The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, Translated by Danusia Stok

Like most Americans, my first exposure to Geralt of Rivia and the wider world of The Witcher was through video games. It wasn’t until a short while later that I opted to check out the books upon which the video games were adapted. The Last Wish, a collection of seven short stories, was the first I’d read from Andrzej Sapkowski, and the tales were enthralling. Sardonic humor, entertaining dialogue, fast-paced action, captivating characters, and off-beat references to well-known fairy tales made famous through Disney bastardization produced a wholly original fantasy realm in which Geralt plied his trade.
Nested within the framing story of Geralt recovering from the injuries sustained in the first of the stories collected in The Last Wish, the stories primarily serve as flashbacks to earlier events in the titular Witcher’s life.
The first of those stories, and the source for the injuries, is a tale titled simply The Witcher. A king’s daughter, cursed at birth as a striga from the king’s incestuous union with his sister, has been preying on the population of Temeria. Many had tried to either lift the curse or kill the monster to no avail. Geralt offers his assistance and the assurance that he believes he can end the curse, but Geralt might have more difficulty doing so than he expects.
A Grain of Truth finds Geralt wandering off the beaten path, where he discovers two corpses with peculiar wounds. He soon discovers a large manor with an unexpected beast as a host. An interesting riff on the Beauty and the Beast narrative, A Grain of Truth provides the reader with a glimpse of the strange shapes love can take in Sapkowski’s writing.
It’s the third story, The Lesser Evil, that provides readers with the explanation for how Geralt obtained the pejorative nickname, the Butcher of Blaviken. Additionally, this story provides readers with a unique twist on the Snow White fairy tale, with a distinctly dark and sinister damsel at its heart.
A Question of Price introduces readers to “The Law of Surprise” and Queen Calanthe of Cintra. Another story with a curse at the core of it, we learn the power of destiny within the world of The Witcher, and we witness that love can be both blind and without judgment even in a realm brimming with cynicism like Sapkowski’s creation.
The Edge of The World shares with readers the first adventure featuring Geralt and the bard, Dandelion. Tasked with ridding the farmland of Lower Posada of a devil while restricted by a wise woman to inflict no harm on the creature, Geralt and Dandelion discover that there is more going on than the peasant farmers suspect.
In the story, The Last Wish, we meet Yennefer of Vengerberg after Dandelion and Geralt accidentally release a genie from its captivity, resulting in Dandelion being grievously injured. Seeking assistance from the sorceress, Yennefer, Geralt finds himself a pawn in a game he knew nothing about. He must find a way to restore control if he hopes to save Dandelion’s life as well as that of the duplicitous sorceress.
The framing story, The Voice of Reason, culminates in Geralt and Dandelion leaving the temple only to be waylaid by a company of soldiers who challenge Geralt to a duel. We also receive a glimpse into the fate the surrounds Geralt, one of blood and violence.
These stories are in no way chronologically lined up, and many of them will be familiar to those who have watched the Netflix series adapted from Sapkowski’s writing. Similarly, the strangely fluid chronological delivery will feel quite familiar to fans of the series. There are, of course, deviations in the adapted material for the series, but the core elements of the stories are present, which makes what Netflix has done quite spectacular.

Dissing D*sney by Matt Shaw

It pleased me a great deal to see another author, one I respect a great deal, deciding that it was worthwhile to focus on Disney as a target for extreme, unpleasant literature.
Matt Shaw dedicates his exceptional talent and delicious wit to providing the reader with horrific, unsettling epilogues to well-known tales previously co-opted by Disney and watered down for children. In a sense, it feels almost as though Shaw is restoring a sort of balance by bringing the darkness and sardonic wit to stories that were largely rather dark before Disney got ahold of them.
I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but just the act of sharing which story connects with which fairytale property will, in some cases, spoil some surprises. I want to be sure you take that into consideration before you read beyond this point.
The escapades of Prince Charming with a series of princesses begin to seem reminiscent of Henry VIII in the stories Happy Ever After, Glass, and Bloods. I was especially pleased with Happy Ever After, in that it went the direction I anticipated it would go by the end. It’s nice to know there’s a writer out there with the key to my perverse, cruel heart.
The Toy Maker paints a picture of kindly old Gepetto that would disturb any fan of Pinocchio.
A Dinner Date provides us with the natural outcome one might expect for the characters of Bambi.
Wonderland shows us a terrible fate befalling Alice in her desperate search for Wonderland.
Grief brings the story of Nemo to a close, teaching an important lesson to a child along the way.
The Lion King is concluded with a truly ignoble end with Selfie.
The Harsh Truth shares The Little Mermaid meeting her end.
Finally, The Biggest brings a close to this collection as well as the story of The Jungle Book.
If you’re looking to ruin your childhood in retrospect, this is the collection for you. This is the end of innocence, the graphic and bleak punctuation that closes the book on the comforting tales that brought vibrant, technicolor characters to your youth.

