“The Wanderers” by Ian McHugh (15790 words)
Okay, piecing myself together after that beautiful ending. Okay yes. Yes to this story, which features anthropomorphic animals, wanderlust, danger, family, and a hell of a lot of heart. It stars Rhy-lee, who begins the story young and grows into adulthood as the piece progresses, inheriting the same sense of unrest that led her mother to leave her and her father for a life of uncertainty. Touched with that need to explore, to wander, Rhy-lee still tries her best to stay near to her father, who has been deeply effected both by being left by his wife and by the knowledge that one day he’ll be left by his daughter, as well. To his credit, though, he doesn’t try to fight this side of her. And there are joys as well, as Rhy-lee decides to get married and has twin boys of her own, one of which turns out to very much follow in his mother’s, and grandmother’s, footsteps.
Part of what I love about this story is the sense of journeying into the unknown. Rhy-lee’s push outward is a part of her, and yet it’s one that carries with it a certain amount of weight, because she’s lived through what her going has done to her father, and to herself. Which, in turn, influences how she goes and who she goes with. Her life in many ways been about people leaving her in some way (intentionally or not) and so for her to take on that power, to be the one to go, to have the power to return, is interesting and complicated. And I think it’s great that the story shows that though it’s a part of her to journey, to wander, it doesn’t make her a loner, or alone. The dynamic within the story is also generational. Rhy-lee was left by her mother, but does not do the same to Yfan-wyn, her son who has the same itch to roam. Together they set out to...not cure their wanderlust, but sate it until the next time. They adventure out, and there’s something so freeing in that, in the way that Rhy-lee finally allows herself to let go in that way, to go where whim takes her and her son.
And ahh, I love the extended cast of people that they meet on their journey. It’s exactly the kind of adventure that suits them, and the way that they grow together as them move and navigate the dangers and wonders of the world they always wanted to explore. It’s a place teeming with threats and also marked by the old wound of Rhy-lee’s mother leaving. That single event shapes this journey, makes it into one of healing and overcoming. And just when things seem at their worst, that everything will fall apart, the story manages to hold onto compassion and kindness, cooperation and hope, over the violence and exploitations and cruelties of the wide world. Though there is a lot of bad out there, there’s also a lot of good, and the story does a beautiful job showing the good triumphing. But fuck, don’t take my word for it. Go read this story. It is amazing and you should treat yourself. Go!