(Editor’s note: SHORT SHOTS is a column where I review short stories from horror anthologies, collections, and zines.)
I almost cut myself on the satirical edge of Lucy Leitner‘s standout short story “They Say the Sky Is Full of Snakewolves.” The author wastes no time in dropping the reader into the action as we follow an abused woman named Ava in the midst of a domestic dispute with her violent gaslighting fiancé Jason.
Apparently, Ava disrespected Jason’s kitchen floor by walking on it in her running shoes. So, he threw a knife at her, which missed and lodged in his hardwood floor. Naturally, he blames Ava for the damage to his hardwood because she made him throw the knife. I mean, Jason makes Patrick Bergin’s Martin character in the 1991 Julia Roberts film Sleeping with the Enemy look like a Boy Scout.
The opening line indicates a pattern of violence. “The bruises haven’t healed from the invisible finger grease on the wall incident, and he’s already chasing her again.”
Leitner’s story, though, is multilayered, and did I mention filled with enough satirical bite to leave a mark on the pavement of a Florida Walmart parking lot? The pace of “Snakewolves” is breathless as the author perfectly captures the victim’s frantic thoughts of past trauma while scanning the room for weapons to defend herself.
Seconds after we meet Ava, she’s locked herself in the bedroom for a brief respite from Jason’s unhinged rage. We’re immediately in her head as she recalls previous fights. Jason has hit her with a meat tenderizer (“its sharp little pyramids”), tossed scalding water on her (“little white scars dotting her left arm”), and smashed a frying pan to the side of her head (“ringing in her ear … isn’t dissipating”).
“Maybe rape with a mop handle wasn’t just a threat. Is today the day it will go that far?”
We learn how Ava met Jason and how she regrets not listening to her mother. That’s also when we learn a stunning tidbit of information as Leitner throws a major curveball into the mix. Suddenly, Jason is not the only (or possibly) the worst threat to Ava’s life. As the saying goes, “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.” But if it’s mop handle day, maybe you take your chances with the devil you don’t know.
“How do you defend yourself from monsters you’ve never seen when you’re cowering in a bedroom from a monster you promised to marry?”
Ultimately, it’s Jason’s secret stash that Ava finds inside a bathroom closet that propels her into fight or flight mode.
The unconventional “Snakewolves” defies expectations. I thought I was reading a domestic violence drama in real time, then I wondered if it was a cautionary tale about online dating. Instead, I get my mind blown not once but thrice (and I don’t have that much mind to blow, folks). “Snakewolves” transforms seamlessly into something entirely — and I mean entirely — unexpected as Leitner boldly expands the story’s scope and takes aim at a frightened, gullible society. The ending is a shocker.
“They Say the Sky Is Full of Snakewolves” is one of 14 stories in the charitable horror anthology Blood Bank published by Blood Bound Books in 2022.
2 thoughts on “SHORT SHOTS | ‘They Say the Sky Is Full of Snakewolves’”
Isn’t “The Sky is Full of Snakewolves” a fab title? I love it when a story shocks me. This sounds great!
You’d definitely like this story, Priscilla! The first big twist is introduced in such a casual, conversational manner that I was like what the H-E-double hockey sticks did she just say 🙂