Hello, dwellers of the Alive Lands.
A year has passed around the sun, so they say (but a year of The Deadlands has not happened yet).
But that’s the stick by which you measure award eligibility, and so we oblige, we indulge this rule so you are comforted, and feel good about reading our fiction, reassured that everything is all right.
For your deep consideration, we have wrangled a post of the fiction that our little zine has published in year 2021. We would be endlessly delighted if you would consider these pieces when it comes time to cast a nomination for your most favorite stories of the last year.
All are available to read online, for free, so the only price you pay to read these amazing stories is your time. Your precious, precious time.
But having read all these myself (and totally not biased at all, I promise!), I can assure you that the tradeoff of time for having read these is very much worth it.
Peristalsis by Vajra Chandrasekera (short story)
Season one, episode one, minute thirty-one and thirty-five seconds: Leveret chases Annelid into the jungle. They are laughing, because they’re teenagers and it’s a game. The jungle is not quite a jungle. In a much later episode, we learn via a minor subplot about 1970s land reform that it was once a colonial-era rubber plantation, abandoned and gone feral. It will gradually grow wilder and more overgrown through the seasons. Leveret and Annelid will grow older, too. This is that kind of show. We know when another year has passed when the new year birds hoot in the background. There are only two kinds of show: the kind where people grow older and the kind where they don’t. We, the fandom, love the first kind best. We love this show so much.
Shuck by G.V. Anderson (short story)
No one, not even Bridget, could remember how it started, and yet by the winter term, it was common knowledge that she’d taken over the old smoking area and, for a price, would answer one—just one—question about the death of her friend, Samantha. Year Nines were especially bloodthirsty. Balancing on the threshold between childhood and everything after, they demanded to know things like: Did her brains wash off your parka afterwards? Did she die right away? Did you actually see her head come off?
Bridget charged an extra 50p for that last one.
The General’s Turn by Premee Mohamed (novelette)
So it begins. And the play is conducted upon the gears of a clock.
Constructed inside this ancient cathedral the bright artifice of turning brass was by necessity laid flat to provide a stage; it looks wrong but it all works to keep time. There is a bell, though it does not strike the hours. No electric lights are allowed; we often bring in lanterns, but tonight the cavernous space burns gold and amber from the flaming city. It is bright enough to read a newspaper.
The Shadowed Undertows, by Natalia Theodoridou (short story)
I look away from the fountain’s waters, up at the dirty sky, the upside-down trees, the birds flying backwards, spiraling and curving, their wings sharp and oily. I imagine my messages hanging from those roots like rotting fruit, waiting for him to remember who he was and pick them. What had I sent him? I don’t remember.
In the distance, the dead roll their stones.
Immolatus, by Lyndsie Manusos (short story)
We learned as each of us came into being that all castles have hearts. This castle has three. We still have our hearts, but our bodies were taken. Our hearts are the flames alight in the candles. They are the curtains and stained glass windows. They are the stains beneath our breasts, cold and withering, where he left us in that chamber.
Our hearts led us there, from the first who found the chamber to the third who saw the others displayed as angels. When the third joined us, we realized our anger was enough, and the flames burn hotter now. The castle is warm. We make it so for the new bride. She will not shiver as we did.
They Call It Hipster Heaven, by Lauren Ring (short story)
They call it hipster heaven, where all the cool kids go. I walk the dark street alone, searching for the entrance, but no one I pull aside will give me any details. None of them look me in the eye. They shake their heads, shuffle their thrifted boots, and tell me no in a way that clearly means not for you. Not for me, with my wrong-season dresses and my secondhand knowledge of the art scene, with names like Rothko and Duchamp clumsy on my tongue. But for you, nowhere was off-limits. You were always the one who belonged.
What Remains to Wake, by Jordan Taylor (short story)
Spiders’ webs stitch shut her lips. Dirt weights her eyelids. Her hair has long turned to mold and leaves. The forest shifts around her, cycling through the seasons. She thaws. She freezes.
Her roots tangle with those of the trees.
One spring, her toe pokes its way out of the leaf mold, like another of the pale mushrooms that grow around her body. The next spring, her finger, wearing a ring of tarnished gold.
All the Open Highways, by Alexis Gunderson (short story)
I was seventeen when I got my first ghost.
It goes without saying it was night. I was driving down the state on Highway 59, the two-lane one that’s narrow and desolate and mostly straight and’s had some shoulder work done recently. But back then it hadn’t had, not yet; back then, it was narrower still—nearly claustrophobic, save the empty horizon on the left and the right and in either direction of your tires, and the very occasional jog around some scuffy ditch that collected just enough water in the springtime to lure antelope and rabbits and foxes and skunks to drink. Then to die, to become dumbstruck roadkill when their drunken departure took them too close to the deadly revolutions of the tires on the rare but not rare enough cars. There aren’t that many ditches to jog around, but there’s always plenty of roadkill. Animals can be dumbstruck dead anytime, I guess, not just when drunk off ditchwater. They’re not all that smart, maybe. Or something.
