Both original stories in the February issue of The Dark Magazine deal in some way with loss and with the generational passing of knowledge and potential. Both stories look at losses that are transformative, but experienced from opposite positions. In the first story, the main character is a governess, a care-giver to a group of girls. In the second piece, the main character is a bit younger, and learning from her elders about some of the dangers of the world. The stories are worlds apart in terms of tone but both circle around how people react to loss and, more telling, how unprepared some people can be to experience it. To find themselves in a situation that has gone beyond their control. These are interesting stories and contrast nicely while both looking at the supernatural and the ways that the older generations care for the younger ones. Time to review!
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"The Lily Rose" by Emily B. Cataneo (4562 words)
This is a story about grief and about loss and about ghosts. It's about hope and potential and surviving. It's about a governess of an orphanage named Lily Rose who loses everything and has to find a way to keep going. And fuck, this is a story that builds up your hopes and your heart before dropping it like a glass orb to shatter on an expanse of cold, hard rocks. The story shows the relative happiness Lily and her girls, especially a trio of older girls with their lives just starting to take off. That have hopes and have loves and have a world to win. For Lily, whose life in some ways has stalled but who hopes to find herself in her vocation, in teaching and nurturing these girls to succeed and strike out on their own, what happens in the story is…well, utterly devastating. The story looks at this raw grief and terrible trauma and shows how it changes her, how it shapes her. And I love the way that she treats her haunting. Or her supposed haunting. How the thought of the haunting in some ways grounds her. Reassures her. Because it gives her a chance to be there in a way that she feels she wasn’t. That by becoming the ship the _Lily Rose_ instead of the person Lily Rose she can both avoid the deep sorrow and grief that she feels and can be connected to those she has lost. Further darkening the tale is how this moves her away from the world, so that despite surviving she's still a sort of ghost. Is a ghost ship, in fact, sailing through the world but not really being a part of it, and the story is wrenching and difficult because it doesn't look away from that grief and that tragedy. It is a deeply sorrowful story that manages to capture the weight of what has happened. And it's a great read!
"Can Anything Good Come" by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (4742 words)
This is a delightfully fun, bracingly dark story about a pair of women seeking out a night market in an unfamiliar place and finding exactly what they were looking for…and a little more, too. The main character, the more reluctant of the pair, breathes life into the text with her voice and her anecdotes and her observations. I just love how the story opens and the flow of the piece, the way that it builds up this situation as magical and yet also tinged with danger that the main character suspects but that her friend, Mercy, seems oblivious too. The story lives by the rules that it creates. Rules that exist to save people's lives. The main character has many of her own, passed down from her father, but these are rules that she breaks in order to go with her friend in search of cheap supplies. And that they are motivated by wanting to save money, and that they let this greed push them further and further past the warnings of others and the warnings of their own minds, is where the horror of the story emerges. And it's expertly crafted, the women pushing past all resistance, always allowed an out, an escape, until they take the final step. And even so the story becomes about guilt and about superstition. And how superstition can be wisdom passed down through time, earned with the cost of years and experience. How these rules that exist because they are protecting against something incredibly dangerous. And that while they might seem arbitrary (to avoid night markets because no good comes from things prefaced by the word "night"), their true purprose is to guide younger people into not stumbling into places they aren't prepared for, places where hungry things are lurking, waiting. It's a wonderful story with a brash, fun style and strong humor, even as it's also filled with darkness and horror. Go read this one!