|Art by Tyler Edlin|
As the year nears its end, Beneath Ceaseless Skies takes a moment to step into the dark forest in these two short stories from the penultimate issue of 2018. The pieces follow characters who are compelled to enter the woods, to revisit old feelings and old fears as they face the unavoidable and often unjust rules that draw a wide line between the natural world and the civilized one. Both main characters travel not so much because they want to, because each has their own reasons to want to avoid the shadows of the trees. But they go, because of their devotion to those they care about, because of their ties to their families, and for themselves as well, to prove that they can, and to make a stand. They’re two rather bittersweet stories, full of hope but also an acknowledgment of issues that cannot be easily defeated, shadows that linger among the tall trees of the forest. To the reviews!
“Forest Spirits” by Michael J. DeLuca (5671 words)
No Spoilers: Cole and Tethas are on the run from a government hungry for the energy provided by all living things, by the magic that can be wrung from seeds. With the growth of this magic use, though, has come a whole slew of consequences, namely the devastation of the natural environment. They are artists, performers—Tethas a dancer and Cole a playwright—and their goal is to produce provocative and subversive art in order to get people to stop using magic. In order to get people to back away from the direction they’re taking the world, where scarcer and scarcer resources will lead to larger and larger problems. Of course, in order to continue on with their art, they have to escape the hunters after them and make it through the forest that Cole grew up in, surrounded by the memories of how things were and might never be again.
Keywords: Art, Dancing, Seeds, Rebellion, Deer, Hunting
Review: I like how the story casts this issue, where the overuse of magical resources has completely changed the natural world. It echoes with a lot of real-world instances where things that were supposed to last, that were taken for granted (in the story the pebbles in the river) have been destroyed. And that things are escalating, so that if action isn’t taken now, the changes will be irreversible. And I like that the story shows that the characters have to act...not exactly hypocritically, but certainly in a way where they can’t live entirely by their own morals. That they need magic to boost their signal. It makes the case for using some of the tools of corruption in order to fight against it. And while it doesn’t go too much into that, I do appreciate that it’s mentioned. More, I like how this is put down to a rather small scale. Yes, the goal is to make these big statements to convince many people to change their behavior, but in the story it’s much more about reaching a small group. Just the hunters, who Cole feels a certain connection to because they are like his father—connected to the natural world and so perhaps more able to see the changes that people in the cities would not experience. And I like the relationship between the characters, as well, both relying on the other and believing in their mission while fearing that they might not measure up. It’s a quick and well built and fine read!
“Frozen Meadow, Shining Sun” by Emily McCosh (5492 words)
No Spoilers: Opere’s older sister, Aimi, has gone missing in a snowstorm, and the village is about ready to give up on her. For Opere, though, something is off. Aimi would never get lost in the woods, which were like a second home for her, a second skin. And when Opere sees an injured fox as a new storm begins to build, she knows that there has to be more going on. The truth goes deeper than she suspects, though, and the storm is set to wipe away a lot of her misconceptions, threatening to bury her in worries and griefs. It’s a piece very much focused on family, and fear, and freedom. And the feeling of being caught between worlds and families, wanting to exist in multiple places at once and, ultimately, having to make a difficult decision.
Keywords: Snow, Family, Sisters, Foxes, Forests, Fear, Marriage
Review: A lot of this story speaks to me of confrontations with the truth, which in turn is wrapped up in the idea of growing up. So far, Opere has been afraid of the forest outside her house, comfortable at home and in some ways unwilling to see the growing conflict in the people around her, especially in her sister, who cannot be happy cooped up in the village. For Aimi, the forest is a part of her, and though Opere knows this, understands it on a deep level, she’s also avoiding it, willfully ignoring it. Until it comes to a head, and she is pushed into a confrontation with what’s really going on. With the true nature of her family, and especially the different choices that her mother and Aimi have made. It’s wrenching in many ways, because of how much Opere just wants this to work, doesn’t want to have to lose anyone. She can see that there’s something wrong, an injustice in the way that the village treats the kitsune. She knows that there should be a way to exist in both worlds at once, except for the bullshit rules people have made that you can’t. That you have to choose. That, for me, is the moment of entering a different stage of growing up, where the belief in the system begins to crack under the knowledge of its problems. And I love that Opere still wants to be a bridge, still refuses to play along completely with the strict divide between village and forest. Her fear doesn’t vanish, but I think she learns that there’s equal things to fear in the village as there is in the forest. And it’s a touching and complex piece that walks the line between heartwarming and heartbreaking. A wonderful story!