“Eyes of Wood, Heart of Stone” by Rebecca Birch (996 words)
No Spoilers: Eamon is a young boy who seeks out the Queen of the Faerie because of the abuse he’s witnessing at home. He’s done his homework and knows the stories, and yet there are secrets that the Queen is hiding, that inform on her own desire to act here. The piece is heavy and flowing, and really deals with not only abuse and what people do trying to cope with it, but also a bit with humanity and the Faerie. The piece subverts expectations when it comes to Faerie bargains, and reveals that even stone can soften at times, perhaps remembering a time when it was organic, alive and warm. The prose is beautiful, the subject dark, and the ending a mix of hope and a recognition of harm done.
Keywords: CW- Abuse, Bargains, Faerie, Parenting, Emotions
Review: This is a rather interesting Faerie story for me for how it frames the Queen of the Faerie, not really as someone who is truly of an entirely different world, but one who used to be human but who traded it away. Which puts an interesting spin on the idea of the Faerie, who have always been something of a mirror, but here who could be a group of self-populating individuals, amoral in some ways because they have traded away the parts of themselves that made them fully human. Which means that the success of the Faerie Court depends on people willing or tricked in giving up their humanity. It’s an opportunity that the Queen, the story’s narrator, has a chance to seize upon, and yet I love that she doesn’t, that this situation causes memory to flare and for a part of herself to remember where she came from, who she was before she became Queen. And so the bargain changes, and the piece shines with a hope that not all cycles simply reproduce themselves, on and on. Especially appreciated is that the Queen was a victim of abuse and chooses not to pass it along, a stroyline that often gets drowned out by the rather problematic idea that abused people necessarily become abusive, that it’s somehow viral or contageous. Instead, it seems to show the power of empathy, of memory, of shared pain, in leading to something better, brighter, where healing and freedom might be possible, if not for the Queen then at least for Eamon. A great read!
“Duck, Duck, Duck” by Samantha Murray (900 words)
No Spoilers: Candice is playing a game with the rest of the children in her grade during recess, a variant of Duck, Duck, Goose (or Duck, Duck, Gray Duck for you weirdos who believe in that sort of thing)—Duck, Duck, Alien. The game reflects some rather serious and unsettling elements of the world, a conflict that the children are being partly shielded from, though obviously it’s expressing itself. And for Candice the game has another layer to it, a way that it’s more personal, more loaded. The piece is tense, building beautifully with each step, about a game in one way but really about something much deeper, much darker than that. Which sharply explores the nature of children’s games, and what they reflect about the societies they come from.
Keywords: Games, School, Aliens, Infection, Children
Review: This piece does a fantastic job of showing how children filter the anxieties and cultural fears of the adults around them, then create from those fears and hatreds and uncertainties games that help them to navigate. But that don’t, as the story shows, necessarily do it in very positive ways. The games are about survival, after all, which means tightening the pack, which means reinforcing the Us vs Them narratives that even adults struggle with, allowing the kids to practice rejecting those who are different because that’s the way the world work. Only in the setting being an alien doesn’t really seem to be purposeful. It seems to be something that’s contracted, that a person passes on to another person. Which haunts Candice. The story slips into second person at times, too, tying the reader to Candice and her fears, and her vulnerabilities. It gets at this growing dread that’s there because being an alien is something of a virus. That you’ll catch it. That you’ll be _the alien_ and therefore shunned, therefore hated. Therefore taken away to be tortured and killed. It’s not a very happy story, but very effectively told, the horror rising and rising and left at the end without a promise of relief. There’s a chest-tightening feel to the prose, a weight that comes from knowing what could be and what might be and oh god what you don’t want to be but, but... In any case, it’s a wonderful story that hits and hits hard and you should definitely check out!
