|Art by Freshidea / Fotolia|
“A Mother’s Love Never Ends” by Halli Villegas (5030 words)
No Spoilers: Miriam is taking a bus ride with her mother’s ashes, transporting them presumably from wherever her mother had been cremated back to her home. The trip is a strange one, as being on the buses raises ghosts and memories of a different bus ride, and different nights, all connected to her mother. It’s a story that really dives into the ways that abuse can work and look like, the ways that a child can be raised to be afraid, and how that fear can continue to manifest even after the abuser is gone. But I think it’s also a hopeful story, about reaching for freedom, and letting go of the past, at least as much as can be managed.
Keywords: Parents, Buses, Ghosts, Ashes, CW- Child Abuse, CW- Death
Review: This story has such a strangeness to it that I love the effect, like Miriam has gotten onto the bus and found that it was the bus of the dead, headed for parts unknown, the landscape dark and murky and the bus itself full of absences and shadows. She’s journeying, and I like that she’s taking her mother on a bus that her mother wouldn’t have wanted to take. That she took in life...maybe. And that’s part of what I appreciate about this story, that it deals with this particular kind of abuse by which Miriam’s mom would tell her one thing and then change her mind. In which reality itself was in question because of the gaslighting, because of the lies and the judging and the blame. Because no matter what Miriam did she was always wrong, always punished, but never in a consistent manner. And so this final trip has a weird feel for me, the death not quite taking, like it might all have been another lie, another change. So that her mother is still right there and going to remain right there until Miriam decides to take a stand about it. A stand that started with taking the bus, but which Miriam’s mind was so sure would be punished that it might have conjured up these ghosts because of her trauma. Only I like that the story allows her as well to lay those ghosts to rest. To reject them, and reject the idea that she can’t know anything without her mother. To me, the story takes her to a place where she can finally define her own terms, can finally start to live without the constant fear and doubt and confusion. And it’s a great and creepy read!
“What’s Coming to You” by Joanna Parypinski (2970 words)
No Spoilers: This is an intense and intimate story about Maddy, a woman who escaped an oppressive and rather abusive family situation only to fall in with a husband who also seeks to contain her, to stifle her. Alone at home most days, she’s waiting for something that she can’t describe when an unexpected strange arrives with good news. All she has to do is let him in. The piece is dark and haunting, lit with the fires of hell and following a classic trope handled quite well. There’s a dread that leaps from the prose, and a sort of sinking realization that time is running out. That if Maddy doesn’t do something quick, she might not be able to ever.
Keywords: Invitations, Lawyers, Marriage, Devils, Inheritance
Review: It’s a classic idea that evil has to be allowed in. That people have to invite it into their hearts for it to really hurt them or feed on them. That’s how it works with vampires in part because that’s supposed to be how it works with the devil. And I love how the story introduces this super creepy strange who Maddy knows is dangerous, that she knows not to trust, and has him work his magic anyway. Because he knows that what he offers is too tempting. Too seductive. That even knowing that she shouldn’t, that it’s a bad idea, Maddy also needs something that will give her an out. An escape. Only I feel like the story doesn’t exactly condemn Maddy for her situation, for all the ways that life has let her down and betrayed her. For all the people who have had power over her and abused that. Instead, I feel like the story’s horror comes not from this stranger, not from the devil she doesn’t know, but in revealing the devil she does know. And in allowing her to see her situation more clearly, the fragility of it and the doom of it, she’s actually being given a chance at something more. Now, part of that might come with its own risk, with its own danger. Certainly following the devil isn’t exactly an option with a lot of promise to work out well. But I feel that the story leaves room, however slim it might be, for Maddy to make a decision to save herself. Because it feels like a storm is coming, the devil a premonition of what a drunken husband who has lost a lot of money might do when he returns home. And for all the story is dark and disturbing, I appreciate the little bit of uncertainty it leaves, so that hope is never fully extinguished. A fine read!