The village of Isiuwa is ringed in by a bamboo fence and beyond its borders are endless dunes containing the remnants of past civilisations. Nata is determined to escape from the confinement and control of the Chief and the Elders.
“Isiuwa knows the Chief is right because he bears a cross on Isiuwa’s behalf, along with the troupe of Elders, sentries, and novitiates: the cross of going beyond the fence and seeking solutions, praying to the gods and asking them to stop moving the dunes closer. The troupe sometimes returns with strange things they’ve salvaged from the sand, things that look like they belong to another time, and the Elders keep them in the archive. The Chief reminds us that this is not a privilege but a burden, for it is impossible to look upon the face of the gods and live; and every time the troupe returns home intact is a blessing from the whistling gods. Isiuwa nods and remains behind the fence; remains grateful.”https://apex-magazine.com/dune-song/ Apex Magazine May 7 2019
The story featured in Apex Magazine’s last issue before it went on hiatus in 2019. It is an adept mix of the familiar and the unusual, taking a look at a post-apocalyptic community that is self-sustaining (it seems) but also authoritarian and controlling.
The story delves into but leaves unresolved the tensions between the supernatural explanation of the encroaching dunes and a scientific one. The ‘rational’ here is represented by Nata’s absent mother:
“Nata blamed Mam in the beginning, believing it was her fault, that she could’ve just stopped arguing with the Elders, telling them that there were no whistling gods, that the civilization under the sand was just swallowed by an extreme ecological disaster. She insisted there were thriving civilizations out there and she was going to find them, that the whirlwind of time would take her there. She insisted she had seen it for herself.”
Of course, madness and the irrational is also defined in terms of social expectations and cooperation with norms and the opinion of the village of Isiuwa is that Nata’s Mam was a madwoman.
Gods of the sands or even Mam’s whirlwind of time, whatever the source of the dunes besieging Isiuwa, they are home to powerful forces beyond the villagers current understanding, as well as secrets and gifts.
The ending is necessarily ambiguous. Do the dunes contain gods, time-whirlwinds or just violent storms? A short story isn’t going to answer those questions but instead leaves the reader’s imagination to run away with the possibilities. The story, constrained by the village it starts in, escapes into the sands beyond.
This is a very nicely put together story that evokes in quick steps a sense of the village as a thriving community rich in produce and trades but also leaves no doubt as to why Nata is desperate to escape its claustrophobic restraints.