|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"Serein" by Cat Hellisen (2089 words)
Okay, for a moment I was just sort of ignoring the title of this story, because I will admit I didn't recognize the word. But then I went and looked it up, and it fits very nicely, the rain that falls from a cloudless sky. The story follows two sisters, Claire and Alison. Claire ran away. Ran away and disappeared. And her absence is a lasting wound for Alison and her family, who don't quite know how to deal with it, meeting it with anger, with pain, with yearning for a return to the way things were. And through it all Claire isn't quite gone, not really, because she's become the waters of the world, has become everywhere. In some ways she could be seen to be ill-suited to the world, too attuned to the water, able to lose herself in the diffuse liquid and not able to bring herself back together, every day of life pushing her toward dissolution, toward a letting go of the solid. It's a strong death metaphor, and yet I hesitate to read too much into the suicide parallels of the story. They're there, and it's a very good examination of how loss creates those holes in a family, how everyone tries to shape themselves around the absence. [MAYBE SPOILERS?] But I think it's also interesting for how it uses Claire's perspective, showing her having reached a state that is both beautiful and tragic, to highlight someone out of place and in need of escape and not necessarily through death. The way that she dissolves is an escape that for her is natural, and yet she in some ways is still held by her family, by their need for her. Here she is becoming something, is seeking something and being pulled between her nature and what might comfort those closest to her, and I think there is a vein here of having the strength to run, to to death but to a place where it's possible to be true to yourself. And Claire's quest, then, to pull herself together isn't a quest to fit back in to her family, but to find a way to be solid and herself, to be comfortable with who she is. Sometimes that needs to happen away from those who are invested in who you were, so I can see in Claire someone making space to define herself, a very difficult thing to do, because Alison and the rest of her family don't understand it, don't really want it to happen. They are afraid of what it means, but as the story states at the beginning, it's about the ones who disappear. Good times.
"States of Emergency" by Erica L. Satifka (3920 words)
This is a bit of a disjointed and surreal survey of a bunch of U.S. states, each being infested, each dealing with its own craziness. Through it all there is Paranoid Jack on a quest to warn people about the troubles, about the danger and the craziness. It's difficult in some ways to know what's going on in all of these sections, but each section, each state, is an interesting look at crazy, at paranoid, and so in many ways this is the story of Paranoid Jack, the man and his fractured view of the world the driving force of the story. And, in that case, then it is his paranoia that is the great eyes that permeate the piece, that seem behind every danger and lurking shadow. Because it is the perception that twists things, and not from some outside force but from the one inside Paranoid Jack. It is his eye that recurs, that drives him. It is the twisted nature of his perception that finds these dark vignettes, that creates carnivorous houses and voices that speak of love and longing and madness. At least, that's how I read the eyes in the story, as Jack seeing the various stories from around the country and connecting the dots into a conspiracy, into the presence of the eyes, and yet they only exist because he's seeing them. Of course, the story visits people other than Jack, which means that it's possible that Jack's perceptions are bleeding over into the real world. are actually happening, and he's largely unaware of what he's doing, that indeed he thinks he's fighting against the tide of crazy when really he is the source of it. In any case, it is a dark story with a really interesting take on paranoia and manages a sort of humor through it all while also being creepy and overall both sad and fun. Quite interesting, this one, and quite recommended!