“The Last Man on Earth Crawls Backs to Life – A Mini-Novel Sequel” by John Guzlowski (960 words)
This story is actually a rare sequel at FFO, and a sequel to a story that I reviewed back in March 2015. It builds on the story there, which was one of loneliness and decline, a character coming to terms with being the last person alive. And this story begins the process of bringing him back from the despair at the end there, or perhaps from the willingness to leave the lonely world behind there. Here, again told in tiny chapters, the Last Man finds that maybe, just maybe, there’s something left to discover in the world. Some more reason to keep going. If the first story was about coming to terms with loneliness and discovering an emptiness in it that cannot be filled, then this story is about exploring that emptiness without fear or hesitation. And I like how the story builds up the Last Man’s struggles, from that first moment that could have been his last back towards a kind of hope. A hope not for what happens in the next world, not for what might be left behind after he leaves, but rather hope that there’s still something to find, that there’s still something he can do about the weight of being the Last Man. The prose itself is flowing and lovely, capturing a very quiet world where even the sings of the birds have disappeared. But the Last Man doesn’t stop looking, and in turn he fills the world with his own voice, his own song. To banish the fear and the doubt and the everything, to keep moving, to keep living. To me it’s an understated story, one that doesn’t rely on too much actually happening. Instead it focuses on the feeling that things do still happen, though perhaps not the things people expect from the end of the world. That there’s still a stillness and a softness and a kind of befuddled confusion giving way to the will to enjoy small moments of connection and beauty. A great read!
“Listen and You’ll Hear Us Speak” by A.T. Greenblatt (1000 words)
This story follows a cycle of abuse and exploitation and reveals a path toward justice, toward healing. It’s based in large part around voice and around violation, where there is a fairly common practice for traders known as Voice Stealers to prey on quiet people, on those who won’t be missed, who don’t seem that able to use their voices as is, and take everything from them, leave them far from home without the ability to return, without a voice to speak. That action of taking a voice renders the victims all the easier to be preyed upon again, vulnerable and alone, not able to make connections the way that most people would. Either they find themselves unable to live or else they find some way forward, often in other systems that are abusive, jobs that don’t care about them, situations that require them to figure out new ways to communicate. Often they are left without clear memories of what has happened to them but the story shows that people in this situation at the very least have each other. That, slowly, they can find one another and start to build a network that will allow them to build stories and to find some way to reach toward justice. That they can begin to use the fact that they don’t have a voice and the way it’s made them adapt in order to adopt certain strategies of their abusers. That they can become predators of a sort, but designed to catch other predators, to catch those who would harm them. And here the story turns, and it’s where the framing really shines to me, because the story is written as an oral story. So from the start the piece is a neat reversal of that, this quiet person, this voiceless person, still telling a story, and in essence telling a story about how that’s possible, about how they will not be silenced even when their voice is taken, how they will defy and how they will seek some form of justice though the system has let them down. It’s a great moment where the narrator reveals everything, complicating the act of speaking, the act of listening, and making the reader feel a taste of becoming voiceless in the face of someone finally finding a way to be heard. A fantastic read!
“And All Our Bones Were Dust” by Steven Fischer (1000 words)
Well that’s really damn sad. Beautiful, but fuck, I might need a moment for this one, which in some ways reverses the progress made from the first story, where the Last Man walked away from the end of the world and toward something different. Here, a couple finds themselves fleeing from annihilation, a disaster that one of them can see coming, can feel approaching in a vision of what’s to come. It’s a vision that they’ve come to trust, and it pushes them away from the destruction, farther and farther, racing against this disaster that might or might not happen. The story flourishes in the sense of anticipation it evokes, and in the deep tragedy of the story, where the main character can see everything coming and urges their partner to get away. There is a sense for me that the story is also looking at truth and lies, through this lens where the main character cannot lie to their partner, that they cannot pull the punch of what’s going to happen. Except that, really, they still do. Because they don’t reveal the full extent of everything. And to me, there’s a bit of cruelty in that, even as there’s a beauty to it as well, to the way the main character is willing to risk everything, to lose everything, for the woman they love. It’s just that in some ways it’s a story that very much buys into the apocalyptic idea that survival is everything, and that survival can be a gift to someone. Which really doesn’t seem fair, because of what kind of a debt that puts the other person in, because it doesn’t allow the person to consent to what’s going on. Instead they are forced to live with the other person’s decision, and that’s a hard thing to do. It’s a tragedy in any sense, even as for the main character there’s a small victory and comfort to help them face the end that’s fast approaching. And it is a heartbreaking and difficult story ultimately, that ends with a punctuation as loud as Armageddon. A fine way to close out the issue!