|Art by Tomislav Tikulin|
“The Whalebone Parrot” by Darcie Little Badger (5970 words)
This is a chilling story about family and about ghosts, about possession and history and harm. It features Emily, a young woman who grew up in an orphanage, stripping of her Native American heritage and original name and put in a place that forced a new language on her, a new world on her. And Loretta, who became her sister in that stifling place, has now brought Emily out to an island where Loretta’s husband is the watcher in a lighthouse. Loretta, expecting her first child, has brought Emily to give her a chance at a better life, but Emily quickly becomes Loretta’s nurse when the strange death of a parrot seems to herald a mysterious illness in Loretta. The story does a great job with building up this lonely island, with creating this very Gothic atmosphere complete with ghosts and threats of being sent to a sanatorium. It’s a story that very much plays into the time period that it’s set while allowing Emily and Loretta to have a voice and a power. They are at risk not just because they are Native American but because they are women, and even with as liberal and kind a husband/brother-in-law as they have in Albert, he’s still very much a Rational White Dude who refuses to believe that anything supernatural might be going on and is pretty sure it’s just Women’s Issues. And so it comes down to Emily having to cut through his bullshit and figure out what’s going on, despite being so young, despite having no one to help her. It’s a story about her trying to save her sister and her cat and everyone and find a place where she doesn’t have to erase herself, where she can embrace it some. And that’s ultimately what saves the day and I love that, that it’s the sisters’ shared heritage and language that allows them to cut through the miasma that’s descended on them, that lets them connect and beat back the dark to remain whole as a family. Also, I just love the story because the author seems to create awesome Evil Birds and they are creepy and just a bit delightful as well. So yeah, it’s a moody and dark and gripping story and you should definitely check it out!
“The Weirdo” by Davide Camparsi, translated by Michael Colbert (4020 words)
This is a strange story that unfolds around a small village in the mountains and an old drunk the people call the Weirdo, who tells stories and cries about the monsters in the forest there. The story is very much about outsiders and insiders, the village dealing with the intrusion from a SFF writer wanting something from it, wanting to discover its secrets for material for a book. The Weirdo, for all his squalor and sadness, remains something of a guide in this, his stories of the monsters enticing the outsiders, getting them to go out into the woods. Where they disappear. And the story does a great job of slowly building that from the perspective of a boy from the village, a boy whe listens and watches and see the spell the Weirdo’s words have, who experiences them himself and has some pity for the Weirdo, who doesn’t really fit, and who occupies a very special place in the village’s landscape. And the story descends even as it draws the reader up the mountain to learn if the Weirdo’s tales are fantasy or something else. Something darker. And I like the way the story twists, the way that it transforms away from what might originally be expected, and into something else. There is a very definite breaking point where the story decides to reveal what’s going on and past that it doesn’t flinch away from really ramping up the horror. What was a moody piece with a creepy setting and uncertain outcome becomes very certain, and very bloody, and well, yeah. It’s actually a pretty neat and almost fun story, really, reminding me a little bit of some of the fake-out endings of my childhood (and okay, Goosebumps specifically but only because of the similar approach to the horror, to the desire to make the reader question everything they’ve been reading). It’s something of a cheat, but it also makes for a creepy and sinking story that’s well worth checking out!