|Art by Todor Hristov|
"The City Dreams of Bird-Men" by Emily Cataneo (5055 words)
A sad story about an astronomer trying to find some sign that the Bird-men will return to her city to save it from an approaching plague called the Dark. The Bird-men, made by astral magic, are a blessing and a curse, as all things are that come from using the magic. When the astronomer is taken to a remote monastery because she knows the secrets of astral magic, at first she refuses to use it to either save the city or save herself. Because her father died from using the magic. Because she knows it will twist her intentions. Only she can't help herself and tries to use the magic to get free, and instead seals the city's fate and has to use the magic once again to get the Bird-men to return. It's a tragic story that seems more about things leaving and never returning than anything else. The love she has for a man. The Bird-men. Some things cannot be mended and the astronomer finds that out in the end, clutching at hope. It's rather sad, but I still liked the muted ending with her clutching that feather, knowing and hoping still.
"Moksha" by Andrew Kaye (3956 words)
Okay this story had me glued to the screen, not least because I've been watching Ancient Aliens and the whole Indian-Alien connects are stressed pretty hard there and so this captured that connection, with gods descending through skymouths and battles in the sky and it's all well done. On top of that, the character work is spot on, these magic-users able to remember their lives and everything they've done and starting to buckle under the pressure of it. That they would seek out release makes sense, and so contrasting the main character to the man trying to call the gods down to end his cycle I thought was well done. I liked how the past melted into the present, how it all met up in flames in the end. That the main character was trying so hard to deny the weakness inside her, but even so there is the doubt there that in another few lives she, too, might start to crave release. A great story.
"Tempest Fugit" by Christine Borne (3254 words)
A story about the ghost of a sea captain who died in a great battle. Who died a hero, and yet who has lingered at a small bordello for three hundred years. And after three hundred years he finds himself forgotten, or nearly forgotten, his ability to interact with the world fading with that memory. And now there is a chance to move on, to leave, to pass. He doesn't really want to, but as he watches all of his men who died with him returning to the sea, returning to eternal rest, he has to make the choice of what he will do. It's a brooding story, with the sense that the captain has lost almost everything, that the world has changed around him and his great deed has come to little. At least in resting he won't have to see the world change more. More a story about being caught in the past than anything, I think the point is to see that while the events of long ago might become forgotten, it's important to move on. Some things don't need to be remembered so much. They become more irrelevant. And the ghosts need to move on, to make their own way. A ponderous story, it's moving and effective and worth a read.
"Human Bones" by John Giezentanner (1005 words)
This is a strange flash story about a man trying to kill himself by jumping in front of a train. It's boredom more than despair that seems to prompt him, and he doesn't get the timing right so instead of dying his arm is shattered, flayed open. And when he sees his bones he thinks something isn't right. Something is off about them, as if they are synthetic and not organic. He dreams, or experiences a vision, of some past or future where everything is falling down, where there is no human life at all. And when he wakes in a hospital it might all have been fake, just a dream, but then he finds a chip of his bone, His unreal bone. I wasn't quite sure about the ending, because I wasn't sure how high up in the building they were. Either he kills himself for real this time or he escapes. And I'm not sure which I would like more. It's a neat story, though, short and lingering on some very interesting images. Probably I'll just have to revisit it to make up my mind about the ending.
"Bandit" by John Stevens (349 words)
Well that was...short. A story of a man who befriends a raccoon only to take some drastic steps to keep it around, this story shoots for the shocking twist ending with fair results. I mean, it's cute with him and the raccoon and the story does a good job using a very limited space to shock and show the main character's unbalanced nature. The shift from silly story about an animal friend quickly turns, and the ending has some very dark implications and turns the story into a shock serial killer story. Unfortunately, I'm not a huge fan of that trope. It's pretty well done, but I personally am a bit tired of seeing that be the reveal, especially with the victims being who they are. Still, it did make me think for a minute at the beginning that this was going to be a different sort of story. So it succeeded in settings its trap well.
"Shamrock" by Josh Brown and John Fortune
A short and action-packed six pages about a wandering warrior princess named Shamrock. She's out minding her own business when she comes across some guys trying to capture a tiger. The two save each other as Shamrock frees the tiger, and after a further adventure decide to travel together. It's short and basically what one would expect from a fantasy story about a warrior princess. It does seem to evoke the kind of 90s historical/mythological shows like Xena and Beast Master, and with that brush of nostalgia it's a pretty fun story. It doesn't exactly try for depth, but it does introduce its characters and the art seems appropriate, a mix of more cartoonish and real, reminiscent of Bone or the more recent Barbarian Lord in tone and quality. For some clean fun, look no further (though the costume that she wears is...I couldn't quite figure it out. A loincloth and pants with holes in them? But yeah, still a rather fun tale...).