|Art by Sandro Castelli|
Weep, friends, for the final issue of Shimmer Magazine has landed. But also rejoice, because it’s full of awesome. And I should say that online releases for the publication will continue through April 2019! But that in the interest of reading the stories in the year they are technically coming out in, I’m going to cover the issue spread over just November and December. Which means that I’m looking at six stories today, many of which look at family, consent, and magic. These are pieces that look at darkness and follow characters coming up against the pains and injustices of the world. The things that you don’t get to control. Aging. Family. History. But just because you don’t get to choose these things doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about them. And the stories follow characters pushing against the gravity of their own erasure and pain. Reaching for a place where they can be free and empowered. So let’s get to the reviews!
“Rotkäppchen” by Emily McCosh (5600 words)
No Spoilers: Adeline’s son is dead, killed by a bear driven mad by hunger and magic. Shortly after, she’s visited by an old friend, a wolf who she has known most of her life. He’s something like the guardian of the forest, only he’s old. And as Adeline remembers the life she’s lived in her home in the forest, with its touches of magic that set her apart from the relative safety of the village, she begins to feel her age and with it the grief from the loss of her son. Her husband. Her friend. It’s a story of transformations and beginnings and endings. Of growing old without growing out of the desire for magic. And it’s a beautiful and softly heartbreaking story of resilience, loss, and protection.
Keywords: Fairy Tales, Magic, Wolves, Bears, Transformations, Family
Review: I love the way this story takes some of the elements of fairy tales and weaves this very intimate, very tired kind of story. Of the grind of age and grief against the childhood wonder and draw toward magic. The push and pull of magic and tragedy that often is captured in fairy tales, where wolves can be friendly but rarely. Where women living on their own in the woods rarely have a great outcome to look forward to. But Adeline has such a strength to her, a refusal to bend to meet the expected curve of her story. People think of her as too old to be on her own, and she has that fear herself, but that doesn’t stop her from standing up against the pressure to give in. She keeps doing what she wants, keeps doing what she knows is right. Keeping to the magic that is hers by effort and by blood. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It hurts, as many fairy tales hurt, because they aren’t always happy. But they do sometimes have a way of ending well enough. Not without tears, not without hurts, but with a hope and a sort of generational joy. And here that echoes, Adeline finishing the journey she started as a girl and wanted to steal away into the forest. And as she finishes that story, she begins a new one, a new phase in her life, which is definitely not over yet. It’s a beautiful and moody piece filled with the breath of winter and dwindling days, but also the distant hope of spring. A great read!
“The Witch in the Woods Falls in Love a Third Time” by Kate Lechler (850 words)
No Spoilers: Told from the point of view of a witch who lives alone by a dry well, the story follows a series of three interactions. Three times the witch has fallen in love. And each time is different. The first two are close together, the women the witch falls in love with sisters, and they have become something of a fairy tale. Twisted by the need people have after the fact to moralize and find meaning where the witch didn’t have any, the story has become about curses and blessings, good and evil, reward and punishment. Where the witch had mostly love and desire. A need to escape from the isolation and loneliness that largely defines her life. Before those two sisters, the witch hadn’t known anyone. Afterward, she knew the danger and power of words. So when a new woman arrives, the pressure to speak of love clashes with the knowledge of how wrong that’s gone in the past.
Keywords: Witches, Words, Curses, Blessings, Fairy Tales, Queer MC
Keywords: Witches, Words, Curses, Blessings, Fairy Tales, Queer MC
Review: I like the way this story looks at fairy tales and the way that people might interpret this story of two sisters, one who pours precious stones from her mouth and one who produces snakes instead. How people look into that and try to find some form of justice, that the first sister was just and the second wicked. And that the witch then is just an instrument of that justice. But here the story really looks at the witch, and what she might have meant by approaching these women. And it finds a love that doesn’t really know what to do with itself. Because the witch lives away from people, completely isolated. So in some ways it doesn’t matter who shows up—the witch falls in love because she might fall in love with anyone. Everyone. But certainly the people who make their way to her home. And how she learns the power of her love, her words. How they change reality once she’s let them free. It’s strange but it’s also lovely and wrenching, because it we’re looking at curses it really seems to be her that’s cursed. Her that has to live without words because her whispers might take root in those she falls in love with. And it’s a provocative look at desire and silence and voice and magic. A weird but yearning and fun story!
