|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"Dustbaby" by Alix E. Harrow (4724 words)
This story takes the reader back to an alternate 1930s where the Dust Bowl is in full swing. Instead of it being solely the result of human shaping of the Midwest, though, this story imagines it as something a bit different, as the land itself rebelling, trying to shake off humanity and remake itself. It's frame as the end of the world first, then as merely a new change by the end, but the action of the story remains the same. Selma, a woman who has lost her husband and newborn child, finds a baby in the fields. A baby who is not the one she lost, who is not even wholly human but something else, something different and dangerous, at least to human interests. It's a striking tale, full of the grit and dust of the times, the hopeless despair that must have come when the Dust Bowl blew in and settled, that must have felt like the world was ending. Magic imbues the events with even more meaning, strange signs that point to the land being alive, being aware, and not willing to tolerate the invaders trying to change it. The loneliness, the loss, are accomplished with stunning language and visuals and I loved the storms, the way the dust would roll in and devour metal, or change crops. And I liked that, in the end, the story is not completely without hope, though there is the strong implication that in order to stay in the Midwest humans are going to have to learn different ways, are going to have to shape themselves to the land instead of trying to shape the land to their needs. A fine story.
"A July Story" by K.L. Owens (6050 words)
Okay well this is a rather melancholy story, sad and moving and a little bit bleak. In it, a man named Kitten finds himself trapped inside a house, a house that takes him through time and space, letting him leave only once every few years for a month. For July. And only during that time does he seem to age, like all the time in the house is eaten, consumed. Finally he's kicked out in the 2000s and finds himself headed for town, still unsure of what the house is, or what it wants with him, aware somehow that it wants something but lacking some key to unlocking its mysteries. In town, though, in the Pacific Northwest of America, he meets a young girl who reminds him of the sister he lost when he stepped into the house. This girl, Lana, becomes his guide, and awakens in Kitten a longing for people, a desire to be in the world, to be recognized. But he knows it's dangerous, knows that he cannot stay. What he doesn't seem to expect is exactly what happens, which opens the story up for even greater tragedy but also its shot at redemption. [SPOILERS!!!] Because Kitten doesn't expect Lana to enter the house when he's gone, doesn't expect it though he couldn't get her to promise not to. And so the house leaves him behind. That was one aspect of the story I which the story had turned back to, because Kitten is lost at that point, but the story is about the house, and the house moves on, taking Lana who, unlike Kitten, seems to understand that there's something it needs, something that needs to be mended and that requires needle and thread. Unlike Kitten, who stayed trapped for years and lived for those Julys of relative freedom, Lana is unwilling to stay stuck. The story is cyclical in some ways, captive making way for captive, but there is a sense that the cycle might end, that whatever the house wants will soon be seen. It's an interesting story, an interesting premise that almost doesn't fit in the restraints of a short story. But it hits and it is filled with the feeling of closed in spaces and a unvoiced but very present desire. Quite good.