|Art by Steven Stahlberg|
"No Other Men in Mitchell" by Rose Hartley (4922 words)
Well here's a story that's equal parts haunting and sad, that follows a man named Dylan who's suffering from a rare condition. The story stars isolation, with supporting rolls for friendship, family, despair, and oppression. There's such a great feel of empty miles and the weight of a world so far removed from "civilization," so foreign that it might as well be an alien planet, barren and hostile. And I love that sense of place, that here is somewhere that humans are in many ways not meant to be and these people are holding on out of habit, out of some hope that hasn't been crushed by the sun and the tedium. Dylan is haunted, as well, able to see his dead mates, something that intensifies after he gets a mysterious illness that makes him resemble a vegetable, though he is still completely aware, though he still understands what is happening to him. But there is that prevalent feel that he is locked in. By his illness and by his situation, locked in despite the vast space, as if the vast space is part of it, a distance he cannot pierce to get anywhere worth being, anywhere that he would have a chance at fulfillment or happiness. It's a bleak story through and through, sadness layered on sadness, but it's a powerful story in that, relating how these people lived and the strength of letting go. It's stark and it's difficult and it's well worth checking out.
"Princess" by Dennis Etchison (2297 words)
This is a nice and creepy story about the roles that people are forced into by their families. About how parents try to force their children into certain places regardless of what they want. The story focuses on Tracy and her younger sister, Angie. Except there's more going on than meets the eye. More history and more darkness and more magic than would seem the case with this family heading off to Princess Land to audition for the part of pixie, the first step to becoming a princess. The story excels at hinting at the shape of the darkness, illuminating only the mysteries without really offering up any answers. The result is rather creepy and filled with a threat that rests in the pit of the stomach. I loved the voices of the characters, at one level just a rather banal family you'd see in a sitcom, the hopeful but bickering parents with their shallow values, the children, one jaded and cold and the other bright and chipper. The way that they relate to each other is powerfully done and again hints at depths and betrayals and foreshadows nicely. The ending isn't exactly unexpected but it is well executed, giving the story a bit of a bite while leaving most of it cloaked in shadows. A fine read!