|Art by Sandeep Karunakaran|
“Necksnapper” by MP Johnson (1980 words)
Well this is a quick and nicely disturbing story about a woman snapping the necks of crows. As a compromise. As a way to convince herself that she’s okay, that she’s not as bad as her parents, who have ended up in prison. The story plays mostly inside her head as she works, a single night to get enough money to maybe last a month, to earn something of a reprieve. The tension and the creeping dread, though, arise from this action, from the growing toll of what she’s doing. It’s one thing to sort of let the world blur, to zone out while you do an uncomfortable task, but there’s also this question of how that can be considered better than other crimes. The story builds to this confrontation between Delayna and what she’s doing, and it’s a confrontation that can seem familiar. Not in the specific, not in the literal snapping of bird necks (I hope, but I’m not judging), but rather with the ways that people justify what they do, what they participate in, for money. It doesn’t make her parents romantic heroes for not falling in line but it does question how well Delayna should be sleeping sound, given that she’s obviously doing Bad Things. That her Bad Things might be legal doesn’t really make them right, and it certainly doesn’t make the task of snapping bird necks any easier. But it is looking at the harm that people can do by repeatedly committing acts of harm and weighing that against those who do more. We have a tendency to be harsher on people who to a larger bad thing, and yet the people who do small things constantly end up tipping the scales more, it seems. How the story reveals and complicates that is an uncomfortable but wonderful look at the human mind and the human capacity for doing harm. It’s hard to look directly at but it’s also necessary to see into the subtle aspects of harm and evil. A fantastic read!
“When The Night Blooms, An Artist Transmutes: A Three-Act Play” by Nin Harris (3196 words)
Whoa. This is a lovely and strange and creepy and vibrantly Gothic story told as a play that I wish I could see performed. It features a young woman coming across a tower with a ghostly and grisly secret, but also a tie to this person, a tie that allows a centuries-long curse to perhaps find a conclusion. And along the way it’s also about the scars of colonialism, murder, and monstrosity that can mark a place, a person, and the fabric of time itself. The cast is small, just three character, two of them long dead and the third, Kasmawati, an artist finding in the tower something to paint. Or wanting to find that and finding instead a link in a chain of abuse and murder, a chain that had wrapped around the entire world, and especially Kasmawati’s home. But a chain that might finally be breaking down, falling apart. I love how the tower acts as a prison of sorts, is called so by the ghosts, and yet how the colonizer’s ghost, the murderer’s ghost, sees this as his prison in many ways. Like he is the greatest monster there. Like he is the one with the power. The story pulls back the layers of history and myth, bringing Kasmawati through this journey where she can reclaim some of the heritage that was suppressed by those that came to dominate her home. Where she can feel and experience some power in the face of those ghosts that still linger with their hunger and their curses. The framing of the story as a play gives the piece both a vivid theatrical feel (meaning every action is directed and meaningful and loaded) and evokes a lot of the very narrative techniques popular during the age of colonization. The Gothic fascination with the “exotic” and sublime is taken and twisted here, dissected for all to see. The ghost is a ghost but also less. The monster is a monster but just a pale shade when compared to those that have always been present in this place. And so we as readers get to see this drama unfold, this confrontation, and get to see that some old wounds can be healed, or at least can start to heal. That hope sometimes looks like terror, like a monster climbing a lonely tree under a heavy moon. And I just love what the story does with names, as well, how it focuses on how the identities of the people living under European colonization, the people who were renamed, stamped with the mark of the West, and how here we get to see something different happen, get to see the power of naming returned to the previously oppressed, so that murder gets called murder, so that the true history of what happened is not erased or romanticized. And it’s just an amazing and powerful story that you should definitely check out. Go read it!!!