|Art by Kerem Beyit|
"The Judas Child" by Damien Angelica Walters (2625 words)
Well this is certainly a rather disturbing horror story, one that sees a boy used by a monster to bring it food, to help it feed. The story does an excellent job of getting into the head of this nameless boy, in capturing his trauma, the way that monstrosity can change a person. And I love that sinking feeling the story manages, like watching a train wreck, that deep want for the boy to avert what's going to happen, what you know is happening, and the cold emptiness that is left in the end. Plus it alludes to all sorts of things that ping my childhood (Turtles and Transformers and all the things!), which isn't exactly the most measured or logical reason for liking a story but it made me smile in the face of the creeping terror so hurrah for that. And the ending. I will admit that the ending is what leaves me with the most conflict. Not because of the feeling it evokes. It is creepy and heartbreaking and I feel for the boy, for his struggle and his failure and his abuse. But I'm not entirely sure if [AND SPOILERS HERE IT'S ABOUT THE ENDING] he's running away from it all or if he's just running from the noise, from the smell and the knowledge. In my mind he's running as a way to symbolically try and escape his part in all of this, but that he won't be able to run. That running is part of the ritual, that he'll always be back after. But I don't know if I can assume that. It's possible that this is some sort of last sacrifice and he's hoping to swap places with Turtles and I'm not sure about that. It would be very dark and disturbing and it would fit with everything but I'm not sure why this time would be different. It's a fairly short story and it does an excellent job creeping me the eff out, but the ending left me wondering. Which isn't a terrible thing either. A good story!
"The King of Ashland County" by Caspian Gray (6196 words)
This is a story about abuse and being trapped. About cycles of violence and poverty and neglect. About a boy without a lot of options learning just what he's contributing to and taking a stand, though perhaps not an awfully large one. The story involves a bunch of kids hanging out in a trailer run by their adopted "uncle" and used mainly for drugs. This Uncle Reggie is using the kids to sell drugs or to rape or to groom, abusing them all in ways large and small while offering himself as a loving paternal figure. And…well, it's disturbing and it's done well, in part because the kids don't even see how messed up it is because their lives are so shit otherwise that Reggie making sure they have food and socks and a place to sleep if they need (to say nothing about lots of drugs) comes across as love. But when Reggie kidnaps a selkie from California, it causes some of the kids to start questioning things. The story follows John, and in many ways follows the ways in which he can't see a way out, the ways in which there really isn't a way out for him. Not without money, which he doesn't have. He sees in Cian, the selkie, something otherworldly and desirable and yet something he denies for himself, a lifeline he cannot take. It's a sad story of longing and pain and it works quite well. In some ways it is a tragic queer love story set in rural Ohio, but I have no problem with tragic queer love stories that do more than just be sad, and this story certainly does more, walking the boundaries of neglect and abuse and showing how it feeds and how it's very difficult to escape. It's a slow boil but it hits its marks well and left me wanting more. A nice and very dark tale!