|Art by Amanda Makepeace
Well Fireside Magazine certainly takes its Halloween seriously, because this issues is entirely ghost-centric in order to get you into the spoopy mood. The stories explore what it means to be a ghost, what defines ghost-ness. And obviously, spread over so many stories, the place it arrives at isn't homogeneous. There are a variety of ghosts, as there are a variety of people—ghost who remember their lives and those who don't, ghosts who hunger for the living, and those who want only a break from isolation. Ghosts created by violence, and those created by longing. And it's a wonderful celebration of ghosts carried out over the issue. So let's get to the reviews!
“Lost Girl” by Catherine Lundoff (689 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this piece is a ghost who doesn’t quite remember why she’s haunting the house she’s at. She seems aware of the tropes of ghosts, the reasons why a ghost might haunt a house, but has no distinct memory of her own life. What’s left to her is the presence of the woman who lives in the house now, and tantalizing possibilities of what they might mean to each other. The piece is tinged with a feeling of longing, of yearning, of the kind of hunger that might cause a spirit to linger. There’s a darkness, a shadow, but something more tender as well, if also heartbreaking.
Keywords: Ghosts, Longing, Loss, Memory, Haunting, Queer MC
Review: This story has such a great, mysterious, wrenching feel to it. For me at least it really does capture the heart of what makes a ghost story—that hunger to remain. In this case it seems to have pushed everything else out, as if death was so traumatic that all that the narrator could hold onto was this desire. To stay. To be with someone. And they can’t remember if that hunger has to do with the person in the house now or if it was someone else, something else. And that brings the biggest part of the creepiness for me, because the ghost doesn’t know and basically doesn’t care. They are still filled with this desire, this hunger to break through the loneliness that has become so much of their time. She wants to press herself to the woman in the house, wants to share something with her. And, if possible, wants to hold that woman in the house after death, to have someone to be with, to share with. Only again, that woman might have nothing to do with the ghost, might only be a victim here, and if it’s a cycle, if it’s something that’s been happening over and over again, then there truly is something very scary going on in that house. For me it just carries this weight, this gutting inability to know if what the ghost is feeling is part of something warm and wanted, if the woman pines and yearns in the same way the narrator does, or if this is something much less positive. And in that space I feel the reader is confronted by how thin a line that can be, and how overwhelming a hunger when the context of telling what is love and what is...something else is taken away. What remains is a story that is unsettling and quiet and lovely and terrifying. And very much worth spending some time with. Go check it out!
“The Haunting of 13 Olúwo Street” by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (3142 words)
No Spoilers: This story unfolds from the point of view of a haunted house, and one that really only came to be aware of itself once it was haunted, like crossing into being a \haunted house imbued it with powers that even it didn’t fully comprehend at first. Even as it explores what it means to be a haunted house, though, the piece also throws into harsh contrast the expectations of haunted houses. That they be dark and evil places. That they be dangerous for the people who might come to live there. Instead, the house wants only warmth, compassion, and understanding of the tragedy that happened within it, at a time when it was powerless to do anything about it. It’s quiet and pleading, lonely but resolving into something beautiful and warm.
Keywords: Ghosts, Houses, Haunting, Documentaries, CW- Assault
Review: I really like how the story imagines what creates a haunted house. A tragedy, yes, but...not necessarily a dark energy that comes from violence. Rather it seems to me that the power of the house comes from a desire to protect. Because the ghost of the woman who used to live there remained, and the house, perhaps so guilty that they weren’t able to do anything to protect her the first time, has made it their business to make sure that their ghost should have more respect. It’s not something that the living seem willing to see or understand, though. As evidenced by the way that the house must put up with all the attempts to put it into the tropes and cliches of being haunted. The way that their pain is trivialized and erased, made into something where they are the bad guy, they are the villain. They are exploited for their tragedy, and they refuse to give into the pressure to give that expected appearance or answer. They refuse to be dragged down, or they do as long as they can. But at the same time they want people to live there. Want something like joy to be inside them again. But only a joy that can see and empathize with the ghost still haunting them. So that maybe there can be a spot of healing. Of understanding. And maybe slowly the scar from what happened will fade, will fade in the light of the new and happy moments that can be shared there. And that the house finds a happy ending is all sorts of wonderful, showing that sometimes it only takes one person standing against the tide of those wanting the easy and expected horror, willing to be kind and compassionate when people insist that it’s a mistake, an invitation for disaster, when what they’re really doing is furthering the harm done. A fantastic and heartwarming piece!
