|Art by Vincent Chong|
“The Bone Beaters” by A.M. Muffaz (4599 words)
This is a story of sinking horror, of death and the proximity of death, of abuse that everyone agrees to look away from. The piece focuses on Tentzin, a man who delivers supplies to a house where the dead are prepared to be fed to griffons as part of the culture’s death rituals. The keeper of the house and preparer of the dead, Nurgu, lives there with his son, Dolgo, and his new wife, Tashi. New wife because she was delivered like a sack of salt to Nurgu following the death of his previous wife. It’s this act that forms the crux of the story’s plot, showing just how there are rituals and there are rituals within this culture, within all cultures. That both the rendering of the dead for the griffons and the treatment of women like property are tied up in the same set of beliefs. It becomes, essentially, about consumption, something that plays on a lot of our basest human fears—hunger and predation most prominently. The horror of the piece is built slowly, across numerous trips of Tentzin climbing the mountain to visit the family. There is a gnawing absence that sets him on edge, something about the situation that bothers him, but he can’t quite imagine that anything could be wrong because tradition dictates that it all be fine. Slowly the reality of the situation creeps into his mind, and then everything is shattered in the moment of terror the story saves for the end. It’s a nice weaving of tension, showing the isolation of this household and the kind of life they live against the life that they’re supposed to live. The story shows just how Tashi could find no sustenance there, none at least until she broke with conventions and found her own source of nutrients, both physically and mentally. It’s a creepy story that does a great job building up the world in order to reveal the shadow living at its heart. The action isn’t fast but there is a deep power to it and an uncomfortable silence left in its wake. A great read!
“Queen Midnight” by Eliza Victoria (3132 words)
This is a creepy little story about a group of friends, Paula, Mimi, and Abi, who are all part of a non-profit going around trying to grant wishes to people with terminal conditions. In the state the world is in, though, that becomes something of a complicated goal. An enormous fish has risen from the depths of the ocean and in so doing has split part of the land, has destroyed nations and started to have other effects on people living nearby, as the main characters discover. To me the story is about loneliness and reaching for people to break that loneliness. It’s about the way that people face the end of things, too, as there is the lingering possibility that this fish represents something more than just a strange presence in the world. It seems to hardly notice humanity, like its living on a completely different scale, and through that it is confronting people with the fact that they are small. That all of their endeavors, regardless of kind or quality, seem to pale before the specter of this giant fish. In that it has a touch of the sublime to it, this immeasurable presence that they are doing their best not to ignore exactly but to not look at too closely, until it becomes something that they cannot avoid, that they have to confront. And I like how the story deals with that, love the voices of the characters as they sort of realize that the mundanity of life doesn’t really change even in the face of huge events, even in the path of a possible end of the world. The story is filled with these desolate details, of so much missing to the world, and how they’ve gotten used to it, learned how to navigate, and in some ways by doing so accepted it. Accepted that things might be changing and there might be nothing to stop it. That, even, nothing should be done to stop it. It’s tackles the complexity of dealing with something that might be terminal and finding peace with it. And it’s a lovely, rather haunting story!