For another issue the stories of Flash Fiction Online seem to focus on parents and children. On being haunted. By the specter of ridicule and Otherness, by an actual friendly ghost, or by a past and future that seem to hold nothing but regret. These stories bring a bit of darkness and strangeness and fit rather well with the autumn season. With things winding down. With endings and declines but with the hope of something more. These stories are dark without being bleak, strange without being completely indecipherable. From monsters to ghosts to…house-children, this issue certainly is unique. To the reviews!
|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"The Monster on Her Cheek" by Rebecca Roland (861 words)
This story is about a woman, Jane, and her child, a child born with a sort of disease or deformity that takes the form of a monster that is attached to the child's face. The monster is…well, a little thing, but otherwise doesn't seem to do anything. The fear and the tension comes from the way that the woman fears she will be treated, that her child will be treated, because of the monster. The story does a lot of interesting work in looking at how people are judged for the deformities and diseases and differences their children are born with. That parents don't want to be seen as bad because of those differences in part because theey have bought into the idea that those differences are a mark of sin and shame. The story reveals a woman afraid of going out because she might face name-calling and judgment, and so she stays in while others try to convince her to go out. And the story draws Jane toward a point where she can let her own prejudices against her child and against herself drop away so that she can embrace her child for who they are. I like the message of the piece, that you have to accept your child, that a lot of what allows harm and ignorance to continue is our own internal biases and especially for parents that can lead to some awful treatment of children by parents. So I like that Jane has to learn to stop blaming herself and her child first, that she has to see that they deserve to exist, that in some ways she didn't understand that until she was so connected and she has to try and do better. Act better. Which starts at home. So yeah, it's an interesting and rather dark story with a warm, gooey heart. A fine read!
"Three Rules for Befriending Ghosts" by Benjamin Thomas (924 words)
This is a rather fun story about a man and a ghost haunting him and the rules that define their relationship. To me, it shows two people desperate to connect, desperate to find someone who will respect them. To respect their rules. Those simple things that are required to have a friendship, to have any sort of relationship. Because despite Mandy being dead, being a ghost, the story is all about how willing the main character is to respect her rules. They are not complicated. They are not difficult. But still they require the main character to have a boundary and not cross it. That once he knows what she wants he has to stand by her or risk losing the friendship. And it's a great way to show what's required to form a bond with another person, to illustrate the ways that it's possible to overstep and how easy it can be, caught up in something personal, to be selfish and break one of the rules. But how it's equally possible to stop and consider and refuse to use a friendship as a weapon. And I love how the main character is described as lucky to be haunted, to have this opportunity to bond. Because anyone is incredibly lucky to have a good friend. Because those friendships can keep us sane, can keep us from being alone, can lift us up and affirm us. But it takes something. Effort. Trust. And the story does a nice job of bringing that all together with a touch of the ghostly. A great story!
"Offspring" by Brenda Anderson (778 words)
This is a…rather strange and disturbing story about being a parent, about surviving grief, and about the distance between animate and inanimate life. In the story a man at a sort of sentient house for…grief counseling (maybe) learns that his emotions have inadvertently entered the house and taken root. The house is pregnant and he is the father. And…and what follows is a picture of the man trying to flee from that, trying to get away and find some sort of peace where peace doesn't seem possible, trying to avoid the knowledge that he has a child out there. The story deals with regret and with surprise, with suddenly discovering that you're the parent of a child you never expected but in a way that's…well, certainly new. This house-child is one that he wants to deny but cannot, that haunts him even as he seeks to run from it. At the same time, this is a difficult story for me to parse, personally, because the nature of the conception is so strange and because the nature of his situation is rather nebulous. Well off enough to move and stay employed but not well off enough to avoid having to be held in some sort of prison or care facility following the death of a close friend. What is more certain to me is that the story circles around the man's past, his losses. As an older man he looks back and sees no legacy, and the house-child becomes some way to connect to a future he won't see, a past he never lived. I can't tell if it's hopeful or not, to be honest, but it's an interesting and moving piece that I certainly recommend people check out for themselves. Indeed!