Thursday, October 17, 2019

Quick Sips - Beneath Ceaseless Skies #288

Well the anniversary issue is over and it’s back to business as usual at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, which in this case means back to two stories about distance and isolation, memory and transformation. In one, a man looks back on his life and especially his youth, preparing himself for a new kind of adventure. In the other, a boy finds that he can’t remember his life, and that as a ghost he only gets to interact with the living world one day a year. Both are slow and winding stories, serene but ruled by sadness and yearning. Both find characters who are looking to move on, and might finally have found a way to do just that. It’s a somewhat sorrowful issue, and I’ll get right to reviewing it!


“The Edges of the World” by Grace Seybold (2688 words)

No Spoilers: Nalatachet has been in exile for thirty years following a rather youthful rebellion he was a part of with his friends. A rebellion that turned out to perhaps be more serious than they had intended. But full of Big Ideas, they were willing to try for something and damn the consequences. And, well... there were indeed consequences. And now Nalatachet uses his exile to try to further his alchemy and to write letters to one of his old friends. It seems like any other day, but it turns out that not all is as it seems in this serene location with its pond and its mysterious turtles. There’s a shadowed current flowing around the story, and it makes for an interesting and compelling complication in Nalatachet’s life.
Keywords: Rebellion, Letters, Turtles, Transformations, Exiles
Review: I like how the piece slowly takes what might have been metaphorical or lyrical and turns it literal even as it deconstructs the false world that Nalatachet has been building for the reader. Because at first it seems like maybe it’s all nostalgia that keeping him going, remembering his college days, writing letters to an old friend. He seems comfortable and a prisoner mostly in name only. He’s continuing his research and his largest pastime almost seems to be watching the turtles. And I like the way that the slowness of the piece might beguile the reader into thinking that he’s just an old man ruminating about the past, full of hot air and intentions of maybe someday doing something but mostly broken and washed up. And I love that the piece reveals that that’s definitely not the case. That he’s kept his fire alive by harnessing a grief and loss that have never gone away. That he’s pushed the boundaries of his knowledge in order to do this final act of rebellion. And I love that the piece accomplishes that through the revealing that the flourishes that might have been lyrical or metaphorical are literal, that his skin and his height are not manifestations of his tiredness or his exile, but rather part of a magic that is physically transforming himself, and that he’s getting out from his exile, spiting one last time in the eye of authority and taking back some of his relevance and dignity. And it’s a gorgeous story, emotive and alive and powerfully rendered. A story of looking back not out of a fixation or nostalgia but as a sort of farewell before venturing once more into the unknown. A wonderful read!

“Under Their Wings, These Starving Ghosts” by Grace Yang (3487 words)

No Spoilers: A ghost boy awakes every year on the day of the starling migration, the power of the birds enough to pull his spirit into the land of the living. But there’s nothing but ghosts in the town on that day, every living person shuttered away from the press of ghosts who have largely lost their humanity, become slugs simply desperate for touch. The only peace he can find is in the garden of a witch, and over the years his relationship to that witch begins to shift and deepen. It’s a yearning, melancholic story, one anchored by loss and a quiet grief that lingers on and on, never quite dissipated.
Keywords: Ghosts, Birds, Witches, Death, Memories
Review: This story gets me in the feels, featuring the ghost of a boy who doesn’t really remember anything about his life. Who only gets to live again a day a year and even then finds no human presence to interact with. After the day is up, he dies again. And on. And on. The loneliness of that situation, the sort of wrenching place that the boy resides in, is beautifully and, yes, hauntingly rendered. It has this weight to it, this near hopelessness, where he doesn’t have time to get to process what’s happened to him, to really figure out where he is. And none of the living want anything to do with him. He’s an outcast now, and it’s easy to see how his desire for companionship, for someone other than the mindless ghosts around him, could make him like them. Just a hunger, a force that wants something that can never be given. Desperate for touch and some way to perhaps cut through the isolation of death. Luckily for him, he finds the witch, and slowly the two start to bond. Because the witch understands very acutely the loneliness that he feels. And so, eventually, she helps him. But at the same time that it gives him a chance to maybe come to terms with his death, it’s somewhat tragic because it’s not giving the same courtesy to the witch, and for me it becomes more obvious why she didn’t do this sooner, because in some ways he was a way for her to feel less alone. And now she’s lost that as well, given him the release that she can’t get herself, and even in doing so she can’t give him back his life. Can’t ease that loss, and the regret and sorrow over what has happened. But it’s something, and there’s the prospect that maybe eventually he will move on, untethered, with the hope that maybe, somehow, the same will be true of her one day. It’s a lovely read and definitely worth spending some time with!


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