I’ve talked before about how the first story in a collection has to pull more than its own weight, and here’s another shining example of a story that pulls it off perfectly. “Psychometry, or Gone with the Dust,” opens Skin Deep Magic: Short Fiction with this sense of precarious balance between the magic, the real, and a doorway quite literally opening on someone’s former life. We meet a duo, a gay man and a Black woman, both working at a home where the former occupant passed away. She was a hoarder, and the place is full of what I can only think to describe as “racist kitsch” maybe? Lawn jockeys, syrup bottles, dolls… it’s a house full of creepy, horrible, items, and they’re there to catalog and potentially sell them.
The woman has a gift, however, and as she touches items, she can sometimes catch glimpses into the past of the item, and those who were around it. So what might otherwise have already been a disturbing job becomes all the more shudder-inducing as her power ignites, and object after object whispers their stories to her. It’s not long before it’s clear that every story in this home will be a potential hell. It eventually drives her outside just to stop and breathe… and she’ll have to go back inside and keep working.
The immersion was so immediate I barely realized I was on to the next story and the next story, which brings me back to that whole “the first story in a collection has to do extra work” thing. Setting the tone for the whole, drawing in the reader, and letting you know what you’re in for. I flipping dove into this one and didn’t come up for air until the dog demanded a walk.