"Loneliness is in Your Blood" by Cadwell Turnbull (2059 words)
This is a delightfully dark story about thirst and about time and about cycles. The main character is a sort of monster that drinks human blood but isn't quite human enough to bond with people, to break through the loneliness that she finds herself in. She's stuck, but tells herself that it doesn't matter. At first, at least, she's beautiful and can take lovers, can get from them some measure of fulfillment. But the story doesn't stop there, and looks at what happens as the predator ages. And in many ways I do feel that the story is about predation. The main character treats people as prey, and so she cannot really see them as people. Which gives her a certain power. A certain draw. But it also defines and solidifies her relationship to others. As something that can never be intimate. As something that can never get beyond the physical pleasure and pain. There is no path in this world, then, for her to make connections, for her to love or even like most people. It's just a matter of time before the thirst and loneliness become too great… And I love how the story deals with this slow realization, that as she reenacts the cycle that created her she sees just how empty her life is, just how much she's failed to grow beyond what she has always been. It is a sort of immortality, yet, but it also feels to me like a prison, like something that she's just not willing to escape from because she likes the protection she has. She can't really be hurt as she is, can't really be vulnerable. But without that possibility of being hurt or denied, there's also not the possibility for true transformation or love. It's a complex story that tackles what makes a monster and how cycles can be incredibly difficult to break. It's also a damn fine read!
"Redcap" by Carrie Vaughn (3742 words)
Well this is a rather interesting and creepy story about a little girl tasked by her older sisters to tend the sheep that they need to make wool. Or, as the sisters put it, that they need so that they won't starve. I rather like how the story builds itself up, establishing Violet as this girl who has this great weight put on her, this great responsibility. The older sisters work and work hard, but always they seem to set the stakes of every action Violet takes as if she fails, if she makes a mistake, they will all starve. Which, really, given the setting isn't all that outrageous. And perhaps their warnings are only them expressing their own fears, their own insecurities. But in many ways it also feels like they come up with these stakes in order so that Violet can't rebel or question them. They are allowed to define the rules of Violet's life, are allowed to frighten her so that the only reason she gets out of bed is because otherwise they'll all starve, and that's a certain amount of fucked up. And of course one day, despite all the warnings about being careful and watching out, Violet finds herself in a bad situation. And I love how the story plays with that, showing how Violet has always bent to the will of others, that she's been warning and scared so much she can't quite remember how to act. That all of the fear that her sister's used on her didn't really make her into a more competent shepherd, just made her scared all the time, which made her stressed, which made her less able to handle things when they happened. It's a nice look at this style of over-preparing that happens quite often, especially with parents, that really only becomes victim-blaming, a way for the older people to feel that anyone like Violet would deserve whatever happened to her. Of course, that the story doesn't actually take the darkest route forward is in its favor, because while it's certain a piece of SFF horror, it's got a kernel of hope and warmth in it. A great read!