|Art by Franklin Chan|
"Jenny is Killing Turtles Again" by Alexander Danner (4988 words)
This is a rather sad story about a girl who lives alone following the murder of her parents. Well, not exactly alone. She lives with ghosts, with ghosts who have been eaten by turtles. And now Jenny, trying to find her parents, spends her days killing turtles. Cutting them open to try and find the ghosts. She's found some, ghosts that is, but not those of her parents. The ghosts she has found largely ignore her, but still she tries. The only ghost that knows her is that of her grandmother, but she, even as a ghost, is senile and doesn't remember everything. Jenny's rituals have made her an outsider in town. And her own guilt has isolated her more than any social stigma. Because when her parents were murdered she had been out with a boy. So she missed what happened. Missed the deaths and missed seeing if her parents had been eaten by turtles. It's a very sad story, one that really builds the guilt and tragedy of Jenny's situation. She's trapped herself, a shade of her former self, unwilling to let herself move away from the penance of killing turtles. There's not a lot of hope here, either, as she seems resolved to continue on. Maybe at some point that will change, but for the moment at least her grief and guilt have won, and the story, while lovely, is heartbreaking.
"The House of Ninety-Nine Secrets" by Kurt Hunt (4440 words)
Well damn, here's another story that hits like a ton of bricks as a parent waits with their child in a hospital and tells them a story. The set up, sick child and desperate parent, is handled well, and the weight of the situation infects the story they tell, that of a retired couple, Gus and Evie, who build a house that wakes up and demands that they build it a hallway with ninety-nine doors that hide secrets. The house in the story is restless, a bit creepy, and ends up being a possessive force, wanting constant attention, wanting the couple to keep opening doors, discovering the secrets. The parallel between the story of Gus and Evie and the child in the hospital is a little murky, but the image of the parent telling the child the story is strong, and solid, and emotional. And the way that the story goes, with Gus losing Evie, with the house telling him that she's behind a door so that Gus opens all the doors to find her, that he leaves the idea of the secrets behind so that he can have more time with Evie is emotional and pays off. The story ends with an affirmation of people over experiences, that all the excitement and adventure and secrets cannot compare to having those that you love. Which definitely works, especially with the prose, which is effective and strong. My only issue with the story is that the parallels between the two main narratives didn't seem that clear to me, because the parent doesn't seem like Gus in this case, nor did the sick child. I can see how it would be told to a sick child to comfort them, but I wanted perhaps a little more to link the parent and Gus, to really smack that message home. Still, it's a good story with a great emotional payoff.
"My Brother's Keeper" by Beth Cato (4856 words)
This one is a much funner story, though still dominated by loss and grief. A young girl, Deborah, lost her mother, who was something of a magic user, and ever since has felt a bit lost, aimless. Her father burned her mother's books, and without them she fears she'll never be special, never have a real talent. It's a fear that her brother shares to some degree, but he has more anger about what happened, and more of a need for revenge. He contacts some dark magicians and finds a way to get some of their power: to kill the man who killed their mother, along with the man's wife and child. It's something that Deborah will not allow, and she sets out to save her brother from making a terrible mistake. To this end she gets some help, and after a few attempts finds a way to stop her brother, and maybe gain a deeper understanding of herself in the process. Despite the themes of loss and revenge, the action in this story is a bit more fun, and but more positive, as Deborah learns to forgive and move on and find a way to move forward. It's a story about recovery and moving on, and as such it's a solid story, one well worth checking out.
"Meat" by David Steffen (507 words)
This is a very short flash piece about a serving bot who gets a visit from a pair of police officers. The bot works for the Master, who demands the house be clean and that there be red meat in the fridge. But the Master has been gone some time and the bot no longer has funds to buy meat and knows that if the police have their way that it will be unable to keep meat in the fridge. So the bot acts, and the police become more meat. It's a nice little piece with a good hook, and a few questions that are left unanswered to keep the mystery of the story alive. What happened to the Master? Is he even alive? Why the meat? There's enough going on that my attention never wavered, though the story being so short did a lot for that as well. The bot is also rather cute, rather humorous, being murderous in an attempt to be cleanly and obedient. Short and wickedly sweet, this one.
"Fortune's Dance" by Jaymi Mizuno (2038 words)
A Chinese dragon flees from hunters looking to use it to cash in while a woman tries to help the dragon escape in this story. The set up is simple enough, the woman a bit jaded after her grandmother had been murdered in a robbery. Without her strong presence, the family has drifted apart some, and so her granddaughter is out a bit directionless, a bit yearning for the time when things were simpler. Finding the dragon who needs her help is the definition of fortune, because it gives her some purpose, and something that tether her to the situation. Though she wasn't able to help her grandmother, she can help this dragon, and does. The story is a little standard but fun, the action simple but interesting. I wasn't really the biggest of fans of the hunters, who seemed just a little bit to cartoonish for my tastes, but it gives the story a direction and drive that is easy to understand. And the ending is hopeful, a bit uplifting, and overall the story is pleasant and worth a look.
"Nixie's Rival" by Brynn Macnab (1252 words)
The last story of the issue is another short one, this one about a man who has the lucky (or unlucky) distinction of attracting two different supernatural creatures to him. He's a bit of an idiot, is our Harold, a bit of a jerk as well given that he seems to have no problem falling in love with women and then breaking things off when it gets too much of a commitment. First with a nixie, who lives in a pond and who vows to kill any woman that he falls in love with after he tries to get out of their engagement. Which works for Harold for a time, the excuse convenient for getting out of relationships when they get to be too much work. Then he falls for another woman, one who decides she is going to break his obligation to the nixie. Which, as it turns out, isn't all that difficult as she is a salamander, a shape shifter who can shoot fire. She convinces the nixie to back off, and for a moment Harold is quite pleased, the story ending just as his new fiance is going to reveal her true nature. It's an interesting story and works for its length, and I'm going to read it as a cautionary tale of don't be an ass rather than as women can be monsters when it comes to commitment. The tone is light and the prose solid, the mix of the normal with the supernatural entertaining and well done. Indeed.