Saturday, 24 November 2018

'Ashes to Ashes'

Scott West's story in Uncertainties III proves to be eerily timely. It is set in a town that has been largely abandoned due to wildfires. The protagonist, Ben, has stayed behind, despite intense heat and smoke-filled air. Ash rains down as he goes about what at first seems to be a bit of looting and general survivalism. But then it emerges that Ben has some urgent work to do.

Spoilers ahead, be warned.

A town about to be engulfed by flames seems an ideal place to hide the body of a murder victim. But Ben is determined to give the woman he killed a proper burial, so he trundles her corpse through the ash-rain to the cemetery, where he has prepared a casket. Much of the story consists of the detailed description of how the murderer goes about his task. It is, in a way, a reversal of the old trope of the killer being unable to dispose of the body. Here disposal is trivially easy - where better to hide a corpse than in a burning town?

Ben is, arguably, another prime example of toxic masculinity, performing in a 'decent' way after killing a woman. As he completes the burial the flames close in, bringing a retribution he expects, deserves, and welcomes.

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