|Art by Sandro Castelli|
“The Creeping Influences” by Sonya Taaffe ( words)
This is a strange story that finds Roddy Mathews, a nonbinary laborer working on a peat bog in Ireland around the first half of the 1900s, helping to discover a body lost to time. Only not so lost, it turns out, as they and the men they’re working with have to figure out what to do and how to feel. It’s a situation that’s complicated by Roddy’s relationship with a married woman whose husband has gone away, perhaps for good. The conflict of the story for me arises mainly from the fear and hope and hesitation in Roddy. They face a world where they are not accepted, and it creates a sort of wall between them and everyone else, and the story is an exploration not really of the wall coming down, but of the shape of it and the flavor of it, the texture and pressure of it. It’s a sensual story with a thick, almost syrupy language and a flows like chill wind. The story does not avoid depicting the sex that Roddy and their lovers have, and really the differences in how Roddy is treated and how they treat their partners reveals a lot about the characters and about what I feel the story is trying to show. There are layers of hurt here, buried in the peat and forgotten, and the story drags them to the surface. Some of these hurts it exposes in order to try and heal, in order to set things right. But some of the hurts are exposed only to be buried again, which in its own way is right, too. There’s a refreshing lack of moral condemnation of Roddy or their lovers, and I love that about the story, as well as the sinking feel of it, and the hope that maybe there will come a time when pretenses can be dropped, that walls doors can be opened. For some people, in some situations. But that there can be connection and love and something achingly beautiful. It’s a lovely and wonderful story!
“En la Casa de Fantasmas” by Brian Holguin ( words)
This is another strange story, and one that breaks its narrative across many layers, like the rooms of a doll house, peaking into each in turn, following first this character, then that. And really it’s a piece that also looks at the story of the story, centering on an old Bruja whose job it is to collect ghosts who have become too troublesome for the people living in the places they haunt. La Bruja is called in, and she cleanses the homes, and takes more with her than just the stack of money the owners leave for her. It’s a solemn job and one that has become mired in myth and fear. People have stories about La Bruja, about her powers, and for her part she doesn’t care to argue with them, letting them make space for her to work. Once the story establishes the scene, the lies, the tall tales, it then gives readers a look into what really happens, at the heart of the matter, the service she offers. It’s a sad and moving picture, the one shown, and it captures a lot about the idea not only of ghosts, but of dying with things undone. There is a feeling throughout of mistakes and about guilt, about the anchors that keep people clinging to the world even after their death. In some ways the story seems to be asking if the reader has so clean a conscience that they can judge the ghosts still holding on. And, beyond that, it challenges the way that people look at La Bruja, the way people fear her, asking where that fear comes from, and who it serves. To me, the story is about letting go of fear, of guilt, of embracing a world that is full of mystery and danger but not letting that rule over being true to yourself. The ghosts that linger seem to have died doing something they didn’t want to do, led into death by a desire to be seen as something other than who they were, and so for me the healing and release from guilt comes with acceptance, with feeling whole and complete. And it’s a weird but insightful story that lingers in the mind, haunting the quiet corners of thought. Definitely a piece to check out!