|Art by Veli Nyström|
“In the Ground, Before the Freeze” by Margaret Ronald (6570 words)
No Spoilers: Katrin is a mountain woman, something that at first doesn’t matter to Arden, a traveled who through accident ends up at her farm. As the two grow closer, though, just what it means to live in the mountains comes clearer, and challenges their relationship is some rather large and difficult and terrifying ways. And yet both are committed, and there’s a hope that pervades the story even as it splits, exploring both the stories people tell about the mountain women and their ways and the reality of Katrin and Arden, their love and their tragedy. It’s a dark story, one that borders on horror even as it shines with romance.
Keywords: Planting, Seasons, Bargains, Relationships, Accidents
Review: Don’t think that horror and romance go together? Well think again, because here we get great examples of a rather gothic, rather atmospheric horror that leans on the structure of stories, of those tales that get told around a fire or a tavern table or a group of boys thinking that they’re learning the truth of the world. When really it’s a truth filtered through the prejudices they have swallowed, the fear and the desire all mixing together. The horror is about the fringes of the world, where people have made strange and dark bargains with the Earth itself to survive harsh winters, and in exchange they must make sacrifices that are violent and uncomfortable and tinged with blood and sadness. For Katrin, love isn’t something she ever really expected, and I like how the piece builds up her meeting with Arden and his nature and the way they fall for each other. And how they deal with the things pushing them apart. The threat of winter. The customs of the mountains. And how they come through it, and it looks like it might work. But just as an accident brought them together, so too does it threaten to tear them apart. And there’s this aching fragility in the story to their situation. That they can make it work but only if the figures work out. Only if nothing unexpected happens. And fuck do I feel that. And I just love how it still defies falling into the trodden tropes that the story plays with in the stories people tell about the mountains and the women who live there. How the result almost seems like it was inevitable, and yet they’ve managed to pull something out of the gravity toward tragedy. They’ve managed to save something, and there’s a beauty there, and a strength, and it really is a moving and romantic story, for all that it acts like a horror as well. A wonderful read!
“The Hollow Tree” by Jordan Kurella (4291 words)
No Spoilers: Pira is the daughter of a man who calls himself a baker, though it’s really Pira’s mother and Pira herself who make the pies. Her father merely hands them out, and smiles, and abuses her mother. And things are only getting worse, with Pira unable to escape for fear for her mother, and risking her father’s attentions shifting onto her. Things seem rather hopeless, except that there’s a story about a fairy on the outskirts of town, at the hollow Tree, and Pira has an idea of what to do. Intensely dark, the piece looks at secrets and at stories. The stories that the villagers whisper about Pira and her mother. It’s about the lies that you keep from others, and those you keep from yourself. About silence and belief and freedom.
Keywords: Bargains, CW- Abuse, CW- Miscarriage, Fairies, Baking
Review: This is a story that takes the idea of fairy bargains and twists it. Because, or at least for my reading, the real darkness isn’t the one lurking on the outskirts of the town, peering in envious of all the people there. The real darkness is the man at the center of town, who everyone seems to like, who is abusing his family and making them live in constant terror. And because of that when Pira wants to get help it’s toward that more traditional “evil” that she goes, because she knows that the powers that be within the town are the very ones who are allowing her and her mother’s abuse. By not questioning her father. By not thinking that anything was wrong. So she knows that there’s no salvation for her coming from within this community. That they all expect her to carry this secret because they won’t believe her. So she lies to herself about it until she can’t, until it boils over inside her and she needs to go for help. And that’s where she’s able to appeal for outside help and get it. And it’s how the story twists expectations for me, because the price of that help might indeed be dark, but so much better than what they were living with. And if they have new secrets it’s ones that they aren’t destroyed by keeping. Instead of the fear, they can practice love, and happiness, and it’s a rather beautiful ending that allows that to happen, even after everything. I do wish that I could have learned a bit more about some of the side characters and their particular hurts, but as is the story still populates this world, this village, with people hurt and carrying their secrets until they can’t, which is when they make bargains that sometimes turn out all right. A great read!