|Art by Angus Yi|
"The Ghost of You Lingers" by Kevin McNeil (3503 words)
Well the publication is certainly living up to its name with this one, which features a couple searching for just the right new home. Only one of the couple is actually a serial killer who has been preying on people in the financial district for some time. It's an interesting story, one layered in creepy with the main character being a sort of nebulous figure. They are either male or female, it's never really revealed, and I like that aspect of the story because it makes the killer more faceless, more anonymous, which seems to be the point to the tale. That killers are out there blending in. That they act and that they leave behind these wounds that people never really see. The wounds are intangible but in the story they are also real things, seeping holes in the basements of houses that seem portals straight to Hell. Or perhaps just to the dark hearts of the killers. This is a much different and darker take on the "looking for a house" story that I have seen a few places recently. It's a trend that I've enjoyed and I like seeing the different ways writers play with that idea of looking for a home, of taking on some sort of legacy or starting a new one. It's certainly well written and filled with some chilling moments. There is definitely the sense that there are horrors going on that are covered only by the thinnest layer of paint or smiles and yet most people seem to willfully miss it. For some, though, the darkness is much easier to see. A dark story worth checking out.
"An Ocean of Eyes" by Cassandra Khaw (3566 words)
Another creepy one, this one with a more Lovecraftian flare as a woman meets a man in Ulthar and has to deal with him being a right bastard. He sees her and decides that he must have her, not being used to women telling him no because he is so slimy and persistent and rather abusive with his attentions. He pushes, and he cajoles and he refuses to listen. And Sigrid, the woman, gives him every opportunity to go. She never encourages, is simply polite and he takes that for an invitation, that her lack of giving him a no means that she will give him a yes. It's terrible but recognizable as something that happens quite a bit, that people (mostly guys) do to other people (mostly women). And so in some ways this is a story of cosmic justice, because Ulthar is a fair place. Kind in some ways and very strange. Things are paid for in memories, and as the man lingers he slowly forgets himself, loses himself, until there is very little left. But still he persists, until Sigrid can wait no longer. Having given him three chances, she shows that she's not exactly human and along with the whole of Ulthar rises up and sees him destroyed. It is a startling story, but I really loved the language of it and the character of Sigrid, who is cool and calm and hiding some serious claws. Another solid piece. Hurrah!
"A Shot of Salt Water" by Lisa L. Hannett (4857 words)
Well that was a strange one. A bit less overtly creepy than the first two stories, and with a lot more world building, this one is about a man left behind while his partner goes off to the sea, to trade and raid and grow up. Theirs was a rather innocent or childish relationship, young and green and without really knowing how it all worked. They were excited to grow up but things changed when it happened, when she went off to the sea and came back not needing him. Came back with a child that she stole from the sea. Rid, the man, can't really handle that. Can't handle that he failed her, that his entire world has been turned inside out and that he has to has that his gender role is stifling and restraining and he wants to go back to the romance and the love of before. The story does a great job of reversing a lot of gender roles without really making it seem reversed, without making a big deal that here it is women that leave and have more traditionally masculine traits. And the men are the ones that stay home and worry and are expected to give up their lives for children, who are judged by their ability to produce offspring. The world building is great here, quite effective, and the story itself is slow and building and definitely dark though not really scary. More sad, more a slow realization by Rid that his world is not what he thought it would be and the only way out is to defy the role assigned to him and leave. It's an interesting story, slow and lovely, and with a nice ending filled with loneliness and resolve. Indeed.
"Momentary Sage" by Eric Schwitzgebel (2025 words)
This is definitely the most abstract and is, like the last story, dealing with parenting in some way. Here a fairy-child is born to a couple and has a tusk instead of one of its hands, and this tusk can basically destroy anything. There is no way to restrain it or cap it. And it is also born with a philosophy, with a way of thinking that the only time that matters in the present, that the past and future are immaterial and that it would rather kill itself than suffer displeasure. And so it is a terror. And really this seems like a statement on children in general, that all babies have this philosophy and want to die when they are thwarted, and are only taught otherwise when they gain sentience after about eighteen months. Until then they are these little philosophical tyrants that basically wreck their parents' lives. But in this case the father takes the child out to the forest and waits until it suffers a moment of displeasure and then lets it destroy itself. There is a bit more going on here that feels a bit like Greek myth but I think I'm missing something to contextualize that correctly. For what it is, the story seems to sum up being a parent of a baby quite well, being hostage to its whims because it's philosophy is entirely selfish and uncaring of past or future. It's effective for that, and an interesting thought experiment to read. Indeed.