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We Were the Wild Hunt by Myna Chang

alt text: image is a color photograph of a streak of car lights at night; title card for Myna Chang's creative nonfiction piece "We Were the Wild Hunt"

Myna Chang’s “We Were the Wild Hunt” is one of two essays picked as an Editors’ Choice Selection for the 2021 CRAFT Creative Nonfiction Award. Our editors chose pieces that showcase the exciting range of possibilities in creative nonfiction.


“The lyric essay stalks its subject like quarry but is never content to merely explain or confess. It elucidates through the dance of its own delving,” write Deborah Tall and John D’Agata. This quality is particularly apparent in a flash essay grounded in the fantastic like Myra Chang’s dreamlike “We Were the Wild Hunt.”

The Wild Hunt, a frequent motif in Northern European folklore and mythology, centers around a procession or cavalcade of faeries, elves, Valkyries, or ghosts accompanied by dogs and horses who are led (variously) by Odin, the devil, Herod, or some other such tyrant or king. “The mythology of the Wild Hunt was the first thing that came to mind when remembering my teenage friends and our pregraduation antics, how we’d paraded through town, and that uncanny fog,” Chang writes in her author’s note.

By employing first-person-plural point of view to refer to herself and her friends in the first section of the essay, Chang also makes the reader complicit, grounding us in the time and age. We makes us all a part of that nocturnal horde, feral and roving.

And that is where we start, with a wild teenage procession parading through the creepy fog-filled night, magic-infused, “brave-stupid and untamed,” and oblivious to the danger lurking. Then, as with the myth, so too life, and tragedy awaits.

But Chang neither confesses nor explains. In her author’s note, she says she grappled with the story of that night for a long time, unable to write about the trauma of the murder. By turning to the fantastical, however, Chang found a path to that moment but also a means of capturing what came before, the Wild Hunt as she once lived it.  —CRAFT


 

Riding the night streets wrapped in our tight young skin, brave-stupid and untamed, magic bursting from our pores like new stars. We met under the sign of the flying horse, the vacant shell of an old gas station, our tires crushing last week’s beer bottles and cigarette butts. We chased the taillights of our friends, sang with the radio until static took over, then traded cassettes, Van Halen for Journey, Styx for Joan Jett. We traded passengers, too, jumping from rust-bucket car to pickup truck and back again. We flew, racing once by the graveyard, twice through the quarter-mile strip, countless times around the crossroads square where we cheered our reflections in the darkened shop windows. One of us had to go home early. Another had to stop and puke. One of us pined for a midnight burrito, a microwave minute as we crossed the boundary from Friday night into Saturday morning.

We should have known, when the fog stole in, hushing the arid grit of Main Street and parking lot. We should have sensed the warning. Instead, we lifted our faces, shimmered arms-wide in the unlikely charm of desert mist illumined in the aurora of our streetlights. We breathed in every drop of waterborne enchantment before sleep finally took hold. A few of us passed out in our cars, Chevys and Fords tucked inside a fairy ring of gravel. The rest of us slid into our beds, pretending we’d been home for hours when our parents checked on us, before they set off on their own dawn tasks and early shifts.

I’d slept only a heartbeat when the telephone shrilled me awake. Teenage magic fled with the news that a true hunter had slashed his way through our domain, ending a life and then disappearing into the dark fog. My grandfather, a kind man who deserved a kinder end, murdered in his shop near the crossroads, where we’d looped and turned in our middle-of-the-night parade, scant hours before.

I wondered, then, if my wild friends and I could have stopped the attack. Did the murderer hide in the alley, contemplating a solitary old man unlocking his tall glass doors? Did we brush past the killer on our breakneck ride, overlook him in the novelty of a damp night?

Years later, magic is a faded memory that throbs dull, and I still wonder about my grandpa’s last moments. Did he see the red glow of our taillights? Did he sense the warning in the fog? Or did he, too, shimmer in that moment of enchantment, lift his face to the mist, before the killer chose him?

 


MYNA CHANG’s work has been selected for Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton), Best Small Fictions, Fractured Lit, X-R-A-Y, and Barren Magazine, among others. She has won the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the New Millennium Writing Award in Flash Fiction. Find her online @MynaChang.

 

Featured image by Tim Rüßmann courtesy of Unsplash

 

Author’s Note

My grandfather was murdered in his hardware store early one spring morning. It was a few weeks before high school graduation, and I’d been out with my friends drinking beer and cruising Main the night before.

We lived in a tiny farm town in the middle of nowhere. Murder was something that happened on television, not in our town, not to people we knew. It was shocking, as I imagine most murders are. Beyond the disbelief and anguish, my family also had to reconcile the gruesome nature of his death—he was stabbed almost fifty times by an unknown assailant.

Forty years later, I struggle to write about it. Time hasn’t diminished my emotions; they’re still too raw. My drafts bounced between extremes, lurching from melodramatic clichés to clinical, distancing phrases that never captured even a hint of what I’d hoped to convey.

My (eventual) solution was to view the writing from an alternate standpoint. I’ve always felt at home in the realms of science fiction and fantasy, and I participated in a workshop on speculative memoir a few years ago. Why not borrow speculative imagery, reframe my memories in a fantastical setting?

This shift in perspective changed everything. It gave me distance from the overwhelming emotions, and permission to explore my questions from a more comfortable vantage.

The mythology of the Wild Hunt was the first thing that came to mind when remembering my teenage friends and our pregraduation antics, how we’d paraded through town, and that uncanny fog (another thing we’d only ever seen on TV). Like participants in the Hunt, we fancied ourselves to be a bit sinister, unafraid and invincible, the fiercest, coolest creatures in existence. In fantasy language, we were the Unseelie Court trooping to battle, a Faery procession on the spring hunt. That night, we were teenage magic.

Shifting into this fabulist mindset didn’t magically ease the trauma, but it did help me place the opening sentences on paper, in language that felt more true to me than any of my previous drafts. And it conjured a new question: what did my grandfather think of the fog? Did it bring him a moment of wonder? I hope so. Maybe that magic is the last thing he and I shared.

I decided this new image is the one I want to hold onto. And with that decision, the final lines of the story fell into place.

 


MYNA CHANG’s work has been selected for Flash Fiction America (W. W. Norton), Best Small Fictions, Fractured Lit, X-R-A-Y, and Barren Magazine, among others. She has won the Lascaux Prize in Creative Nonfiction and the New Millennium Writing Award in Flash Fiction. Find her online @MynaChang.