|Art by Dario Bijelac|
“Water like Air” by Lora Gray (997 words)
Well okay then. That’s certainly one way to kick off the issue, with mud and memories and the hint of dark water. The piece splits its time between two characters, Elodia—a sort of river spirit or naiad perhaps, and Tom—an old widower. The story moves with the weight of longing, Elodia for a moment of passion and love and kindness and Tom for more time with the wife that he lost. There is a strangeness to the piece, a feeling of things being just a little off, that Elodia is caught in many ways between the nature of what she is and what she is supposed to do—claim the lives of me, from the look of it, and what she wants and how she feels she is underneath that—wanting to be comforted and to have something to last. And while in the story it is Tom who is slowly drowning, literally, from illness and grief, the more tragic character for me is Elodia, who is drowning in a way as well, who is lonely and who cannot break through the isolation that her nature puts on her. She is a predator in many ways who wants to change but cannot, and there is just this tenderness to the piece that contrasts nicely with the violence that is always just at the edge of sight. I like the way that Elodia differentiates herself from her sister, from others like her, by trying to shape herself into another form, but it’s also this act of erasure, that even though it gets her close to the person she wants to be close with, it doesn’t let him see her, and so she remains alone, trapped in the cycle of wanting and not being able to satisfy herself. It’s a deep story and a nicely dark one and I definitely recommend checking it out!
“Touching Strangers” by C E Aylett (997 words)
Okay, so violence is certainly a large part of this story as well, so slight trigger warning there. But more, this is a piece about need and desperation and hope. It’s a story about refugees fleeing a bad situation hoping to find a bit of peace, a place where they can be safe, and finding instead that the road to that pace is lined with dangers and people who make their living exploiting the vulnerable. The action follows an older married couple trying to reach their son, who has a place for them waiting that seems like paradise, a home by a lake with an empty chair to sit in. The hope of this place makes them take risks, risks they can’t fully understand when they agree to them. The horrors that they find on their journey are intense and the story offers readers no space to look away. It’s a cramped, claustrophobic kind of story that shows what these people are put through all because they want to be free. And mixed into that is a deeper story about what this does to the couple and how they begin the journey as strangers crammed into this small boat and end something more. At the beginning they were forced to touch because of the space but that plus the conditions create a deeper connection, one that goes beyond the physical and into the intimate. It’s a story that is full of horrors and yet doesn’t lose its hope. Indeed, it is the hope that ends up bringing everyone together most, that binds them all together. They touch because they have passed through a hell with a singular goal in mind, and by the end they are reaching together, helping each other, because they have a deeper understanding of just how precious life and hope are. It’s a bracing and difficult read but one that you should not miss, for all that it’s not really SFF. Go read it!
“Owning the Dragon” by Frances Pauli (928 words)
This piece speaks to me of old guilts. The main character is living by themself in a house that’s full of memories and disappointments, primarily circling around the guilt the main character feels that they weren’t home in time to be present for the death of a grandparent. Now a dragon has entered the area, one that no one else seems to notice, and it’s fixating on them. It stalks them, waiting, wanting. Part of the story to me seems to be about the main character dealing with their inheritance, all of this stuff that is materially worth quite a bit but that doesn’t ease the pain associated with loss or the guilt that the main character feels that they should have tried harder in the face of deaths in the family. Here its the guilt that attracts the dragon to the main character, that brings it to their door, that makes it want more and more from them. The story to me then becomes about how this guilt turns into something huge and terrible, disruptive especially after those brief moments when the main character seems to forget for a moment the weight of what has happened. The dragon is a sort of mental reminder, an inability to get beyond what has happened, to process the grief. The doubts and the guilt only grow because there is no outlet, because the main character does not talk about what they are feeling, because they instead engage in this process of trying to either appease or bribe the dragon, to drive them away without every really confronting the real problem. And things spiral. I do like that the story leaves room for the main character to move on, though their methods are a bit...drastic. Still, it holds onto the hope that they might be able to get away, to start fresh, and even if they haven’t exactly found a way to healthily deal with their feelings, they have at least found a way to find a cathartic peace, to release everything so that something new can grow from the drifting ashes. It’s an interesting read and a fine way to close out the issue!