I look at the latest issue of Crossed Genres today. As always, there is a theme to work with. In this case, it is Silent Communication. I must say the three stories take that in three very different directions, but all stick closely to that idea to make their point. In the first, a man is silent mostly because he has trouble speaking, but there is also silent communication all around him, trying to warn him of something coming. In the second story, the main character is physically mute, so the use of the theme is pretty concrete. In the last story, lack of a shared language divides two family members until a moment of crisis forces them to work together. All in all, some good stories. So let's get to it!
"Loud as a Murder" by Sarah L. Johnson (4572 words)
In this lovely horror story, an autistic man named Henry finds that love is...a bit different than he thought it would be. Lonely in his home and in his work as a proofreader, Henry's one thing to look forward to each week is a visit from the UPS man, Dev. And Henry is in love with Dev, who seems so understanding and kind and patient. Only Henry starts to receive a package in the mail he thinks is for his work. And, thinking that, her ignored the warning that it is trying to give him. What he doesn't realize is that he's become entwined in something bigger than him. Much bigger. Something is hunting him, and the only thing trying to protect him is a bird, a crow, who puts a message in the manuscript he thinks he's supposed to proof. A message he misses because of how he works, because of how his mind operates. And so he opens himself to something that might have best been avoided. It's a chilling tale, an excellent portrayal of the way he operates, his infatuation and his frustration and his loneliness. He needs contact and yet can't handle much. Which makes the ending that much creepier, that confrontation with love that much more unsettling. A great story.
"Trollbooth" by Maureen Tanafon (1915 words)
This story mixes some classic fairy tale elements with a mute protagonist desperate to get back her two young relatives who wandered too far away from home. I like how the story builds up this strange and dark world where the humans live along the edge of a fairy wood and how the main character, though mute, is the only one who knows how to communicate with the fairies. Of course, that doesn't mean that everyone listens to her, as her uncle decides he knows how best to handle things, blaming the fairies for the disappearances and setting out to hunt them. The main character, meanwhile, learns that the children weren't taken by fairies, but by something more dangerous. A troll. The children walked over its bridge, which is to say its body, and so it took them. But the main character offers up a sacrifice to the troll, who amusedly accepts, thinking she means herself. She volunteers her uncle instead, though, and leaves the troll and her uncle to find out which is the bigger monster. And I like that ending, how she doesn't really commit any crime. She might offer up sacrifice, but in offering her uncle she isn't necessarily condemning him to death. He has weapons. It's just that she wouldn't be much upset whatever happens, as her uncle is himself something of a monster, with a taste for killing now that he's hunted the fairies. So I like that she gets away and leaves the payment to those bullies who are hottest to pay. A fun ride with a good payoff.
"A Language We Shared" by Megan Neumann (3025 words)
This story focuses on the relationship between a girl and her grandfather, divided by their cultures and their languages. The grandfather, Gong Gong, speaks only Cantonese, while the granddaughter, June Mei, speaks only English. It's something that keeps them distant, as neither has interest in reaching out to the other. And yet they are family, something that is brought home to them when they are involved in a car accident where they are both in a car that goes off a bridge and into water. Gong Gong is injured but conscious. June Mei's mother is knocked out completely, so it's up to June Mei to act. In that moment, though, she discovers that she can understand Gong Gong, and he can understand her. Working together, they get themselves and June Mei's mother to safety, and Gong Gong explains that this ability runs in the family. Only after they are healed it seems to disappear. But the prompt is there for June Mei to reach out, to try and learn Cantonese and speak with her grandfather. Unfortunately it's not quite to be, but the experience is a striking one for June Mei, and the story is a nice one, resonant with themes of family and communication and connecting across many divides. Things are left a bit open as to whether the telepathy really happened, but whatever the case it did bring June Mei and Gong Gong closer, which is a magic all its own.