Review of July 2011 eFiction Magazine

I stumbled across eFiction Magazine a little more than a month ago when I was looking for more periodicals to have on my Kindle. eFiction’s calling itself an “indie fiction” publication made me think back to the 1980’s when indie music was the rage. Punk and grunge musicians who couldn’t score mainstream recording contracts began to start their own labels, something made easier by the fledgling digital age. Similarly, indie (or independent) fiction tends towards new or emerging writers whose voices may not necessarily fit a specific, mainstream genre. (In reality, anyone who has self-published could consider their work indie fiction.)

eFiction takes this a step further, with on-line forums where contributors, aspiring contributors, and the editorial staff interact. I’ve never seen another on-line magazine do this, or print magazine, for that matter. They may be out there, but I’ve never seen it. I find it refreshing.

The July issue was downloaded to my Kindle while I was standing in some line at Walt Disney World, but I didn’t get a chance to “open” it until the Auto Train ride back to Virginia. And it was well worth the wait. I’ve finished the first three stories, which I’ll discuss a bit more below, and as with the June edition, my first, they were stories I know I’d never see in a literary magazine. For one, the stories are a bit unclassifiable, genre-wise. They have elements of horror or speculative fiction or fantasy, but you’re always left questioning if that’s the case or if you’re simply looking into another reality.

Take “Ozark Pixies” by Madison Woods. A woman is convinced she’s seeing pixies around her rural home, and her husband is about ready to call the “white coats” on her. One day she sees a pixie at the side of a road and wants so badly to prove to her husband that she’s not crazy that she hits it with her car. She only intends to stun it, but it’s mangled so badly she thinks she’s killed it. It’s when she shows her husband the mess she’s brought home that he really thinks she’s gone off the deep end. The woman takes the pixie to her barn, where the pixie recovers enough to latch onto the woman’s ear. The woman and the pixie come to an understanding, and the pixie convinces the woman to eat a carrot-like root the pixie digs up. The root turns out to be hemlock, and the woman is slowly being paralyzed. She begs the pixie’s forgiveness and for an antidote, and the pixie gives what could be forgiveness then places some seeds in the woman’s mouth and disappears. The story ends with the woman thinking, “I knew there was no remedy for hemlock. But she knew things I didn’t.” So, fantasy (pixies), horror (being slowly poisoned to death by a pixie), or suspense (was the woman really just hallucinating)? I’ve read it twice and can’t classify it, but that’s what made me like it.

The zombies in “A Bad Zombie Flick” by Nathanial Chambers are quite familiar to me–commuters moving in lockstep toward work. I lived that for too many years. I even related to the nonconformity of Chambers’ protagonist, who, though a new stock broker, still drives an old tank of a car and scoffs at the other commuters marching forward as one. Yet, we get a hint that things are not quite right when the man picks up his morning newspaper off the lawn. The lines for the columns are there but no words. He shrugs it off as a printing problem and heads to work. The next hint we get is when he’s in line at his favorite coffee shop and looks around at the blank faces of the people waiting in line for their turn with the barista. He notices, like the cars on the road, everyone moves forward precisely the same distance at precisely the same time. Now, the folks in line at my local Starbucks gave pretty vacant stares until that first hit of Caramel Macchiatto, but something about these folks leads our protagonist to declare when he’s before the barista that he no longer wants coffee. But he gets coffee, and in a nightmarish way that has to be read to be appreciated. Here’s a taste:  “The line moves, not forward but toward me. I can hear chairs scraping behind me and the shuffling of feet coming in my direction. I see two men at the doors; they appear to be standing guard. Panic seizes me. They are on me in seconds.” Afterwards, he gets back into his car and notices he has now fallen in step with everyone else–he moves his car the same distance the same time as everyone else and sips coffee from his travel cup exactly when everyone else does. Is this horror–the coffee scene in the shop could lead you to think it is–or fantasy because of the element of conformity taken to the unreal? Or did he merely fall asleep in the coffee shop and dream it all?

“Little Sisters” by Myra King tells the story of three sisters with a focus on the one their parents decided to name Myron. Myron is looking back on her life in her 90th year. She has broken her hip and contracted pneumonia and is in hospital recovering but thankful she has “no one left to mourn me.” I get the impression she is in a ward if not for indigent patients then certainly for people who have limited funds for health care. With her is a 15 year old pregnant girl on bed rest, and the knowledge that another older woman died overnight. The young girl is feeling guilty for not having spoken to the woman who has died. When the young girl begins to cry, Myron remembers how one of her sisters would cry every night. Then, she remembers she was her father’s last hope for a boy, hence “Myron,” and how her father tried to turn her into a boy by giving her boys’ toys. At first she delighted in the attention, but when her father had her collect caterpillars, which he then killed one by one despite her protests, she wants no more of him. Her father no longer paid her attention, and we suspect we know who was responsible for the drowning of her kitten, one he’d given her for her birthday. He turned his attention instead to another of her sisters, and the type of attention is more than obvious in this chilling account: “Father’s attention turned to my sister Roslyn, but he didn’t try and make her a boy. Later, with the sickening wisdom of hindsight, I knew it was more of a woman he was trying to shape.” Watching the young girl’s boyfriend come to visit her and discuss the problem pregnancy makes Myron remember how her mother died giving birth to her, then how a fire kills the father, leaving Myron and her sisters to the mercy of the foster care system. None of the sisters ever married. Myron became a nurse to “relieve the suffering of others while Margaret gave her life to care for Roslyn.” A coughing fit overcomes her and she hears “voices of comfort. Familiar voices. I sink back into the pillows, close my eyes, listen to those words, our three little sisters song once more played to the tune of my memories and the faltering of my breath.” Of the three stories, this is the one I could classify definitely as literary fiction, but it’s written in a way that engages you and makes you hope there will be people left to mourn you.

There are more stories in the July issue, but I’m savoring them. Slowly.

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