“Streuobstwiese” by Steve Toase (3100 words)
No Spoilers: This is a rather chilling story about Rachel, a woman living on an orchard outside of town with Kate, whose story is perhaps a bit unclear but who definitely has powers. Magic that is dark and dangerous and snares those unwary who get too close to the house. Magic that punishes any who trespass, and punishes Rachel as well for all the small things that Rachel feels. Their relationship is interesting and a little difficult for me to piece together, weaving with that of an artist who is gone now but not before leaving his mark. It’s a story heavy with grief and with fear mixed with love. Rachel is trapped, both by Kate’s powers but also by her own affections. She doesn’t want to leave, but the further the story goes, the more she’s pushed toward a drastic choice.
Keywords: Art, Bones, Salt, Apples, CW- Abuse, Magic
Review: This is a very creepy story and one that I feel is something of a puzzle. Because Kate has the feeling of a demon to her, a sort of anti-christ-like presence and power. She can do things and does, transforming the world around her, killing people and insects on a whim and with a terrifying imagination for it. The wards around the orchard seem to be designed to keep people out, but it might also be Rachel’s attempt to keep Kate contained, to keep her isolated where she can’t do as much harm. Only she does, destroying everything around her and always curious and wanting more. To me, Kate feels like Rachel’s daughter, probably also the daughter of the mysterious artist who gets mentioned many times during the story. The artist who was full of lies. The artist who left but maybe because he was killed, though by who it’s hard to tell. But something of him has tainted the orchard, leaving Rachel feeling like she has to stay, to oversee the increasing horrors that Kate visits on the village. And through it all she might think of stopping Kate, but it never seems something she can really do. At most she tries to run away, and even that earns her a rather grisly fate. It’s a piece that uses very short scenes to good effect, giving the impression of a story stitched together from the body of something else, the result strange but compelling, never quite giving all the answers but providing and memorable and unsettling experience. A fine read!
“Lake Mouth” by Casey Hannan (2100 words)
No Spoilers: Okay so this is a weird story and it’s a bit difficult to properly summarize, but that’s never stopped me from trying. It follows a young man who seems on vacation at a lake where the rules of the universe are just a bit...off. Where there are ghosts in the water waiting to enter the unwary, and where everyone drinks and smokes and just sort of lets the days go as they will. Everyone is looking from an adventure, for an experience, and that’s pretty much what they do find. For the narrator, it means witnessing his mother be possessed by a ghost and the ghost’s stories. It means playing cards with cousins and listening to the strange voice of the house and the people who linger around. It’s a really hard story to make literal sense of, or map in any kind of linear way, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a satisfying or beautiful experience.
Keywords: Lakes, Alcohol, Ghosts, Queer MC, Family
Review: Okay so this story is Weird but also really fun. There’s a trippiness to it that might speak to the way the world feels like it works differently on vacation. Ahh, vacation. It’s something that doesn’t exactly happen as much anymore but I do get this feeling that for a kid going on vacation to like a lake house holds a certain kind of magic. Friends are different and everyone acts a bit different. And for the narrator it seems to hold, where he’s in this strange situation where the rules are suspended. He smokes and he drinks and he makes out with the neighbor kid. And there’s something lovely and compelling about that, that really conveys this feeling of being in a different world. Vacation is a place and a state of being where everything has been turned on its head and he’s just sort of going with things, seeing where they go. And in so doing he’s able to explore himself as well, his desires and his disappointments, while being surrounded by people who are vaguely looking out for him. And it’s just a wild ride of a story, odd but with a certain kind of internal logic that makes its own sort of sense. It’s fun and it’s lyrical and it’s very much worth checking out. Go read it!