“On the Other Side of the Line” by A. T. Greenblatt (1687 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is coping with the sudden appearance of a Line. A physical barrier that sprang up one day and effective cut off one side from the other. For the narrator, the Line went right through their house, stranding their partner, Paulo, on one side, while the narrator and their dog, Turnip, are on the other. The loss is strange because the nature of the Line is strange, allowing pets to cross but not people. Allowing some messages, but only one direction, and never whole or coherent. And the narrator has to decide what to do, how to adapt, and how much to hope that maybe there is some way to cross the line and reach the person they love.
Keywords: Division, Portals, Communication, Dogs, Cats, Barriers
Review: So all the stories this month so far have been about longing, and while this one isn’t a ghost story exactly, it is about a very strong desire to reach for someone that is gone. It’s just that the nature of this being gone isn’t exactly clear. For me, the Line could be many things, could “mean” many things. It could even mean death, and this could effectively be a ghost story. Or it could mean a sudden ideological shift, such as political lines that suddenly seem to divide people. It could be geographical, or time related, where maybe one of the pair had to shift their schedule. Or it could be the onset of something like depression that comes down and feels like a physical barrier. I’m not sure it matters too much what precisely the line “is supposed to be” because for me at least the focus is on the feeling of isolation and distance, and how the narrator reacts to the Line. How at first they try just to get over it and move forward. But that it’s not possible for them to just accept that they have lost their partner. They can see their partner at times, know that they must be alive, must be trying to communicate. Accepting an end would mean stepping around the frustration of not knowing what to do, or how to handle what’s happened. It makes this out of the narrator’s control, which in many ways it was, but it says that because they didn’t create the situation, they shouldn’t have to fix it. And again, fair. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to fix it anyway. That what they want is to regain their place with their partner, and that regardless of what’s fair or what they’re supposed to do, they’re going to do this. And it’s a lovely and mysterious story that really gets into the hope and despair of sudden change. A great read!
“Radio Static” by Carolin Jansen (764 words)
No Spoilers: This is a rather heartbreaking story told by a woman in a vegetative state to her girlfriend. And...fuck, that alone should tell you that it’s not going to be an easy read. But it is also a rather beautiful exploration of grief and love, showing the narrator reaching out however she can, trying to say the things that she cannot, trying to comfort when she’s become disembodied. It uses some very heavy emotional artillery, and as such it’s a rather devastating read even as it’s centered on love and progress and not regret.
Keywords: Ghosts, Accidents, Queer MC, Comas, Radios, Haunting
Review: Well I think any doubt that this is a ghost-themed month of work from Fireside can be laid to rest (heh). And I really like how this story gives a voice to someone who isn’t exactly dead yet, but... It’s a ghost story all the same, and it’s difficult all the same, because this is just such a tragic circumstance, a woman involved in a traffic collision trying to give something to the woman she hoped would have been her wife, and now, well, that’s not happening. It’s an attempt to find closure in a moment where these two people have been severed violently and probably insurmountably. And that really is the hardest thing for me, the fear and the tragedy that the story hones in on—that there are times when you don’t get to say goodbye. When you don’t get to reassure the people you leave behind. And in keeping with the issue’s works, the piece looks at the deep longing that is left behind after death (or brain death). Not necessarily even for more life (though there’s probably that, too). No, here the desire is just to be able to tell her girlfriend all the things that she didn’t get the chance to. To encourage her to heal, to move on, to be happy. Which might not make all that much difference, but the comfort goes both ways, that if the narrator can imagine their girlfriend as recovering, then maybe death would be okay. It’s not exactly a healthy way of looking at it, but then she’s dead, and health at that point is irrelevant. She deserves something that will let her know it will be okay, even knowing it can’t be okay. And lacking that, there is only static, gentle and persistent and waiting, waiting, longing to give voice to words that will probably not make it across the divide, but need to be said anyway, just in case, before the end. And fuck, it’s a hard story, but also effective as hell. It hurts in some beautiful ways!
