Well Flash Fiction Online is back for September and, well, dark as hell. These are stories that concentrate on certain ideas and craft stories around them on many levels. Distillation, consumption, and flooding. Through these ideas the stories explore injustice and abuse. They explore the cycles of oppression and the weight of inheritance. They explore the burdens forced on children because they were born, because their parents lacked the power or spirit to force change. And because they are so burdened, these children often drown under the deluge of violence and inequality. To the reviews!
|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"Scent" by Maria Haskins (918 words)
Well this is a creepy little story about scent and essence. About distilling, in many ways, whether it be perfume or something…different. The story follows a child and their mother. Their mother who is not quite human, or at least not anymore. I love the way the story evokes scent and, more than that, works to uncover this system of magic and distillation, where a person's inner self can be boiled away and captured in a jar and used by the mother to change shape. It's a bit like the Oz book where the one woman can change her heads and keeps them locked away. And this story does a great job of examining how this effects the main character, how this child yearns to be free of this, to just have a mother that does not require them to take part in this. It's a rather complex tale, too, because of the emotions involved, because the child loves their mother and wants in some ways to either break the cycle or escape. And neither is really open to them, as they are small, as they are kept subservient and trapped and guarded. But there is this lurking promise to the story that gives it a nice bit of creepiness and darkness, that promise [SPOILERS] at the end that the child will be gorgeous, which sets up that cyclic feel of abuse and death. That this is something larger than the main character and their mother, something that will take more than wings to fly away from. But that the main character is building their own power. Their own will. And that there will come a day when the two have to face each other not as child and mother but as people and there might be a reckoning. It's a strong piece and a great read!
"Muse" by Nicola Belte (962 words)
Well fuck, okay, another perhaps even darker story. Where the last emphasized distillation, though, this one looks at consumption. Both the disease and the action. It features young girls who are bought by a rich artist who draws their portraits after he has infected them, paints them on the brink of death. It's a disturbing piece in how it draws the parallels between art and food, between both and girls and women. At how girls are treated like food, a commodity, at how they are so often seen as something to consume and dispose of. There's a lot going on here, really, and I'm not kidding when I say it is dark. It's easy enough to read the rape analogies at work, these girls taken just around the time they'd be first menstruating, taken by an older man who uses them and discards them. Who paints them for the pleasure of other men. All the while telling the girls that this makes them more beautiful, more valuable, so that the only thing of value they have is this constructed innocence that can be shattered and then tossed aside. So that all that's left are ghosts. They are consumed, and more than that they are made ready to be consumed by the society, by these men who want to possess them, who want to dominate them. It's a system that exists in order to keep these girls down, to keep them as commodities, to keep them objects. And it intersects with class and wealth and power. It's a nicely done story with a chilling voice and a crush of despair, a realization that these girls are left voiceless and erased, history one long string of consumed women. It's a wonderful (if incredibly dark) story and you should definitely check it out!
"Jericho" by Joy Kennedy-O'Neill (995 words)
This is a story that looks at a future ravaged by rising waters and rising debts. Where people are shackled to their jobs and their debts are passed along to their children. And their children's children. And all along the rising waters of this debt create a situation that is in some ways unlivable. And it's a great commentary on the ways that education is both expected and punished. The way that you must be wealthy to afford it and if you're not you're not really allowed to be because the costs follow you. I love the way the story compares rising waters to the rising debt and how these people hope that education will save them and they're not sure if that's right or not. [SPOILERS] As I read it, though, I'm not entirely sure what to make of the ending. Personally I find that in discussions about debt and change I hesitate to count on the younger generations to somehow fix it. The voice in the piece is a mother talking to her son and being happy that maybe he will be a part of something that fixes things. And yet I find this less than fully satisfactory, because chances are that he's not going to. Expecting the next generation to have some sort of magic power to succeed where we have failed while at the same time basically not trying to fix it ourselves will only make it that much more difficult. I see a lot of people say that the best thing they can do is raise more responsible children but personally, for me, that erases a lot of work that's being done now. But the story does a nice job of showing how messed up things are and can become, how this rising debt is like a biblical flood, and how it might take something drastic, something to wipe it all away, for real change to happen. It's a compelling piece that I have feelings about but that I can definitely encourage everyone to check out! A fine read!