|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"You Can Do It Again" by Michael Ian Bell (5289 words)
This story is a mash-up of drug use and time travel, regret and fear and, some might say, a wasted life. Marco is living a life that most would find...tragic. A dealer of a drug that takes the user back into their own past, to relive important events. The drug normally just lets the person experience the past, but there is a rumor that it's possible to change things. Difficult, yes, but that if you manage to change something in the drugged state it will actually change the present. That Marco would want to change his situation makes sense. He's not in good shape and is haunted by the loss of his brother, who left him on a day that he revisits again and again through the drugs. And yet he can never seem to bridge the gap between him and his brother, can never seem to find the words to express himself. Already at that point in his life he was too immersed in what he thought it was to be masculine, which did not included telling his brother he loved him. And that inability, that lack of emotionality, keeps him going back again and again. It keeps him slave to the idea that he can change his past but cannot, or should not try to change his present. He's looking for an easy way out, a way that doesn't require him to really face his mistakes because they will magically be undone. And it's one that seems destined to fail, as Marco tries again and again to change himself and succeeds only in escaping for those brief moments the full weight of his present situation. A good story, elegantly told.
"Come My Love and I'll Tell You a Tale" by Sunny Moraine (2146 words)
I think this story wins the award of most disturbing and depressing and intense so far this month. Because few stories join together love and post-apocalyptic horrors and cannibalism. It's...wow, it just reaches out and punches the reader right in face with the stark reality of the world it weaves. The language is flowing, slightly unhinged, slightly pleading, as the one character beseeches their dead companion for a story. It's heartbreaking, and a lot longer than I was expecting. It doesn't exactly tell that much of a story, though through the pleading calls there does come into focus the lives that these two people lived, and something of their journey. More, though, it builds up the world of this future, this bleak world. And the world building is solid and gut wrenching. All of this circles and moves and builds, slowly revealing what exactly is happening with the speaker and what has happened to the speaker's companion. And it is...not happy. Not that there isn't a spot or two of hope in it, but it is definitely a story that examines what someone has to do to survive, the lengths that people can be pushed to keep going. The speaker of the story has obviously come a bit unhinged from the things that they've had to do, and it is emotionally devastating to find out just what is going on. Or at least it was for me, even after being told of the horrors of the world. Even after assuming that I was slightly numbed to the speaker's pain. Boy was I wrong. This story gets dark, and only gets darker. The writing really succeeds at leaving the reader as a sort of staring mass of emotional emptiness, unsure of the universe. At least that was me after reading, just sort of slack-jawed and staring at the computer screen. Effective work, and definitely worth checking out.