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“Outside of Omaha” by Ray Nayler (4121 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is an old man burying his wife. They lived on a farm outside of Omaha (in case the title didn’t click), and their lives seem to have been rather idyllic, for all that they had something of an unorthodox start as a couple, both having joined what was essentially a mail-order bride scheme. But for them it worked, both of them quiet, industrious...and full of a grim rage that most people never really see. The piece builds nicely and is full of slow, careful detail and a kind of pastoral beauty cut by a deep shadow that runs through the landscape. Things with the couple Aren’t Quite Right and yet for all the grim details, there’s also love and grief and a lovely sense of connection. It’s a story that almost asks where horror ends for monsters and becomes something brighter, or if it just makes the shadows and horror more intense.
Keywords: Farms, Churches, Historical, Skins, Secrets, Marriage
Review: I really like the way this story builds, through the mourning of the narrator, through his love for his wife. Who he kind of “ordered” via mail from the city, and who came with her own secrets. But neither of them really wanted to hurt the other. They just wanted a place for each other, a place where they could be. And together they are able to build that, for all that they don’t necessarily do it...cleanly. In many ways for me the horror arises from the place where most people would turn away, when the narrator finds his wife’s skin and knows she’s some kind of monster. One who kills two people who suspected her true nature. The horror isn’t about his discovery, though. The horror is that the horror never arrives. That for the narrator that was fine, in part because he was a monster, too. A killer who came out to the Midwest to sort of put all that behind him. To build his little slice of heaven. The horror is that he can. For me a part of it is the kind of “you never know your neighbors” chill that comes from this little old couple who are both monsters. And some of it is that for all they are monsters, they believe the American Dream just as much as anyone. And it welcomes them. They never have to account for the people they kill. They never get caught. So the horror is that America is such where monsters never have to pay. It’s our history and our legacy, and I think it’s the point the story makes. The horror isn’t these people but the system that makes them unremarkable but for their love for each other. And it’s a strange and creeping story, lovely and warm but with a core of ice that shoots a chill right up the spine. A great read!
“Tea with the Earl of Twilight” by Sonya Taaffe (5108 words)
No Spoilers: Sid works in a cubicle doing the nine-to-five thing and is drawn after a fashion to the water, to the rivers and canals of Boston, her city. And along the bank she begins to see a man smoking a cigarette. She doesn’t think much about him to start, though she notices him. It’s not until she sees him again that her world gets a bit more complicated, though--sees him a painting done in the early 1980s. An impossibility that drives her to finding more about the painting, the artist, and the titular Earl of Twilight. It’s a strange story, rich in its language and its imagery and in the creeping way it proceeds. There’s horror here but it doesn’t seem a horror of danger, where Sid is being pursued. Rather, it feels to me a horror of knowledge, of confronting something, of being moved by something grounded in violence, loss, and sorrow.
Keywords: Paintings, Water, Ghosts, Queer MC, Death
Review: I just love the feel of this story (plus everyone is queer and that’s a big plus), the sort of slow and creeping way it moves. The yearning and mixed emotions that Sid goes through. Upset at having brushed so close to something grim and deep and unsettling. But also compelled by it. There is like zero pressure on her to do anything about it. The ghost doesn’t seem to be pursuing her. Doesn’t seem violent or anything. Rather, it’s her own desire to reach out that takes her closer, her own empathy that sees in this figure, this specter, this ghost, someone hurting. And she seems to reach out because of something she recognizes there, something that resonates in her. Perhaps the knowledge that he could be her. Could be any of her friends. That the violence that took him could take them as well because it’s a fog, a tide, omnipresent and lurking. They cope in their various ways, live as they can, support each other as they can. But his loss still resonates, and she is still intent on finding more out about him. Trying to know him. Because she doesn’t want him to be forgotten. Because she might be the only one to really see him. to recognize him in a more profound way. And in seeing him she might be able to give him some peace. And for me there’s something hauntingly beautiful about it even as the ghost represents this stain, this fear, this wrong. For me at least, the piece is about loss, the loss especially of queer artists, and the sadness and the senselessness and the tragedy of that, condensed into the ghost of a man who lived and who died in terror and violence. A shattering and wonderful read!