|Art by ilonareny|
"Things Crumble, Things Break" by Nate Southard (7049 words)
This is a wrenching story about decline and fragility. About a town that has experienced an event that has made everyone inside it...contaminated. They are quarantined and shut away, though provided with just enough to keep them alive until they die from that contamination. It makes them fragile, leeching strength from their bones, making them susceptible to injury and accident and death. They are mostly forgotten except that they are also feared. Because of whatever it was that was going on in the town that caused this, something that;s never exactly revealed. And the story focuses on Michael, a young man without much of a future because of what has happened, with a death sentence despite only having been a child when the incident occurred. The story does manage a great sense of atmosphere. Of decay and decline, where the dread of the future is a living thing that seems to just sit somewhere, present but unapproachable. For Michael and his girlfriend, Dana, it is the constant caution they must exercise, the feeling that they can’t take risks, but also having so little to hold them back. So little to anchor them. And I love how the story plays with that, shows how it informs their dreams and their desires, how it pushes them to where they go. And I like how the story portrays the government as complicit in it all, perhaps ignorant and perhaps not but either way completely willing to make a sacrifice out of everyone in the town, willing to feign care just enough that they can’t be truly held accountable for what happens unless the people push it. Which does a nice job of bringing up how people who have to spend so much just getting through the day are then required to risk even more to be heard, to have a chance at freedom or voice. For Michael and Dana it means making some big decisions and taking some serious risks that might not even work out. But if they wait they risk running out of things they care about, and slowly losing the will to do anything about it. It’s a lovely story about struggle and weight and vulnerability and you should definitely check it out!
"You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych" by Kathleen Kayembe (12,117 words)
This is a gripping and wonderful story about family and about fear, about magic and about mistakes. The story is told in three parts, a triptych like it says, and each part focuses on a different character, each brought together in a single moment of revenge and hate and love. All family. The first is Izzy, a young woman who is staying with her uncle, who is a professor of folklore and stories. Who has lost his son and more, though Izzy doesn’t know how far his loss and his transgressions go. As the story moves, though, and reveals more characters, and more angles to the web of narratives, the shape it takes is one of tragedy. And familial tragedy at that. The horror here springs from the supernatural elements and the dread that Izzy feels from the mysterious room upstairs, the pain and the horror of Kanku’s situation, the plight of Mbuyi’s place as silent witness to so much hurt. It’s a wrenching story because so much of it springs out of mistrust and superstition and the refusal to face grief. The uncle, the father, is defined by his collecting of stories but he seems to be doing so not out of an urge to protect them but out of some obsession to protect himself. It is his inability to reach out with compassion to his sons, his inability to trust his wife, his inability to grieve in a way that doesn’t fester his soul. He comes to see evil as plaguing him even as he fails to see the evil that he commits, the evil that he plants and grows. And when it comes time to reap it it’s not just him that is effected. It threatens to pull in everyone—the sons that he betrayed, the niece who only acted with kindness and determination. I love the character work here and the story has some serious legs to it, building a complex and layered story that I could really sink my teeth into. The story is about decay and mistakes. About how the uncle/father makes his mistake, and from that so much misery grows. And how Kanku makes his mistake, and continues on the tragedy. And how Mbuyi can’t turn it around on his own. How it consumes everyone but doesn’t quite consume hope. Because the story does a beautiful job of showing that justice can still prevail, that love and compassion can be stronger forces than guilt and shame and heartbreak. That family can be something to make you stronger even as it can also be something to rip you apart. That the real difference between the two is trust. And it’s just an absolutely stunning story that you should read immediately. Go. Do!