|Art by Ward Lindhout|
"In the Shade of the Pixie Tree" by Rodello Santos (3635 words)
This story is a touching scene between two young people as Bekka, a witch’s apprentice, goes out to pick pixies and finds that Joakem wants to join her and won’t take no for an answer. In some ways this story is a lovely little piece about magic and youth and choices, and in other ways it’s an incredibly dark story about who often has the pay the cost for mistakes and how not respecting consent can lead to ruin. And those are two very, very different readings of the same text. I want to linger a bit with the second reading, though, because it’s where I find the most horror and where I find the most depth to the story. It’s a piece that is tinged with a heavy darkness, after all, and contrasts this sweet story of young people kind of courting with a very graphic and [SPOILERS] visceral progression of events that end in death and rot and ruin. The story does show just how dangerous this world is and just how underprepared Bekka and Joakem are when it comes time to face that danger. They have the invulnerability of the young who do not want to think ahead, who assume they are up for any challenge. And Joakem especially is foolish in the way he persues things, petulent and disrespectful even as he’s also charming and fun. The real lesson of the story becomes about who must pay. It’s Joakem who makes the mistakes of the piece. Who doesn’t listen. Who barges ahead past all the barriers and warnings. He doesn’t accept a no and in so doing he dooms himself and Bekka. And while he does kinda pay for it, all of his payment is erased. By the end of the story it’s not him who has to pay for anything but Bekka who pays for all of it. He continues to be ignorant and, what’s worse, Bekka feels that it’s her fault by sheer fact that she’s a woman and he’s a boy. That she should have known better. That it prevents Joakem from ever having to own his actions. It’s a story that very much unsettles with how it reveals their relationship in those final moments, when it’s obvious that the seemingly-happy ending is anything but, that it’s a lie that they will discover, a cost that Bekka cannot escape. I feel like this reading exists hand in hand with the feeling at the end that things are better, that maybe there can still be happiness, that there can still be this quiet and beautiful moment. But I think the story does a good job of showing that just under the surface the truth is lurking, and the tragedy of what has happened will bleed into everything after. It’s a fascinating story!
"Crescendo" by J.S. Veter (4246 words)
This is another story that looks at adolescence and growing up and the relationship between a young man and a young woman. The setting here is startling, though, and hardly recognizable, mired in a loss of the memory that would help to contextualize it. What’s certain is that Yacob and Thalie are crib-siblings, two of four, who find their lives starting to revolve around Holes. These Holes are spaces through which a forgotten history seeps, through which a suppressed story is told. The society they live in tries desperately to hide these holes, to fill them in, but even so people find themselves drawn to them. And through the Holes they learn about what might have been. I like the mystery of the piece, the way that it doesn’t really answer what exactly happened in the past to cause all of this, to make this society the way that it is. There is a sense that a great deal has been lost but the greatest lost has been in the desire to know. Whatever caused the world to be constricted to just a city, with nothing in any direction—whatever caused people to have difficulty conceiving children and caused the Holes to start opening—what remains is a wound that cannot truly heal. It festers because there is no way to dress it, to see to it. People look away and seek to cover it up but that’s just delaying a reckoning that will happen, that must happen. I love how the story centers young people in this struggle, finding that they want to know, finding that it’s not enough for them to blindly follow. There’s a sense that they need to know because they want to understand the whys and whats and hows, which are difficult and dangerous but are the only way to move forward. It’s a lovely story about love and about longing and about loss and it’s definitely worth spending some time with!