|Art by Christopher Balaskas|
"The Fires of Mercy" by Spencer Ellsworth (4028 words)
An assassin, stayed at the last moment from completing her quest of vengeance when faced with a mother and child, flees from her compatriots into the desert in this story. It's a stark tale of bloodshed and mercy, of compassion and the price of escaping bloodshed. The assassin is the main character, the main focus, while the mother and the child are more background, more motivators for the assassin's change of heart and eventually her sacrifice. It's interesting to see the assassin at first justify her actions and the, faced with the weight of the lives she has taken, to reflect and be unable to take more. There's a bit of magic, too, which aides her in her escape. Though I guess she does still kill. To protect herself. And it seems more she wants to stop killing people who don't "deserve it" but I'm not sure of that. More it seems that, desperate, the assassin clings to this one thing, to this one person to save out of the belief that it will redeem them. Which isn't the healthiest of ideas, but then it doesn't exactly work out that way so it's no problem. Instead of getting away, the assassin is cornered and relies on an ancient magic to save her charges. She summons the spirits of the desert and they come to burn. The ending, where they are set free to burn out justice and hate and fear seemed to be making a good point, but I'm not sure what it would do to people who didn't want to part with those things. Would they die? It's a nice story that has some good lines and a good sense of action, but there were a few unanswered questions for me as to what was going to happen, and how much the assassin was actually being forgiven for her past deeds.
"Sinseerly A Friend & Yr. Obed't" by Thomas M. Waldroon (7636 words)
This story is a bit longer and a bit less straightforward than the last, following a judge visiting a sort-of recluse at his home concerning the discovery of a body in a lake. The lake is noteworthy because of a supposed sea-monster that lives in it, which the judge doesn't really believe in but that the recluse, Northup, knows as a friend. There's also the matter of one of Northup's workers, an escaped slave from the South, who has gone missing. Well, missing until his body is found. Which is the main confusion I have about the story. The judge arrives because of the body, but at the end of the story the man, Jonah, turns out to be alive and well in Canada. Which means, I suppose, that the body was a fake. Made by the sea-monster? The sea-monster which is actually an alien waiting for rescue. I mean, I liked some of the parallels between the sea-monster and Jonah, the way they were waiting, but then at the same time they don't seem very similar, because Jonah was active in his need for freedom and had people actively trying to hunt and hurt him and the creature seemed to be more passive. Waiting and just sort of dealing with the attention of others but never really pursued. Still, there is a sense of wanting freedom, and maybe that's what the creature saw in Jonah and why is helped by...fabricating a body? I'm not really sure on that. I like the idea of the monster, though, and the voice is rather interesting, a nice fit for a story set so long about in Pennsylvania, not long after the Revolution. So yeah, a good story but one that maybe I need to go back through to catch where the body came from and what the ending really means. For fans of slower, more Lovecraftian stories, though, it's worth checking out.