People looking for a happy, uplifting read, turn back now. This issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies might be the darkest and most horror-laced of all the issues I have read of the publication. These stories are well paired but fuck are they not entirely appropriate if what you want is to curl up in a warm sweater and enjoy life. These stories are pits of darkness taunting you to look inside. And if you do, if you answer to the voice calling out from the black, there is no real light at the end of the tunnel. Just a growing and gathering darkness that consumes and destroys, that twists and turns. That asks: in a place where justice is dead, what will grow from the rotting remains of its corpse. So yeah, with that warning in place, let us descend to the reviews!
|Art by Raphael Lacoste|
"Masks of the Mud God" by Greg Kurzawa (6910 words)
Well that was…creepy. This is a rather vividly dark story about masks and about cruelties. About rule and about hope. The story centers on a Raah woman, Miriam, of a race of snake-like beings who, according to legend, rose to conquer humanity in an attempt to create a worth mate for the god Bahamut. The Raah are violent and conquest-driven but also cannibalistic and unable to keep to the tenants that the son of Bahamut gave to them when he rose them from the lesser snakes. In this Miriam is disgusted by her people, not least because she is pregnant and hates being a part of this cycle of death and devouring. What happens…well, what happens in the story is a layering of mud and darkness like someone being slowly buried, slowly consumed. Miriam crafts a mask to wear, to hide who she is, and yet time and again she is called to remove it. To be who she is. Which, depending on who's doing the asking, is either terrible or beautiful or some mix of the two. The story is a rather difficult read because the focus is on trying to be something and not being able to. Being denied. Miriam can't escape the weight of her people's actions and her role in them. [SPOILERS] She is forced to remove her mask and face the situation honestly. Which is an interesting point to me, that those of the oppressive class have to be honest about it. With themselves and with others. That they don't get to claim at being the oppressed just because they feel bad about the oppression. Other aspects of the story were more conflicting for me, and the ending is a dense and strange resolution that leaves a lot open, especially depending on how you interpret Bahamut. It's a striking world that is revealed, though, and a fascinating mythology that is built, and the story is certainly worth spending some time with. Indeed!
"The Marvelous Inventions of Mr. Tock" by Daniel Baker (6848 words)
Well shit. This story completes the visceral, violent cycle of the issue with a tale of a Justice, a man tasked with carrying out the will of the law. Or, really, the will of a corrupt Magistrate who in turn is the hand of a corrupt system that links everything together. And Latch, the Justice of the story, is called in to look into a case about an exploding girl that turns out to be something much, much larger. This is a dark story that manages to be intensely creepy, playing with the idea of the body as a machine, playing on the grotesque fear of being operated on and turned into something like a puppet. Or a clock. Something soulless but with the face of a person and with the lingering evidence of murder. There are plenty of rather well accomplished creepy moments in this story, each crime scene Latch visits adding to this tapestry of murder and death. All swirling around the idea of justice. Which is something that Latch himself had been struggling with, with how the system didn't care about the truth, didn't really care about justice, but rather was interested only in pursuing its own goals. It's own perpetuation. Which Latch has been complicit in and that he now has to deal with in the form of a toymaker turned serial killer. It's chilling and fucking hells does it turn the screws when it comes to fear and dread. It's a mystery but one where the answer really isn't in who did it. Who committed the actions. Instead, the real action becomes the why, and the growing realization that it might be justice, and not the Justices, that people need be most frightened of. It's an absolutely chilling story that doesn't offer much in the way of hope. Instead it focuses on the ways that sometimes corrupt systems spawn darkness even greater than themselves. That sometimes even shadows cast shadows. It's a difficult story but one that I personally found riveting and definitely recommend. Go check it out!