“The Machine of the Devil” by Maria Haskins (1000 words)
This story is a rather stark and haunting one, about a young man named Jacob who has fallen under the oppressive boot of the machine of the world. The machine of conquest and control. The story to me speaks a lot about erasure. Jacob is lost, without anyone to really depend upon, and in this state his is vulnerable to the words and ideas of the machine. The words that tell him he is worthless, that he is beneath contempt. The words that seek to replace the one that he was given by his parents to keep him safe. It’s the loss of that word that haunts the story, that in the face of the relentless onslaught of the machine, the clockwork menace that seems to devour everything, Jacob is stripped and bare. He can be rewritten, overwritten, and what will be left will no longer really be Jacob. Instead it will be just another cog in the machine, a new part re-purposed to serve this goal of conquest and death. It’s a story that carries with it quite a bit of darkness and pain. Jacob has lost his parents and his sister has left him behind, or at least has already used her word to transform and escape the oppression of the factory, of the machine. There’s a reaching for freedom and flight that pervades the piece, Jacob with the memory of flying and wings and being able to sail away juxtaposed against the harsh ground of the world around him, all dingy factories and barbed wire fences. There is a certain feeling that in the face of this machine there can be resistance but no winning. That it seems too big to stop, too relentless to withstand. And yet the story manages to reach for a sort of hope, for all it is a fragile one, a hope of distance and time, that maybe there can be a respire and maybe even a way to fight back, though the story doesn’t imagine what this might look like. Instead it shows that sometimes even survival is a rebellion, and for Jacob it means finding his freedom, for however it lasts. A fine read!
“The Peculiar Grace of Bees” by J. R. Johnson (1012 words)
This story feels to me like growing up, like the cycle of destruction and construction that makes up life. Or at least our perception of it. The story features a narrator speaking to a you, so that the reader becomes the main character, a child who has lost a wall of their house. And without that wall they are exposed to the elements, left trying to figure out what to do and how to move forward. Parents are oddly absent here and there is a sense I get that it’s to show how solitary growing up can be. That here is this character, this you, who has discovered that part of the security of home, part of being cared for and protected, is an illusion. At least for me, the lack of a wall and the lack of parents is the you learning that there are things that you can’t count on the world providing. That you have to deal with it and move on. The lack of a wall might be an event that drives this home, might be a loss of parents or a parent, that means that the you here does have to be more self-reliant, does have to learn to rebuild the wall all on your own. In doing that, though, in trying to make repairs, there is a growth. What I like about the story is the sense of time and of maturity. [SPOILERS?] The story begins where you have suffered this shock and there is the urge to hide away from it, to escape behind the protection of childish things, toys and the imaginary. But it doesn’t help, and eventually it takes a sort of serenity to proceed, an acceptance of what has happened, to the loss of the wall, and a will to do something about it. The bees come in here to represent this construction and deconstruction, the way the work is managed and manageable. How the you takes this huge task and breaks it down into smaller parts that fit you well enough that you can push forward and recover. The result is not how things were before. That loss is not something that is ever fully healed, and yet it’s not something that people can exactly tell just from looking. It’s different, but it’s solid, and as time passes the hope is that it’s enough, that it will serve for as long as there is a house. And whether this house is physical or mental doesn’t matter, because there’s the feeling that it will hold, and that life will go on. And it’s a beautiful and moving piece that you should definitely check out!
“The Stars that Fall” by Samantha Murray (915 words)
This is a strange and rather poignant story about doom and about taking chances. In it, the main character is going to a friend’s to look at the sky. Not at the stars but at the field of dooms that circle the Earth, that sit out there waiting to descend in order to wipe out the person whose name appears on the doom’s surface. The entire story is rather loaded, this act of seeking out their names among the countless dooms in the sky a way of facing their own mortality but also wanting to know, as if there is a comfort in knowing that it’s out there. The main character knows full well the random and seemingly inevitable nature of the dooms, the way that they strike, leaving less damage than you’d think considering they are like meteors, but still oblitterating the person doomed. And I like how the story moves, revealing slowly the fear that the dooms bring to the surface in the main character, the way that they are afraid to talk about everything that they’ve seen. For their friend, Sara, there is a thrill in it, but the main character [SPOILERS] seems a bit more interested in being ther ein order to be with Sara rather than for the doom watching. Which is sweet and almost romantic but for this backdrop of utter destruction. Of course, to me that’s what the story becomes about, understanding that the world is always on verge of ending, that death, regardless of what form it takes, is always knocking on the door. The realization of this is something it’s hard to come to as a young person, when it seems so detached from death, from real doom. But knowing that it’s real, seeing that it’s real, means that the main character can’t turn away from the reality that they have a limited amount of time to live, a limited amount of time to love, and that if they don’t start taking some chances they might find that it’s too late. And I love how the story frames that, captures that feeling of fear and falling that comes from being honest, from opening up, from taking a chance. And overall it’s a rather magical and lovely story!