March’s Flash Fiction Online saw a return to John Guzlowski’s mini-novel series with “The Last Man on Earth Looks for a Friend – A Mini-Novel”. As with the first two stories in the series, this one focuses on life and death, on loneliness and grief. It’s an experimental, rather poetic story, and beautifully told. It was also the only original speculative story in the issue. Moving into April, though, Stephanie Feldman penned a wonderful story about a woman fleeing an abusive relationship in “The Annual Conference of the Ladies in White”. Trying to break the cycle of abuse, flight, and return, the narrator accidentally comes to a hotel holding a convention of ghosts, of ladies in white. And though she finds them almost horrifying at first, as she spends time with them she begins to understand them a bit more, and begins to see herself and her situation much more clearly. It’s a striking story about death and danger across a wide range of cultures and folklores, and one woman finally finding what she needs to leave behind a terrible situation. “On the Anniversary of Your Passing” by Thomas K. Carpenter is a time-travel wrapper around a sweet and chewy story about a relationship that fractured and is slowly coming back together. The narrator keeps finding their significant other, only to lose them again and again. But each iteration gives them a chance to reconnect, and over time they come to learn what’s most important to them, and to their relationship.
The latest issue of Fiyah is unthemed, but that doesn’t mean the stories lack smooth connective tissue. The issue on the whole is rather grim, with moments of warmth but a focus on loss, hunger, art, and exploitation. It opens with Kirk A. Johnson’s chilling “Needs, Wants, and Dead Things”, which stars Ndibi, a young man who had wanted to escape the life of a goatherd. But after a plague passed through, killing many, including his parents, what he comes to want is to have them back. Their guidance and presence. When he visits a bush wizard to effect just such a return, though, the outcome is not what he anticipated, and features some sharp horror. That trend towards horror continues through to “Liqueur of Memory” by Samantha Frye, where Celeste and Nick are chasing a muse for their art (Celeste’s writing, Nick’s sculpting). When that chase takes them to grave robbing, Celeste can’t shake the feeling she’s doing something wrong even as it does invigorate her career. Her success only makes Nick’s hunger deepen, though, and touch on something that might better have been left alone. Chasing success echoes in Jarred Thompson’s “Upside Down Frown”, which imagines a future where the Department of Happiness has managed to live up to its name, “solving” unhappiness like generational trauma through a judicious use of brain implants and suppression of history. For Cassandra, though, who works as a museum curator, this kind of happiness might come at too high a price, and the story does the fascinating and careful work of exploring the implications of technology that can erase certain kinds of pain without actually healing them. On the poetry side of things, Beatrice Winifred Iker provides a relentless and breathless experience in “The Deathing Room”. The poem follows a woman moving through Death’s house in search of her stolen lungs, and it is a defiant, evocative look at the price that people, and especially Black women, pay for living in a world that’s hungry for their voices and suffering. It’s a brilliant way to close out the issue!
April’s GigaNotoSaurus story is the charming “Fox and Troll Steal Math” by Jeff Reynolds. And as unlikely as it seems, the title does a great job of summing up the piece, where Fox and Troll are thieves trying to pull off the impossible – the Thief’s Gambit. The feat would make them legends (and pretty rich), but stealing math puts the pair on a collision course with danger, violence, and death. The pacing is fast and the plot twisty and fun, but even so it’s the relationship between the characters that shines for me. Troll and Fox are close, and while they might not be the best at talking about their feelings, what’s important is what they’re willing to do for each other, as their actions speak volumes. It’s all captured with a bounding energy and sly wit that really works.
“The Annual Conference of the Ladies in White”, Stephanie Feldman (Flash Fiction Online 4/22)
“Upside Down Frown”, Jarred Thompson (Fiyah 4/22)
This review and more like it in the June 2022 issue of Locus.
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