by Gillian Daniels
A story that crawled under my skin and stayed there. Here, the spec element is present but muted: a careless surfer discovers his six-year old daughter and her mother are touring morning talk shows, describing the girl’s visions from a car accident. As the title implies, she experienced an afterlife that was far from heavenly. He figures that being pushed into talk shows is a less-than-ideal, if not downright abusive, situation and opts to take custody of her. Mysteriously, his wife concedes without a fight. Far from the girl being hellspawn now that she’s had a supernatural experience, she’s a fairly normal child. She adjusts to a Southern California lifestyle quickly. Her father adjusts to being a parent with less ease.
This narrative is terribly unique in its build up, simultaneously tense and gently hypnotic. The narrator shows his cards slowly, revealing no large traumas, just an assurance that he can make a better life for his daughter but only a murky idea how. Their relationship is touching, organically real. It’s all wrought in a downright dreamy execution, a style that serves its content well. When the story finally touches on Hell, on the truth of the girl’s vision, I was struck by its imagery.
This is a piece about being pulled under, a lifestyle of inertia and treading water. The prose manages the same trick, taking the reader to dark depths before she knows what’s happening.
Another narrative about afterlife entities, but one where divine creatures are saddled with unsatisfying careers and the need to make quota. It’s bittersweet, funny, thoughtfully written, and so well done.
The main character, an angel, fields mortal prayers that come to her in the shape of phone calls. She answers them to the best of her abilities, but is either forced to listen to petty grievances where callers blame her for their troubles or hear tragedies and pain with which she is unable to intervene. Her relaxed cubicle neighbor, Grem, a blissfully pleased and emotionally-centered demon with a love of metal and pot, manages the daily toil much more happily. The angel is relatable frustrated. She escapes into memories of her great guilty pleasure, relationships with mortal men. Because she’s immortal, and because she has a taste for drama, all of these romances tend to end in death.
Penny’s work is beautifully crafted and absolutely recommended. The humor is sly but the sadness with which it’s balanced is deeply felt. In this world, prayer is bureaucratic and the fantasy is mundane. The angel we follow isn’t pleased about the drudge of the work, but the fact that these sorts of career frustrations aren’t confined to earthly realms is deeply comforting. Her bad life decisions aren’t healthy, no, but they have a note of hope and connection. Forget the divinely serene; I like the idea of angels learning how to deal with the universal grind. As above, so below, etc.
“As You Were, Aggie (Or: A Fortunate Time for Reflection)“ by Rhiannon Rasmussen (Published: April 2016) Sockdolager
This P.G. Wodehouse pastiche fuses the delight of the original Wooster and Jeeves stories–where an inept, cheerfully idiotic heir between WWI and WWII gets into and out of scrapes with his far more intelligent manservant–to a slightly less human version of our own reality. This society, peopled by eldritch aristocrats with gills and iridescent skin, has a whiff of Lovecraft. It firmly belongs to another fantasy world, though, specifically the gentry life of afternoon polo and droll parties that Wodehouse laughed at and wrote about enthusiastically.
There’s very little darkness to be found in Rasmussen’s piece, certainly not in the the warmly stupid Algernon Willems. Much like Bertie Wooster, Willems is a good-for-nothing at the mercy of meddling aunts and fiancees who are more interested in his “improvement” than any sort of love match. The creeping sexism of much of Wodehouse’s short stories, here, is mitigated by making the hyper competent, stubborn manservant a woman. Willems’ employee is the brilliant Keets, a woman with the studiousness and forethought of Jeeves with a helping of mystical knowledge regarding a recent acquisition of a deeply unfashionable Rococo mirror.
It’s a welcome distraction and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The recent Sockdolager issue includes many charming offerings, like a short story about a roving bookstore. I look forward to future issues.
Shailaja’s family try to force her into a specific mold. They want her to have a job of their choosing, a husband that meets their approval, and a life that she doesn’t want foisted on her. They want her to be a plant, something that can be pruned and cared for closely, whose life can be confined to a patch of dirt. But she knows better. She isn’t a vegetable but an animal, specifically a bird trapped in a human body. While she denies the delusion outright, her neighbors see how it persists inside until she can’t hold it in anymore.
Simply put, Thakrar’s language sells this gorgeous flash piece. Her turns of phrase are lyrical, due to having literal song lyrics, and just plain beautiful.
“Today Shailaja stands before her family home, keening. Our town has gathered over the past hour, eager for drama. Her aunt and uncle, her betrothed, all cajole, threaten, and shout, even try to drag her inside, but it is as if Shailaja is beyond their reach.
At last she falls silent, and her aunt sighs with relief.
Then Shailaja’s mouth opens once more, crimsoned lips bright. We wait for her to speak, to sing.”
It’s a fairy tale, or maybe a folk tale, that ends perfectly but not neatly. This is about an ache for more, for freedom to choose one’s own destiny, but not necessarily a road map on how to wrestle it from the hands of stubborn, expectant relatives. Instead, it ends with a hope for finding people who will understand and are hoping for more, too.
Gillian Daniels is a writer of prose, poetry, and criticism. After attending the Clarion Science Writing Workshop in 2011, her poems and fiction have been published in Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Electric Velocipede, Flash Fiction Online, and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine among others. Her reviews are available at The New England Theatre Geek blog and other venues. She is a transplant from Northeast Ohio and is highly suspicious of her home in the New World, i.e. Boston.