“Sky Blue” by ‘Nathan Burgoine from Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival (Bold Strokes Books). Contest runner up.

Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.

I had the good fortune to spend parts of the past week with ‘Nathan during the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, and also to have read several other stories he’s written as well as his debut novel Light, which is a Lambda Literary Award finalist in the LGBT Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror division.

Those are very important key words: Science Fiction. Fantasy. Horror. This was the first story of his that I encountered, and so I didn’t know to expect his unique vision. In fact, I wasn’t expecting there to be any speculative fiction at all in this collection. None of the other stories in it were written in that vein. Some were over the top, certainly, but not truly beyond the realm of possibility. Therefore this took me by surprise, and confused me for awhile. First, though, I was impressed and oh-so-envious of the author for coming up with this kick-ass opening line:

The woman they dredged from the bottom of the falls is my brother.

Probably the best way to describe this story is as a mystery with supernatural elements. At the opening the main character, James, and his ex-boyfriend Ryan, a police officer, are at the scene of what may be an accident but might just as easily be a murder-suicide. One of the deceased is the main character’s brother. The other is his father.

Like many of the characters ‘Nathan creates James has a paranormal ability. He can see auras, which he calls “colours”, emanating from people. They change moment-to-moment, giving James the ability to know what sorts of things a person is thinking at any given time.

The author deftly alternates scenes from the present with ones from the past, and we discover that James’ brother Sky, whose birth name was Warren, also had the ability to see the colours radiating from people. Also, that they were unable to talk about it with their parents. We’re told that their father was a tyrant, their mother under constant fear of physical and emotional attack. Their aunt was the only one who understood or intervened on their behalf. While we’re getting up to speed on their whole situation, we’re also getting further details about the murder-suicide, first from the forensics unit and then via James’ ability to see the echoes of strong emotions, which can play out like wispy movies.

It sounds rather bleak, I know, but I promise you, it ends on a hopeful note. I highly recommend this and the rest of the author’s body of work. Check out Short Stories 365/64 and 97 for reviews of more stories by him as well as a few words about Light.

Next up: stories from this year’s Saints and Sinners anthology.