The two stories in the December Nightmare Magazine certainly show what makes speculative horror so captivating—revealing the uncomfortable truths and darkness that exists all around us, giving it physical form, and then making us face it. These are both stories that lean more fantasy than science fiction, pulling on some older traditions, of werewolves and Lovecraftian horror. While both are in some ways monster stories, though, they are also both stories that deal with youth, that feature main characters on the verge of adulthood, and reveal how quickly roles can be reversed when adults try to control the next generation. These are viscerally dark and violent stories but also deep insights into people and fears. And it's time to get to the reviews!
|Art by James T. Robb|
"I Was a Teenage Werewolf" by Dale Bailey (6612 words)
This story, to me, is about adolescence and transformation, about violence and longing, and about the fear of teens. It's not a new fear. The story takes place in an earlier time, some sort of post-war, American-dream inspired town where everyone is white and well off and gets along. It plays on the fear that people have of youths, and the drive that young people have to escape the distrust and the censorship of parental and adult supervision. The story imagines a series of werewolf attacks that set the entire town on edge. Except, strangely, that for the teens there is also a power in it. Because one of them is the suspected killer, they all become dangerous, and in that perceived danger they get a taste of what they desire most—freedom. I love how the story addresses this continual problem, this fear and distrust of people just becoming adults, with their different ideas and values and their youth that adults both want and hate. Certainly the blame must fall to these transitionary people, according to the powers that be. Because the youth remind them of their own mortality, of their own failings, of the systems that they were supposed to fix that they have merely become a part of. This can be seen today with the hatred of Millennials, the way that they get blamed for all the ills of the world when it's not really Millennials voting for the corrupt systems. And so for me the story becomes about the struggle of young adults to attain and hold onto power, and what form that can take. That when young people are not allowed to go their own way sometimes the only other option is to transform, sometimes violently, in order to have some control in their own lives. It's a powerful and powerfully creepy tale that's definitely worth checking out. A great read!
"The Low, Dark Edge of Life" by Livia Llewellyn (9399 words)
This story makes good use of an interesting and classic frame with an interesting and wholly original narrator to tell a Lovecraftian tale of darkness, desperation, and sight. The piece is structured as a found text, as a diary of Lilianett van Hamal, a young woman who has spent most of her life in an asylum for the insane before being sent off to her aunt, a Sister in a religious order dedicated to a dark goddess of madness and perversion. Lilianett is a fascinating character, in part because she's a rather determined and practical person and in part because, though blind, she has a sight that allows her to perceive things that others cannot. So that she can see things in the air and in the faces of others that don't really seem evident to others, but that definitely have a power to them. It's a Lovecraftian story and it really doesn't flinch away from the sexual aspects of that like Lovecraft himself did. Lilianett is a young woman and as such aware of the dangers surrounding her but also aware that she's being valued for being a virgin, and prepared for sacrifice pretty blatantly. How she chooses to address that, and how she ultimately continues her story, is uncomfortable but clever and fitting with the overall tone of the piece. It is a creepy story, too, because it builds up the narrator in such a way that she's a bit of a mystery, revealing her story with obvious holes, with key information missing. And yet it all builds a compelling and captivating world lurking just under and over our own, a world uncovered in the strange account by a young woman who could see what others could not, and so was able to avoid what others didn't know was coming. A very nice piece!