|Art by Okan Bülbül|
"The Cellar Dweller" by Maria Dahvana Headley (4732 words)
This is a great little story about a girl who had been abandoned in a town that seems so small and pretty and nice. In a town where the girl, the Banisher, is the only ugly inhabitant. And she makes a living from a very young age as a sort of exterminator. She takes care of the things that come up through the cellars. All the people of the town with their perfect little lives have this problem where these creatures emerge and inconvenience and so the Banisher takes them to live in the forest, finds them new homes. It's a strange story that is also told in two ways, from the Banisher's story and from the story of one of the perfect couples of the city. A perfect couple who has a perfect life and a perfect daughter and who is going to put on a perfect party for their twenty-fifth anniversary. Slowly these two story lines meet, though in some ways there were never separated, or perhaps one could say they began together and then end together, as the city's dark secrets are revealed, as the rhymes about what lurks behind the cellar doors turn out to all be real, and all be dangerous. The Banisher finds out her origins, finds out the truth about what happened to her and who the perfect couple is, and she gathers up the other unwanted inhabitants of the city, the other fell creatures waiting for their revenge, and she gives it to them. It's a great story, combining children's rhymes and imagination with dark realities, with suburban banality and brutality. It wraps it all up in a way that makes it compelling even if the ending doesn't come as too big a surprise. It does come as a satisfying answer to some of the mysteries of the story, to the presence of these creatures in only this town, to the line in the town charter and to the Banisher's role. A role that turns into something else, or that was misunderstood for so long. She's not there to banish the fell creatures, after all, but those monsters even more wretched. The pretty and perfect ones. An excellent story.
"Snow" by Dale Bailey (4656 words)
This one is a bit more straight-fordwardly horror/terror, set in a world where a plague has vastly reduced the human population. A group of four friends, out camping away from it all, are lucky enough to be spared, to have avoided the spread, but when one of them breaks their leg, it forces all of them down toward civilization again. There are arguments, of course, as the four are coupled up, and as it was one of the women who broke her leg, there is a "I'm not going to leave you" declaration from her partner, one that is tested as things go from bad to worse, as they are stuck by snow and then find out that the plague might have only been the first part of something bigger, something even more dire and otherworldly. The tension of the story is handled nicely, and while it plays things very safe in terms of story, in terms of who it has be injured and the reactions of the other members of the group, it still manages to be interesting, to show the conflict in the main character. This plays out a lot like a horror move, though, with an already bad situation becoming one where the characters are rather trapped and being stalked. Trapped, though, by their own morality a bit more than by circumstance. Trapped by their having to stay with the injured person. Not that they would be all good even if they did survive, but the story plays with the idea of what people might do to live and makes it rather believable, if also rather disappointing. But that's probably my dissatisfaction with the way post-apocalyptic stories and horror stories treat survival. And this is a survival horror type of story, and a good example of the subgenre. Not exactly my favorite kind of tale, but one that does an effective job with its premise. Still a story to check out, especially for those looking for a good thrill.