Short Stories 366:68 — “Neither Witch Nor Fairy,” by Nghi Vo

coverThis next visit to the (speculative) past from Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History takes us to Belfast in 1895, where a younger sibling is listening to the older brother read from the newspaper, and trying to fight off an inborn rage. It’s a quickly engrossing start for a story that teeters on the edge of rage and sorrow throughout, as this sibling begins to realize that—like the woman tortured and killed for being a changeling in the newspaper—it’s possible the sensation of understanding means the same thing: what if I’m not human?

What follows is a kind of fight-or-flight run through the streets of Belfast once the brother has gone to bed, and a recollection of everything their mother once taught them about the fairies, and a moment of decision that puts the child face-to-face with a terrible opportunity: a chance to learn the truth about whether or not it’s true. Changeling, or human?

But when you’re dealing with the fairies, there’s nothing so straightforward as an answer likely in play, and yet in this case, it ultimately turns out to be enough in a really, really satisfying way for me as a queer reader. It’s not an easy story to read, and certainly the arc of the sibling is painful and raw and easily felt, but Nghi Vo takes it to a place where I was left thinking this would be someone thriving, not just surviving, and that made all the difference.

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