Dale Bailey. Eating at the End-of-the-World Cafe. (F&SF Sept/Oct 2010)

A dark, powerful story to open the issue.

A young mother is strugging with life – struggling with a chronically/terminally ill daughter, struggling with poverty, and struggling in the city of Acheron, which, as its name suggests, is a gateway to the underworld. In this contemporary city the fires of hell burn the other side of a chain link fence, and the city has officers of the state in various dark uniforms who are to be avoided.

She bumps into one on the subway, and then finds another one in the restaurant where she waits tables, who offers her the chance to rebut another offer coming her way. In fact there are two offers, one from the owner, who finds out she has her hand in the till, and one from an altogether darker figure, who offers her a chance to leave this all behind her. All she has to do is to sign on the dotted line. The story concludes with her finding out with true horror just what that dotted line is for. It’s not her signature….. it’s another name, and the reader is left to consider which name it is she writes down.

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