Listen Up: The Goosle

"The Goosle" is by Margo Lanagan. Lanagan, as far as I know, is particularly known for her short story, "Singing My Sister Down," which can be found in her collection Black Juice.

"Singing My Sister Down" is a totally amazing story. It's so well done I can't even be jealous. It's just perfectly what it is. The story is of an execution. The narrator's sister has murdered her husband and has to die. The method of execution is to stand and sink into a tar pit. A slow death. It takes all day. A crowd gathers with their picnic paraphenalia to see justice done. The sister's family gather round her and try to help her. Their stoicism makes it into a tear jerker. Their contempt for an aunt who keeps crying makes it even sadder. What makes the story amazing is that, even in this situation, even dying, there is a character arc: The sister grows up.

What the other stories in the Black Juice collection are like, I cannot tell. I was too overwhelmed by "Singing My Sister Down" to give them proper attention. It's one of those collections where each story needs a lot of space between them in order to get the attention they deserve. Alas, I had to send the book back to the library before I had a chance to do this.

So it was a joy, if you can call it that when you know the story is going to be so dark, to come across a podcast of another Lanagan story, "The Goosle." In this story, Hansel and his sister don't get home. She dies, and he falls into the charge of a paedaphile. With his 'protector' he wanders through a bleak land, a world of violence and plague and, most of all, hunger. In fact, in this version, Hansel doesn't eat the witch's cottage because it's made of lollies, but because he's in the habit of filling his stomach with dirt and clay anyway. The story begins when the boy and his 'protector' find they have returned to the witch's hovel, and it ends not far away.

There's gore. There's horror. And yet... and yet, the ending is not without hope. Bleak as it is, there's a slight shift at the end, as if a far off wind changed and stirred the clouds just a little so that you know there is something else in the dark. Love, maybe. Freedom, perhaps. Something has changed.

This is not a story for children, but if you feel able to cope with a story that's dark and brutal, you can find it here in Tales To Terrify number 27.