Back with their new publishing schedule, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination provides two new stories this month. One flash and one short story, and both interesting. There is definitely a tendency for the publication to spotlight a bit darker of stories in their original works, which is A-okay for me. The stories are short but typically revolve around a kernel of emotion, of loss or tragedy. This month the stories both feature death and communication with the other side, but in two completely different ways. Thematically the stories build on one another, one a more humorous take on speaking with the dead and the other a more wrenching tale, but both focus on communication, or perhaps a failure to communicate, with the dead. Good stuff, so let's get to the reviews!
"Message from Beyond" by José Pablo Iriarte (2043 words)
Well this is a rather biting story about communicating with the dead and profiting off of grief and fear. The story focuses alternately on Ray LaSalle and his Aunt Liz. Liz and Ray's mother, Gertrude, had been famous mediums, using their gifts to help people contact the other side. There is a vague implication that both were frauds, really, and Ray is keen to follow in those footsteps, hoping to profit off of his uncommunicative Aunt in order to make some money. So he rigs her up with a way to make it look like she's answering questions and brings a reporter in. Only there's something actually going on in the background. The story works mostly through its use of irony and dark humor, the way it plots this family's descent and punishment for using the spirit world for profit. It's a fairly straightforward story until the twist, moody with a good sense of place, a good sense of decay and desperation and lack of moral center for Ray, and then after the twist it wrinkles in the actual spirit world, real and trying to communicate but not able to get through, not able to communicate in part because Ray is unwilling to listen, sure that the whole thing is a lie, a trick. It's a nice story, biting and darkly funny, with Ray an interesting main character, a man bitter and entitled and yet with tragedy hounding him through no real fault of his own. A story worth checking out.
"The Closed Window" by Christina Sng (638 words)
This is a strange and rather chilling flash about death and walls and while it confuses me only a little it also gets under my skin to some extent. In it a mother and daughter live in an apartment with a window that opens to a brick wall. The daughter keeps opening the door for their cat, who died in a car crash that also took the life of the girl's father. A crash that seems to have been the mother's fault. And the guilt and loss come to a head as the woman finds that her daughter is missing, as she finds that her husband isn't quite as gone as she thought, as she finds that things might not have happened the way she remembers. To me, this is a story about the power of grief and guilt. SPOILERS TO FOLLOW because I want to talk about the ending, the twist, etc. So to me the story takes place in a moment in time when the woman, looking for an apartment after the death of her husband, cat, and child in a crash that was her fault, sees this closed window. The rest is fabricated in her mind, her daughter still alive, the ghost cat, the conversation with her daughter. All of that happens in her mind and she lives it all in that moment, the loss of her daughter again, and she breaks from it. That would explain the agent behind her at the end, that she's not moving out but out and looking for a place to live, not that her dead husband has rewritten time but that she had this vision of what she wanted to have happened and has to deal with reality and can't quite. All from that image of the window and brick wall, that idea that she's bricked away her own feelings but there is keeping them out. A nice and creepy story, though one that might require a bit more unpacking than others. Still, I enjoyed it. Indeed!