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Chaos Trifecta #15: Creatures

chaos trifecta
Written By Ai Jiang

Ai Jiang is a Chinese-Canadian writer and an immigrant from Fujian. She is a member of HWA, SFWA, and Codex. Her work can be found in F&SF, The Dark, Uncanny, among others. She is the holder of Odyssey Workshop's 2022 Fresh Voices Scholarship. Her debut novella Linghun (April 2023) is forthcoming with Dark Matter INK. Find her on Twitter (@AiJiang_) and online (aijiang.ca).

(CW: Death of animals/pets)

There is a thing, an idea, I’ve forgotten if it was my mother or someone else, had told me—that the pets we cater to, and spoil, must be someone from our past life to who we owe. But in terms of afterlives, past lives, and reincarnations, that will be another piece.

They say that pets are but a part of the lives of humans, but to the pets themselves, we are their entire lives. For some, when they think of loved ones, this does not only include human loved ones but furry family members. For me, this holds true.

In the fourth grade, I had a hamster, a dwarf hamster to exact, with an average life expectancy of 2-3 years. Hamie had passed at two and a half years after losing his sight and mobility functions. Then there was a series of fishes—Goldie and Angel, goldfishes from Walmart that are said to never last over a week, along with Dragon and Phoenix, beta fishes that accompanied me through my toughest undergraduate moments and after I finished grad school (I was not very creative with the names of pets, dear readers, if you haven’t already noticed.) Those I now still have with me include a turtle named Shelley and three cats—Torch, Owl, and Phantom.

There have been times, when I wanted to bring back dead pets and loved ones, like in Pet Sematary by Stephen King, but I find as I age, that desire has dulled—not because I no longer love them, nor because my memories of them have faded; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.  I find that I speak about death rather stoically, and perhaps it’s because I myself cannot adequately express my emotions—though the opposite is also true, as these feelings might come as uncontrollable outpours with little in between. Below are three stories that explore our relationships to pets and animals, and perhaps these might offer you the emotional experience that I myself cannot quite articulate:

“To a Good Home” by Shelley Lavigne in If There’s Anyone Left

This short flash piece is a brief read that follows an owner and their haunted cat that causes paranormal happenings in the house. Yet, like most pet owners might understand, we’re likely to overlook even the worst of flaws, sometimes even death, in favor of companionship.

“It’s What’s Inside That Counts” by Warren Benedetto in Fantasy Magazine

Though not specifically about pets, it does touch on a fascination with the dead, specifically dead animals rather than humans. The story explores how experiencing death through a screen as a mediator can often be desensitizing and reminds me of the way we experience disasters on the other side of the world through social media and how we must grapple with the reality of these terrors. Benedetto considers the idea of a timepiece in all living things, of our fear of death and wanting to spare others of the same, of cherishing time, knowing that it is finite, and what the death of animals can teach us about our own.

“Sacrifice Rock” and “The Soul-Filled Skulls of Epsie Rees” by Effie Joe Stock in Bleached Reminders: A Gothic Anthology About Bones, Magic, and Grief

This story is wholesome yet sorrowing in the way it unpacks the loneliness of death and the ghosts who keep us company, of how death can be seen as new life when we let go, and of how death can be strangling when we hold onto those we love most too tight. Though the living often feel as though it is the dead who leave us, the story shows how it might also hold true the other way around—and how sometimes the true threat is life, while safety might be found in death. Stock illuminates the beauty in death, of its necessity, along with grief, as lessons in life. For some, ancestors serve as guides, spirits of those who have passed, and for others, it is animals and creatures with instincts and compassion—what some humans have forgotten—that help light our way. At times, magic is in the unseen, and at times, magic can only be felt, just like death, just like life.