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“Promises of Spring” by Caspian Gray (5832 words)
This is a story about rituals and identity, cost and wishes. It centers Cody and Tay, two friends whose relationship was irreparably altered on the day when Cody (at the time Codi and a closeted trans man trying to figure himself out) took part in a ritual to get his heart’s desire, not knowing that the price for that wish would be taken from Tay in pain and blood and trauma. The story is split between the time of the ritual and a time five years later, when Cody and Tay meet up again to try and kill the source of what happened, in an attempt to perhaps bring closure to their experience. What follows, though, is not quite what anyone expected. I like how the story handles the prospect of these characters getting what they wanted but also not knowing what it would cost, and then having to deal with it, the guilt and the pain and the mix of emotions. Because their lives are better, but they have come at the expense of someone else, and for Cody it’s someone he cares a great deal about. And I like that Cody is not left with having everything that happened to him taken away, isn’t cursed or punished really for what happened. I like that the story recognizes that even as he got his wish he lost something else, something that he never really dealt with fully, and that the story seems to imply that there are no short cuts, or maybe that there shouldn’t be. It’s an interested and complex story that I think was handled with a compassionate touch. The ending is both uplifting and yet also uncomfortable, because of how the last line plays out, because there’s this lingering feeling that even now something has happened that wasn’t quite foreseen, that not everything can just be erased. it’s a nice take on the rather classic wish having unforeseen consequences trope and I like what the story does with that idea. It’s a dark and heavy story with some light showing through, and you should definitely give it a read!
“And With Her Went the Spring” by Caroline Ratajski (3507 words)
This story delves into the inequities brought on by misogyny, the ways in which women are at risk and forced to live with the burden of that risk, always at fault for any violence that finds them, always stripped of their agency and safety. More than that, though, the story also looks at how men are affected by this as well, how they are groomed to become something like monsters. How they are taught to harm and taught to expect to not have to deal with the consequences of their actions as long as those actions fall against those who are more vulnerable. The characters of the story are unnamed, the better to see through them to the archetypes and nearly-universals that they represent. The plot follows the disappearance of a girl. But also not that at all, because even the language of that erases the reality of it, the violence of it, the guilt of it. So I should say the plot follows the assault and murder of a girl that gets framed as a disappearance, as the girl being lost, which again puts even the linguistic action on the girl, as if it’s something she does, as if it’s something that’s her fault, that she got lost somehow. And I like how the story splits between her perspective and that of her boyfriend/suitor/etc., [SPOILERS] who assaults her and kills her and then hides her body and acts like somehow he’s the victim, that people shouldn’t point out that she’s missing because it makes him feel bad. There’s a heavy and dark magic to the piece as well, where the woman is part of some larger narrative that is reaching or has reached a breaking point, where the lost girls are no longer going to stay lost, and the result is horrifying and intense. I’m not the hugest of fans of stories where the main payoff is revenge, but I do think this one goes deeper than that, into how we tell stories and how dangerous they can be, and how perhaps they can be twisted to try and break down the systemic oppressions that keep the cycle of violence and victimization intact. It’s a gutting and fine read!