Dissing D*sney was released as part of the 31 Days of Godless event at http://www.godless.com for October of 2021. For a limited time, you can obtain this for yourself by going to the website or by downloading the app to your preferred mobile device. The link is below:

Scars

She would cut herself so that she could feel something, so that she could feel anything at all. On the surface she was lovely, innocent, and sweet…but the incisions and scars she marked herself with, in places she knew that no one would ever see, made her feel like she looked the same on the outside as she did within.
Beneath the surface she felt only scar tissue remaining, scars layered over scars, reapplied year after painful year.
Each time she felt the fine line of the razor slicing through the skin of her chest or upper arm, she felt something other than numb, which was the only thing she’d felt for years, until she learned the trick of forcing herself to feel.
No one would ever see her wounds, because she never let anyone close enough to see her exposed.
The only men to ever see the unblemished flesh now turned to a lacerated patchwork were the horrible men her drunken father had let into her room at night to pay off his debts.
Those men were all gone now, many of them dead she knew, all erased from her life but for fragmentary recollections of their leering faces and cruel smiles embedded in her tangled psychology.
But the scars remained.
She dreamed of a day when a man might come along who she could trust enough to lay herself bare, but she knew that there was no one out there who would look at her and accept her, the broken thing she had become.
The scars on the outside served as a reminder for her, that she could never be naked or comfortable with anyone again.
But she was wrong.
One day she met a strange man who wouldn’t look away from her. It wasn’t unusual for men to stare, she knew that she was pretty and appealing to men. The prolonged gazes turning her stomach with reminders of the things that had been done to her in the past.
But there was something in this man’s gaze that drew her attention in a way that no one else ever had. He didn’t look at her with the same vacuous hunger that she saw so often.
There was hunger in his eyes, no doubt, but there was something more.
He looked sad, as he took her in, like he could see right through her and it pained him to see whatever it was that he saw. She felt like he was seeing right through the sleeved dress she was wearing, to the scars that littered her pale skin and deeper still, into the old wounds within.
She noticed him again, time after time, as he seemed to reappear wherever she happened to be.
And always that same look in his eyes.
Finally, after weeks of this, she walked over to him, angry and curious, nervous and intrigued.
Before she could get to him, he reached to the front of his shirt and peeled it open, buttons popping as he exposed a chest crisscrossed with scars that rivaled her own.
He grabbed her hand in silence and placed her palm over his chest where she could feel the textured ridges and he placed his hand over her own.
Beneath her touch his scars began to fade.
He took his other hand and placed it over her chest…where her own scars were able to be felt through the cotton of her blouse and she instinctively placed her hand over his.
She could feel an itching and burning where his hand met her flesh, only the thin layer of cloth in between.
Her own flesh was mending, and the heat of the touch was almost painful, but a different sort of pain from what she’d experienced when inflicting the damage.
A strange man with horrific scars of his own had found her and seen her for what she was…and recognized the shared pain.
He had shown her that they could heal one another. If she could heal him with her touch, then he could heal her. She could feel something changing deeper inside, beneath the mending flesh. The scars within were being erased as well.
The broken mend the broken and the scars fade.
Those on the inside as well as those on the surface.

Wolves In Sheep’s Clothing

In a small and all but forgotten town, a long way from here, there was a little girl who lived with an aunt she barely knew. Her own parents had passed away a long time before and her older brother had gone into foster care because the aunt couldn’t care for them both.

In an old house, a house with leaking pipes and creaking boards the girl grew into a young woman; no matter how old though, she was still afraid as soon as the light died down outside.

She imagined monsters of all shapes and sizes, creatures that defied description prowling around in the night’s blackness, within the house and without.

One night, her aunt failed to return home from the diner where she’d worked as a waitress and the girl worried and worried as the hours ticked by.

She sat backward on the sofa in the living room, peeking through the curtains where she pulled them apart just enough to peer outside into the gloom, scared and alone as she prayed for her aunt to return home.

A pair of headlights finally startled her from the slumber she hadn’t known she was slipping into, a car door opened and slammed shut, and feet drummed against the gravel drive and onto the porch before the door came swinging open and crashing shut behind a strange young man she faintly recognized.

