“Nobody Lives Here” by H. Pueyo (2511 words)
No Spoilers: Sera has just moved into a new apartment. One that’s clean and mostly empty, which suits them just fine. Having grown up in a mess of spoiled food and hoarded garbage, they have a strong aversion to anything that might attract insects. She wants a place that is clean, that is quiet, that can be a home to her. But her new place, while it seems all of those things, might be hiding something. Neighbors who aren’t supposed to be there, who might be bringing in their garbage, their mess. Sera is let in an escalating situation of wanting to just be clean and safe and not being able to run or hide from their anxiety, their trauma, all the ways they’ve been hurt. The story is creepy in large part because it’s impossible to tell just how much of it is “real” and how much is solely in Sera’s head.
Keywords: Insects, Houses, Neighbors, Hoarding, Cats
Review: This story really gets at the scars that Sera carries, the ways that they have been left with these lasting damages from their childhood. It’s...for me it’s a matter of trust, and how they could never trust the people around them. They could never have a space for themself, that wasn’t going to be violated by someone trying to make a mess of it. And specifically a mess about it, like any patch of tidiness was blood in the water for their family. It’s left them with this kind of inability to believe that they are safe, that they are secure, that they are going to be okay. It’s so wrenching that they are able to escape their family only to find, in the quiet of their new home, a shattering noise waiting for them. A doubt. A feeling that they are being attacked, that they are under siege, and that they are losing. The atmosphere is claustrophobic and creeping, dragging Sera more and more into the certainty of the bugs plaguing them, the mold, the trash and the filth and all of it becoming too much, so that even as they try to avoid it they can’t help but fall further down the hole. And I mean it doesn’t seem to be anxiety alone, delusion alone, because other people see the mold, and it’s quite possible a part of this is the place itself, that they are undergoing a kind of haunting. If not from a ghost then maybe from their own past, those memories and feelings given a kind of physicality, a presence. One that is able to reach out and claim them even as they tried to escape, perhaps because they tried to escape, and it wasn’t done with them. It’s a grim and gutting story, and it’s perfect for so soon after Halloween. A great read!
“The River of Night” by Tlotlo Tsamaase (6851 words)
No Spoilers: Leloba hate her job but needs it. A journalist and editor, she’s far from the position she studied and trained for (an architect). She lives in a tiny apartment with a pet, two roommates, and the roommate’s pet. She saves what money she can. She has sex with a married man. Nothing ever seems to get easier. Not dealing with the sexual harassment at work. Not dealing with her own sense of despair and loneliness. She fights, but she is losing, and her roommates are there to take advantage, to twist the knives, to push her more and more toward complete ruin. The story is difficult in that it’s incredibly grim, but it’s also incredibly real, the problems Leloba faces those that so many face in a world that doesn’t care what you want or what’s healthy for you, just what you can do to make money, and give it to other people in exchange for your survival.
Keywords: CW- Depression/Anxieties, Employment, Pets, Cheating, Dreams
Review: This story really hits the ways that depression and anxiety work, the way that live with Leloba all the time, roommates who take us space and resources but don’t pay rent. They are draining, and they are cruel, and yet there is a part of Leloba that is afraid of what she’d do or where she’d be if she left them. And they don’t seem the sort who would leave easily. And there’s not really any help for her. It’s a perfect storm of shit, and it’s one that’s not really uncommon. For so many people, getting help in order to make their situation better just...doesn’t happen. And it’s heartbreaking. Like Leloba and her pet, which is also her dream. It wants to be fed with her blood and sweat and tears. Her effort. To make something out of what she wants, her potential, the ways that she’s uniquely able to make the world a better place. And she’s not able to feed it. I mean, I don’t believe it’s something so simple as she chooses not to. Rather, the choice is always loaded against her. Does she feed it when she can barely feed herself. Does she feed it when it’s just one more thing, and not even a very pleasant one. Sure, her pet might be kinder to her than her roommates, but it doesn’t make anything easier, either. it can’t really help her do anything. It just wants from her, wants and wants and becomes another weight, another voice she can’t get rid of, telling her to do something for it. Even when it’s also for her. There’s just no great out of this situation that isn’t down, that isn’t being pulled under by those roommates and their pet. The piece is intense and grim and I love how the story shows this fighting retreat, Leloba just wanting something that’s not going to kill her, and still isn’t able to find something to clear that low hurdle. The world is too full of these kinds of roommates, too absent any sort of assistance to stop the descent. There’s only more blame, more shaming, more guilt that she should be doing more when she’s exhausted, in pain, run down, burned out. It’s a relatable experience, and so the fear springs from it being the outcome we all are pretty sure is inevitable. That at some point the strain will become too great. That no amount of hustle, no amount of saving, that no amount of spending will be enough. That Something Better won’t come fast enough. It’s a terrifying, raw thing, and it’s brilliantly captured in this obliterating read!