Friday, November 3, 2017

Quick Sips - Fireside Fiction October 2017

October's Fireside Fiction offers up five short stories (four of them flash fiction) and two more chapters of the ongoing Fisher of Bones novella. The fiction is definitely fitting for the season, dealing with monsters and with children, with harm and with ghosts. The stories circle around the idea of victims and how those victims seek to find voice and power. And how, occasionally, that power isn't enough, and the flow of power and history is too much to fight against. The stories carry with them a darkness and a creepiness, but one that is offset by hope, and by people helping people. Sometimes the help isn't quite enough, but often it is, and in any event it makes for some very compelling reads. To the reviews!

Art by Galen Dara

“Banshee” by Cherrelle Shelton (962 words)

This story to me is about voice and violence, power and hurt. Gina, the main character, is on her way home from a movie when she begins to be pursued, and a national epidemic of missing girls of color is brought to vivid light as she is thrown into a van, her future dire. And I like how the situation, all the fear and the frustration, the anger and the injustice of it, create this moment where Gina is able to do something about what’s happening. It’s a story that in some ways steers close to revenge, where Gina is able to overcome the physical differences between her and her attackers in order to find a way to defend herself and her friends. More than just being about how she’s able to make those attacking her hurt, though, I see the story making a point that this power is coming from her voice, something that the story is sure to underline by showing how voice, how loudness, can be joyous as well, how Gina is able to enjoy it at the movies, enhancing her experience. And yet when it comes to calling for help, trying to use her voice to get aid, there is only silence in return. And so Gina changes how she uses her voice, focuses not on trying to convince someone that she needs help, that she is worthy of help, but making her voice a weapon to free herself, to help herself, to make those trying to silence her pay for what they’re doing. It’s about the power she possesses and, more, her willingness to use it when societal pressures tell her that people don’t want to hear her voice. Well tough, she says, because when it comes down to it she needs to be safe, needs to be protected, and if society isn’t going to do it, then there’s no way she’s being silent. And it’s a fast, not-really-fun-but-still-kinda-fun story full of validation and power and violence and it’s a great read!

“Geppetto” by Carlos Hernandez (928 words)

This is an interesting and rather unsettling story about age and about family and about loneliness. The piece centers Geppetto but not as he is traditionally thought of, not exactly the kind and aging man in want of a son. Indeed, his outlook on life and his past is more based on using people, on seeking pleasure, on a sort of vanity and anger that the world has not given him more. And, older and less attractive alone enough that he seems even uglier for it, he dreams of finding some way to change his situation, to cut through this isolation that has wrapped itself around him because of his generally unpleasant demeanor. And a cursed piece of wood gives him just what he needs. And the story does a lovely job of showing just what Geppetto is capable of creating in this state. That in many ways anything that he makes is a reflection of what is going on inside him. He’s creating something that he hopes will help him through his loneliness and bring him joy, but the way he goes about that is twisted, is creating something that will bring him far more pain and hardship. And yet I love where the story goes with that, showing that he is still well aware of what is in store for him, and he makes his decision of what to do next knowing what it means. To me, then, it seems to be making a statement about misery and woe, which I suppose could be boiled down to “misery loves company” and that he imagines that even if his life is awful it won’t be so empty as he feels it is. It’s a man wanting to be a parent not to help a potential child but to fill a hole in themself, and that’s where the tragedy and sadness of the piece enters in for me, that he is able to see what is going to happen and takes the plunge anyway. Which if it was just for him might not be an awful choice, but here it involves another person, however cursed, and so it remains in keeping with that central selfishness of the story. It’s a fascinating study of destruction and anger and fairy tales, and I recommend you check it out!

“Discovery” by Sarah Gailey (1672 words (Chapter 6, Fisher of Bones)

I know a story is really getting to me when something good happens and I think “oh shit!” But here in the sixth chapter of this story something is finally going right for Fisher, even as things are also going very, very wrong. Last chapter saw the disappearance of a girl, and before that there was the death of the healer, and this chapter sees both of those tragedies turn out pretty okay. And yet even as they do I get the feeling that things are not going to go well, and the Gods seem to agree, sending Fisher and message through some dinosaur bones that mean bad things might be incoming. I continue to love how this story treats faith and religion. Fisher is presumably the leader of a religious sect, and has the support of the Gods. And yet while according to the tenants of the faith this is supposed to mean people don’t question her, that she is the daughter of the former leader and not his son seems to be something that still creates this wedge of doubt in people. That misogyny is alive and well in this community seems obvious, where Fisher might find that even her successes are twisted and used against her, so that there really is no winning, no pleasing people who don’t, in their hearts, believe that she can lead, that any woman can lead. At least that’s the feel I get from how the other people in the community are acting, and it’s a difficult thing to watch. The story continues to be tense and just waiting for a tipping point that, for now at least, is at least another chapter away. But it’s another fantastic read!

