|Art by Sandro Castelli|
"To Sleep in the Dust of the Earth" by Kristi DeMeester (3869 words)
This is a story about lost things. Lost baubles, lost people. It's about a pair of girls growing up and making friends with another girl who…is special. Who can find things. But who also has a darkness in her, a need, a quest. Beth, a girl who can find what's lost. The main character and her friend use Beth for a while, to amuse themselves, until Beth shows that she can find more than just lipstick and earrings. That she can find things lost in a more primal sense. And that she is looking for someone. It's a ghost story in some ways except that it's not exactly. It's creepy as fuck is what it is, really, dark and disturbing and lingering like a fog that won't lift, that won't clear no matter how much you wave your hands at it. The relationship between the main character, Willa, and her friend Lea, and both of their relationships to Beth, propel the story forward, as well as create a nice atmosphere of dread and danger. Willa grows and she loses, as some do, and she comes how. The story does a nice job of setting up her nightmares, of creating a horror around Beth and the haunted lot they all met in. Loss is central to the plot and the themes, but so is finding, and the story does a great job of exploring the two concepts in a rather spine-chilling way. Quite well done.
"A Drop of Ink Preserved in Amber" by Marina J. Lostetter ( words)
This is a very interesting and complex story about difference and erasure. Erasure in history but also in the moment, self erasure and self identification as well as being categorized wrong or bad or criminal based on things that no person could control. Amber was born modified with drawers in her body that made her perfect for smuggling. It's something she hid, in part because she was told to in order to keep her parents' secret and in part because people like her, modified people, were outcast and, in many instances, killed. Those that survived did so by staying silent. By being erased. And that focus on danger and erasure as inherent to who Amber is runs strong in the story. She has to hide but doesn't want to. And if the story chose to stop there it would still be an interesting examination of that, of those inherent things that cannot be changed. It's easy enough to argue that things that are not the choice of a person are not their fault. In that it is a story about passing and being able to pass for whatever normal doesn't put you in danger. It's a very delicate message to make, because in some ways by not fighting while she's alive, Amber is letting the atrocities go on. She chooses to fight in her own way, in her own time, and so her struggle becomes not for her situation in particular but for some sort of revelation in the future. It's a hopeful way of looking at erasure and the struggle to overcome, to steal back some history for those who lived it. There's a lot to unpack here, secrets to be freed from pockets, but it's definitely worth the effort. Indeed.