So things are a bit different in this issue of The Dark, as the publication moves from bi-monthly to monthly content. With the change comes a decrease in original stories per issue but also the addition of reprint content. So really there’s more magazine overall to enjoy and a bit less for me to review per issue, so win-win! And especially so with stories like this, glimpses as darkness and trauma, monstrosity and victimization. These stories grab on and don’t let go, unsettle and disturb in the way only great dark fiction can. From the distant past to present, they look at how sometimes it’s impossible to run from what’s stalking you, especially when it might be in your own mind. To the reviews!
|Art by Vincent Chong|
"The Haferbräutigam" by Steve Berman ( words)
TRIGGER WARNINGS: Rape. This story is, to me, all about appetites. It’s no surprise that it is full of equal measures sensuality and hunger, darkness and games. The main character, a German expat who has spent his life in Italy and recently was imprisoned for raping a boy, is taking a train back to his home. He expects it to be a boring adventure, revisiting his roots—it is anything but. I’d say it’s a nearly seductive piece because the main character has a voice that’s easy to read, that romanticizes his own crimes, the hurt that he causes. He is urbane and superior, arrogant and just a bit catty, and it comes through in the style and flow of the prose. The harsh German landscape speeds by, but there’s something there, something that the main character never really saw before. But it sees him, matches his hunger with one of its own, and shows him a mirror to his own crimes. It’s a deeply disturbing work but also one that confronted me with the dark without and within, with people’s tendency to blame human evils on outside forces. The main character is confronted with something monstrous, with something from the past, with something he can see because he is linked to it, because it strips away the romantic sheen with which he views himself. Or it should. [SPOILERS] I like the way the story only hints at a crack in his mental dam, though, that he fights so hard to not see the monster in himself. But the denial only goes so far, and by the end I could feel the barriers breaking down, the doubt and the fear. Of how different really he is. It’s dark and it feels like dragging a hand through tainted, oily water, but it’s also a sharp exploration on appetite and predation and a fine story.
"Caroline at Dusk" by Kali Wallace ( words)
A story of betrayal and guilt and sisters, this one is in-tense, circling around Caroline, who is vacationing in Ireland following the death of her sister. Only there’s a gun on her table that shouldn’t be there. And something in the dark that… The story does an amazing job of building the mood and the tension, slowly increasing the strain on Caroline as she remembers not just a trauma suffered as a child but her much more recent loss and how both things revolved around her relationship to her sister, to Maggie. Slowly the truth is revealed, a complex and damaged look at a woman so linked to her sister and so conflicted about their relationship, need and blame and guilt and dependency all overlapping and weaving together. This is a dark story, a story about being stalked by something, by a memory and a guilt and something that refuses to die. That refuses to go away. That lodges somewhere in Caroline and makes her doubt herself, her surroundings, her sanity. The pacing is perfect and the plot dark and deep, without an easy answer to who owes what to who. The action is raw and doesn’t let go and I just loved the feel of it, the relentless drive of the story, the horror and the…thing that never quite takes shape, that lives in the dark of the unknown and barely glimpsed. A great read and gripping experience!