This week's stories are elemental—passionate waters and stone cold fires. They're about the things we do for family — sacrifices and lies. And what it takes to push us into the unknown — under the sea, or on the road.
And the Winners Will Be Swept Out to Sea by Maria Dahvana Headley | Lightspeed Magazine
I'm in your house, wearing one of your shirts. I'm sitting on your floor, with all the drawers of every desk and dresser open. I have them poured out and I'm looking at what you've kept. Your old laptops and love letters, your hard drives full of photos and emails, your string and wire tangled into little knots, hard and tiny, twisted so tightly that I can't crush them more than they've already been crushed.
I've let a fox move into your upstairs. She walked into your flat one day, and I waved her past. Now she has kits in the bedroom closet, nested with your sweaters. There are bats in the basement, but they're from before you left. My heart is full of hammers. I don't understand how you could've left me here, with your keys, and your bed, with your bookshelves. I have my own place too, but you left me in yours when you went.
I have a little pile of metal animals. I have a bunch of things you gave me, things I hung around my neck. I have bracelets that hook to chains, and out in the back there's a rock with a view of the water.
Sometimes, when I sit out there, I see the monster under the surface, the tension scraping over its scales. It's big. What I can see of it is only a spine, or a tail, sometimes, and then it's gone. I sit on that rock, looking over the edge, and think about how I used to love swimming.
Love how this story is indirect yet not frustratingly obtuse about what's going on. Headley takes a while to give concrete details about the characters, though the setting itself is familiar enough that it almost comes off as mundane, until you get deeper in. Yet it doesn't feel like she's just hiding things from you to build false suspense or to trick you into a GOTCHA, THEY WERE REALLY DINING ROOM CHAIRS THE WHOLE TIME kind of situation. The main character flows and ebbs and transforms and rushes and it all works so well. I was, very honestly, swept up in this story from the start.
The marriage of the corn king by Claire McKenna | Cosmos Magazine
I set my husband alight, and he is beautiful and his thermal yield matches the sunlight that grew him until finally he ignites one wall of my plastic-printed prison. I scream for help and my jailer comes roaring in yelling stuff like What the hell's going on, and Goddamit, I could kneecap ya, and you won't be running nowhere.
My husband's blood is 100 proof ethanol and my jailer cops a bucket of the stuff as he plunges below the flaming lintel, and one of my husband's fingers, thrown, sets him alight. Diesel farmers don't think in terms of low-temperature vaporisation, so he doesn't run like he should have done, and all it took from me was that tiny flame and suddenly all that sunlight and photons and C4 photosynthesis and energy dense biomass makes him hot and hot and burn and burn and burn...
But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
Despite the "rage fire" opening, this is a quiet science horror story where the horror part has nothing to do with supernatural monsters but human ones. I love that it ponders the question: why do we so often let sociopaths lead us?
Art Credit: James Nathan
And to the Republic by Rachel Kolar | Crossed Genres Magazine
I tried to keep my face calm as I read the attachment, even though on the inside I was screaming curses to Jupiter. I couldn't send Antonia an email from work about the problem – centurions had access to the work computers of Republic employees, everyone knew that, and even though I'd been a model employee for my entire life you never knew when they were going to do a random sweep – so I waited until the end of the work day to call her. I didn't hurry out the door, since that would raise suspicion. Instead, I stopped at the shrines as I always did, lighting my incense to Mercury for a safe commute and to Washington, Lincoln, and the paters patriae for the health of the Republic, before sliding behind the wheel of my car and punching my sister's number into my cell phone.
"Toni. You're being inspected next week."
"What? Why?" There was a jagged edge of panic to her voice.
"I'd certainly never say that they're giving me advanced warning with a wink and a nod so you can get your shrine in order and not be fined for some stupid technicality. I'd never say that."
She snorted. "Well, it's more than a technicality, isn't it? I suppose you're going to laugh when they throw me into the arena."
I'm a fan of the worldbuilding here more than anything else. The relationship and tension between the two sisters is well crafted, though I feel like I never got a real sense of where Antonia was coming from, other than contrariness.
Image Credit: takomabibelot on Flickr