“Water like Air” by Lora Gray
Reviewed by Kat Day
This issue of Flash Fiction Online brings us three stories themed around choices and their consequences. As usual, there is also a fourth reprinted story, “Spring Thaw” by G L Dearman, which is not reviewed here, other than to say that I felt it was one of the better pieces in this issue.
In “Water like Air,” by Lora Gray, we meet Elodia–a magical creature who uses pond mud to change her appearance to that of a farmer’s dead wife. There is a lot of beautiful language in this story, but something about it didn’t sing to me. Upon reflection, I think this is because Elodia is set up as the protagonist, but really has very little to actually do. The farmer, Tom Hatcher, is more interesting, but is rather underused. And then there is the question of the choice, and consequence, that is meant to be the theme in this issue–who is making a choice here? Elodia seems to be acting according to her nature, and Tom doesn’t appear to have any say in what happens. All in all, this didn’t quite work for me.
Next up is “Touching Strangers,” by C E Aylett, which has only the subtlest of fantasy/SF elements. We are introduced to a man and his wife who are about to board a ship. They are refugees from some disaster, perhaps a war, but we are given no details. They carry a postcard which shows an image of an idyllic paradise, and we learn that they are trying to get to Sumatra in Indonesia. The voyage is, predictably, fraught with unpleasantness. Indeed, predictable is the right word. Had this been set up as a story of a middle-aged, apparently-western couple escaping from, say, a zombie apocalypse it could have been a clever twist on a zombie story. By not telling us what they’re running from, Aylett leaves us with a fairly mundane plot which isn’t even particularly well resolved. It feels more like a small section from a larger work than a self-contained story. On top of this some of the phrasing felt awkward–there was one point where I honestly couldn’t work out, even after re-reading several times, to whom a “they” was referring. The story does contain the wonderful word “heteroclite” though, so bonus marks for that!
In “Owning the Dragon,” by Frances Pauli, an unnamed protagonist sees a dragon behind her house. No one else appears to be able to see the dragon, although it seems to have started some small fires. By accident, our protagonist learns that the dragon likes to eat jewelry, and so she starts to feed it…. This is a clever piece which, like all the best fantasy, has layers of possible meaning. On one level, perhaps it is literally a story about a dragon. On the other hand, perhaps “dragon” is being used as a metaphor for drug use and abuse. Or is it simply an excuse to keep running away from the past? Naturally it’s not completely clear, but trying to decide one way or another is part of the enjoyment here. Recommended.
Kat Day writes the award-winning, non-fiction science blog The Chronicle Flask, which you can find at chronicleflask.com. She also has a fiction blog, at thefictionphial.wordpress.com.