|Art by Abigail Larson
“A Prayer to the Many-Eyed Mother” by Eliza Victoria (4680 words)
No Spoilers: Ruby is a young woman from the Philippines who wants out of the spiral her life has become, never quite having enough and always dealing with the small ways living where she does makes everything so hard. When her aunt offers to help her get a job in America, it seems like it’s the answer to what she needs. Only it’s not working out, either. And in her desperation she turns to a cousin who is also a witch in order to set up a sort of bargain. For her and two strangers she met on Reddit. To be able to have a wish granted. For a price, of course. The story is dark and a lot of the horror comes not from what they are willing to contemplate in order to escape their situations but the realities of those situations, that they are so draining and toxic that they would consider anything in order to get out. It captures the feel of being drained, bled from a thousand cuts, until there’s nothing left but a husk. And it’s a complex look at home, and place, and movement, and wishes.
Keywords: Bargains, Travel, Eyes, Sacrifice, Employment
Review: I love how this story takes three very different women in Ava, Alejandra, and Ruby, and brings them to this crisis point, asking how much they’d give, or how much they’d do, in order to get their wish. And for me, it’s Ruby who really anchors a lot of the story, Ruby who represents this person who can’t see a way out and needs one. Because she’s seen her future evaporate, the promise of the sacrifices her family has made coming to naught. She’s caught in this very specific kind of powerlessness, dealing with corruption and the threat of violence, unsure of where she can turn because all of her opportunities seem not enough. Not enough to banish the crushing sadness and sense of loss. And so she agrees to make a bargain with a witch in order to get a wish. As to Ava and Alejrandra. Only when they find out specifically what that means, they balk. Or most of them do. I think it’s fascinating how the story breaks down how the people react. Alejandra backing away, Ava following through, and Ruby trying to do the right thing, trying to stop this injustice. And finding out, like always, that she can’t. That she won’t benefit from this violence and nor can she stop it. And that reality is this dark place full of hurts that she can’t prevent, corruptions she can’t fix. I feel though that there’s hope, that what Ruby is doing is not giving up but rather to last as long as she can trying for better, persisting even when it’s killing her, because the alternative is to give in either to the corrupt system or to the urge to opt out permanently. And it’s a moving and complex and haunting story about choice and bargains and being trapped. Oh, and it’s also a great read!
“Maria’s Children” by Tobi Ogundiran (5071 words)
No Spoilers: Segun in a boy in a small fishing village, and his brother Muktar is the presumptive leader of the boys there, on account of Muktar never shying away from a challenge. Most of the time this meas travelling farther and farther from shore, and one day after a particularly distant voyage he returns with something special. With a bit of treasure. Only the nature of the treasure, and what it means for the boys, isn’t at all what they think. Dealing with masculinity, growing up, and consequences, the piece conjures up a feeling like slowly sinking, like watching yourself be pulled down inch by inch into the inky waters until nothing’s left but saltwater and the crush of the deep.
Keywords: Fish, The Ocean, Sacrifice, Ghost Ships, Brothers
Review: I love how the story really sets up this rather sharp critique of toxic masculinity, the intense focus that boys have about being brave, about never backing down, never being a chickenshit. Their entire lives are bent toward outdoing one another instead of helping each other. Toward putting each other down instead of building each other up. And about individual accomplishment rather than cooperation. All of these things are areas that Muktar excels at, and they are the things that set up the tragedy of the piece. Because if Muktar had cared more, been more open about what he was doing, and why, then all of this could have been avoided. He could have seen that his obsession about getting treasure, about showing off, were ultimately hollow, and dangerous, and likely to get him into some serious trouble. Instead, not even when a young girl gets sacrificed does Muktar stop to think. Even Segun only considers things briefly, but also does nothing to stop his brother. He’s not supposed to tattle, and so this sort of damage continues on. And I like how the story dives into that very complex issue, giving it a sharp edge of darkness, of fear, of horror. Segun knows that something is wrong, and yet he’s trapped by the role he’s expected to fit into, doomed as long as he clings to that mentality of masculinity. A wonderful read!