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He says: You’re cold as clay this morning. Where are your socks? Your toes are cold as the silver snout of Old Catch, darling. Coffee’s brewed.

Old Catch: A trickster figure, not quite the Devil. Sometimes a psychopomp. One of his common mischiefs is he hides beneath warm covers. In the stories his silver nose is handsome but so icy that if snatched from his face and thrown into a fire, the fire freezes.

She says: Last night was a husker night, my darling.

He doesn’t know. He says: I thought I wasn’t ‘darling,’ only you. A husker night?

She: My dear. My dear, I’m cold.

They have played the naming game before. You’re cute. No, you. I love you. I love you first. I love you best. Honey, soap, kitten, monster, golden boy, blue girl. 

He: What is a husker night?

She: What is a husker night, my dainty? Why, my beloved, on a husker night the Husker goes abroad. The Husker ghosts through and by, wisping, whisking by and through the corn-sheaves. Higher than your heart, higher than your head. He walks until he finds a mind to haunt. A haunted mind. Did you hear him?

He: No.

She: Didn’t guess so. All that harvest sheathed, high holy stalks rust-splotched, desiccation set on the leaf like blood spotting a handkerchief. Even windless the stalks whisper—and so they never hear the Husker come. He comes, they go. Sometimes they go only after they’ve been stripped. Peeled. Husked. Tassel to the dirt, leaf to the ground. Silk, too, in tangled clots. Down. My deario. My meat.

He: ‘Meat’? I’m not fond of that one. Call me what you usually do.

She: Cold.

He: Not even close. Windy last night, wasn’t it? Blustery. Wuthery. Knockback at her tricks. Did you go for a walk in the field? I dreamed you went. Your pillow was empty, your shoes and socks were gone.

Knockback is an amoral folk figure, depicted as an old woman, associated with wind, storm, and surprises. She is referenced in the jump rope song: Knockback knucklebone / left right face / jump to the side / two tooth taste / Knockback rattleboom / High low high / Dodge the wind / or baby dies. / Lady Knockback / wind for eyes / up twenty-four floors / down twenty-five.

She: How else could I know it was a husker night, my brightness? The moon, maybe. It begins as a thin bright hook and it goes right through the eye. And it ends with the moon tight in the night’s closed fist. I wept with the wind—it was windy, wasn’t it? Sly wild, that wind; a sneak, coming lickety-quick up through the corn, sending the dark to shiver and ripple, a wall of whispers, and the house to shake. I wept, my sugar, and couldn’t blink away the salt for crying, but by then I was in the field. The field is gold and green and good.

He: Closer, hey. Almost what you usually call me. Aren’t you tired of this game? Were you crying when you left?

She was.

She: My goodness. My greenbean. My fieldhand. Farmboy, my.

He: No.

She: My lover. My lungs. Still no? Oh.

He: What does the Husker do? Did you see him? Is that why I never felt you come back to bed?

She: He husks.

He: Ha, ha. Husks what?

She: My life.

He: What?

She: My heart.

He: … No. No. Listen, I asked you: Husks what?

In his dream, he heard an animal scream outside the house. It screamed for a long time. Long enough he, half-waking, thought he should find it and finish it for mercy’s sake. He’d want mercy were it him in the corn.

A schoolyard tale, told at harvest: Beloved pet disappears on a squallish night, is lost in the wind-clattered corn. When it returns, it behaves just a little differently. Sometimes the owner wakes in the night and finds the pet watching them. Eventually, the owner goes into the corn field and finds animal bones, laid out as pretty as piano keys. The owner knows the bones belong to their pet, but these bones are old … And their pet was watching them from the window or frisking in the yard when they went into the corn.

She: I have a question. How many bones lie in the field, my lovely? My arrogance, my honey-milk, my pail of cream, my apple-tree, my corn king?

He: Still no, none of those. I need more coffee for this game. Or you do. The light’s all thin milk. A riddle?

The coffee is bitter black, full of pot-bottom grounds. The light’s all thin milk; it’d run right off a knife. Outside their window the small corn maze is rust and shadow, dry and ears to the ground, hushed. Morning is uncertain, doesn’t know what it should be: cockcrow or gloam, gloom or breakday?

She: An answer—twice as many.

He: You never answered.

She:

He: Did you see him?

Why—are their bones in the field? Wind, again. Blustery. Wuthery. A broken plow’s rusting edge, driving over the field, burying a tangle of—is it hair or silk? Cold wind. Colder. But not as cold as dirt.

She:

He: Did you?

She:

Repeat.

He: You’re cold as clay this morning, darling. Where are your socks?



Jessica P. Wick is a writer and freelance editor living in Rhode Island. She enjoys rambling through graveyards and writing by candlelight. Her poetry may be found scattered across the internet. Her novella “An Unkindness” is out June 2020 in A Sinister Quartet from Mythic Delirium. Other dark fiction may be found in Rigor Morbid: Lest Ye Become from Bronzeville Books.
Current Issue
30 Jan 2023

In January 2022, the reviews department at Strange Horizons, led at the time by Maureen Kincaid Speller, published our first special issue with a focus on SF criticism. We were incredibly proud of this issue, and heartened by how many people seemed to feel, with us, that criticism of the kind we publish was important; that it was creative, transformative, worthwhile. We’d been editing the reviews section for a few years at this point, and the process of putting together this special, and the reception it got, felt like a kind of renewal—a reminder of why we cared so much.
It is probably impossible to understand how transformative all of this could be unless you have actually been on the receiving end.
Some of our reviewers offer recollections of Maureen Kincaid Speller.
When I first told Maureen Kincaid Speller that A Closed and Common Orbit was among my favourite current works of science fiction she did not agree with me. Five years later, I'm trying to work out how I came to that perspective myself.
Cloud Atlas can be expressed as ABC[P]YZY[P]CBA. The Actual Star , however, would be depicted as A[P]ZA[P]ZA[P]Z (and so on).
a ghostly airship / sorting and discarding to a pattern that isn’t available to those who are part of it / now attempting to deal with the utterly unknowable
Most likely you’d have questioned the premise, / done it well and kindly then moved on
In this special episode of Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, reviews editors Aisha Subramanian and Dan Hartland introduce audio from a 2018 recording for Jonah Sutton-Morse’s podcast Cabbages and Kings which included Maureen Kincaid Speller discussing with Aisha and Jonah three books: Everfair by Nisi Shawl, Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar.
Criticism was equally an extension of Maureen’s generosity. She not only made space for the text, listening and responding to its own otherness, but she also made space for her readers. Each review was an invitation, a gift to inquire further, to think more deeply and more sensitively about what it is we do when we read.
In the vast traditions that inspire SF worldbuilding, what will be reclaimed and reinvented, and what will be discarded? How do narratives on the periphery speak to and interact with each other in their local contexts, rather than in opposition to the dominant structures of white Western hegemonic culture? What dynamics and possibilities are revealed in the repositioning of these narratives?
Tuesday: Genre Fiction: The Roaring Years by Peter Nicholls 
Wednesday: HellSans by Ever Dundas 
Thursday: Everything for Everyone: An Oral History of the New York Commune, 2052-2072 by M. E. O'Brien and Eman Abdelhadi 
Friday: House of the Dragon Season One 
Issue 23 Jan 2023
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Strange Horizons
2 Jan 2023
Welcome, fellow walkers of the jianghu.
Issue 2 Jan 2023
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Issue 19 Dec 2022
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Issue 28 Nov 2022
By: RiverFlow
Translated by: Emily Jin
Issue 21 Nov 2022
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