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from the November 2019 issue

Other Lives, Other Worlds

We’ve marked this season in previous years by bringing you ghost stories and tales of mourning. This year, we’re exploring excursions into the otherworldly: that liminal space where lives and afterlives mingle and merge and the quotidian gives rise to the extraordinary.

The three pieces here portray characters meeting emissaries from realms beyond our own. A detective cracks a case with not-quite-earthly help; a relentless double trails an increasingly frustrated original; a smug general discovers himself outwitted by a mysterious, yet strangely familiar, visitor. The results of these confrontations range from triumphant to catastrophic as the boundaries between worlds dissolve.

In “The Checkers Player” by Yves Rémy and Ada Rémy, a general confronts an unexpected opponent. On the eve of a crucial battle, he is visited by a mysterious stranger who challenges him to a game of checkers. The general triumphs in both the game and the next day’s conflict, and a pattern is established: the stranger appears the night before battles, his game plan foretells that of the next day’s enemy, and the general’s victory in the game predicts the result on the battlefield. But when the visitor returns after the commander’s retirement, the general recognizes the terrifying truth behind his apparent victories. The authors, a married French pair, are writers and filmmakers best known for their classic alternate European history Les Soldats de la mer (The Soldiers of the Sea), from which this piece is taken.

Robert Marcuse’s “Juan Manuel’s Shadow” also features a battle, in this case an existential duel between the title character and his sclerotic originator. Sodden misanthrope Juan Manuel decides he needs no one, not even his shadow, and sets out to rid himself of this constant companion. When his increasingly desperate attempts to shake his shadow prove fruitless, he makes one final, violent effort. Like the general, he appears to have vanquished his bête noire; and like the general’s, his assumed triumph is revealed as anything but a victory. A Belgian-born Holocaust survivor whose family fled Europe for Uruguay during World War II, the trilingual Marcuse began writing fiction only in his seventies, and went on to publish several novels and the collection of short stories in which “Juan Manuel’s Shadow” appears.

Luiz Carlos Lisboa’s “His Very Last Case” sees two police detectives collaborate on their most challenging investigation. When his best friend on the force dies of a sudden illness and leaves a generous pension to his oddly untroubled widow, Detective Clemente’s suspicions are pricked; and when he uncovers proof of her extramarital activities, he becomes determined to expose the death as a murder. An assist, and the proof of guilt, come from a most unexpected yet incontestable source. Lisboa, a Brazilian lawyer turned journalist and writer, is the author of some forty books, as well as a translator from English, French, and Spanish into Portuguese.  

We hope you’ll enjoy these journeys into the beyond and their glimpses of multiple states of being. And, as with everything we publish, we trust that these ventures into other worlds will only expand and enhance your own.   

© 2019 by Susan Harris. All rights reserved.

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