This week's stories are all very personal and focused on a single character's inner life. They vacillate between sweetness and despair and hope and pain.
The Salt Mosquito's Bite and The Goddess' Sting By J Mehentee | Strange Horizons
There was the faintest brushing against skin: the Salt Mosquito wheeling itself into position. And then Dawa felt its bite.
He opened his eyes, held up his hand, and saw the tiniest spot of blood in the fleshy fold between thumb and forefinger. Beyond his hand, the village stream slogged silently westward, as if exhausted by its steep mountainside descent. The stream had to be rife with Salt Mosquito larvae. Why hadn't he remembered that before coming here to meditate?
He examined the bite again. Dawa stood, iciness gripping his insides. If he had heard the older novices correctly, then only a day remained before he'd suffer a horrible death.
When I got to the end of this story, the best adjective I could come up with to describe it was "sweet." Even though some not nice things happen to young Dawa, the overarching tone here matches his essence, and in essence he's a sweet and kind boy who is far too trusting of others — but these qualities probably make for a good monk. This is a quiet, meditative piece that involves no shattering of earths or heroic quests and I adore it.
Image Credit: Monk by D. Lobo
Look At Me Now by Sarah Norman | Omenana
After a while, it began to get her in trouble at work. Her colleagues thought that she was getting lazy, arriving late, or disappearing in the middle of the day for hours at a time. She bought a headscarf and a long coat, and took to walking into the office with her face turned towards the wall. Once, Gareth from Purchasing bumped into her. She dropped her bag he bent down to pick it up, and then looked her straight in the face. There was nothing there, of course. Her head scarf was empty. But he did not flinch; just handed her the bag and went on down the corridor.
Tendi was getting used to this reaction. As it was impossible that she not have a face, peoples' brains just put one in for her. Children were different though. They saw what was actually there, whether it was possible or not, and Tendi came to quite enjoy frightening a whiny child on the bus into silence by lifting her scarf, just for a moment.
There's a trajectory that stories about invisible people usually follow, and this one does not do so. To reveal why is a spoiler, so I'll only say I was surprised but not unhappy about the ending. A bit risky on the author's part, but too often I see people shy away from tough actions. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about it in the comments.
Weight of the World by José Pablo Iriarte | Fantastic Stories of the Imagination
We weren't going to Earth to bury my boy. We weren't.
And yet as we drew closer, kilometer by infinitesimal kilometer, the old liturgy ran through my thoughts like a tuneless song. Earth to earth. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
The Steinman Protocol that offered the only hope for Jason's condition was only available back on Earth. That's the reason the three of us had packed up and taken a shuttle to Bester Station, the Hook's counterweight, and why we were now trying to settle in for the eight-day trip down the home planet's gravity well.
This flash piece doesn't fall into over-sentimentality, which I appreciate, yet is a touching exploration of what parents go through when they have a very sick child. The last paragraph nails it.
Eye by Wole Talabi | Liquid Imagination
If you could see beyond the horizon of what is and into that amorphous realm of what will be, what would you do with the knowledge from your sight? What would you say? ... Perhaps you would just stand there with your lips sealed, silent and sessile as the river of time flowed gently towards it destination, for better or for worse. Perhaps you will do nothing with this gift but wish you could return it.
Trigger warning: child sexual assault.
Since I had two flash pieces on deck I figured I'd include them both this week. I read "Eye" the same day I read Ken Liu's piece last week, so the simpatico between the themes really hit me hard. In both, the authors explore the costs and conflicts and dilemmas of precognition. Talabi takes it to an even darker place.
Which of these stories were your favorite? Did I miss any really amazing March stories? Let me know in the comments!