“Don’t Turn On The Lights” by Cassandra Khaw (2236 words)
This piece speaks to me about horror and the stories we tell and what those stories reveal, and what they conceal. It’s a rather circular read in many ways, the narrator telling the same story again and again, each time a little different, slowly changing the meaning of the events into something different and rather darker than where they began. And in doing so the text seems to me to engage with the nature of horror and especially with the idea of darkness, of concealment. It’s something that’s dominated horror for a long time, that fear of the unknown, and the narrator here starts to explore that, creating events where something horrifying is concealed in the dark, allowing for the reader to fill in their own details. And the narrator questions whether that fear, whether that horror, is the true point, if perhaps the greater darkness, the greater concealment, and in effect the greater horror might not be inside the human mind itself. That here we are dealing with the horror of imagination and what we can create even out of horrific events to make them worse, more terrifying, more disturbing. Proving that the most uncomfortable version of the story really isn’t about the thing in the dark, about the blood or the gore, but the invisible evil, the lurking danger, that could exist inside any person, locked behind an innocent smile and a pile of textbooks. The result is a rather creepy story, full of dread and violence, but I feel that the story does more than just unsettle, reaching into the nature of horror and specifically horror storytelling to prompt people to complicate not just the way they tell stories but the way they read them, reveling just a bit in finding interpretations and dangers much more shocking and impacting than the same old slasher tales. So yeah, it’s a neat and effective bit of meta horror and definitely worth checking out this Halloween season!
“We Are Turning on a Spindle” by Joanna Parypinski (2411 words)
I’ve read quite a few Sleeping Beauty retellings in my day, but none I dare say quite so...nicely creepy as this one. Spinning the more classic tale on a distant world on the edge of reality, where the rules of the universe are bent enough to allow magic, the story opens with a man desperate to find the Beauty of the Night, the one person he imagines can still be beautiful next to all the ugliness of the “common people” he must suffer to look at. Traveling out to the far reaches of everything, he must fight his way through a killer forest and strive to reach the ancient and forgotten tower where the beauty sleeps eternal. It’s another piece that makes good use of examining stories and their structures and the things that people can overlook about them. It’s another that uses a very repetitive, cyclical form to keep expanding the mythology of the world, of the Beauty, and the quest to find her. It makes for a rather creeping read, the weight of all this history and all this desire building and building, becoming more and more clear that this man and his quest is not about the person, but about the story. And for me, then, the piece is about the horror of how these kinds of myths bury the people, the characters, under these layers of time and expectation and roles. The Beauty here can only be an object, perfect for as long as she is distant, for as long as she is silent and asleep. In that state, she is nothing but what the man projects onto her, perfect because she is a story, a dream, a fairy tale. It’s when the spell breaks and what happens...happens, that we get to see beneath that veil of his desire, to the true shape of it, the violence and the ugliness of it. It’s a rather shocking moment that the story does quite well, and I like how it handles the whole journey, how the fairy tale is twisted into something equally timeless but now so much different than before, the meaning, before about beauty (or something like that) lays bare the gruesomeness these stories often hold in the systems and roles they reinforce. So yeah, another great read!