Happy December, everyone. We could not be more thrilled to have The Masters Review Volume VI with stories selected by Roxane Gay in hand this month. Physical copies have found their homes with readers, and there is nothing more rewarding than getting positive feedback on these ten stories by incredible emerging writers. If you’re interested in ordering a copy of your own, you can do so here. We are so excited that we wanted to share the collection’s first story, “A Man Stands Tall” by Gabriel Moseley, with you here.
Roxane Gay had this to say about Gabriel’s story: “And the audacity of the ending, the fierceness of it, made me put the stack of stories and essays down and just stare out the window at the clouds. A few minutes later I read the story again, and again and my goodness, my appreciation for the work only grew. If I could put into words how that story has made me feel since I first read it, that is what I would say every time I am asked what I am looking for.”
“A Man Stands Tall” by Gabriel Moseley
By the time the boy neared home, the sun was already sinking toward the snow-dusted ridge of the Bitterroot Mountains. He walked through the meadow slowly, cradling his right hand with his left. The cameraman, dressed all in black, followed the boy like a distant shadow—always present, but unobtrusive. The sound of wood chopping echoed through the valley. When he got closer to the log cabin, the boy paused. He rubbed away the last trace of tears from his eyes and slid his injured hand beneath his sleeve.
As the boy approached, Tom raised and swung his axe in one smooth motion, splitting the log below into two even chunks. The boy stood there, waiting, but Tom said nothing. He set another log on the chopping block, without looking at his son. He had already chopped more than enough wood for the day, but he wanted to teach his son a lesson.
“Sorry I’m late,” Ajay said.
“Sorry doesn’t chop wood.”
The cameraman circled around them with soft, measured steps, adjusting the angle of his shot. They did not pay attention to his movements. After three months of being on the show, of living under near constant observation, they had gotten better at pretending that the cameramen were no more remarkable than dirt.
“I’ll chop twice my share tomorrow,” Ajay said, keeping his arm behind him.
“Where were you?”
“Playing in the foothills. We lost track of time.”
“Don’t let it happen again,” Tom said. He lifted the axe over his shoulder, resting the wooden haft against his neck. “You understand me?”
“Good. Go help your mother with dinner.”
As his son climbed up the steps to their log cabin, Tom’s expression softened. One of the main reasons he’d wanted to be on Homesteaders in the first place was to toughen up his son. The idea of the show was simple: three modern families uproot and live for six months like genuine Montana pioneers. No competition, no reality show scripted fakery, no one-on-one confessions to the cameras—just well-documented rustic living. And it was already doing his son good. Instead of staring at screens all day, his son, his chubby, fourteen-year-old, videogame-addicted son, was now exploring the wilderness, with real friends. The Duke boys were polite and they were athletes—they were not digital avatars. Not zeros and ones. Thanks to the show, Ajay’s face was already less soft, his arms less bat-winged, his skin a darker shade of pale.
Tom heaved the axe, pulling force from deep in his legs. He felt the intense yet simple pleasure of the thing as the log cracked apart and the bit of the blade sank deep into the chopping block. At a physical level, it was better than anything from his normal line of work, selling Audis. This was different—something he felt with his bones. With his newly calloused hands. He stared out at the horizon, at the humbling immensity of the distant mountains, and he listened. He listened to the steady hum of crickets, to the quiet rush of the stream cutting through the woods behind his cabin. He could already smell the rabbit stew being cooked inside. Rabbits he had trapped and skinned himself. Vegetables he had grown on his own land.