|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"Daisy" by Paul DesCombaz (1021 words)
This is a story of change, of desperation, of slow despair. The story follows the nameless main character as he waits in a basement following what must be the end of the world. Along with his injured neighbor it's rather clear from the beginning that there really is not going to be a good way out of this situation. The setting, post-apocalyptic, features dogs that are no longer simply dogs, that can talk and that are mightily changed from their former selves. Daisy was the main character's dog, and waits for him to be ready to come out and face the full weight of the situation. It takes some time, as the story is basically about the slow crawl of despair after the fall of civilization, the depths that the main character sinks as he knows there will be no rescue. The story does a great job of chronicling that, of making it so that he never really even hopes for rescue, that his thoughts aren't on what might come next. There is just the growing realization that he can't hide forever, that life isn't really worth living at a certain point of lack. Or at least that it deserves to go out with a bang, with a fight. It's a rather bleak story but one well told and rather creepy, with some nice imagery and a fine sense of growing dread. A fine way to start the Halloween month.
"White Elephant" by Shannon Peavey (1004 words)
Well this is a rather dark and disturbing story, another fine addition to this October collection of flash fiction. It focuses on a person going to a party which…well, feels kind of off. Like a key party, almost, but where everyone has taken out a tooth, and with it a piece of themselves. A piece that they want to be rid of, that they want to replace with something else, anything else. It’s a story that’s just as much about desperation as the last story, but here it’s not the end of the world being confronted but a much more common problem. Rage and abuse. The main character wants to shed their anger so that they won’t scare their children, something understandable and raw. Things aren’t exactly that easy, though, and the story examines the cost of such a thing, the trade involved. That each person gives something away and also takes something new, so that they aren’t really getting all the way better but hoping for something they can handle better. Something that won’t have the same effect. There is a sense of inevitability in the story, the idea that you can’t really get rid of your problems so easily, and that there really is no ranking how bad someone has it. Are any of the characters better off after the trade? It certainly feels like what they’re really doing is getting stuck in a different rut, are seeking some pill or instant cure, and that likely that won’t be enough for them. It’s a dark story, well told, that sinks slowly as it reaches its end. Very well done.
"Thirty-two Years in the Cooler" by Alter S. Reiss (946 words)
This story might not be as dark or disturbing as the others this month, but it does manage to capture a sense of loss, time, nostalgia, and power. It features another unnamed main character who is out on parole from prison, after spending thirty-two years locked away for being an artificer for organized crime, for creating constructs so clever and new that not giving up their secrets more than doubled the sentence they served. Now out, the main character is a night watchman at a breaking yard far away from the city where they worked before, taking care to not break the terms of their parole. They could, easily enough, because those constructs they created so long ago are still around, still potent and deadly. Still waiting for someone to call. But time in prison has changed the main character, in body and also in ambition. They are old enough to have seen so many die or break down, to see the life claim so many others, that the romance and draw of such a life is no longer so great. I love the way the story builds the quiet life that they live now, the way the simple freedom of it seems enough. The prose is simple but moving, managing a significant amount of world building in a very short space. And the last image lingers nicely, a soft landing that is powerful all the same, a wisdom earned in age and experience and an appreciation for things that have nothing to do with wealth or influence. A great way to close the issue!