The mail brings me delightful surprises every so often. The burden of circulars and slick mailers gets to be too much for my pith-helmeted letter carrier, and she leaves a gift among the bills–just to keep me coming back to the mailbox, you know? And that’s what Kristen Ringman’s book of fae short stories is. A gift from places unknown. Okay, it really comes from Handtype Press out of Minnesota but a book this otherworldly and shrouded in mist needs murkier, less prosaic origins.
The concept here is a series of stories from a variety of beings–a Thai ghost, a dream thief, a crow fae, and an Icelandic birch tree elf–about their obsessions with and acquisition of, for lack of a better term, victims. Each story begins with “I stole you…” but their similarity ends there, for these stories are as wide-ranging and diverse as anything I’ve read lately. Ringman, however, never loses the mystique. The atmosphere of twilight mystery does not dissipate until the last page. Granted, this fever dream of fourteen short stories lasts just over a hundred pages, but one can’t look into this world for too long before it vanishes. And that’s how it should be.
As to the stories themselves, several stand out. The opener, “The Meaning, Not the Words” introduces the concept with succinctness and, marvelously, sets the tone with a few, well-chosen broad strokes. Then, the wonder begins. For the canine lovers in the crowd, “A Real Dog,” featuring an Irish spirit trapped in the body of a dog, will have you rushing to hug your furry friends. Dogs are also a prominent part of “Shining Orange,” in which sees Uluka, the goddess Lakshmi’s mount, stealing the spirit of a person who saves dogs. Indeed, the reasons for stealing humans are incredibly varied but many border on obsession, as in “Love Within Tangled Branches,” about the aforementioned Icelandic birch tree elf taking a human for love despite the objections from the rest of his clan and even the birch trees in the forest itself. But some of these tales are dark, especially the spirit who steals suicides in the haunting “So Many of You Want to Die,” and the crow fae looking for victims to feed on in “A Murder of Two”:
Like I said, I first pecked out his eyes. Two jewel candies slid down my throat. Then the bullets. One by one, I gathered them up in my beak and spit them out into the dirt. I licked his skin. I licked all the blood mixed with rain until he stopped bleeding, until the rain stopped, too. I pecked one hole after another into his soft flesh. I gulped each piece of his skin down. With my beak, I absolved him of more judgments. No more struggles. That human was finally free when he was turned into bones scattered over moss.
None of the stories address gay or queer characters or issues per se, but the pansexuality of these spirits combined with Ringman’s intimations that no sexual, gender, or even species boundaries exist when dealing with fae, shifters, or other fairy folk certainly lands the book firmly in queer territory. I Stole You is a remarkable work that will open a few windows in your soul and let the wind of the fantastic blow through.
© 2017, Jerry L. Wheeler