“Dragon Meat” by Helen French (853 words)
No Spoilers: Dyna is a younger person who has lost their dragon, Rolly, who had been something more than a pet perhaps but shared the same kind of relationship with Dyna. One of a deep bond and loyalty but also annoyance and occasional intense frustration. The story follows Dyna as they deal with this sudden change in their life and the conflicting emotions about what has happened and how best to honor the memory of Rolly. It’s a bit of a strange story but one that captures how people relate to animals, especially ones that aren’t...exactly nice. That are trouble, that are work, but that also have strong personalities and that fill a space that goes beyond mass and size. So for me it’s a rather quiet piece about grief wrapped in a fantasy shell for added flavor.
Keywords: Loss, Dragons, Butchering, Meat, Memory
Review: Losing an animal is a rather interesting experience, in part because relationships between animals and humans can be intense in ways that those between humans and other humans are not. An animal isn’t exactly a person, after all—at least from the sound of Rolly, the dragon was more a pet or at least domesticated animal rather than a friend to Dyna. Rolly was fierce and difficult and older, and Dyna’s feelings about Rolly are tinged with both sorrow and guilt. Sorrow that they’ve lost Rolly, but also guilt that they seem to be both upset at Rolly for going and less-than-impressed with a lot of Rolly’s behavior over the years. Even in death, the dragon is frustrating, and yet beneath that frustration there’s a hurt that Dyna’s not exactly dealing with, trying to tell themself that there’s nothing to feel bad about. And so for me the story delves into those relationships that are complex and messy, and what happens when one half of that relationship dies. Dyna must face what they are feeling, must try to find a way to come to terms with what Rolly was to them—pet, nuisance, friend, companion. And ultimately they must try to make peace with their complex, messy feelings about everything. I like how the butchering, too, can be seen as an attempt at compartmentalization, trying to cut Rolly up into manageable chunks to deal with, and how it’s not entirely successful, how it doesn’t quite cut up the emotions that need expressing. A wonderful read!
“The Ghost in Angelica’s Room” by Maria Haskins (1000 words)
No Spoilers: Angelica is struggling with the loss of her father, with the weight of the fear that’s pressing down on her. A fear that she carries at all times, that she can’t seem to find a way out from under, except one way. This is a dark piece, about hauntings and about trauma. Angelica’s home life has never been the greatest, but things have taken a further tumble thanks to the most recent blow, and the story in many ways shows the gravity and momentum of despair and pain. The way things build up unless they are faced, unless they are named and dealt with. The story is a fairly bleak one, so fair warning, but I think it does leave room for hope, not that things will be easy, but that maybe they can get better.
Keywords: CW- Suicide, Guns, Loss, Ghosts, Death, Cats
Review: If Winston had died I was 100% willing to walk away from this story. Because fuck, this one is wrenching enough. But as Winston survives (spoiler warning?), I’m glad I stuck with this one, which is difficult and unsettling and traces the contours of grief and loss and pain. Angelica is hurting—from feeling like it’s partly her fault that her father killed himself, and from being the one to find him, and from all the other things in her life that were already difficult before—family strife and feeling unseen and just a lot of things which probably contributed to her father’s death as well, which that death has made even more difficult for Angelica. And the piece unfolds around Angelica and the ghost of her father, the feelings she has, the gun that she carries with her now perhaps because she hopes that it will bring her attention, that maybe it’s something drastic enough that someone will cut through the miasmic haze around her and try to help. Friends. Or her mother. Anyone. For me, it becomes about hoping that someone will...not stop her, exactly, but give her help enough that she will want to live. That she won’t be so afraid. And for me the piece shows how that fear has turned Angelica into a sort of living ghost, able to see the dead because of how close she is to them, which is really fucking bleak. Luckily, the story imagines a ...well, not exactly bright ending, but one that leaves room for the characters to being to heal, to maybe move forward. By finally reaching out for each other and maybe facing what’s happened and how they feel about it. The story doesn’t follow it very far, drawing back at the point when a turn is possible, maybe occurring, while leaving it open whether or not it actually happens. Which makes for a rather devastating read that you should definitely check out!