|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"Palingenesis" by Megan Arkenberg (5107 words)
This story speaks to me of art and darkness and loss and difference. It features a mother and her non-binary gender child, Blair, who has gone missing. Who is gone. Who has disappeared. Whose absence makes the heart of the story, the mystery and the drive to examine what happened, the drive to find some outside cause for it. Not to say that there is no outside cause. The story does a very nice job of building up an almost Gothic surrounding, filled with ghosts and mists and things out in the forest. Things that the mother can see and that she doesn't want to talk about, things that Blair seems able to see and is unwilling to stay silent about. There's this great strength in Blair, and it gives the story that much more tragedy that Blair's fate is unknown, that they are merely…gone. The way the story mixes in art and identity and evolution are all strong as well, and I felt the weight of this story, the weight of what the woman was going through, the exhaustion from living, from being afraid. From being a parent. There's a lot going on in the story and almost all of it in the background, needing to be dredged up, examined, doubted. There is a sense of dread and sadness but also wonder, that these things in there forest are not evil really but different and changing and in some ways reflect the human world, which is not always a pretty picture. It's a difficult story but a rewarding one, a fascinating exploration of loss and loneliness and difference. A fine way to kick off the new year of Shimmer stories!
"The Fifth Gable" by Kay Chronister (4767 words)
This is a quite strange and once again rather Gothic tale, set in a house where four women live. Each of them creates children, though mostly the children are doomed. They are grown in jars or in the soil or of bits of metal and wire and they cannot live. But still a young woman, Marigold, comes to the house to ask the older women for a child. I thought it interesting that we never really get to see why Marigold wants a child, and why she can't do it the normal way. She has a husband but he is absent, barely a consideration, a silent voice on the other side of a phone. He's more present because it's obvious that Marigold wants a child to make up for something missing in her life. That she is willing to go so far means that something is quite wrong. But she persists, and she gets children from the women of the house, but not at all like she wanted. As she should have suspected, I suppose, but not how she wanted. The story does a great job of showing the darkness that the women live in, the world that is at war, the endless stretches of dead children, the suffering that is still somehow necessary to it all. That there is a way to have a child that will live longer, and what is required for it, sheds light on both Marigold and the women of the house. They are nameless, seen here only as failed mothers, and women put in that situation often are. Unable to be anything else, they are pressed into that roll, unable to escape because of what they have been through, hoping for release or understanding. There is magic in the story but not a pretty kind. The magic is dark and springs from pain, and if sets the mood, dark and brooding and festering. And quite good. The atmosphere and place live and the characters are compelling, broken, human. It all works and it's definitely worth a read!