|Art by Tomislav Tikulin|
“The Better Part of Drowning” by Octavia Cade (5208 words)
This is a story about survival and about hunger, about predation and about what it takes to live in a hostile environment. Alix is a diver, a kid who lives largely under the docks of a nameless city, her life a constant struggle between earning enough to live and not being killed—by the giant crabs that could devour her, by the other children who enforce their own kind of laws, and by other people even more unsavory. The setting is what defines the lives of the characters, their survival dependent on their ability to be brutal, to be efficient, to be skilled and silent and deadly. It serves them well enough, even as it never seems to serve them well enough for things to get better. But I love what the story does with food and with hunger, with how the kids are taught to prey upon each other, to feed on each other, while at the same time they are preyed upon by everything above them, too. It becomes a sort of ecosystem where they exist at the bottom, the most vulnerable and therefor the easiest to consume. Like small predators that have to navigate a world alone as children, have to first survive to become something else, something different, Alix and her friends are faced with the idea that in order to survive they must in some way participate in the horror of what is happening to them. It’s difficult and it’s unsettling and fuck it’s dark but it’s almost great to see how Alix tries to reach for her own kind of compassion amidst all of this, her own kind of code. One that comes from an intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be at the bottom and a desire to do better. Which might not mean to do good. But to be better. To try and give more of those like her a chance, while staying alive herself, while working for a day when maybe things will be better, when it won’t all be about who lives by devouring everyone else. It’s a beautiful story and a chilling one and you should definitely check it out!
“The Sound of His Voice Like the Colour of Salt” by L Chan (3228 words)
This is a beautiful story about ghosts and about haunting, about power and about place and about progress. It features a nameless ghost boy who finds himself trapped in the place where he died, everything changing around him, the only constants being the other ghosts of the house. Until he sees someone new, and he begins to learn that there might be options for him that he never considered. And I love the language of the piece, the ethereal landscape that the prose conjures, creepy and unsettling and full of hurt, these ghosts as victims and all lonely but incapable of really being there for each other, lacking the physicality and compassion needed to really help each other. Until the ghost boy learns of what else is out there, the progress that time has brought, not in terms of giving him back what he has lost but by giving him somewhere to go, something to do. I love how the story reveals that the ghosts, after so long, become their own weights, their lost pasts acting as anchors they can’t even remember the importance of. And I like how the ghost boy is able to begin to move on, to shed the part of himself that he doesn’t remember, to embrace what remains, for as long as he has, to still forge a new future even as he’s already dead, even as he’s mostly defined by who he was in life. The story seems to ask what good is holding onto a past that you can’t remember and only seems to hold you back? It’s a call to let go of what hasn’t worked along with the fear of what comes next, to embrace new times and new technologies and new possibilities. It’s about moving on, not into erasure or a final end but to the unexplored, where there might be something to be learned and gained. Maybe not, for the ghost boy, his name, but his name was only something he was given, and by forgetting it he has a new lease to create his own. A fantastic story!