“Sabuyashi Files” by Sebastian Strange (5000 words)
No Spoilers: Sabuyashi was named after a beetle that her ancestor discovered, one that plates itself in silver for some mysterious reason. She was also born into servitude, essentially sold by her father to the American government for her magic, for the four spells she can cast without dying, each one a piece of her soul that cannot be retrieved. At five spells, there’s nothing left. The magician dies. In return for her magic being given to the government, she’s supposed to get compensated, though it seems hollow next to having to destroy her soul. So when a beverage is released that can grant people temporary magic powers, it seems perfect. Almost too good to be true. Which, of course, means that it probably is. The story expands the world I first encountered (and loved) in “Last Spell for the Raven” and there are mentions of things that happened in that story. But this one does stand on its own, digging into the cost of magic, and the nature of souls, and the ways Sabuyashi deals with being trapped in a situation she didn’t choose, and how she works for a future for herself that she can be proud of.
Keywords: Magic, Beetles, Souls, Advertising, Queer MC
Review: There’s so much in this story about choice and especially being denied choice. Sabuyashi was never given an option about being owned by the government. Her father merely assumed she would jump at the chance. Similarly, she never chose to be a magician, never got to pick if she would be one of those capable of using their soul to reshape reality. Instead she is stuck dealing with these things, trying to free herself. At every turn, though, it seems that people are there to try and trap her again. When she discovers the tonic that allows anyone to cast magic, it seems like an answer to her dread about losing her soul. It seems like a relief from the guilt she feels about her father’s death, and her life, and all the things she can’t control. But it’s a shallow sort of escape, one that just wraps her in lighter bonds that might seem more comfortable but are no less absoulte. Because the truth about this magic is that there is always a cost. I imagine it slightly like wealth, like power. Like capitalism. The exploitation isn’t some fluke or mistake in the system. It’s necessary, and it’s about who has to pay the price. Who has to be exploited. Here the loss of soul is couched in racism and class, where criminals are pressured into giving up their very blood, and there’s only so long that Sabuyashi can ignore that before something inside her breaks, and she has to take more drastic action. It’s another fairly heartbreaking story, revealing a world where corruption is deeply rooted and can’t just be opted out of without opting out of so much more. But it can still be resisted and fought, which is where the piece goes, and it makes for a wonderful read!
“Stories My Body Can Tell” by Alina Sichevaya (3200 words)
No Spoilers: Jansse is an aging enforcer who’s not exactly on top of her game any longer. At fifty years old, it’s hard to get work, and when she’s sent to collect money and gets her ass beat to a pulp instead, it’s not exactly something that gives the one person still willing to hire her a lot of confidence. The piece is visceral and full of pain, and it reveals a character leaning toward self-destruction, falling through life because it’s what she knows, because it’s what lets her feel in control. It’s also what’s thrown a wall between her and her on-again off-again partner, a healer with what must be a soft spot for stubborn brawlers. For all the hard knocks the story shows, though, it’s a very tender exploration of age and changing roles and the resilience of love amid an admittedly very messy situation full of messy queers.
Keywords: Injuries, Healing, Queer MC, Debt, Names, Tattoos
Review: Okay so messy queer romances are sort of my thing. Not because I feel like these characters are ultimately bad for each other or will ultimately “fix” each others. I rather dislike narratives that center fixing characters who are rough. Instead, I like that these characters can be good for each other, and can accept each other, neither of them perfect and both of them very much wanting to trust and to embrace what they could have but both of them hurt and dealing with trauma. For queer people especially, trust is something that can be very difficult to come by, especially trust in the possibility of a happy ending. Of something good and without pain. Jansse is someone who is attracted to pain, after all, who doesn’t really feel like giving up or giving in. Her body is the only thing that she trusts, and yet with age it’s something she can’t count on as much as she could when she was younger. And so it’s about seeing change and learning to reach toward it instead of away from it. And maybe being able to settle into something that’s always been right, but wasn’t quite ripe. And that’s what I think I like most, that it feels like these characters have been orbiting each other for a while, but weren’t quite ready. And now they might be ready to embrace that future, and it gives me a bit of the warm fuzzies, even as the story is blood and bruises and burnt flesh. It’s fun, it’s romantic in a way I very much appreciate, and it’s a fantastic read!
“Unstrap Your Feet” by Emma Osborne (2000 words)
No Spoilers: This is a rather chilling story about a narrator in a rather dark place. Trapped inside all the time with a spouse who doesn’t let them out. A spouse who seemed romantic and kind at first, but after the marriage revealed their true nature, removing their human feet to show hooves instead. The piece is told in second person, the narrator speaking to their spouse, whose role is then pushed into the reader, so that they must share the narrators fate, being changed in ways that are uncomfortable and unsettling. It’s a piece that holds a deep vein of horror, focusing on consumption and captivity and all the ways the narrator walks on eggshells around their partner, unable to resist the pull into something they never wanted. It’s dark and creeping, a hungry maw waiting to devour narrator and reader alike.
