|Art by Anna Mei|
Christmas comes a little early with a special all-original issue of The Dark Magazine, featuring four new short stories. The pieces go a bit weirder and meta than I am used to seeing from the publication, but there’s no question that they are indeed dark. From the end of the earth to a storm that twists reality, from death and revenge along the highway to a family with a dark legacy, the works find characters who really never expected to find themselves in the situations they are in. Who couldn’t really prepare for the darkness they walked into. But who are hell bent on not giving in to the gravity of their destruction. Not that they can always do much about it. But there is a resilience I feel in these stories, and will to keep going. So let’s get to the reviews!
“Russula’s Wake” by Kay Chronister (4570 words)
No Spoilers: Jane is a Paley, but by marriage. Being a Paley by blood is a bit different, as with her three children, the elder two of whom go to school in violation to the “Paley Rules.” And really there are so many rules, which perhaps Jane would have had an easier time keeping if her husband were still alive. As it is, she has only the reality of her situation, dire as it is, and the hope that maybe she can do right by her family. With her youngest child showing signs of coming fully into her...Paleyness, though, it provokes a kind of crisis, a change that Jane has been waiting for...and dreading. The piece is creeping and increasingly clear and horrifying. It begins subtle, where Jane’s attitudes seem almost monstrous. As the piece progresses, though, details emerge that give context to her situation, and the difficulty of it, and the crushing, bloody need of it.
Keywords: Isolation, Nourishment, School, Animals, Family
Review: I love how the story deals with inheritance and legacy and family. How it reveals this clan of people who live by strict rules so as to survive. And Jane marries into this, obviously to a member of the family who was already rebellious to be with her. A man who dies, and leaves her with this legacy, to carry it forward without really being a part of it. And not wanting for her children the same kind of life that the Paleys are taught to strive toward. She knows that for them to be successful she needs to put them into school and give them the opportunities to get out of their situation. Even if it comes with a price, because their ability to blend in with the rest of humanity requires nourishment on flesh. Needs blood and muscle. And with it comes a certain kind of cruelty. Or maybe just a shifting of values, something that Jane doesn’t have to deal with herself and so it gets into how she views her children. How she wants her youngest to be like her instead of being a Paley. It’s ultimately a futile wish, but it’s poignantly shown in the piece, where she is desperate because of the danger the kids are in, because she can see that if she doesn’t do something, the isolation will kill them all. And if that means she has to break some of the Paley Rules, then so be it. And it’s just a tightly packed and eerie story that opens with this sense that something is wrong with the older two children, or else very wrong with Jane, only to slowly reveal that here is still a family. Complex and fucked up, but a family all the same, trying to find a way forward. A great read!
“Walking off the Doeskin” by Wenmimareba Klobah Collins (4148 words)
No Spoilers: Jane wakes up from her grave and decides to go for a walk. And as walks she meets others like herself. Other Janes. Other women who get mistaken for still other women because they look the same. Or do they? At first, Jane isn’t sure of much, her memory as buried as her body was. But that, too, resurfaces in time, and she’s left having to decide what to do with that. What to do with memories and anger and an army of Janes all wondering what their names are. The piece is quiet, almost numb, but resolving into feeling, into anger, into the need to act in the face of all the nameless tragedy that Jane finds herself a part of.
Keywords: Death, Walking Dead, Names, Revenge, Weeding
Review: I love the way that this story links the Janes and yet sets them apart. The way that Jane at the beginning of the story is one of the nearly countless Janes that she meets and joins with, and yet she has her own history, her own story, and her own needs. That she’s Daria, because she’s able to remember, her name returning to her after clawing its way free of the trauma of her death. A death that came because she was trying to stand up for some of her students. Because, despite the horror of assault and harassment, she knew that she was expected to try and resolve the problem quietly, sparing a man his dignity and reputation. And she’s killed for it. And it shows the weight of that, how common it is for a woman to be killed because of entitlement and misogyny. Now, I’m not a huge fan of stories that are only about revenge. But then, I don’t really see that as the point of this story. Daria is able to exact some payback against the man who murdered her. It’s not exactly justice, but in a place where seeking justice goes nowhere, it’s about all that’s left to Daria and the Janes. It becomes about just doing something for themselves without always having to worry about justice or tone, and it’s violent and it’s visceral and yes, it’s a bit satisfying. In part because it’s about acknowledgement. It’s about dragging these truths out into the light where they can be seen. Where these names can finally be known. And it’s a wrenching and tragic and powerful read!
