SPOTLIGHT: “Wild Acre” by Nathan Ballingrud

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The first time I heard the name “Nathan Ballingrud”, it was in the fifth edition of Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series. I knew nothing of the author going in; at the time he was just another heading on the table of contents. His story “Wild Acre” was towards the back of the collection, and I came to it with no expectations and an open mind.

At the time, I was working in a dingy office and my lunches were sometimes spent in a cramped closet space fitted with a glaring fluorescent light. This is the spot I chose to read my books in relative peace and quiet, tomb-like though it was. For an hour on that fateful day, I was trapped in that little room with nothing but “Wild Acre” to keep me company. After I finished, I resolved to message Nathan as quickly as I could to let him personally know how much I enjoyed it.

Though “enjoyed” isn’t really the right word, at least not entirely anyway. “Wild Acre” didn’t feel like just a story to me: it was a raw blister on someone else’s heart, and as it progressed I could feel mine beating in sympathetic pain. I saw people I knew and people I could never be, but they were all real, every one of them written with such crystalline honesty that it brought an immediacy and intimacy to the narrative that I hadn’t felt in some time.

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SPOTLIGHT: “Final Exam” by Megan Arkenberg

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Change can be hard.

It can knock us off track, upset the balance, subvert the very fabric of our existence. But what do you do in the face of change? Stop living? That’s usually not an option. The world waits for no one, and it certainly won’t be stopping for you. The planet will continue its resolute orbit and you will be left to pick up the pieces of your life and try to fit them back together into some semblance of normalcy, what’s called “getting your shit together” in the parlance of the times.

But how can you get your shit together when fish-monsters are taking over the world?

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