Psychopomp Magazine, a new online fiction quarterly, aims to publish work that “defies genre and isn’t afraid to go beyond the confines of traditional form.” Their first issue is a testament to that.
The issue opens with John Colburn’s “The Two Daughters,” which is reminiscent of traditional folk tales and legends, but not quite. Within the frame of the story, the father tells his daughters a legend of how a witch turned two sons into bears to do her bidding; he does this to convince them to stop running away at night to the woods. But instead, it inspires them to go in again and kill one of the bears:
“We’ll cut up our new boyfriend,” said the oldest, “and remake the world.”
“We’ll bury him in sacrifice to our virginity,” said the youngest.
The oldest looked slyly away.
They were going to put the bear’s heart beneath the sink; it would be our clock.
“And one paw at each corner of the yard,” I said, joining them. My daughters were as powerful as any witch. Or they were witches. They were going to enchant us, make a dream pass through our house one body at a time.
If it is a folk tale, I’m not sure I know the lesson. It doesn’t step outside the boundaries too far, but just enough to keep it interesting.
James Penha’s “Axes” is actually adapted from a Burmese folktale, though it doesn’t indicate which. In Penha’s version, it is a story of manhood. To retrieve his father’s original axe (which he needs for his livelihood) after his father denies a nymph’s offer of the gold and diamond axes, the son must take it from between the nymph of the lagoon’s thighs. After a seemingly sexual encounter, he brings it to his father who says it is now the son’s. While on its own, it is interesting to read, I can’t help but wonder which it’s been adapted from. After some research, all I found was the Aesop’s fable of “The Golden Axe” in which a man also refuses a golden axe in preference to his own.
My favorite piece is by Joel Hahns, which is broken into small chunks, delineated by the number of days left until the moon has fully floated away. A “she” is upset, as she only sees her lover when the low tide reveals him, and without the moon there will be no tide. It’s written in a dream-like tone with words that slip and feel smooth on the tongue and long, flowing sentences. On day 12:
At night, the moon already looks less luminescent. But the tides are still there, the morning’s high and the late evening’s low. After the astronomers have left, she spreads her body across the pier, her chest over the water, hair draped, salt-stained silver. She searches the sand for conch shells, holds them up to her lips and casts prayers into their infinite spirals, casts them out to sea.
Also in this issue is a selection from Brian Oliu’s writings about pop songs, information about “common human viruses” by Anne Valente, and a story of two trees, one of which is dying from the salted roads (by Kelly Lynn Thomas).