A Rerun recommendation from Marco Etheridge reminded us of this poignant story from 2017. This is what he said:
This is where I am supposed to write that I spent long, sleepless nights combed through the Literally Stories archives. That would not be the truth. It was my lovely wife who steered me toward Phoebe Reeves-Murray’s stories. The Mistress of the Word reminded me that I had promised Hugh a Sunday Re-Run piece. Once I dug into Aref and the Hermit Crab, I was glad both for her prodding as well as my promise.
I read this story as a classic hero’s tale with some modern twists. The hero, Aref, is maimed by the past. His kaleidoscopic vision is the result of bombs dropped on an unnamed place in an unnamed war.
A massive bomb crater is all that is left of Aref’s home. It gives our hero a means of accessing the underworld. There are rumors of demons and monsters in the crater. The myth builds, and the reader anticipates the hero’s descent.
Before he can descend, the hero must be prepared. Aref journeys to a strange land inhabited by strange, caring people. He returns, because the hero must return, even if his vision is shattered into multiple facets. Now he is ready to face the terrors of the underworld, armed only with a small talisman from the world of the living.
The hero makes the descent, of course, and he meets the monster. For his courage, the hero receives gifts; gifts of knowledge, of treasure, and of light. We are left to ponder whether these gifts are reward or punishment. There is, however, no doubt about the rewards this story offers the reader.