One of the best ways we, as a culture, process the tragic things that happen in our lives (individually or as a group) is through stories. Fiction is powerful that way. And there's been a lot of powerful fiction written about and around 9/11.
If you're up for it and still working your way through feelings about the anniversary, may I suggest the following 9/11-inspired short stories: There's a Hole in the City by Richard Bowes, Apologue by James Morrow, and Until Forgiveness Comes by yours truly.
Not feeling up to that? I don't blame you. Read my favorite stories from this week, instead.
A Cup of Salt Tears by Isabel Yap | Tor.com
She wades to her favorite corner of the bath and sinks down until only her head is above the water. She squeezes her eyes shut. How long will he live, she thinks, how long will we live together?
She hears a soft splash and opens her eyes. Someone has entered the tub, and seems to be approaching her. She sinks deeper, letting the water cover her upper lip. As the figure nears, she sees its features through the mist: the green flesh, the webbed hands, the sara—the little bowl that forms the top of its head—filled with water that wobbles as it moves. It does not smell of rotting fish at all. Instead, it smells like a river, wet and earthy. Alive. Some things are different: it is more man-sized than child-sized, it has flesh over its ribs; but otherwise it looks just as she always imagined.
"Good evening," the kappa says. The words spill out of its beak, smoothly liquid.
When creatures out of folklore or myth come calling, professing love, it's not always the best idea to accept it. Not accepting it can be equally dangerous. It gets even more complicated when your heart is already being torn apart by grief, only to be pulled in multiple directions. This story explores complexities around love, terminal illness, and obsessiveness. There are no simple answers in the end, which I appreciate.
image credit: Victo Ngai
What Is Sand But Earth Purified? by Jason Sanford | Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine
The sand blew across the beaches of Nukuoro Atoll—the only island left in the Bubble of Sand—and whipped devil swirls and grinding mists around the island's massive sandstone karst. The sand blew without sound, blew without care, and as Anchor Slim watched, it blew into an image of the last expedition. For a split-second, massive rough-grained simulacrums of his wife and her three fellow expedition members waved at him before collapsing back into the nothing blur of even more sand.
"Was that Kayla?" Anchor asked his kayak. "And the others?" Bucky clicked a confused series of bubbles, indicating she didn't know what Anchor was talking about.
I like how Sanford builds the future world in this story in carefully placed pieces over the course of many pages, the same way he builds on the characters. The story weaves in a little mystery, a touch of love story, and just enough future tech for an engaging science fiction story. Long after I finished it my mind kept coming back to the characters and the mystery around the sand. Highly recommended.
"I'd like you to sail out with me next week."
I assessed him again. I hadn't thought him drunk, but he had to know we couldn't sail anywhere.
"I spoke with Mrs. Wainwright about buying your bond. Or leasing it, I should say. I'll only have need of you for a short trip. I need somebody your age on board. Do you know why?"
I considered for a moment. "You think I can get you past the sirens?"
He smiled. "Well done. Yes. We must get past the sirens, and beeswax doesn't bloody well do it, contrary to anything Homer said."
Alex Hyde-White's narration of this story is an exemplar of why listening to a story can be even more enjoyable than reading it yourself. All of the characters are distinctive and distinguished by voice without him needing to "do voices". And the timbre and accent so perfectly matches the tone of the story it's as if Hyde-White was made to read this.
Lightspeed's fiction podcasts are always well-produced and I encourage you to subscribe if you're a fan of the magazine in general.
Ceilidh McCallum Versus the Super Evil Fairy Lady by Gabrielle Lissauer | Luna Station Quarterly
Tucking a strand of brilliantly red hair behind an ear she looked around for the spade she saw earlier. She would have to bury the soldiers because she wasn't allowed to make funeral pyres any more. Not since she almost set fire to the barn.
Which wasn't any fun at all.
After a moment's search she spotted the tool by the raspberry bushes. However, something much more interesting than the spade stood in the bushes.
A baby unicorn, its coat a soft caramel brown, nibbled on the just ripened berries. She let out a soft gasp of delight, putting her hands over her mouth. A unicorn was so much better than the pony she'd been nagging her mother to get. They came with weapons on their heads!
A bit of lighthearted fun to end this week's fiction offerings. I love little Princess-Warlady Ceilidh McCallum and her large family, of which we get mostly glimpses. I have the feeling that this story is part of a much larger world that the author is working on. One day I hope to find out the story behind the "super evil" fairy lady. For now, just remember that not all unicorns are filled with happiness and far rainbows, kids. As I mentioned last week, sometimes unicorn stories don't end well.