“40 Facts About the Strip Mall at the Corner of Never and Was” by Alex Acks (1400 words)
No Spoilers: A story told as a list, this piece builds up a particular mall made up of five stores: a costume store, an ice cream shop, a gas station, and a former carpet store that now stands vacant, and a former payday lender that is now the home of grackles. The mystery of the piece comes from putting together the facts revealed into something that creates a narrative picture. A where and a why and a how. The facts are clues, and the story is about evil and death and justice on sleek black wings. And it’s a neat device, carried off with a feel that evokes (for me at least) the 90s boom of strip malls, and all the darkness lurking just beneath the surface of that suburban trappings of normalcy.
Keywords: Malls, Birds, Ice Cream, Ghosts, Justice
Review: The setting and the tone of this piece put into the mind of an almost magic carnival atmosphere. There’s something magical about this strip mall, and also something out of time. Something rooted in the late 80s and 90s prosperity. A prosperity that did bring with it a darkness and a hunger. And I love where the story takes that. How it builds up this place that is obviously fallen some from its heyday. Two of the stores are closed, and two others are...very strange. And they are peopled by grackles and by ghosts. The grackles, by the way, are pretty awesome, concerned with justice and with action. Freed to seek their revenge against the owner of the carpet store, who was something of a monster with appetites that left behind blood stairs and the odd bits of hair and flesh. For me it speaks against the false glamour of the times, of the idea of unbridled greed. The payday loan has been gutted. The monster has been dealt with. The grackles are busy passing laws. It’s a story filled with darkness, and with a recognition that there has been harm done. But it also speaks to me to reckoning with the past, and cutting down past the romantic ideas of malls and to the dark beneath, so that maybe some light can shine in. Because as strange and creepy as this mall now seems, there’s also a magic and a renewed wonder to it, where the sinister edge seems reserved for only those who break the grackles’ laws, which don’t seem unjust or corrupt. And yeah, it’s a bit strange, but I love the feel and it’s a wonderful read!
“Antumbra” by Cory Skerry (4000 words)
No Spoilers: Jesse and Jasper are twins, though no one confuses them. Because Jesse is popular and easy with people, where Jasper is awkward and queer in a family that prays before every meal. The piece follows their last day in their current school. Last because they’re moving. Again. Something that Jesse doesn’t seem to mind but that bothers Jasper this time. Because he _likes_ it at this school. Not that it’s great, but that he’s getting very tired of all the things he’s missing out on. The only thing going for him is his relationship with his brother, as the two of them really get each other, complementing each other. Beneath his anger at the situation, though, Jasper’s beginning to notice something strange going on. With his parents. With his brother. And well, things come to a rather dramatic head. The story is full of yearning and does an amazing job of drawing Jasper’s frustration and hope. His pain at the adolescence that he knows he’s missing out on and his need to hide from his family. And even with the quick turns the story takes into the strange and magical, it doesn’t lose sight of its core—the deep bond between Jess and Jasper.
Keywords: School, Moving, Twins, Family, Queer MC, Faery
Review: Okay so at first this might seem like a standard high school drama, with the added wrinkle that Jasper is queer and missing out on acting on any of his desires because of a religious conservative family who moves around a lot. He’s quiet and careful, very different from the love ‘em and leave ‘em mentality Jesse has with most people. In many ways he seems to be looking for a way out, but knows that he couldn’t leave Jesse behind, that at least he has this one profound friendship. And then the fae show up. And I love this turn in the story, because it’s a bit abrupt but it makes sense. Because Jasper has always felt like an outsider and it turns out that he is one. And the direction the story goes from there is fun without losing any of its emotional punch. The situation is strange bordering on ridiculous, the the stakes are very, very real. Because they have everything to do with the way that Jasper has been hurt by his parents, who do not really accept him for who he is. Who feel like they own him, and that allowing him to be himself would be losing that. And it’s just so real a situation, where he’s hurt because of what he’s lost, because of what he’s expected to lose, basically all of his life until college and technical emancipation. And that anger and loss comes through when he is given the power to choose his own fate. And it’s a great and rewarding moment when he realizes that he doesn’t have to lose any more. That he can walk away with Jesse, who he was afraid wouldn’t take his side. But their bond is the one that wins the day, and allows them an option no one expected them to take. And it’s a fantastic read!