“Spider Season, Fire Season” by Carlie St. George (3733 words)
No Spoilers: December is pregnant and on the run from her abusive ex, coming back to California n search of a house with a ghost. She finds one, where a young woman was murdered, where December hopes that she can be safe, though she knows it’s only a matter of time before her ex catches up with her. What happens when he does, though, is chilling and tense, exploring cycles of loss and abuse, murder and haunting. The story doesn’t just perpetuate those cycles, though, and finds a family that is able to come together under the shadow of abuse, the threat of destruction. That they are able to wake, to help protect one another, and when that’s not possible, at least to stay together even through death. It’s a strange and, well, haunting story, but one with a strong and more uplifting ending, at least for me.
Keywords: Ghosts, CW- Abuse, Murder, Friendship, CW- Pregnancy, Family
Review: I love the mythology and world building that the story manages in the relatively limited space of the piece. That ghosts are all over, but that they exist in a kind of loop, sleeping, dreaming their nightmare again and again, the moment of their deaths. It’s something that December is familiar with, having known a ghost when she was little. And the piece does build up this wrenching, rather heartbreaking nature of ghosts, that they can remain stuck in that nightmare, that they can remain trapped in the pace where they died, reliving it over and over again. It’s only through someone else, someone living (or maybe another ghost who has broken free) that they can wake up, that they can leave the prison of the trauma that killed them and move freely. And I like that it’s not just a question of moving on. Ghosts can choose to stay, and I really like the chosen family element of this story, the way that December is so willing to reach out to the ghosts of the house, the spiders and the young woman, Olivia, who is trapped. The section with the ex is visceral and difficult, violent and showcasing rather how common it is for women to fall victim to abusive men. December, Olivia, and the ghost from December’s childhood all face the threat of death at an aggressive, male hand. Only December is able to get out alive and only because she’s helped by Olivia. Only through cooperation and community can any of them find something like safety, and only buoyed by that can December’s daughter, Clara, have a hope of growing up...not free from that shadow but empowered despite it. And aware that dying is not a moral failing, and in this case might not even be the end of the world. So yeah, it’s a wonderful story that does some great things with ghosts and hauntings. Fantastic work!
“We Came Home from Hunting Mushrooms” by Adam R. Shannon (2606 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is one of five friends (and two dogs) who are off to hunt mushrooms that will hopefully prevent them from being Forgotten, a strange and nebulous term that might mean killed, might mean just disappeared, but in any event has been announced by the President as happening to because God’s will. How the Forgetting works is a bit uncertain, but the friends all try to hold hands, to witness each other, so that no one is in danger of being Forgotten. And the piece is lovely and lonely, at least for me, unfolding from the eyes of a narrator who feels a great deal of distance, who misses a past they think of as a bit more welcoming, all the while accidentally losing sight of something, if only for a moment. The horrors rises from the space the Forgotten leave, a wound that isn’t a wound, that doesn’t even leave a scar behind. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an impact, though.
Keywords: Dogs, Mushrooms, Friends, Forgetting, Religion
Review: I like the way the story builds up this idea of being Forgotten. That it’s something strange, something that comes with a kind of threat. Because the President has announced it in a very religious context, the implication is that being Forgotten is like being disappeared, being eliminated for being anti-government. Or for being something that the government doesn’t approve of. That God doesn’t approve of. The feat is there for these friends, who are trying to find a way to avoid being Forgotten. And yet even as they work to try and help themselves and each other, the question that haunts them is how they’d know if someone was Forgotten. The narrator worries about this, about how they’d know either if someone else was Forgotten or if they themself were to be Forgotten. Either way the point is that no one remembers. There is no wound, just an absence that fades, that resolves itself so that no one really feels it. And the piece for me draws its horror from the power of that, the power of utter erasure. And the powerlessness of the narrator and the other characters just trying to hold onto one another, realizing (or, even worse, not realizing) that they can’t. What remains are the wounds we don’t know we carry, the weights that are weightless, the knowledge on a deep, muscle-memory level that something is wrong without being able to articulate what because your language has been taken, your memories have been taken, and all that’s left are the charred edges and emptiness. It’s a lovely read, full of a quiet longing and dread, and I very much recommend checking it out!