|Art by Vincent Chong|
“Molting Season” by J.B. Park (3130 words)
No Spoilers: A person manages to get themself a new body, and yet in doing so they are left with the still-living-but-dormant body of their former self. Faced with this, and a growing sense of unease, they balance their desire to act with their seeming inability to actually take steps to change anything. It’s a strange story that mixes tenderness and disgust to great and unsettling effect.
Keywords: Doppelganger, Apathy, Ambition, Transformation, Procrastination
Review: This is a story that really does a great job of looking at change and at anxiety and apathy. The main character has lived their life by hiding, by being disgusted at themself, at their body. Always putting off taking action to tomorrow, to the next day, never seeming to get to the point where they do something to help themself, to make a positive difference in their life. Except that somehow they get a new body, and a new lease on life. Kind of. What the story does that I very much appreciate is keep the narrator in their own head, even as they’re out of their own body. Many things that they felt were holding them back were indeed holding them back, and the new body allows them to move forward in many ways, but there’s still a lot that lingers, that is hard to shake. Because having the new body doesn’t shake the long trauma of having had their old one. And it doesn’t erase their anger and hurt that they direct at that body. There’s this lovely tenderness that the narrator shows their own body even as they keep thinking they need to kill it, and that conflict between what they want and what they do is compelling, real, gives the piece this draining weight. It’s unflinching in its language and descriptions and the ending is haunting, visceral. It’s a story that to me speaks to the ways that we put off what needs doing, the ways we want to change, the conflict between our desire to change and our inability to, our hesitation to. It’s difficult and complex and just a great read!
“He Dies Where I Die” by Michael Harris Cohen (5513 words)
No Spoilers: Dion is a Zama Zamas, a person who mines illegally in abandoned tunnels and hopes to scrape enough gold together to escape the confining life he leads. His partner refuses to delve beyond a certain point, though, and so Dion decides to press on alone—very much at his own risk. The story features a creeping dread, a horror that grows and grows the deeper that Dion descends. There’s a great mix of supernatural elements brushing against the human fear of closed spaces and the sublime. It’s a scary story, one that makes excellent use of setting, darkness, and memory.
Keywords: Mines, Underground, Ants, Memory, Monsters
Review: I love the slow descent of this story, which mirrors the literal descent of Dion as he makes his way after a secret vein of gold. At its heart, the story for me becomes about hope, and a little bit about greed perhaps, but mostly about the dreams that Dion has of getting out, of moving to someplace better, and how that becomes a sort of trap, how the setting uses that to tear him apart. Because the steps that Dion takes are small, incremental movements toward the reality he finds deep in the tunnels, the presences that he doesn’t want to acknowledge, that he doesn’t want to see, and so remains ignorant of until it’s too late. And I love how the tunnels and what live there use his memories, use his nostalgia and his pride, against him to draw him further and further from where he’s supposed to be. At every stage he knows he should stop, but in some ways there’s no other option. Once he’s committed to the first step, pushed there because of the general lack he has to live with, his fate seems sealed. And it’s a solid, scary story for me, because it unfolds underground, deep, in this subliminal zone where anything might exist. Like deep underwater, it crosses this line beyond which the lines are blurry and there be dragons. Or, well, other things just as dangerous. And it’s just a thrilling, satisfying horror story that does pull the curtains back and reveals exactly what’s there, and I must say for me it’s every bit as creepy as promised. An excellent read!