|Art by Dennis Carlsson|
"Wolves and Witches and Bears" by Alison Littlewood (6766 words)
This is a story about a couple, Nick and Ella, out on vacation in Croatia. The couple dynamic is interesting, which is to say that Nick is a subtly and not-so-subtly abusive asshole who knows what to say to get Ella to agree with him. They're in Croatia trying to get their relationship to work and really it's just an excuse for Nick to be able to go out exploring, something he feels he is very qualified to do. He takes Ella with, out into the wilds, without getting a guide or consulting their map. He leads on and on, Ella afraid to really say something about the idiocy of this journey, unwilling to speak up despite being in pain because of Nick's anger. Only then Nick steps on a landmine and Ella has to go for help. Has to go despite not really knowing where they are. And it's an interesting twist (though it does seem that most stories I read set in Croatia involve undetonated landmines). Ella has to find her way back, but it's wouldn't really be a horror story if it all went to plan. Instead, Ella meets an accident of her own and finds herself unable to go on. At which point all of her repressed anger and frustration starts to bubble to the surface, transforming her. And that is the crux of the story, the transformation, the idea that inside Ella there is something else waiting to be released, that under Nick's tyrannical control she is still this being full of life and fury and power and all she really needed to do was remember that, remember her pain and her outrage and she can change, she can become something different. So I guess the vacation sort of worked out for them after all. A nicely dark story.
"The Cork Won't Stay" by Nate Southard (4581 words)
This is a story about loss and about magic mind powers and it's rather creepy but also about bottled emotions. Actually, this compliments the previous story very well because both are about the hold that we keep on our emotions. In this the main character is a guy who has just lost his father. A guy who has had mental powers for a long time, who can control other people's bodies, who can manipulate objects. Seems more like telekinesis than telepathy because it doesn't allow him to make them want to do things he makes them do, just controls their bodies. Which, I mean, he has the sense and vague morals to never use, to keep that corked. But the death of his father brings it all pouring out, to the point where when he's mugged and beaten up by a pair of young men he doesn't hold back. He doesn't hold back and the results are rather horrifying. It's an interesting premise and it's well handled, and while it sort of exalts male anger and violence a bit I think it does so in a complicated fashion, not really making the main character right or heroic but deeply flawed and basically broken, that all he can think to do with this power is to hide it, to keep it buttoned down, because to him it can't be a good thing. He's repressed, hiding the true him, a man at odds with how he feels who ends up being destructive and rather disturbed if the violence he shows the world is any indication. There seems to be some deep issues between the main character and his father, if that loss brings out this level of identity confusion, this level of chaos. A gripping read, and one that I think has a lot to offer about the nature of repression and family and violence and responsibility. Indeed.