The two stories in this month's Nightmare Magazine both seem to look at the effects of trauma. The ways that people can react to extreme emotions and situations, the ways that people can fracture. These are both sorts of ghost stories, or maybe stories of hauntings. Not necessarily literally but both stories question whether a thing must be literally true to be real. To have a deep and meaningful impact. These are rather shocking stories, and ones that are difficult to face. Because the situations are terrible, violent, and tragic. And because these things happen, because these tragedies do happen in literal ways, in the real world, these are important stories to face and examine, and I will waste no more time in getting to the reviews!
|Art by Rod Julian|
"Red House" by Gavin Pate (4986 words)
This story speaks to me of abuse and trauma and a mind struggling to make sense of it. Caught between the destructive pulls of two parents who are damaging in very different ways. Caught between two very real dangers, to facades of care that hide something rotten beneath the tarp of parental possession. The main character of the story is never named, is framed as more important as a role. The girl. The daughter. The story shapes itself around a rather awful series of events, a murder, an abduction, a death, a discovery. And all of this with the Red House lurking in the distances. [SPOILERS] From what I read, the story centers on a very specific traumatic event, the girl witnessing her father murdering her mother and then being abducted, taken into the woods during a tremendous storm. Her father falling, injuring himself, dying from his wounds. The girl being found later by police. This is the story we are told, the one that we believe. But it is not the real story, which has more to do with what goes on in the girl's mind. How she handles the extreme stress, how she cannot fully hate her father, how she cannot fully face what is happening to her. The horror of the death, the loss, the misery. To me it's an interesting way of conceptualizing how survivors of trauma can survive. By pushing the feelings into a space that can be closed. Into a house that can be buried. And that in some ways that links them to a shared space, to a space where other people shove their traumas as well. Where the girl's parents are still waiting, present and not, buried and not. It's an unsettling story and one that captures a great style and flow. A great read!
"Whose Drowned Face Sleeps" by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky (7615 words)
This is a rather strange and intense story about ghosts and about dying and about abuse of all sorts. The main character, R, seems to be a cycle of people. A woman who falls in love with painting model but is undone by that love. A person who lives rent free doing housework for a misogynist asshole. Both use the same body but the later seems to be a spirit who arose to replace the original person when life got too much, when she decided after being left by her lover that she would kill herself. The story is visceral and sinking, not exactly violent but steeped in the threat of violence, the pervasive feeling that at any moment things could go wrong. And abuse abounds. R's original lover was abusive, controlling, telling R that she was worthless, that she should die. That she was stupid. And even once that R was gone and replaced by someone new, someone who took R's memories, it's not a cycle that is broken, and James, the man who hires her to clean so she can live for free, takes the role of abuser, of looming threat. In some ways it shows just how stacked against R the world is, filled with people looking to hurt them, giving them little choice between the dark below, the dark above. It's a situation that R navigates, not without incident, and is what ultimately reconciles them to, well, themself. It's what leads them to stop blaming the earlier them for what happens and allows them to push forward into new territory. Aware of the looming dark, the train coming down the tunnel, but no longer defined by it. It's a startling and difficult story, but a beautiful one as well, filled with darkness and hurt and hope and reaching. Definitely check this one out!