“Telling Stories” by Ruth EJ Booth (3184 words)
No Spoilers: This strange story explores four people going out into a storm that changes the very nature of reality. That is measured by cuils, or degrees away from reality, from normalcy. And on top of that is the story about a person trying tell a story. Trying to get it out, and getting caught in that storm as well, jumbled up by the nature of creation, and fiction, and reality. The piece doesn’t exactly make a literal or linear “sense” in a traditional way, but it does play with the ideas of creation and quests, these four people also one person pulled in different directions, doomed and dooming and not especially doing well, but still there, still putting one foot in front of the other, headed out into the storm.
Keywords: Strangeness, Reality, Change, Deviation, Journeys, Storytelling, Storms
Review: This is a somewhat tricky story to review for me because of how it deals with weirdness, with the concept and measurement of cuils. Because it layers and complicates the narrative, drawing lines over the quest of the four people going out into the storm and the narrator, who is struggling to tell this story and wandering in their attempt to either remember or create what happens. Fantasy edges on reality as the tale follows the characters into the heart of the storm and, perhaps, out the other side. And the descriptions and the voice of the narrator are all vividly described, all alive with feeling. For the narrator, their struggle is part of something larger. They are languishing, trying to get this story out in some meaningful and satisfying and maybe even entertaining fashion. They imagine it as something that could be optioned for a movie and move people with its message and how it would be translated to the screen. At the same time, they are also grounded in a reality where they’re in a coffee shop, meeting a friend, maybe working on the story on a laptop. Which is real, that or the story itself, is impossible to tell, because both exist in a state of fiction. Because the starting point we’re given is the place more “unreal,” more “fantastical.” But it’s equally possible that that’s reality, and it’s only as the four push forward into the storm that they are translated into a single person, and must keep pushing through until they come apart again, having reached the other side. And whatever the case, it’s a fascinating story that plays with fantasy and reality, and it’s very much worth spending some time with!
“Art” by Alberto Chimal, translated by David Bowles (3013 words)
No Spoilers: The world is ending, and definitely not with a whimper. No, this is an Earth-shattering kind of event where the entire planet is literally exploding. And amidst the chaos and the extinction of all life on the planet, the piece focuses in on the final two humans, Rafael and Jauza. It’s not like they’re the last for very long. But happenstance has found them airborne as the ground and ocean below cracks and splits and vents its dying breathes into the air. And so they are the final humans, on opposite sides of the doomed world, as the story explores the things that make them similar, and difference, and the kind of art they make. It’s a bit of a shocking read, formally complex but also managing a blunt simplicity that hits like a mallet destroying a melon.
Keywords: Destruction, Apocalypse, Art, Extinction
Review: I love the meta nature of this story, how it focuses in on Rafael and Jauza and the meaning that can be drawn from their story. From them being the final humans. And then drawing that out and asking in some ways what is art that focuses on this kind of destruction, that isn’t about the characters learning or understanding but very much about the reader experiencing the text on another level, which might not exactly come through. It’s about authorial intent, perhaps, clashing with the tastes of readers and the nature of art as entertainment. I love the way that the story takes this tragedy and then layers it with godly witnesses to the destruction of Earth, for whom the entirety of the planet’s history has simply been a work of art. And I doubly love that the response to that is so...lackluster. Unimpressed. Because it speaks to the both the power and the impotence that artists can have, with the ability to slay entire planets worth of people to try and make a point, but also have little power over how that art will be interpreted. And there’s just something quiet and yearning to this story that’s about something so drastic, so bombastic. That in the heart of this enormous, shattering event, there’s also an author, making themself vulnerable in a way that might not make it through. That the desire and the hope of the work might shatter along with the planet. Might fizzle. Might hurt instead of help. And all of that wrapped in this situation that’s strange and wrenching and then poof, over. A wonderful read and a great way to close out the issue!