, just beyond the trees.
If she were brave like Momma, she’d set out down the mountain with eleven bullets and one potato and the end of a loaf of bread, and she wouldn’t stop until she found a doctor, or a woman with a kind voice, who’d put a damp cloth on her forehead and sing to her all the old songs until she’d fall asleep. But she is not so brave, and besides, she knows better. No safe path down the mountain exists.
Even though the sun is up at last, Ida stays under the quilts on Momma and Papa’s bed, one eye on the rifle that leans by the door. Eleven bullets: that’s ten to spare for those creatures, and one to keep for herself, if only she could figure out how to hold it right.