Saturday Storytime: The Castle That Jack Built


Emily Gilman writes mostly short stories and not a huge number of those. That seems to work for her, though, as this story is one of the finalists for this year’s World Fantasy Award.

He thought the bears had smiled, though that might just have been wishful thinking; certainly they had looked at each other for a moment, and then they turned back to him. Yes, they said, that much we can do, and it is little enough payment for your services.

And they had turned him into a scarecrow.

Sure, it had gotten boring after a while, but it was also peaceful, and never needing to sleep gave one a lot of time to learn to read the sky; and then, rain and heat and wind and cold didn’t really bother him anymore. All in all, the birds and the wind in the trees weren’t bad company, and whenever he caught himself wishing he could go back to being a man, he remembered the bears, and the masterpiece he had built them, and the secret at its heart that he must never, ever reveal.

But then one day, when most of the leaves had fallen and evening came early, the wind changed. It changed just before sunset and blew all night long, coming from every direction like it didn’t know who it was or where it was supposed to be going and was trying to make up for it in sheer exuberance.

And then, just as the sun was rising in the morning, it changed once more: all at once it blew hard from the south—but strangely cold for a south wind—and so sharply and suddenly that he thought at first he had finally been knocked over. It took him a few minutes (probably—his scarecrow sense of time was not one that lent itself to such measurements) to realize that he hadn’t been blown over at all: he’d been blown out.

Jack looked up at the faded, battered scarecrow, still tall and proud on its seemingly fragile prop, and then looked down at his own hands. They looked solid enough, but he felt thin, and he would have sworn that the wind kept blowing through him, even as it drew him north.

“Well,” he said, but he didn’t know what else to say after that, so he fell silent. Well. He longed to just stand there, as (he felt) he always had, but something about being so near the ground made him uneasy, and in the end he began tottering, and then eventually walking, in the direction the wind wanted him to go.

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Comments

  1. Bozjemoj says

    May I, in reciprocation, recommend “Jaganath” by Karin Tidbeck? (With reservation for possibly suggesting a seminar in geriatric egg-sucking. I don’t know how spread she is in English speaking territory and I’m always late to the party anyway.)

    Emily Gilman was new to me and I’m running out of reading, so thank you!

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