|Art by NKMandic|
"The Devil Under the Maison Blue" by Michael Wehunt (4150 words)
Well this is…a very uncomfortable story to read. Let's just slap all the trigger warnings on this story, shall we? A story about devils and fathers, about choice and victimization. It stars Gillian, who lost her mother to cancer, who has been dealing with the fact that her father has been sexually abusing her and has gotten her pregnant. To top that, her neighbor, an old blues trumpeter, has died, leaving a ghost behind, a ghost who has one last story to tell about his own father and about one night he spent in the ground under an old blues bar with something that might have been the devil or maybe something else entirely. The story sets its mood meticulously and slow reveals the true darkness of the situation, the wounds that exist, the twisted and horrifying situation that Gillian finds herself in. It is certainly an unsettling story, one that offers Gillian a way out of her situation. I will be the first to admit that the ending of the story is satisfying on some levels, but I think the story does a decent job of not making it too much a victory. There is a tendency in these types of stories to want to place revenge as some sort of salve to what has happened and the story is not wholly innocent of that, but it's certainly not the worst example I've seen. I'm not sure if that's enough to justify the choices made in the story, but it follows through on the promise of darkness and disturbing narratives that the publication makes. So there is that.
"The Canary" by Lisa L. Hannett (3185 words)
This is another story primarily about sexual assault, but one that leaves behind the revenge mentality in favor of showing the trauma and the way that rape can lead to further rape, the way that a culture can be one that silences victims and rewards rapists, that continues a cycle of abuse by making it difficult for victims to come forward, to be believed or empathized with. In the story, Ell is a canary, part woman, part bird, who squeezes into the thin spaces in mines to lay charges so the crows can pick up what is rocked loose. And Ell is raped by her boyfriend's brother, a popular crow who she is at first flattered by the notice of. That quickly changes as the assault begins, as she internalizes the disdain, the victim blaming, the ways that make the rape about how she didn't fight enough, how she was responsible for going with him, for somehow preventing her assault. And because that is the narrative that forms, she is unable to talk about, unable to seek justice, unable to do anything but continue the narrative, making assault the providence of women and not about how her rapist did something terrible. And as she has daughters the silence and the weight of her assault wear at her, make her hope that she can do better by her daughters despite the fact that her mother probably felt the same way. It's a gripping read, a difficult read, a very dark read, but one that gets to the heart of rape culture and exposes it to the light. It doesn't flinch from the pain and the decisions Ell makes. She is not stupid or a coward. She is trapped by a system that doesn't want to face a very real problem. A very good story.
"Self, Contained" by Kirstyn McDermott (1753 words)
I'm a bit of a sucker when it comes to cat stories. In this one, Meredith is a woman concerned for birds that she has been finding killed. Determined to do something about it, she put out a trap and catches a large cat. Unsure of what to do with it, she brings it inside, and discovers its unique properties. I love the building nature of this story, the suspense, the horror. That this cat is something of a primal force and something of a wake up for Meredith, who is a bit directionless following her divorce, who doesn't really get on with anyone, who is alone and afraid. But this cat, this cat is something else, a creature of violence and action, one that fills whatever cage it is put into. Once free of one, it grows. Once free of all cages…the story makes the most out of the danger the cat poses, and also the power of it, the potential. It's something that Meredith traps but also something that gets into her, infecting her with an idea, a hunger, a want to grow. It changes here, her powerlessness creating a hunger inside her for freedom, for release, to grow as big and as deadly as her cage will allow and hopefully to grow big enough that no cage will be able to hold her ever again. A fun and creepy tale!
"What Hands Like Ours Can Do" by Megan Arkenberg (3058 words)
Closing things out this issue is a story about killing, about the different ways people kill and the different reasons for it. A sickness is loose, is spreading, and one woman on the edge of things is slowly doing the work that comes before her. People arrive, drawn to her because they want to die, or perhaps because it's right they die. Or perhaps they just know that they have nothing else. In any event they find her and she serves them tea and then…well… The story is effective in showing the isolation the woman lives in, and the anonymity. She is not really named, is just a woman interested in doing the work, killing because it's a burden she can bear, because she's started and because there's always someone else in need of it, someone who kills for the joy, for the pleasure of it. The story questions what is justice, what the point is of killing killers. It's not revenge exactly. Not justice, exactly, though there is some aspect of balancing the scales. She works because there's always more to do, and no matter how long she works the work doesn't seem to decrease. It's an interesting story, a slow and sinking one that makes good use of character and voice, mood and inevitability. And it confronts the reader with the question of whether or not what the woman is doing is right, but also whether the world of the story is better for her being there. Indeed!