It is a glorious time right now to enjoy F&SF short fiction. It is also a slightly overwhelming time, with so much out there to choose from. So it’s nice when short lists come along and help you make sure you haven’t missed stories you would enjoy, like this one from Nicola Griffith.
She came toward me, stepping around the spilt beer and dropped fries, lifting her feet high, placing them carefully, as though she wore tall heels.
I watched, unable—unwilling—to move.
And then she stood before me. I could smell her—woodland, fern, musk—and I wanted to reach, fold her down, stretch her out on the bracken, and feel the pulse flutter at her neck.
“You were watching me,” she said, and her voice sounded hoarse, as though used to a bigger throat.
“I’m . . . an anthropologist. It’s what we do.” I’ve been looking for you for a long time. I didn’t think you existed.
“What’s your name?”
I thought about that. “Onca.”
She nodded; it meant nothing to her. Her eyes were so dark. She turned up her collar. “I’ll see you, Onca. Soon, I hope.” A cold stream purled through her voice and snow blew across her eyes. Come outside, under the sky with me, they said.
I nodded. We both knew I would: she called, others followed. It’s who she was.
And then she was gone. I didn’t look out of the window. If the stories were true in this way too, I wouldn’t be able to see her, not yet.
I found her victim in the bathroom, the blind spot with no cameras. She wasn’t dead. She sat propped on the seat in a stall, jeans around her knees, head against the wall. She grinned at me foolishly. “Can’t move,” she said.
I locked the stall behind me. “Does it hurt?”
It would. I smelled blood, just a little. I bent, looked at her shirt darkening between her breasts. “Can you draw a deep breath?”
She tried. In reality it was more of a sigh. But she didn’t flinch or cough. No broken ribs.
I squatted in front of her, elbows on knees, hands dangling comfortably. She just kept smiling, head at that odd angle against the wall. In that position she couldn’t see me. I stood, straightened her head, then, because it was distracting, I leaned her on my shoulder, lifted, and pulled up her jeans. She could fasten them herself later, or not.
I squatted again, regarded her. She was still smiling, but it was a faint echo of what it had been. No longer solid. After this not much would be. “There’s a legend,” I said. “More than a dozen legends, from all over the world.” La Llorona. Or Flura. Xana, Iara, Naag Kanya . . . “She lures people with sex. Some say she takes your heart.” Sometimes literally. “But she always takes something.” I considered her. “She’s taken your spirit.”
“My . . .”
I waited, but she didn’t say any more. “Your soul.” As good a word as any. “You’re tired, I should think.”
Her smile faded, like a guttering flame. She might survive. She would never feel alive again.
I wasn’t sure she could hear me anymore. I leaned forward, unbuttoned her shirt. The bruise was swelling too quickly to be sure, but the shape cut into the broken skin—lovely skin, over firm muscle—could have been from a blow by a hoof.
“What’s your name?”
“Maria José Flores.”
“Maria, you make me hungry.” And she would have, with her spirit intact. “But not like this.” I fastened her back up and stood. Time to go.