|Art by Alexandra Petruk /Fotolia|
It’s a tightly paired issue at Nightmare Magazine, with two short stories looking at the power of storytelling itself. Which is always an interesting metatextual choice, using the form itself to examine the methods and strengths of stories to inspire and distract, to explain and to obfuscate. The piece shows a woman using stories as a sort of promise and prayer, and another using stories as confession, as a final explanation at the end of the world. Both stories are layered, revealing both a world that has becoming increasingly bleak and one where maybe things…aren’t okay exactly, but where relief is possible, and a laying down of burdens. It’s a difficult issue, and I’ll get right to the reviews!
“The Night Princes” by Megan Arkenberg (4774 words)
No Spoilers: In this wonderfully layered story, Batul is a young woman living in an apartment over a music store in a city that has suddenly erupted in violence. It’s uncertain what kicked off the violence, but soldiers are running the streets and Batul is barricaded in her apartment with three young boys who she seems to have taken in when the trouble started. Slowly running out of food, she’s trying to keep their minds off of things by telling stories, and the piece explores the stories she tells, the tale of the Night Princes. It’s an intense and wrenching read, one anchored by tragedy and a distrust of happy endings grating against a need for one. It looks at the fragility of safety and the illusion of security and it a resonating and deep experience.
Keywords: Stories, Death, Siblings, War, CW- Abuse
Review: I love the framing of the story, the way that the situation with Batul and the boys runs parallel to that of the Night Princes, their travels to escape Death so loaded and so fragile, so wrapped up with Batul’s own personal history and trauma. And that part of the story feels so deep and so real to me, that here is this woman whose sense of safety has been shattered. It’s something that, once broken, can never really be completely healed. Because there’s always the knowledge that it can happen, that she might be one wrong step away from Death. And in some ways the story is about her trying to keep that from these boys, trying to allow them to keep this kind of innocent trust in the universe that might not always be the most practical but is also in some ways necessary to navigate the world without fear. So she makes this story of these Princes who can escape Death, who can barter their way free from the hold of their controlling parent. They work together, using their cleverness and their resolve to try and break free and live. And they do, something that seems so much less likely in the real world, where this city has descended into war and violence that doesn’t seem like it’s going to end soon. But the story is a wish, a kind of prayer, from Batul in the hope of being right, in the hope that she can keep the violence outside with the magic of her stories, despite not believing it herself, trying to will justice into a situation where it’s probably long been thrown out the window. It’s difficult and dark but beautiful and so worth checking out. A fantastic read!
“The Taurids Branch” by Alanna J. Faelan (3244 words)
No Spoilers: This story is a confession written at the end of the world, from a narrator who needs to get something off their chest. The piece is, well, intensely dark and definitely pay attention to the content warnings. If you have reservations, listen to your gut. That said, it’s a piece that looks very sharply at the pressures within relationships, and especially the pressures on people to please men and bend themselves in order to fit the shape those men expect them to fill. It’s a story that in some ways operates on a shock level, but also looks at trauma and the cost of trust and making decisions for someone else. It’s grim and probably upsetting, but it also has some very interesting implications.
Keywords: Comets, Relationships, Trauma, CW- Pregnancy/Child birth, CW- Death of a Child
Review: I feel that there’s a reading of this story that basically asks the reader to stand in as the recipient of this letter with the expectation that we pass judgment on the narrator. That we essentially ask if what they did was justified. If our opinion of them changes based on what happens. Given the end of the world and the seeming pointlessness of raising a child who will never even understand being alive before the world will be blown apart by a comet, the story could be seen as a kind of moral question. Do we understand why the narrator does what they do? Would we have done the same? Should they be punished for it (beyond, I guess, being on a planet that’s going to be destroyed)? Including something so...dramatic as killing an infant is bound to rouse some feelings in people, after all, and calls that this person is a monster or that they performed a mercy (both for themself and their child). But I’m personally not very interested in answering the question of how much this act is justified. For me, the story is much more about the gravity of tragedy and the ways that people are punished for needing care. The narrator stays with a partner who doesn’t care about them, who is obviously using them for their body to get children, all because the narrator needs care. It’s something that’s leveraged against them and that socially we tend to condemn because we’re all supposed to be “complete and whole people” because it’s morally superior to not _need_ anyone and seen as just and proper to exploit that need in other people for personal gain. Yes, the partner is a manipulative asshole, but the greater tragedy is that there is no communal or societal support that the narrator had access to. They were pushed into this situation, betrayed and sold into being a breeder, essentially, and the tragedy of that is intense, their condemnation at the societal level much more about needing care than killing an infant. And it’s a difficult read, extremely dark and uncomfortable, but I feel it can be rewarding to visit. Because for all that it’s unsettling, interrogating why can open up a lot of interesting ways of critically examining the world. A fine read!