|Art by Vukkostic / Fotolia|
“Mr. Try Again” by A. Merc Rustad (4338 words)
No Spoilers: A girl named Violet disappears. So do a string of young boys. Then, someone who used to be Violet reappears. She lies about what happened. But the truth follows her, nudging at her feet until she decides to break the cycle of violence, abuse, and death. The story is visceral and fucking dark, and looks closely at names and functions, abuse and escape. (as an aside, the story pairs very well with another from the author, “The Gentleman of Chaos,” especially in how it looks at names and magic and cycles of abuse) It’s by no means a happy story, but it does find something approaching hope and happiness in its ending. At the very least, it finds the resolve to push toward the dismantling of the systems of abuse, and in that it brings something of a hit of light to the piece.
Keywords: CW- Abuse, CW- Violence, Abduction, Names, Lies
Review: This is a rather difficult story, not just because of its themes but because of how unflinchingly it looks at cycles of violence and the ways that the abuse of children is allowed to happen. How adults, in hesitating or refusing to believe young people, and especially young girls, create a system where they can be abused and abused. And the story looks closely at that, following Violet as she ceases to be Violet, as she becomes someone who must lure and kill and slice and serve. So that she must actively participate in the violence because once she does it’s all her fault. And where that line is drawn, when it is considered her fault, is the moment that someone sees her and wants to make her a victim. It’s an impossible place to be in, one where there is no protection, no justice. And in some ways the woman who was once Violet embraces it, first to escape, and then to return to the place of her abuse, to a place where she was made to do terrible things, in order to try and make something better. In order to tear apart at least this one place that hurts so many people. Because she sees that there are more seats of power than just the Dim Place. More monsters than just Mr. Try Again. That there are so many men walking around with a nice face on one side, all teeth on the other. And that they must be stopped. And that she has made herself into just the weapon to do it. Not that it alone solves much. But that it can be a necessary step. That first the men must be stopped by any means, and only after that destruction can something better be built. The story doesn’t really concentrate on what that might look like, because the first task dominates, but I feel the implication is there that, after the destruction, maybe something new can grow. Not that the woman who used to be Violet will necessarily have a place there. But that she can still work toward making it happen. It’s a violent, unsettling read, but one very much worth exploring. Go check it out!
“Crave” by Lilliam Rivera (2882 words)
No Spoilers: Taina is a young girl with a baby brother and a growing resentment about the role she must play in her family. The role that women are expected to play in the village where she lives. Where it is on them to give up food so that the boys and men can become strong enough to work the fields. That the women must give up more so that they can give to La Caridad, the town’s monstrous landlord. The piece explores this arrangement and Taina’s anger, creating a story that mixes obligation and horror and hits with devastating impact. Bleak and draining, the story shows the weight of these things forced onto Taina’s shoulders, and the tragedy of all she can expect.
Keywords: Rituals, Feeding, Siblings, Hunger, Inequality
Review: Well both stories in this issue happen to feature innocent doggos falling victim to monsters. Hm. But to the story. I like how it frames the hunger that Taina feels, this anger that she has that she is being forced to give up her portion in order that her brother can have more. The story shows just how this works, and for me a large part of the story is revealing just how deep this cycle, this ritual goes. I feel that sometimes when dealing with societal issues, there’s a tendency to think that by resisting or rebelling against something, it can be easily overcome. And yet societal issues run deep, into just about every aspect of life. This inequality that Taina feels and wants to push back against isn’t some benign old woman who can be toppled with a shove. It’s a hunger and powerful monster who is quick to punish those who step out of line, and it’s something that Taina is taught very harshly in this piece. For me, then, the story becomes about the impossible choices that people have to make in these situations, that Taina has to make in this situation. Either she can accept the way things are and play along, or she can try to escape and have to deal with having no support, no safety. Escape here isn’t as easy as just walking away, because there doesn’t seem a place to walk to, each village probably having a similar monster, a La Caridad of its own. As far as this system reaches, so too the cycle of hunger and loss and punishment stretch as well, and it’s difficult and wrenching and rather uncomfortable. Where the last story gave something of a hope of things to come, this story chooses a different path, one less rebellious and more about giving in, giving up, and protecting what you can. And it does it in a darkly beautiful way. A great read!