This week's stories are about characters that feel trapped — metaphorically, metaphysically, physically, and phorically. This week's stories are also about ghosts — of the dead, and of the past. This week's stories are intense and memorable enough, that there are only two of them.
Image: detail of illustration, Shimmer Magazine
A Whisper in the Weld by Alix E. Harrow | Shimmer
Isa died in a sudden suffocation of boiling blood and iron cinder in her mouth; she returned to herself wearing a blue cotton dress stained with fresh tobacco. She was younger and leaner, as she'd been when she first met Leslie Bell. Her skin shone dark and warm without the black dust of the mill ground into it.
After death, ghosts are sculpted like cold clay into the shapes they wore when they were most alive. Some people are taken awfully by surprise. Women whose whole lives were about their husbands and homes are, without warning, precisely as they were when they met a stranger's eyes on a crowded streetcar. Men who had the kinds of careers that involved velvet-lined train cars and cigar smoke are suddenly nine years old, running their spectral fingers through the tall grasses and thinking of nothing at all.
Isa wasn't surprised by the blue cotton dress. She had always known what she was about.
I pretty much knew that I would be here telling you to go, right now, and read this story the moment I got to the line "ghosts are sculpted like cold clay into the shapes they wore when they were most alive." That right there is a beautiful conception of ghosts and death, and I am here for it.
The rest of the story does justice to this opening. Beautiful and evocative and sad and true. Just go read it.
The Stagman's Song by Ginger Weil | Apex Magazine
Susan poured tea and focused on kitchen sounds: the splash of water in her mug, the clack of spoon against ceramic. They didn't mute her mother's restless pacing, or the rattle of her uncle sorting jars in the basement. Too many of the jars were empty. Uncle George would come up soon, and ask her to go hunting with him. Susan didn't know how to refuse. There was no one else now to go up the mountain.
Susan's family made their money hunting stagmen on the mountain. After her Uncle George was rooted to the farm by the stagmen's curse, Susan and her cousin Ronnie took deliveries down the dirt road to the interstate, pickup bed carefully packed with mason jars and coolers for the city alchemists. Then Ronnie went up the mountain in her turn, the family's old rifle balanced over her shoulder. Susan watched as Ronnie came home marked and shaken, packed her bags, and left.
The mood and atmosphere of this one is so entrancing. And I love how it explores very real issues in a speculative setting without being coy or making you guess. Weil is very upfront and open about what she's conjuring up here, and it really works.