City of Red Midnight: A HikayatCity of Red Midnight: A Hikayat by Usman T. Malik
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It happened thus, my dear sirs and madams, that there came a time when from Lahore to Lucknow the families of idolaters and iconoclasts alike were gripped by a gruesome sickness.

Their womenfolk began to turn.

this one’s a longboy, as far as the free tor shorts go, so if you are a person reading these each week in the wee hours before you have to head out into the ‘ronaverse for work, be prepared.

i didn’t know what a hikayat was before i read this, so—while i can’t speak to how well this conforms to any traditional structure (my early morning postread ‘research’ is wishy-washy with the deets—folktales in either verse or prose, originating in the malay peninsula, then spreading throughout southeast asia & the near and middle east, yadda yadda, but no information about what constitutes a hikayat; what differentiates it from your plainjane short story/poem), in any event, there’s certainly a specific shape to this one: it’s laid out in seven sections where linked short stories nestle within the framing tale of a storyteller accosting a group of tourists in a pakistani teahouse. (i say ‘accosting,’ you say ‘entertaining;’ my phrasing stems from my personal disinclination to being told some longass story by some dude when i’m just trying to enjoy some tea with my pals) i appreciated it more than i loved it—the way the stories overlapped and informed each other was very well done, maintaining the narrowing and swelling of the tales’ connective tissue, but i didn’t feel a strong readerly pull into the story. again, without knowing anything about the tradition of this kind of storytelling, i’m sure there’s a lot that’s wasted on this ignorant old gori, but it’s maybe similar to how i feel about a lot of poetry—it might not shiver me timbers, but i can respect how hard it is to write a proper freaking villanelle, so hats off to the work of constructing stories-within-stories, even if the parts i really liked (two words: puppets) were overshadowed by its perhaps unnecessary length.

“I am the Queen of Red Midnight,” says she, “and I pound at the rotten core of the world.”

now i gotta head into the city to do the same.

read it for yourself here:…

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