One of the great joys of the digital publishing age is that it allows authors like Charles de Lint to offer up their back list of short stories and novels to us on their own terms. Some of these stories — those that are part of a larger story — can be damned hard to find, as they were published in anthologies long out of print, which is the case here: this story first saw publication in The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, some fifteen years ago.
This tale’s connected to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest, in which Lillian was a young girl, and features Lillian, one of the Dillard sisters, at seventeen years old. That novel’s an expansion off of a lovely illustrated children’s book, A Circle of Cats. Lillian will appear as an adult in Seven Wild Sisters, an aunt of the Dillard sisters whose story is told there. Two of the Dillard sisters appear in Medicine Road as a duo touring the Southwestern states who encounter more than they thought possible. Need I say all of these tales are well worth reading?
Before I get to the tale itself, I must note that though de Lint is Canadian, he does a remarkable job of making these stories set in a remote Appalachian hollow feel firmly rooted in those hills. It just feels real, which even some writers born and raised in that region somehow don’t get it quite right. I assume that his long friendship with Charles Vess, who lives in that area, is at least partly reasonable for that.
Lily, as she’s known, finds a paint box, a paint box both in a remarkably excellent shape and belonging to an artist, a legend in the Newford art scene who vanished decades ago in these very hills. Lily herself is quite a good artist, and finding these tools is s boon to her, as she can’t afford anything like them them — although she resists using them, assuming their owner will reclaim them soon. This being a de Lint story, what happens is much more strange…
Now this story is only thirty or so pages long, so either I tell you what happens, which will spoil it for you, or I get very vague. Let’s get very vague. The author is a master storyteller who takes existing mythological tales and creates delightful new tales from them. This is one no exception. Lily will encounter an Appalachian myth version of a tale older than the coming of the Scots-Irish to those hills themselves. Lily will discover the meaning of art, of love, of the difficulty of making choices in the world, regardless os whether magic is involved or not.
(Triskell Press, 2002)