His brow glistening with sweat her brother smiled at her briefly before his face returned to grim seriousness and words began spilling from his lips. He told her that he had wanted to surprise her with a visit. He’d just turned 18 the week before and had called their aunt to arrange for this.

The little girl leapt up from where she’d perched stiffly against the back of the sofa and ran to her brother, squeezing her arms around him so tightly that she might have cracked a rib and interrupting his speech.

She asked where their aunt was and he didn’t have time or presence of mind to mask the truth. Something terrible had happened to her while he’d waited in the parking lot for her to finish up her shift.

Some strange men, dressed as hunters, had come in late, near the end of her shift, and she had refused to kick them out no matter how late it was.

Those men did monsterous, horrible things, and the little girl’s brother had tried to stop them.

The men came after him and he jumped into his car and sped away for the run down old house where he knew his sister was alone.

A pair of headlights tracked him the whole way, edging closer and falling back as he raced along the back roads trying to get to the house.

As he breathlessly neared the end of the story, the sound of two doors shutting outside reverberated through the sinking hearts of the brother and sister.

There were, that night, two monsters prowling around in the darkness, and they had already hurt the girl’s family.

But they weren’t the only ones.

From the rear of the house the girl heard the scratching and shuffling that had filled her with terrified visions so many nights, accompanied by the sound of labored breathing and the almost silent thrumming of subdued growls.

And from the gloom and shadows a giant, misshapen figure began to emerge, covered in hair, mouth bristling with teeth.

Her nightmares had never painted an image so horrible as what she was actually seeing.

And behind that first abomination appeared another, followed by two more.

The monsters she had feared were in fact quite real.

Her brother turned toward those lurking creatures and smiled with recognition…and for all that it could, the monster in front smiled back.

The brother looked down to his sister, grabbed her tear-soaked cheeks in his palms , gently turned her face to his, and whispered, “Stay here. Stay inside with the monsters. They’ll keep you safe. I’ll be right back.”

Before she could utter a word of argument he was walking through the front door as the creatures from the darkness moved closer to her and circled protectively around her.

There were sounds of violence outside followed by drunken laughter as someone fell to the ground.

Loud footsteps approached the front door from the porch outside, and she knew it wasn’t her brother coming back to her.

The door burst open with a crash and through it strode the two hunters her brother had spoken of.

Alcohol on their breath and blood on their hands and sleeves, they strode confidently into the foyer before they saw the little girl and the beasts that surrounded her.

There was no chance for them to scream.

The hulking shapes lunged forward as one and the two bad men disappeared into a tangled flurry of fur and claws and gnashing teeth.

It was no more than a few minutes and the two men were gone, no trace of them remaining in the dimly lit foyer.

The monsters slipped through the door and returned with the beaten and bruised, unconscious body of the brother.

They gently laid him down on the sofa and turned to the little girl, lowering their heads to her and snuffling like she’d seen from so many dogs in the past.

She reached out nervously at first and gently patted her tiny palm on the matted fur of one after the other and they slowly slipped back into the darkness at the rear of the house.

Her brother woke up a short while later, groggy and hurting, and walked her to her bedroom where he tucked her into bed.

She fell asleep just before the police arrived to inform them that their aunt was in the hospital but that it looked like she would come through it all ok. The police had no information as to who had done the horrible things to the kind older woman, but assured the brother that they were investigating it.

The little girl fell asleep that night with no more fear, and she slept through the visit from the police.

The monsters she had feared were no longer monsters.

And there was nothing prowling in the dark that would hurt her but the monsters that pretended to be men.

A Fairytale for the New Year

Once there was a lovely little girl who believed, with all her heart, she was a princess. As a ruddy faced toddler she imagined she must have been stolen away from her real parents and the kingdom that would have someday been her own.

Her life was a life of drudgery and unhappy toil in the stony fields belonging to those she was forced to call mother and father.

In those rough and mostly barren fields her life wasted away, year after year, and she gradually began to forget the musings and daydreams of her childhood as the responsibilities of being a woman took up more and more of her hollow life. Those responsibilities took on a most unpleasant character shortly after the death of the stranger she called mother, as the man she called father began to treat her as a woman in ways that she struggled every night to suffer through and each morning to forget.

Life continued in this fashion until one day the man she called father was lowered into the ground as well.

She forgot about her childish musings as life took its toll, until one day she lay dying, crippled and broken from years of painful labor. It was upon her bed, while breathing her final breaths, that she was forced to recall her childhood fantasies when she recognized a familiar twinkle shrouded in the glare within the eyes of her own children; themselves bitter and resentful, finding comfort in daydreams much like her own.