Invisible Motels, by Jeremy Packert Burke (short story)
My lover is full of holes. I unwrap their bandages and apply fresh unguents and try not to mark the disease’s progress. I cover them again with gauze and blankets, and when I finish, they fall asleep. Their body is laced with tubes—colorful, dead, makeshift limbs that maintain their grasp on the world.
Restless, I explore their home. It is full of useless things: records and dead game consoles and books we no longer have the strength to read aloud. Empty frames for beekeeping. The guts of an old grandfather clock. It is not hard to remember the better times these marked; it gets easier every day. The trips we took together to the beach; the long nights dancing until we thought the living room floor would break; the afternoons we’d laze together under the sun and watch the world turn.
I am not sick, but all wellness is temporary.
From the Ashes Flew the Ladybug, by Alexandra Seidel (short story)
Féli was healing. She felt her body, its bright rage at having to mend everything that had been severed, but the flesh obeyed, the bones obeyed.
Her eyes obeyed as well, and she opened them to see.
“Muhneküpchen,” said the voice of smoke. “You are back with the living.” He walked into her field of vision and filled it, just like he had done before with his smoky voice. He held a cup of wine in his hand, drank. “Well, not quite with the living. We’re in Hel, and there are few alive here, but it’ll do.”
In the Window, by Patrick Lofgren (short story)
There is a man on the porch. There is man standing on the porch in the dark, in the rain, with no umbrella. The man does not have an umbrella and he is standing on the porch in the rain but he is not wet. It has been raining for hours. Around his feet, on the concrete of the porch, there is something like the inverse of a puddle. Around his feet, the concrete is dry.
The man on the porch stares at our door. He does not move. He does not rap his knuckles against the chipping, green wood. He does not press the doorbell. He does not peer through the peephole. He does not turn his head to meet our eyes as we gaze out from the living room window. He stands on our porch in the rain.
I Had Never Been a Candle, by Freydís Moon (short story)
On a Tuesday afternoon, I was sifted into a terracotta urn hand-painted by my mother. I watched her from the center shelf above the sink, dipping her coarse brush into acrylics called sunshine and tangerine, and wondered if she’d ever known my favorite color was turquoise. I had never been a candle until right then, listening to the sink run and bristles scrape clay, but the wax warmed in silvery sunlight, and I quite liked how the wick fit against my soul’s incorporeal backbone.
“I bought you a casket, mijo,” she said, suddenly, to no one and to me, to an empty house and to the orange-breasted finch pecking at the window. “When this is all over, I’ll make it right.”
L’hiver est assis sur un banc, by Margaret Dunlap (short story)
Winter is sitting on a bench. She is not noticed by the people passing, the children playing, the birds flying from one tree to another. She is ignored, as though she is no more worthy of note than a man with glasses in a gray suit.
She seethes with the insult but cannot move.
Every day the sun rises a little higher, a little hotter, eating at her icy flesh. She is as fixed in her place as the sun is in its course, but just because the outcome of the heavens’ eternal dance is inevitable does not mean she accepts it with grace.
Roots of Lamentation, by Marissa Lingen (short story)
I died in a tropical rain forest, protesting the logging industry. I didn’t want to die, but I was prepared for it. I had left a will, I had talked to my family about the risks, I had meditated and read the right sorts of books. I had many thoughts about the afterlife.
None of them prepared me to go from bleeding out on the banks of the Orinoco River, lush and green and surrounded by screeching construction equipment, to a silent, frozen birch forest, with no clear transition. I died angry, not ready to be done. I opened my eyes and was somewhere else. Still angry. Still not ready.
The Aftertastes, by Daria Lavelle (short story)
When you arrive in the Afterlife, you eat and you drink.
Pomegranate seeds, the arils like edible jewels, sweet and tart and bitter, garnet beads that burst as you chew.
Fungi you know—Porcini; Portobello; Oyster; Straw—and some you don’t—violet Amethyst Deceivers and nubby Dead Man’s Toes—the taste of the things they’ve fed from, the things they’ve consumed, lingering long after you’ve swallowed.
Blood-red wine, Cabernoir and Burglio, Malfleur and Grandegris, underground varietals so deeply dark they’re nearly black, sediment staining glasses, teeth, and tongues, the vintages fermented in the gods’ own barrels.
You eat and drink because, to enter the kingdom, you must first forget the world you’ve come from, and the food of the dead unspools living memories.
Thank you, thank you.
– The Deadlands