"In the tradition of young girls and windows, the young girl looks out of this one. It is difficult to see anything. The panes of the window are heavily leaded and secured by a lattice of iron. The stained glass of lizard-green and storm-purple is several inches thick. There is no red glass in the window. The colour red is forbidden in the castle. Even the sun, behind the glass, is a storm sun, a green-lizard sun"
The opening lines to Bite-me-not, Tanith Lee
There was a period of time a few years ago when I stopped reading for pleasure. Between being the harried mother of small children, and constantly moving, I was often in countries where I didn't speak the language and had no access to English books. Or even when I was in English speaking countries, I often didn't have the right paperwork to get a library card, and before the ebook revolution there were only so many books I could afford at a time.
I had my one box of beloved favourites that got to follow me around whatever country I was living in, but the rest were packed up in storage, waiting for the mythical forever home that dogs in shelters and global wanderers dream of. I am the latter, in case that isn't clear. And every time we moved again, I'd have to donate any books I did have that didn't fit in my treasure box, so after the first few moves, I just stopped.
It was also the early days of Napster and Gutenberg - the project, not the printing press. I'm not that old! But the one thing I did always have was an internet connection, even back then, and IRC and a friend and I got to talking about reading, and she sent me this huge bundle of her favourite short stories that she'd been busy textifying for her own purposes. There must have been five hundred stories in there, mostly lots of Steven King and the like, a few I'd already read, and many I hadn't. I don't remember most of them.
But there were two that more or less changed my world. I read them and they just resonated - and oddly, they are as different as different can be. I couldn't get those stories out of my head, still can't, years later. And they between them re-awoke my love for reading, particularly fantasy, something I'd long set aside. I guess I should feel guilty that they were pirated, but I'm long over that. And I've read probably hundreds, probably into the thousands, since that long ago day (what I have shelved here, and on GR, is a slice, not the whole pie, like most of you I reckon.)
So these two stories were "Love is an imaginary number" by Roger Zelazny and "Bite-Me-Not, or, Fleur de Fur" by Tanith Lee
One is a brief tightly written riff on a mythological archetype, by one of the masters of fantasy Roger Zelazny. It's terse and abrupt, has no real beginning, no end, just a sense that we have glimpsed a turn in an eternal cycle. You have to know the myth it's based on, that of Loki bound with a serpent spitting in his eye, or I guess his near relative, Prometheus, to even figure out what the hell is going on. It's an early story of his, written in the mid 60's, but when I later read his astonishing Amber series, I recognised the germ of the idea from these scant few pages.
The other, Tanith Lee's story, is not brief. It's a novella, long enough to have actual chapters, but it is also a deconstruction of archetypes, the vampire and the innocent, then reconstructed as a sad fairytale of love and loss and sacrifice. And it is absolutely mindnumbingly beautiful.
I think one or the other of these is quite possibly the epitome of the short form. Maybe both (Zelazny can have the very short story, and Lee the novellas). I think they're perfect, and if you disagree, clearly you are wrong. Because on this matter, I am right. Just so we're clear on that.
Bite-me-not you can read on Google Play and it's been collected in quite a few Vampire anthologies, where it always fits poorly, in my opinion.
Zelazny's story has been anthologised about a million times, partly because it's spectacularly good, and partly I think because it's so short, it's great for padding the story count without adding too much to the page count - because it too, often doesn't fit well with the stories around it in collections.
It's pretty easy to find live in full text on the net too, but you'll have to dig that out for yourself, or see if you can find the recent collection I linked to in the top.