If there’s a trope in contemporary fantasy that I love the most, it’s the “revealed to be a guardian/warrior/chosen one” trope, where Someone-Who-Feels-Pretty-Darn-Average finds out they’re magical/psychic/otherly-powered and will shortly be defending the world from some unknown evil. Cue the training montage. I love them even more when the person involved is so very much not the sort who’d choose this, at all, and is—at best—reluctant to take up the mantle. What Catherine Lundoff does in this latest tale from her collection, Out of this World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, is go a bit further and make the main character one-step-removed from the whole guardian-against-evil thing, and still drop them in the middle of some awfulness going down. So, of course, I was on board.
It’s one thing to have an ex you pine over, and it’s another to be in your home-town in your family home and trying to stay ahead of the bills, and it’s yet another to look at an exceedingly small dating pool and want to date but—well, again, small dating pool—but sometimes needs must and you make do. That’s more-or-less the situation our heroine is in, with the added potential interest of a fellow next door, but you get the impression she’s not really that into him so much as she’s trying to be more outgoing and social and maybe things will grow? And then the one-that-got-away (or, rather, vanished-without-so-much-as-a-goodbye) comes back, an ancient evil is looming, and the one-that-got-away turns out to be very much a chosen-to-hold-back-the-darkness and really, reunions are already difficult enough, aren’t they? World-devouring evil shouldn’t just back the hell off.
There are so many lovely touches of sly wit in “The Egyptian Cat,” and I found myself chuckling throughout. Lundoff has a way with understatement that really works with the tension to create little releases in the form of those snorts and giggles. It’s a refrain I think I’ll repeat quite a bit with this collection, but here it comes again: I’d happily read more with these characters, in this setting, facing down evil while they awkwardly reconnect.
Oh! And as always, I was able to ask the author where the story came from, and this was a case of being requested (and then having to find a new home):
A lot of my short fiction pops into my head when editors ask me for things. In this case, it was for an anthology of lesbian supernatural horror with Lovecraftian and Clark Ashton Smith influences. I believe the editor got 3 submissions for that anthology. Fortunately, this story went on to have another life in Tales of the Unanticipated Magazine, then in this collection.