Esher Hill left his home and kin a crying wreck of a man, too depressed and dysphoric to care what his people make of him. If he’d had his way, that would have been the end of it.
His sister Mara, the village witch, made sure he didn’t.
Two and a half years later, Esher owns two dogs, a blade, a career and a new body—the shape of masculinity he always felt he should be. A miracle Mara refuses to explain. A miracle the Sojourner’s priests reject and fear. A miracle, say the Grey Mages, that cannot exist without something precious sacrificed in exchange: a soul.
Returning home in search of his sister and the truth isn’t just a matter of enduring stares, whispers, explanations and the condescending pity from those he left behind.
Love holds edges sharper than Esher’s sword, for nobody wins but demons in the sale of souls.
Contains: A graysexual, aromantic trans man fighting his own mind; the trans sorcerer of a sister who loves him; a grizzled aro-ace mayor and barkeep; and a heavy reliance on schemes and manipulations in the absence of simple communication.
Length: 10, 463 words / 39 PDF pages.
This edition is somewhat different from the earlier draft. The beats of the story haven't changed, but the mood and tone have. It's also 1, 098 words shorter!
(I can't remember if I did my Read Through Solely For Word Cutting round at that stage of my writing, but a year of Hallo, Aro since has helped my brain learn to look for extraneous wordage. I absolutely recommend the challenge of setting an arbitrary word limit and writing to it for developing story length or countering verbose tendencies.)
I can see real differences in me with regard to how I wrote this story in 2018 and how I re-wrote/edited this story in early 2020. It's not the kind of numerical data into which we try to force something as non-numerical as mental illness, but it is data. It's difficult, however, to write about a character with depression when your current state of stability doesn't match your character's.
Esher's understanding of how time and progression change an understanding of an event until you're looking at it like an object through water applies to some of my experiences with mental illness.
It also applies to the initial writing and later redrafting of this story.
The irony of mental illness writing is that the stories that most need to be told possess the most verisimilitude about mental illness when we are least able to tell them (or least able to tell them well). I have no doubt that this story is better for being reworked by a writer with added venlafaxine and reduced gluten, with time away from the real-life events that inspired its telling. But it no longer wallows in Esher's depression; it less closely demonstrates what it feels like to be in that state, because I'm not.
I do think this is a better, less self-indulgent take on Esher's story. But it also loses the quality that makes depression writing depression writing, in the sense that it speaks more acutely of what depression can feel like because the writing itself encapsulates it.