The second month of Baffling Magazine brings two (very short) short stories for your enjoyment! Both are fairly dense, fairly sinking works, about characters dealing with a kind of relentless pressure, both figurative and, it seems, physical. They are dealing with loss and erasure, with grief and destruction. They straddle genres, the first more of an underwater science fiction and the second a dream-like piece of weird. It’s a bold second salvo from the new publication, but it works for me, showing definite lean toward short, sharp, and strange. To the reviews!
“From the Deep, the Music Rises” by Izzy Wasserstein (542 words)
No Spoilers: Ana is a diver of a sort, using an exo-suit to penetrate the Deep, a place of hidden dangers, monstrous fish and weeds that can easily kill a person. That seem to have recently killed Ana’s partner, Prin. Heavy with grief, Ana pushes herself to keep going, but is haunted by what has happened, and plagued by the silence left behind. Only that silence is fracturing, needs to be filled with something, and the question is--what? The piece is very short but sharp all the same, dealing with grief and loss without being consumed by them. It opens space--not much, but maybe enough--for healing, and a way to break the silence that isn’t a final scream.
Keywords: Suits, Diving, Pearls, Loss, Queer MC(?), Hauntings
Review: This is a heavy story, one that really gets into this place that Ana is in, both physically and emotionally. Physically, she’s in a dangerous place, and for me it has a lot to do with her job, with the risks she takes and is pressured into making by the system, by the fact that she probably needs to eat, needs to have a place to live. The story manages to build this without even really trying, just touching on the implication that management is not exactly a great force. And it puts this intense strain between Ana and Kelv. Because for me it paints this picture of the three of them as not only partners in their work, but likely much more. And where there were three, there is now only one. And it’s made this incredibly loaded situation where both Ana and Kelv aren’t quite willing to open up about their grief. They are pretending that nothing is different when it is. Pretending that they don’t have some deep traumas when they do. And that trauma, that pressure, is breaking through in the form of music, like Prin is haunting them, nudging them to talk about it, to confide in each other, to not let the silence take them both. And I love the ending, soft and yet powerful, that act of both of them saying something full of the promise of communication. That they aren’t going to stay pent up, aren’t going to pretend. Are going to face what is happening, what’s happened, together. And that’s just a really wonderful thing, beautifully captured in a very dark and grim place. A great read!
“Cellars, Caskets, and Closets” by Maxwell I. Gold (547 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is trapped. Chained. Sent running through a maze of towers and rooms, all of them closets, pursued by Mirrored Ones. They must carry with them their casket, and the piece follows their strange, hurried, frenzied, dreamlike chase as they try to get away. And the piece has something of an allegorical feel to it for me, couched in imagery that seems just surreal enough to almost have to mean something outside of the literal sense. It’s strange, it’s haunting, and it’s fracturing, the narrator and the reader chased and chasing something on the edge of meaning, lost in a way that it seems almost impossible to break free from. It presents something of a challenge to review, and to read, but it also has a lot to dig into.
Keywords: Dreams, Mirrors, Caskets, Mazes, Closets
Review: Given the queer lean of the publisher, when sitting down with this story it hits me the choices of imagery and diction. The narrator is lost in their own mind, lost, trying to find their way free. They are plagued by mirror beings, and for me it seems to represent the ways that people battle with perception. The perception of others, yes, but even more the pressure the world puts on the way the narrator sees themself. These Mirrored Ones are chasing them, telling them that they’ll never escape, that there is no freedom for them. Is that because the narrator feels something they cannot quite give words to? They are trapped in a closet, and for queer people that means something special. It represents a place where they cannot live their truth. And it might be complicated by not knowing what that truth is. Not having the words for it. And so the chains hold them back. And their casket is taken from them. Which, I mean, given the way that death complicates queerness, sounds like the narrator feeling a loss of control over even their death, their identity, how they are going to be remembered, how they are going to be defined after they are gone. All the complexity, all the wonderful weirdness, washed away, taken by these Mirrored Ones and made to conform with what’s expected, what’s “normal.” The piece has a feeling for me of someone caught in this place, caught and lost and fracturing from the pressure to have the words, from the need for it, because absent that there is no way to protect how you will be seen, how you will be rendered in the practical ways of the world. It’s complex and messy and intense, and despite being very short it’s a wonderful and poetic story that’s very much worth checking out. A fine read!