|Art by Christopher Balaskas|
"Two to Leave" by Yoon Ha Lee (3646 words)
It's a very strange world where someone go to the thirstsmith deep in the earth and get their heart turned into a weapon. Of course, it's also a hauntingly beautiful world, where the main character of this story travels as their whims lead them, their heart a gun that shoots bees. Business brought them into the Parched Lands, which is bound by a great river and the Ferryman, another who had his heart turned into a weapon. His heart is the river he travels on, that he uses to contain the ambitions of the Drowned Queen whose land he surrounds. The story focuses mostly on the interaction between these two people, these two who have traded their hearts away for this solitary life. They are both trapped by their choices, by their thirst for something that never quite get, no matter how many years they live. The Ferryman let's some cross his river, but there is a toll. One eye to get into the Parched Lands, and two to leave. It's not really something that he enjoys taking, but he is encased in his duty. Slowly he and the main character bond, but the main character then offers him a way out. At least for a time. They offer to exchange hearts, gun for river, so that he can travel elsewhere. It's a strange story but a powerful one, this moment that these two characters connect, that even with their hearts on the outside some emotion can get through. There are some great ideas here, and a lingering sadness, a melancholy as the Ferryman gets himself ready to leave his post for the first time, unwilling to bend the rules even for himself. Good stuff.
"The Warriors, the Mothers, the Drowned" by Kay Chronister (4233 words)
This is a rather sorrowful story about a desperate woman trying to save her infant daughter from men out to collect on her husband's gambling debt. Her husband who ran off a month ago, and Ana takes a similar tactic and flees before they can collect. Of course, with a sick child and a mule and a vast desert it's not really that she's getting away, and so when a coyote-spirit arrives to take her daughter to the land of the dead, Ana makes a deal. That it will take them both across the river into the land of the dead and if she can cross to the other side she and her child will live. It's not an easy place. It's supposed to be a trap, a place where Ana will fail and the coyote will eat her and there in an interesting parallel with this story and with a more real situation, immigrating illegally into the U.S. I'm not sure if it's intentional or not, but that the "guide" is a coyote that's not entirely safe, that this woman is fleeing for her life with a child, that she has to make some very difficult decisions, I can at least see it as a facet of analysis to look into. For the story at least Ana manages to cheat a little bit, or perhaps what she really does is fall into the real trap. Not that the coyote was going to eat her, but that she would participate in a different sort of cycle, taking her own temporary place in the land of the dead with the hopes to getting her daughter to the other side. She never loses hope, even as she rather gives up on herself, never concedes. Even as she understands that she might fail, she also thinks it possible to win, or at least help her daughter escape the cycle that has doomed her. An interesting and tense story, worth a close read. Indeed.