Short Story Plot Summaries
Thomas, a mason, is the protagonist of this short story. He is compelled to work at night to finish a secret carving on his village’s first Christian stone church. The church is being constructed on Dancing Hill, a site of both pagan and Christian religious significance. His project is to carve a semi-animated stone block depicting Thorn, lord of the wood, also known as the Green Man. Completing the project before similar carvings of the twelve apostles are finished will imbue Thorn with power over the church. This story simultaneously explores tension between Christian and pagan and a growing conflict between Thomas’ conscience and the god Thorn. The story was inspired by William Golding's novel The Spire. The story was also included in The Oxford Book of Fantasy, edited by Tom Shippey.
- The Shapechanger
This story takes place in England, AD 731 at a Saxon village adjacent to the Dancing Hill, which holds the ruins of an ancient shrine (the setting of the previous short story, Thorn.) The two main characters are Wolfhead, a wild shaman, and Inkmarker, an orphaned child of 10, who subsequently escapes from a monastery and joins Wolfhead. Wolfhead is summoned by Gilla, the chief of the nearby village, to help rid the village of a demon whose power emanates from a stone-lined well in the center of the village. A weakened stone god at the ruins of the ancient shrine warns Wolfhead and Inkmarker of this outsider demon Mabathagus, god of the earth, and father of Hecate. Inkmarker undertakes ritualistic coming-of-age tasks, but becomes hopelessly entangled with the demon as he confronts it.
- The Boy who Jumped the Rapids
This is the story of Caylen, an adolescent boy and member of a forest community in mainland Europe. Caylen is the son of Caswallon, his village’s chieftain. Caylen is considered possessed because he is able to see through two illusions, one a sheer cliff wall known as Wolfback, and the other a river which appears as rapids, but is actually calm and placid. This river marks the geographical boundary of Caswallon’s lands. North of the river is a changing landscape with ancient stone buildings and a tall metal totem, both constructions beyond the skill of Caswallon’s people. One day a red haired warrior of Nordic origin visits the village. The warrior wears a horn-helmet and long black robes that flow and billow. He bears a child’s spear, that of Rianna, a girl of honor among his people who was brutally murdered by a mercenary. While Caylen makes friends with a 9-year old boy named Fergus and avoids the bullying abuses of another boy Domnorix, both from his village, the warrior builds a small wooden shrine to honor Rianna in a glade, Old Stone Hollow. On Caswallon’s orders, Glamach, the village druid, ritualistically abuses Caylen to cleanse him of his evil. Caylen flees the village to avoid this abuse just as five warriors from the north appear to hunt and execute the warrior. As Caylen flees, he is faced with a decision to between saving the warrior’s sacred spear or his friend Fergus.
- Time of the Tree
This is an episodic short story told from the viewpoint of an anthropomorphic land. Each episode chronicles events taking place on the land's surface, or skin. The episodes along with brief summaries are:
- Tundra – Describes the retreat of ice cover from the land and migration of animals.
- The Birch Accession – Describes the growth of forests upon the land’s skin and how the lifespan of trees is used to measure time.
- The Coming of the Wildwood – As the land warms, temperate forests and larger animals begin to take hold.
- The Elm Decline – Trees are being cleared for the first human settlements; their burning of trees feels like pinpricks on the skin of the land.
- The First Totems – Humans organize into clans that develop religious icons, boats and engage in tribal warfare.
- The Temple Builders – A temple of circular stones is built by humans and witnessed by travelers from afar.
- Ritual Sacrifice – A young woman is sacrificed and sunk to the bottom of a lake, becoming part of the earth.
- Journey to the Underworld – The spirit of the sacrificed woman, embodied in various elements of the natural world, travels throughout the lands.
- Our Lady of the Chromosomes – The land passes the secret of fire-hardened flints to humans via the spirit woman. Forsaken, the spirit woman is reborn as a disastrous flood, temporarily wiping out the humans.
- Anger of the Gods – After a long sleep, the land awakens to find itself covered with an urban landscape. This irritation is scraped away, destroying the civilization.
- Magic Man
This short story takes place in the North American plains and explores the magical power of ocher cave painting. The story involves a group of Native American tribal hunters living off bison, deer and reindeer. The main character is One Eye, an elderly village shaman/painter who resides in a shrine-cave which overlooks the village and grasslands beyond. “He Who Carries a Red Spear” is the tribal leader whose son frequents One Eye’s cave. The tribal leader persistently pressures One Eye to use magical paintings to improve his hunting success, not just those of the overall village. The tribal leader’s son has innate cave painting abilities and an interest in bears, one of the few animals that will hunt humans. As tensions mount between One Eye and the tribal leader, the son discovers the power of his own cave paintings.
This short story focuses on Ginny, a young girl, and the part she plays in a ritualistic dancing festival. This festival proceeds from one small English town to the next, finally ending at Scarrowfell on Lord’s Eve day. Ginny, who is an orphaned child with an adoptive mother and a small group of friends, has nightmares and long bouts of sleep leading up to the arrival of the festival. The climax of the story involves a magical pagan ritual inside a ring of elm trees.
- The Time Beyond Age
This is a science fiction short story describing a scientific experiment in which two subjects’ rate of aging is increased in an environment that is devoid of all disease. The subjects live for the equivalent of centuries and evolve into exaggerated archetypes of male and female. Eventually they die, but not before the perpetrator of the experiment self administers the life-altering treatment.
Read more about this topic: The Bone Forest
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