“Ashes in the Water” by Joel Lane and Matt Joiner from Wilde Stories 2012 (Lethe Press). Edited by Steve Berman.

Last night’s story was the first co-authored one in the review project, and this is the second.

Josh is at a crossroads, facing life alone because his partner Warren is very ill. Restless, lost, he finds himself walking along the pier at the outskirts of the city, scanning the water and hoping to find the boat owned by his old school friend Anthony. Anthony is a troubled guy, moody and contemplative. When they were kids he studied the work of Aleister Crowley and Carlos Castaneda. More recently he tried to kill himself by slitting his wrists. Josh and Anthony sit drinking wine until Josh opens up about the fear that’s haunting him, that he will soon lose Warren. They’ve been together for nine years. There’s nothing Anthony can say to comfort him, but having someone listen proves cathartic.

The next scene is a fast forward to after the funeral. More lost than ever, Josh again wanders down to the water’s edge, looking for Anthony, and that’s when everything gets bizarre. I was already enjoying the dark atmosphere of the piece. When Josh’s reality started to slip, I realized something was going on, but couldn’t determine what. I was riveted the rest of the way trying to figure it out. And again, as with the last couple of entries, this is a true short story. At its end I have learned what I need to know about Josh. I can imagine what happens to him next, but don’t feel robbed of the chance to follow him and see it unfold.