|Art by Jinxu Du|
"Where She Went" by Linden A. Lewis (5490 words)
This is a moving and heartfelt story that looks at family and opportunity and at the trope of a man fighting monsters to free a woman. In this case specifically, the story is about Rhee, an old man, braving the obelisk forest to save his granddaughter, Ama, from a witch. Or, at least, that's what he thinks he's doing. Rhee's life is one that has been largely defined by loss. The loss of his daughter, who ran away from her family to try her luck elsewhere. The loss of his wife, who died. And now the loss of Ama, who he thinks has been taken. And to match his three losses, all of them women in his life, he has a gun with three bullets that are meant to protect him. And a song that he doesn't want to remember. So of course it's the song that ends up being more important, and the losses…well, I love how this story approaches that, the wrong that Rhee feels he's been done. The loss of Ama is something that he must fix because she's all he has. But in that he's falling for the same lies that get told over and over again, that justify the worst of sins. That his pain and need is the most important. That his feelings should take precedent over anyone else's. And in examining that and challenging that the story critiques the kinds of story that make that conflict be enough. That, indeed, reward that sort of false simplicity. Here is a story that refuses really to reward Rhee for bringing his violence after Ama, for being the hero he thinks she needs. Instead he must confront not just this most recent loss but all his losses, must be made to see just how much his feelings are worth. It's a sad story in many ways but I don't feel like it's unfair to Rhee. It's still hopeful that, even after all this time and distance, he can begin to change and maybe heal. It's a lovely story and an amazing read!
"The True and Otherworldly Origins of the Name 'Calamity Jane'" by Jordan Kurella (3571)
This story makes me want to know more about history. So mission accomplished on that! It also gets my blood pumping, as it's an action-packed fantasy Western with a fast pace and a fun (slightly creepy) aesthetic. Seriously, this piece takes a fantastical look back at the Old West to look at Jane, a woman who's tried to get out of the fairy-hunting game ever since Earl, her partner, disappeared. Of course, with fairies and deals and trying to get out of the game, there's always something that pulls a person back in. So it is with Jane when a pair of fairies steals an entire town's worth of people in an attempt to draw Jane into a bad deal. The story does a nice job of introducing the fantasy elements to the historical setting and I love the voice of Jane, her determination and her resourcefulness, the way that she thinks on her feet and never gives up. She's a compelling character in an action-movie sort of way, brash and independent and violent, and is paired nicely with the action of this piece that sees her wielding a shotgun and defying the false promises of the fairies. A bit more opaque to me was just what had happened between her and Earl. It's the core of her conflict and I like how the story teases it out, showing that while Jane's deeply hurt by what's happened, it hasn't undone her. But I was left wondering what exactly happened in the past that set all of this up, and that's left a bit more mysterious. It's possible that it's a question that answered elsewhere, either in historical records or in a previous (or forthcoming) fiction piece, or it's possible that it's just something that remains a mystery, in which case it sends a message that Jane is more than her past, isn't to be defined by her relationship to Earl. Even without all the pieces of the puzzle, though, the story moves quickly and paints an interesting picture of a woman who has dealt with bad deals for too long and if finally finding her own way out. It's a fun story that knows how to mix action and emotions to make a memorable experience. Indeed!