Short Story Review: “Painted Birds and Shivered Bones” by Kat Howard

4 of 5 stars.

From Greek myth to ancient Celtic tales, folklore is rife with accounts of overly proud or unlucky individuals crossing the wrong person and paying the consequences. In these tragic tales, the gods, witches and wizards transforming the protagonist rarely play a big role which is intriguing. It’s almost as if to warn that an unsuspecting encounter can have lifelong ramifications–be ever vigilant, mind yourself.

A thousand years ago in medieval Ireland, proud Sweeney brazenly insulted a wizard who cursed him right back. Sweeney transformed into a undying man who fluctuated between mental madness and physically morphing into a perfectly sane bird. Both forms had their obvious drawbacks, but his understanding wife, Eorann, stuck with him as her life allowed trying to cure his magical affliction. In mourning, Sweeney eventually soared across the sea to the New World and New York City.

Silent Sweeney was borne on buffeting currents over the wild lights of the city. Over the scents of concrete and of rot, of grilling meats and decaying corners, of the blood and love and dreams and terrors of millions.

And of their madness as well.

Reclusive painter Maeve seeks the anonymity of NYC for inspiration. But when she spies a naked man transform into a bird near Ground Zero, it’s almost too much to believe. Until she sees him again in Central Park. Rather than confess to her experiences, she paints them.

Sweeney’s awareness of a woman witnessing his transformation leads him to follow her to her loft window where he spies on her activities. Later, in man-form and and the bustle of the subway, he manages to steal her sketchbook.

More, he wanted to see if the magic that crackled across the pages of her notebook was in the paintings as well, to see if she could paint him free. A request that might allow him to once again be a normal man, instead of what he was: a creature cursed into loneliness and the wrong skin, whose only consolation was the further loneliness of flight.

This recommended tale appears in Street Magicks edited by Paula Guran. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. The short story was originally published in Subterranean Press Magazine [Spring 2013].
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

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