Writing a short story that tells more with fewer words is very hard to pull off. Most writers needs a bit more length and there is nothing wrong with that. I prefer novelettes for that reason. Which makes it even better to read a proper short story at merely 4300 words that is the exception.

The story is set in mostly undefined post-apocalyptic world and told by a young boy, Jakey, who lives with his parents in an underground safe house. His father works from home in some high end job and it seems like the only interactions they have with the outside world is through delivery workers. Jakey observes the outside world through a “window” - which is implied is merely a screen and a camera. He talks with another boy on the outside who asks Jakey to let him sleep in their yard, so he can be safe for just the night.

There is not a lot of plot going on here, and the story mostly deals with Jakey and his pondering about his privileged status in this world and whether he is ready for school now. It is a story where most is said between the lines and we get a haunting impression of this world with extreme divide of people who can live in safe houses and those that are left to themselves in the unsafe outside world.

What makes this story special is that Jakey clearly doesn’t know any better. He does seem to have some compassion for the boy outside, but he doesn’t truly understands what kind of life he lives. There is not some morally savior complex going on and while it is easy to read this as a symbol for how the first world countries treats the third world countries, the reader is left to ponder those questions themselves. It is not one of these story with a “point” to make.

I would be surprised if this doesn’t at least come up in some of the various best of the year lists or awards.

Read in Clarkesworld August 2023
Rating: 5