“River Boy” by Innocent Chizaram Ilo (3227 words)

This story is about cycles and about bargains and about a boy being caught in a situation that he didn’t choose, and can’t change. The story centers around Bura, a young boy who is finding out what it is to be a River Boy, to be part water, a gift to answer his human-mother’s prayers. He’s...different, and yet there’s a part of him that doesn’t want to face that, that is comfortable in the situation that his mother has created for him, being human and warm in the love of his family. But he’s also part of another family, one that pulls him toward the water. And the narrator is part of that family, part of the tradition and cycle of River Boys that exist, given to families and then taken away, all according to the whims of the river-god, Osimiri. It’s a story that focuses on pull, on the flow of water, the irresistible weight of it as it crashes down on Bura. It’s not something that waits to ask if he is ready, nor cares for his permission. To me, then, the story is something of a tragedy, the way these boys are pulled away, the way that they can never escape the fate of their birth, the twisted bargain that gave them birth. At the same time, there is something beautiful about the piece and about the situation, the story highlighting the power, cruelty, and majesty of the river, how it gives and takes away, how it’s there for humans to use and take from but how it takes in return, and how when it rises its power is not to be denied. It’s a strange story and I love the magic of it, the way that everything happens in darkness, in partial-ignorance, Bura innocent but also knowing, somewhere deep inside him, that he’s different and that it means something. For narrator, the situation is sad but also the completion of a promise and a job, the reaffirmation of his role in things and his graduation to the next stage of his life, always moving with the current, not fighting against the way the water moves him. It’s a lovely and slightly haunting story, and a great read!

“H&D Plumbing” by Courtney Floyd (1253 words)

This is a fun, magical story about a possessed bathroom and the plumbers specialized in fixing the situation. The story opens with Alex seeing a late-night advertisement for plumbers capable of taking care of problem toilets—and not just your run-of-the-mill clogs, but seriously malevolent toilet visitations. It’s gotten so bad that Alex has been using the gas station across the street, so she takes a chance on the questionable nature of late night television ads and calls. What follows is a quickly escalating situation that brings Alex face-to-face with the scope of her problem and reveals Hollis and Devyn’s expertise when it comes to supernatural bathroom issues. The tone of the piece is fun and conversational, with Alex obviously at the end of her rope and, ultimately, willing to just accept the situation for what it is and let Hollis and Devyn to their jobs. I like how the piece moves, from Alex in some denial about what exactly the problem with her bathroom is to worried that she’s going to get some sort of moral lesson. In some ways, the story is also a statement on faith and religion, too, in how Hollis and Devyn deal with religiously coded things while not being concerned about blame or fault. I love that the story acknowledges that bad things just happen sometimes. Like a clogged drain. That it’s not really important at that point to go around assigning blame so much as it’s important to take care of the problem. And people who would try to leverage such a vulnerable moment in order to score points or push a religion are not exactly on the up-and-up. In other words, the piece points to a secular kind of faith, one that allows Hollis and Devyn to deal with what happens while not claiming at some moral superiority. They simply have the skills required for this service, and so they use them to make their living. It’s almost refreshing to see in an exorcism story, that H&D are not exactly priests, are not exactly messengers from some higher power. They are resources to turn to in a crisis, and their aide is not tied to anything other than their own desire to work and do good. So yeah, a refreshing and fun piece that was a blast to read!

“Storm” by Sarah Gailey (1698 words) (Fisher of Bones, chapter 7)

Okay things are tipping here, despite it seeming like the chapter ends on something of a high note. I’d say that the main focus of this part is on Fisher and her family. Her unborn child and, even more, her husband Marc. They haven’t had a lot of time together in the story, but here we see what kind of a strain things have put on their relationship. What with Fisher being in charge, and not really being able to give what she had been giving when she was just the daughter of the Prophet, thingsi fall to Marc to rather pick up the slack, but it means that he’s full of resentment, seeing Fisher as somehow...selfish? It’s not exactly an uncommon thing with couples where the women have more power, where men are pushed to give a more even share. Because the expectations are so much on the woman to always pick up the slack, to always fix the problems by sacrificing, by doing more. But Fisher cannot do more, and looks to Marc to, if not make up for it, at least understand it. The difficulty, the impossible situation she’s put in every day. An argument ensues and then...well, things change. It’s a shattering moment in the story, and one that I imagine makes the beginning of the ends. Funny that it should happen with a flash of lightning, a literarl act of god. And for all that this seems like a great thing, I have the feeling that what’s really happened is much deeper and darker than it seems at first. And I absolutely love how the idea that the Gods send only gifts has reappeared, and I feel that’s going to be a great lens through which to view the story as a whole, that here we have people who are supposed to believe that it’s all a gift, that there’s always a purpose, but that for the people on the ground it means suffering, and death, and...well, it’s a story that continues to gut with every big thing that happens, even as it retains this slight light to see by. The lights seem like they might be going out, though, even as I can’t pin down exactly why I have such this feeling that things are...not going to go well from here on. But it remains a tense, amazing read, and I can’t wait for the next chapter!

"Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked" by Christa Carmen (584 words)

This is a short and rather spooky story about death and bad decisions. It features Bella, a young woman who has just been married, and who has a very interesting Halloween costume—her wedding dress, covered in blood. It's a creepy and instantly visceral visual, and one that sets the tone for a lot of the story, which builds itself quickly and without pausing to explain too much. It's a story that works because of implications and the slowly growing terror of what has happened, what is yet to happen. That Bella and her husband have just been married is assured, and the reception seems to be at a historic haunted house, and the theme seems to be Halloween. And yet the themes of the story for me swirl around choice and violence. The story looks at how Bella makes her decisions, how she feels pulled along in the wake of her husband's ideas, his plots, but how, ultimately, she's her own kind of person, and her own kind of horror. The story at first looks like it might center his creepiness, his power and how he wields that power to put fear in her. And yet her fear seems to melt away as the story flows, as we as readers learn what probably happened, and what is likely yet to occur. It's about assumptions and about the danger of them. And really it's just a fun little piece about a very disturbing wedding night. It's short and punchy and doesn't waste any space. The end effect is creepy and a perfect taste of Halloween that won't take long to chew. Like a fun size candy, it's the right size for Halloween night to enjoy with the lights on. A fine read!


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