“What Cannot Follow” by Eugenia Triantafyllou (884 words)
No Spoilers: This story finds a family moving into a new house. The thing is, one of the previous tenants is still there, only...well, she’s no long among the living, if you know what I mean. And the story shows this meaning, adding context and layers of grief and care in some complex and poignant ways. For such a short story, it even manages something of a twist, and throughout seeks to step away from the idea that hauntings are only bad or horrifying and seeks instead to explore how hauntings can be about love, and tenderness, and warmth.
Keywords: Ghosts, Moving, Family, Babies, CW- Loss of a Child(?)
Review: I rather like how the story grounds itself in this act of moving, and in that act inheriting something that a different family left behind. It’s a way of looking at ghosts and hauntings that I haven’t really seen before, where they’re not really viewed as entirely bad. At least for Eva, ghosts have connections to families, and if you respect them, if you’re kind to them, they’re not necessarily disruptive. It’s great how the story shows how awful people can be to ghosts, how they view them as nuisances, as something akin to rats, to be exterminated in order to make a home more livable. And I get the feeling that the only reason that Eva can afford to move into this new place is because the ghost there is too “stubborn” to be moved out. Only it’s not malice that motivates this ghost, but grief. Loss. And a desire perhaps to reconnect. Which makes this not at all a scary story, despite it releasing so close to Halloween. For me, at least, it’s a rather touching story about how families tend to carry things with them when they move. Eva has a ghost of her own, on top of the new baby, and it’s obvious from her relationship with the ghost that’s following her that her approach to ghosts is very different from most people’s. And she’s able to make a connection, able to reach out when most would run away, and that’s a rather lovely sentiment. The title for me speaks to the ghost of this house, who was unable to follow their family and who is now a part of the house. Who has in some ways become a wound, showing that some violence happened there. And Eva might just be able to start on the road for healing. It’s a strange and wonderful read!
“After Living With Him” by Okwudili Nebeolisa
Whoa boy. This story hits me in a place where family and upbringing, identity and grief, all meet and mingle. It takes place as the narrator makes food with their family. The scene is one of familiarity and routine, the family members each having their roles to play in this ritual, in the preparation of the meal. And each having their silences, the things that keep guarded. At least the narrator does, hiding something large about them because they know that it’s now accepted, because they know that admitting it isn’t the rescue ladder that it’s being vaguely held out as. There’s this wonderful complexity to the piece, where the narrator is surprised by this sudden question about a friend they had lived with. About their sexuality. And I feel in some ways that the narrator has expected this and struggled with this because the urge is there to reveal the truth, to be open about it. In the hopes of acceptance, in the hopes that all the fear and anguish that they no doubt went through were in vain, and maybe they were mistaken about what the outcome would be. At the same time, though, they have through about this it seems very much, have weighed and measured. And are dealing with their own griefs, with the death of this friend. It’s in that vulnerable place that the mother’s question comes and it’s such a fragile thing, so fraught, that it feels like everything will shatter if things are pushed just a little further. The narrator can feel the ghost of their friend (and here again ghosts dominate this month’s works), and it seems to me like they want to acknowledge them, they want to say how they really feel. But...they don’t. And I don’t see it as a defeat or a betrayal. I don’t see it as anything other than...than the narrator wanting to save their relationship with this family, with their mother. Because the narrator does seem to be saying all they need to by not answering, but leaves open the space for their mother to sort of chose what do with that. It’s a wrenching poem, one that really captures this moment that condenses so much pain and uncertainty and fear, and leaves it there to linger with the readers. A fantastic read!