|Art by Raphael Lacoste|
"The Garden of Ending" by K.J. Kabza (2782 words)
This is a story that is told as a story to audience that is not really revealed until the end. It's an interesting frame and it makes for a rather compelling read, that final wrinkle when the curtain is pulled back a delightful complication of the rest of the piece. And the rest of the piece is a nice story of metaphors and imagery, a young woman born to be a sort of representative, to be Everyone, and to walk through the various gardens of her domain—the Garden of War, the Garden of Winter, the Garden of Dutiful Reflection—in order to reflect the state of the world. And then she goes into an unnamed garden, and one of those tasked with keeping the gardens hatches a sort of plan. The story makes good use of the voice and I like that it's a bit misleading, that the narrator really isn't wholly trustworthy throughout, changing the story so as to conceal the true extent of their actions. And I like the world that is built here, this strange arrangement that's supposed to be a…ritual? A way of pretending that the world is an ordered place and that the chaos outside can be conquered by tall walls and willful ignorance? It's a system that's built around the manipulation of Everyone, and I like that the story offers a bit more hopeful an outcome, though I perhaps would have liked to hear Everyone herself speak a bit more. But it's a cute and clever story with a fascinating central idea and a neat twist that I quite enjoyed. A fine read!
"Dearly Departed" by Kelly Stewart (5127 words)
This story has a great aesthetic, a great creeping dread, and is infinitely suited for the season, for a release just around Halloween. The plot follows Perdita, a woman living in the House on the Hill, in the shadow of her grandparents, who took her in and cared for her and loved her. Now with just her crow-panion Gruma, she sees to the troubles of the area, to the strange things that dwell in the nearby cemetery. And it's the powers of the dead and the things that feed on the dead that make the setting so memorable, the mood so spooky. This is a world filled with dangers that Perdita walks with protections and experience but never really safety. The world is dangerous and dark and mostly solitary, at least until she saves a man under attack in her domain—a man with white hair and a somewhat-annoying disposition named Sinclair, who is on the trail of a gravewyrm of great size and power that has left a trail of devastation behind it. I like the way Perdita moves, how she acts, how she clings to what is familiar because as an orphan she's only known the good times as something in her past, when her grandparents were alive, and now that she's been orphaned again with their passing she carries the weight of their memories, clings to their habits and rituals without really questioning what she wants. And Sinclair represents a complication to that, not a man to sweep her off her feet but a person to make her realize that she's been pacing. Holding. And that there's more to life. The action here is rather intense and well rendered, creepy and fun. The world is intricate and left me wanting to explore further. And the characters are charming and compelling and alive. It's a fine story and an excellent slice of spookiness!