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Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Bitter Dreams by Ian McHugh

Writers of the Future XXIV

Constable Bowley receives a body--tongue, eyes, genitals and shadow removed. Bowley is the sole representative of the law this deep in the Outback, and the town doesn’t even have a runesmith. A bitter dream or a dreaming has taken the man. Maise, his longtime girlfriend, wants to check out if her relatives are okay, but Bowley says they should telegraph instead. Shadows of animals misbehave and the animals chase after their shadows trying to flee.

Enter a cowl-hooded spook, the Dappled Man--dappled because shadows he’s taken (stolen or rescued?) writhe across his body. He will help the constable and the newly deputized locals chase down the dreaming, old things that decay away deep in caves but possess a man’s body when touched. But not every man will live to tell about their battles with the dream-taken: shadows stolen and five-foot war boomerangs protruding from their chests.

On a sentence/prose level, this is the best-written story I’ve seen in the WOTF anthologies for some time. While not as focused as it might be, the imagination is sharpened to a keen edge. A must read.

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