|Art by Flavio Bolla|
Both the stories of the latest Beneath Ceaseless Skies feature characters who have lost their parents. who are left with an infrastructure that is largely patchwork and unsound. Who hope, by following the familiar paths, the rituals that have been left for them, they can have something like security, something like safety. While, really, there’s not much of either in their lives, and they are left struggling, scrambling for each scrap they can get, all stressed and lonely and hurting, wanting things they can barely give voice to, much less achieve. It’s a difficult issue but another well paired one, and I’ll get right to my reviews!
“Who Goes Against a Waste of Waters” by Eleanna Castroianni (2261 words)
No Spoilers: This story follows the titular narrator as they and their sibling live in the skull of a fallen giant, tending ghost sheep to harvest their milk, a commodity that keeps them alive and able to trade, though it also brings dangers in the form of coyotes, even as the graveyard they live in provides other pitfalls and presences. The piece is strange, at times almost dreamlike, the landscape twisted and dark. The narrator and their sibling have to live with a situation that seems at the bottom of a long decline, holding on (or not) to the last ravaged vestiges of life even as death stalks closer and closer. It’s a weird and haunting read, and one with a light touch of world building amidst a suffocating exploration of dreams and hope and dust.
Keywords: Graveyards, Ghosts. Sheep, Family, Loss, Coyotes
Review: This story really speaks to me of decline, of these two siblings being the bottom of this curve that has been falling for a long time. Each generation seems to have it worse and worse, until there’s just the two of them, holding on, poisoned more and more by the landscape, by their home, by the dangers all around them in the forms of men, ghosts, coyotes, and the giant whose skull they inhabit. Nothing is safe, and though they are supposed to stay to their function, there seems to me to be the realization that it’s just a matter of time, that sooner rather than later they are going to disappear. If not killed by the coyote then seduced by the ghosts, or deprived enough that they’d just starve to death. And it speaks to me of the situation that so many are put in, growing up in a world that seems hopeless, that is toxic and dangerous, that is growing worse and worse, and where the pressure is to repeat the cycle, to continue on the same road that led to this misery, to this loss. The siblings are doing what they know, but it’s the same thing that failed their parents, that failed them. They are locked into patterns that in turn ensure that the abuses and the dangers just get worse, and worse, until more and greater breaking points. It’s a piece to me that confronts and grapples with the mood that creates, the bleak doom that creeps ever onward, with perhaps a word of warning about getting caught in the cyclic abuses that lead to oblivion. For the narrator and their sibling, there really isn’t anything left. They are victims both of the past, convinced that what they need to do to stay safe is recreate the very things that most definitely do not keep people safe, because safety might not exist in this world. A great read!
“Lonely Children Lost at Sea” by Wendy Nikel (4798 words)
No Spoilers: Loraine lives on an island populated by children lost at sea. And her generation is one that vastly expanded the population of the island, with over fifty children added that one night. Now they’re grown and Loraine is a teacher while her best friend Gina has made a home with a man they were both friends with, something that’s put something of a strain on their relationship as Loraine feels excluded suddenly and Gina feels that Loraine is jealous of her happiness. But whether that happiness is genuine, especially after a child washes up on shore that Gina decides she’s going to raise with her man, something the island has never really done before, preferring a more communal child-raising process. The piece is full of a sort of yearning ache, a pain that came from being lost, from being stuck on an island that seems to promise only more of the same old toil.
Keywords: Islands, Seas, Children, Schools, Parenting, Friendship
Review: I really like how the story explores the ways this situation might seem kind, might seem merciful, but in many ways how it’s a kind of hell. Or at least a kind of purgatory that there’s no real escape from. It’s not completely desperate, though there isn’t much in the way of comforts. And at least the children have each other. But it does feel like a kind of stasis to me, and the story is very clear that the sea, in bringing them here, isn’t being kind. It has its own mysteries, and its own rules, and the children have been chosen probably for a number of reasons, not least of all that they are easier to control, that they can more fully be shaped. As if the sea itself were lonely, and wanted a family of its own, and didn’t much care what they wanted. For me, at least, the situation of the island is in some ways like the smaller situation with the new child and Gina. Gina has decided that this child will be hers, and she’s unwilling to really let that child go. She’s full of love, maybe, but also full of hurt and loneliness, and her love comes with an edge, with a kind of anger and brewing violence that she carries with her. The piece is heavy with a complex kind of loss. Not just that of the lives they might have had if the sea hadn’t claimed them, but the loss for Loraine of the life that had been in some ways happy. A life of friendship and community that Gina has sort of made into a competition. One that Loraine doesn’t seem to have wanted but that she is playing into all the same, because Gina’s “gains” seem to be Loraine’s “losses.” But then, those “gains” don’t really seem to make Gina happy. Indeed, they seem to spring from fresh hurts, the knowledge that she has a family out there, and not one that drowned when they all arrived on the island. For me the piece circles desires that can’t be truly fulfilled, that people try to patch from other tragedies, the result not so much a functioning whole as a messy of broken pieces, not without beauty but without much hope. The whole setting is a kind of limbo, and the characters are prisoners as much as they are a community trying to help each other as best as possible. A lovely read!