You’ll surely drown here if you stay

In reviews,

My love, my love, come haste away! You’ll surely drown here if you stay.

The story follows Ellis, has inherited his power over the desert from his mother. Since Ellis’ father died in a mining accident, the desert calls to him every night and he transforms into something nonhuman to run around it. His friend and (asexual) love, Marisol, comes out to fetch him in the morning. The trouble starts when a mining company men arrive at the town, led by William and accompanied by a preacher man. Like Ellis, the preacher man smells of death. Upon seeing Ellis’ power, William wants Ellis to accompany the group on a trip to the site of the mining accident, which is protected by the animated dead. Samuel also comes along; he is in love with William. Ellis successfully stops the dead, and realises that William also possesses this power; William turns out to be a protégé of the preacher man, who turns out to be Ellis’ uncle. William only needed Ellis as protection against the anger of the desert, figuring that Ellis’ mother wouldn’t dare harm her son. Ellis loses control of his power, gets shot and killed by Samuel, and reanimates to find his uncle beside him. With his mother’s blessing, Ellis raises the dead and leads them to town to find their loved ones. He says goodbye to Marisol and sends her off to seek her fortunes outside the decaying town. The story ends with Ellis ending the long drought by singing the rain lullaby that gives the story its name.

Not much really changes for Ellis in this story. At its open, he’s a boy who smells like a corpse and runs off into the desert a lot; at its end, he’s actually dead and has to stay around the desert. Marisol is a plot device. What really draws me into this story is that it’s much more a testament to the power and personification of nature. Ellis and his mother are the desert, and they own all the creatures within – to the extent of commanding their bones reanimate or lie in rest. By the end of the story, Ellis is ending the long drought that the town has suffered through with his rain lullaby; ending the drawn out death of the town and finally allowing new life.

This story reminded me of another story I read recently. I don’t remember the name right now, but territories of lands were activated with ‘grains’ that took over whichever man or woman was unlucky enough to be chained to them as steward, never leaving. (Although the story had a distinctly matriarchal feel to it; the principal stewards were female). All other humans were forced to live a nomadic lifestyle.

I like that You’ll surely drown here if you stay was narrated in a second-person point of view. That is uncommon, especially without being somewhat tacky; Ellis was a fleshed-out character that escaped this fate. It is also written in present tense; this particular combination is hard! I liked that the brothel madame, Lettie, (who was Ellis’ stepmother), clearly had some emotional backstory going on. The ending where the dead return to their loved ones is a dream that many have; it reflects an event early on in the story where Marisol indirectly asks whether Ellis can bring back her parents. This is a story centred around death: of miners, Ellis’ parents, Marisol’s parents, the economy of the town, and triggered by the powerful vision of a mine collapsing and literally burying people in the grave.

This short story is by Alyssa Wong, a Nebula, Shirley Jackson, and World Fantasy Award-nominated author. I read this in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Eleven, published 2017.