Throughout 2022, I’ll be reviewing short stories. Some of these may be classics, others forgotten. The two things that all will have in common is that they are part of my personal collection and they will be selected through a randomization process. What works and authors I look at will be entirely selected by a roll of the dice.
“Night of the Cooters,” originally appeared in the April 1987 issue of Omni, edited by Ellen Datlow. Howard Waldrop has explained that he was inspired to write the story while on a fishing trip with Chad Oliver shortly before LoneStarCon I, the 1985 NASFIC, and proceeded to write the story between his arrival at the convention and his scheduled reading the next day.
Set in the small Texas town of Pachuco City in 1898, Waldrop focuses his story on Sheriff Bert Lindley, who simply wants to keep the peace in his town. A typical day includes him having to serve summonses, talk to two young boys who stole peaches from the wrong orchard, and try to cope with the horrendous Texas heat. Lindley knows everyone in town and their stories and knows how to get his job done.
Until a meteorite falls at the Atkinson place and everybody began to head over to take a look to see the oddity. After taking accounting of the various cows that were killed by the meteorite, Lindley left some of his men to keep watch on it and make sure nobody did anything stupid while Leo Smith, who was home from college, reached out to professors at the University to see if they wanted to take a look.
Waldrop won the Nebula Award for Best Novelette and the World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction for his story “The Ugly Chicken” in 1981. His chapbook A Dozen Tough Jobs won the Readercon Award for Short Work in 1990. Waldrop’s work has also been recognized with nominations for the Hugo Award, the Bram Stoker Award, the British Fantasy Award, British SF Association Award, Philip K. Dick Award, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, Sidewise Award, the Compton Crook Stephen Tall Memorial Award, and the coveted Balrog Award.
Waldrop first published “Kindermarchen” on Lou Antonelli’s website, Sentinel Science Fiction in January 2007. Later that year, Waldrop reprinted the story in his collection Horse of a Different Color: Stories.
“Kindermarchen” is a brief story that is based on the German term for a fairy tale, Märchen. It is also a retelling of the story of Hansel and Gretel. In Waldrop’s version, Hansel and Gretel’s woodchopper father and their stepmother live in a small village in a kingdom ruled by ogres. With a war raging between their kingdom and the neighboring ogrish kingdom, a decision has been made to evacuate children when the war comes too close. The stepmother is on the committee to decide which local children should be evacuated when the time comes.
The explanation for the stepmother’s committee doesn’t quite add up, although the father accepts it and explains it to his children. When his children are selected to evacuate, although it is clear that the decision originated from afar, there is nothing the father or stepmother can do to stop the evacuation. Hansel suggests that they leave a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back to the village without considering what might happen when they return.