Keywords: Hooves, Captivity, CW- Abuse, Meat, Flowers, Queer MC
Review: This is a rather difficult story, because it’s about (to me, at least) isolation and abuse and the way that this relationship, that was once so full of hope and joy, has become constantly loaded, constantly on the edge of violence and blood. The narrator, who hoped to find freedom and happiness in marriage, has found a cage instead, one where they’re not allowed outside and have to worry about displeasing their spouse, that they might hurt or kill the narrator if something went wrong enough. All the while the “you” of the story, the spouse, is seeking to groom the narrator into something. To fit them into a mold that will allow you to control them forever. That will, as the ending visits, expands the boundaries of the captivity rather than loosen it. Because with the change that the narrator doesn’t want comes being linked even deeper to their spouse. It means becoming like them, unable to go back to being normal, to having a place in human spaces. All they’ll have left is the hunger of their spouse, the blood and the violence. And it’s just such a creeping story, a horror whose approach you can really see coming but can do nothing to stop it. There is no opening, no moment where you can slip through a weak spot and to safety. There’s no trick, just the deep knowledge that you don’t want this, but are trapped. And it’s an annihilating experience. Go check it out!
“The Librarian” by Rae White
This is a strange but also kinda hot poem about books and about bones and about passion. It finds a narrator who is reveling in a sort of relationship with a ghost. The titular librarian seems to be the narrator, but might also be the ghost, both of them finding each other among the rows of books, in the darkness, when everyone else has gone away. For me, at least, it explores the feeling of that, and maybe the feeling of having a sort of relationship with the library itself, with the place that is haunted with the weight of all the stories it contains. The piece uses the infinity symbol to break up some lines, some ideas, and it’s an interesting choice. For me, it evokes time and also the links of chains. The infinities come in a pattern of breathing, giving for me this feeling of eternity. That having a relationship with a ghost is something that is like brushing against the infinite, the unknown. For me, they speak to the anticipation that the narrator feels every day, so close to this passion but unable to express it, as well as the presence of the ghost that doesn’t otherwise get a voice. And there might not be a voice there, just this feeling of the infinite coming through, again getting at the weight of the stories, so many more than can ever really be read, and all those unread thing having a kind of longing to them, a watchfulness that the narrator seems to find and desire and awaken. One that they cherish, surrounded by the quiet stacks, full of love. Or maybe I’m way off. Whatever the case, it’s a sensual and evocative read, and one very much worth spending some time with!
“How to Exist In Between” by Danny MacLaren
This poem is framed a bit, in my opinion, as a guide for people who find themselves caught between the rigid confines of binary definitions and especially binary genders. That it offers a bit of practical guidance for those who are in that space and cannot really navigate out of it. The narrator feels like they’re in school, probably high school but maybe younger yet, and dealing with the prejudice and the bigotry and dealing with the way that people treat their gender like it’s a fad or a phase. The way that the pressures exist to squeeze those who do not fit neatly into expectations, and those who do fall between do fall into a gap that is rather difficult to live in. Having to walk softly and accept a lot of abuse that people commit out of ignorance mostly but sometimes pointedly, because people in the narrator’s situation can’t do much. Not yet an adult, they are that much more vulnerable, and it is a wrenching read, showing how dangerous it can be to be young and deemed different and by the dominant groups. The message of the piece for me becomes a sort of mantra or promise that things will get better. That adulthood necessitates having more control over your space and the people you associate with. Which I agree with to a point, though I find that particular narrative sometimes can miss that things don’t always get better, and freedom of choice and association is over impacted by a number of factors. But I do like the feeling of the piece, the desire to get by until it’s possible to find a community where you can be accepted. Where you can be you. Which is the need that people have, and many are denied because their definitions of their selves don’t mesh with what society allows. A great read!
“Daddy Death” by Jeana Jorgensen
This poem looks at, as the title suggest, death. Death specifically in the queer community, evoking the specter that has lingered as long as people have hated queer people. The threats of violence, the threats of being branded as a criminal or Wrong. And the specter of disease that arose more recently, and decimated a generation of queer people. The piece is told by a young man just getting into the scene before the epidemic, learning the ropes and feeling like maybe change was coming. Because the community was growing stronger, more visible. Because queer people were everywhere, in secret, and beginning to feel that maybe they could join the dance and the freedom. And then the illness. And the setbacks. And the wasting horror that wouldn’t relent until so many were lost. And the narrator, now older, has become a survivor, someone trying still to help people find a place, a dance that they can share in. Proving that the dance didn’t end even as the dance floor emptied. Even as it seems so precarious. And the piece finds hope in the way that recovery has happened, where Death is still a fresh memory but not quite so present. And people are finding ways to piece everything together while the narrator welcomes people, doing the work that needs to be done to avoid disappearing, to stay here, and queer. And it’s a beautiful and rending piece full of reminders and a call to continue forward with healing and celebration. A poignant way to close out the original work this issue!