|Art by Avant Choi|
“The Garden Where No One Ever Goes” by P H Lee (1519 words)
No Spoilers: This story revolves around a city that has declined, whose sacred waters that once fed elaborate and coveted gardens have effectively dried up, are available now only from the limited number of people who can create the magic water on their own. People like the narrator’s family, who live well, who have some power and influence. Who don’t at all approve of the narrator sneaking out to the old gardens and meeting a lover who isn’t their faith. Who isn’t their class. With whom just being together is a crime. One that only one of them would pay the price for. The piece is drowning in tragedy, leaning on the classic trope of star crossed lovers but keeping things fresh with a touch of magic and a rushing river of dashed dreams.
Keywords: Lovers, Gardens, Water, Magic, Family, Religion, CW- Torture/Executions
Review: This is one of the shortest reads I’ve encountered at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, but it’s no less emotionally devastating, a gut punch of a read, rending and raw. The hope the story captures between the two characters, that they might have a chance, is as beautiful and it is doomed, and I love how the story sort of subtly builds up how the narrator and their lover aren’t entirely on the same page. That for all that they are both aware of the danger, that they both know that their love is forbidden, the narrator has these hope that they can find a way. And their lover...well, seems at least to see that it’s so unlikely as to be practically impossible. And the lover also seems to know that they’re the one that carries the greater risk, that for all that the narrator is as deeply in love, they might not be equally as careful, because a part of them wants to live openly, believes that’s possible because they are...not exactly used to getting their way, but still more entitled, more privileged, and the result is that the tragedy blooms, bright and brutal and final. And the narrator, who maybe hopes to find some peace in it, who does hurt to see their lover tortured, about to die. still too believes in their romance as something that make a difference now. At least, for me, the ending and the lover looking away shows a sort of distance that their situations has made, that the lover is the sacrifice, the one brutalized, and though the narrator doesn’t betray them, the narrator is still safe and insulated from this thing the lover is facing. This death. And the tragedy there overflows, the pain and sorrow, and the ending comes as this physical thing, an injury that can only be expressed through this flood of loss that seems to wash away everything else. It’s difficult and shattering and wonderful, and I definitely recommend people check it out, though also take care of your feels!
“After Me, The Flood” by Elizabeth Zuckerman (5192 words)
No Spoilers: Dahut, the narrator of this story, is a princess. The daughter of the king and a sea-morgen, a woman who abandoned Dahut’s father (and Dahut herself) to return to the sea. And Dahut’s life is a prison, one filled by the willful ignorance of those around her, and the sexual assault and essential slavery she endures at the hands of her father. So...the story is rather grim, rather heavy with the weight of what she goes through, the trauma and the fact that no one ever thinks to...even really have sympathy for her. Never apologizes to her. never acknowledges that what’s happening to her is awful. Either because they fear saying as much or because they think in some ways she must be choosing this, or else likes it, or else at least is benefiting from it as if that’s a bargain she can make and not a trap that only ever hurts her. The piece finds a way...not exactly towards hope, but toward a resolution, and really the only one that’s possible, given everything that’s happened and how profoundly she’s been failed.
Keywords: Magic, Seas, Cities, CW- Rape/Incest, Royalty
Review: This is a hard story to read because of the content, because Dahut never really gets much in the way of real relief, real compassion. She’s a princess in a story, and as such she’s on this pedestal that keeps her away from everyone else. Even the people she spends a lot of time with. People who come to respect her. People she saves with her magic and her hope that maybe she can have this thing, this city, and it can be hers and safe. But nothing for her is safe, everything a tool that her father can use to control her, to hurt her, to make it so that she can’t embrace the sea that’s in her blood, whose song is in her always. She tries her best to make the best of things and that’s sort of the worst part, or the most wrenching part, the story showing that she’s very good at trying to help others. She protects them, nurtures this city where people are happy. Other people. And while they might feel they owe her something, none of them can save her, or at least none of them try because of the power her father has, because that’s always been his will, the price of living in his domain, looking away while he rapes his daughter. It’s horrifying but reads true, that so many people who take that bargain, especially when they, too, can put her up on a pedestal, can make her into this sainted martyr. Casting their own salvation as her desire, as her choosing them over her, when in reality she never really gets a choice. Not until she makes it for herself, and at that point the tragedy and the release of the story happens. A destruction of the city that was the only thing she ever asked for, but only because she knew better than to ask for something she really wanted. It’s an uncomfortable and dire story, built like a kind of fairy tale and with no less disturbing elements that crescendo into a plunge into the water, a death, a rebirth, a descent into the shadowy depths. And a great read!