“Chrysalis in Sunlight” by Sarena Ulibarri (7053 words)
No Spoilers: After a failed alien invasion that still left a great many people dead, including almost all of Erin’s family, the lingering effects of the war can be seen most in those soldiers who were Exposed to the alien bodies. Including Erin’s Aunt Melissa. To make matters worse, the Exposed have started to manifest a new symptom—a strange webbing that threatens to encase their entire bodies. So Erin, who lives with chronic pain especially when sitting in one place for too long, must drive for days to bring Melissa to a treatment facility in San Diego (from Denver). It’s not exactly a great prospect to begin with, but with Melissa’s condition, which involves downswings that border on catatonia and upswings that involve vivid hallucinations, it’s even more a gamble. The piece is nuanced and complicated, drawings its characters full of issues and pains. Through it all, though, it’s a story about family, and healing, and survival. For Melissa, for Erin, and for the world following this alien attack.
Keywords: Aliens, Family, War, Trauma, Transformation, Healing, Memories, Chronic Pain
Review: So much of this story for me is about living with pain. Not just the chronic physical pain that Erin has, but also the emotional pain of just living with absences that are painful, with scars that don’t leave marks. Part of that can be like Melissa’s PTSD, but aside from that I feel it’s the kind of pain that Erin has to face so often in the form of those people who are no longer there. The voices that have gone silent. The memories that have been lost. She’s a survivor, having lived through the invasion and everything that’s come afterward, but for all that her motto is to keep moving, she’s still in many ways stuck wishing after a past that still feels almost within reach. At least, in her aunt there is this glimmer of hope that everything hasn’t been taken, that there are still connections back to her father and grandmother and everyone else. And, really, what the story reveals is that these injuries to leave hurts long after the flesh has recovered, but really the only way to treat them is to keep moving forward.
The action of the story is certainly compelling, and creepy, and just generally capturing this idea that the setting is one still very much trying to recover from this war, this attack. With the suddenness of it, and the senselessness of it. In many ways, I feel it weaves into the idea of illness and sudden, chronic conditions. There is no exact Reason that the aliens attacked, but it is up to humanity to try and keep on, to live with the loss and the hardship that it brings. And in some ways to try and find ways to both incorporate that struggle into their identity and push back against it, refusing to be defined by their pain but neither seeking to pretend that it doesn’t exist. Like with Erin, humanity has to keep moving, because stopping for too long brings with it the pain that’s left with everything that is gone. All the people and all the potential, which is now shifted. It is not less potential, exactly, but it _is_ different, and there’s a certain amount of grief that goes along with that, coupled with the grief that everyone has about losing family.
And really I just like the balance the story tries to reach with regards to pain and progress. Healing and remembering. There’s no use in trying to pretend that things can just go back to the way things were. But neither can the past be entirely ignored. The trick, and the one that Erin seems to grapple with throughout the story, is in finding a way to honor the past and learn from it while still healing from the injuries it has left. It might mean never being free of the pain, but also finding ways to make the pain less, and keep going regardless. It’s a moving and bittersweet story that really dives into pain and family, aftermath and illness. And it’s one heck of a read!