|Art by Joe Badon|
"Folk Hero" by Mary Pletsch (5200 words)
This is a rather captivating story about violence and conflict and legends and the cycles of them all. How hatred and ingrained fear, mistrust, and aggression feed a system that eats itself. Where burdens pass from parent to child and it's always murder. A song ever-growing that's a list of the dead. And as such the story has a great rhythm to it, one that works into the lyrics of the song, a sort of sweeping melody of violence and the allure of being part of a story. The story is told mostly by a man seeking to avenge his father against a sniper that has been fighting against the central authority of Terran control for a long time on the planet of Solregit. The main character, also a native to the world, knows the history of the sniper and, more importantly, the legend. The myth. And he finds in some ways that myths can't really be killed. And I love where the story goes with that idea, how it complicates his drive to do this thing and examines his ultimate failure. [SPOILERS] It's also a difficult story in part because of its dark elements, the pervasive violence, the way that children are made into soldier, made to hate and to hunt. But when his mission claims the main character, the story doesn't end. Just like the song it keeps going as his daughter picks up his standard and moves forward only to do something different, only to flip the script. It's a powerful story and one that captures the power of story and the ability of people to break cycles of violence, to escape the weight of prophecy and fate. An excellent read!
"Cuckoo Girls" by Douglas F. Warrick (5900 words)
Well shit. This is an intense story about monsters and about horror as a genre and about loneliness and longing and violence and did I mention it's intense? Because yeah, wow. The story follows Nikki, a young woman who is being pursued, horror-movie style, by a monster. By a thing. Only she's not exactly alone. Samantha finds her in a bar and the two women bond over their shared nature. Because Samantha has one too. Turns out a lot of women do. What follows in the story is an interesting look at the genre of the slasher horror movie, where women are pursued, where the monsters never die, where things don't even follow the laws of physics in how fear and abuse is heaped on them. The story follows along as they run. And run. And run. Their lives are under constant threat and there is a feeling here of being stalked, of being hunted, that is unnerving and seriously fucked up. I love the way the story pulls out, meta-like, to comment on horror moves and, by extension, horror stories. About how writers torture their characters. But more than that I read the story as about being alone and looking for someone to trust and how in these situations of intense abuse trust isn't really possible, and yet somehow still happens sometimes. It's a grim story and a shocking one and a beautifully crafted one, keeping me at the edge of my seat throughout. And the story gives something of a glimmer of hope at the end. Something of a glimmer. But it's another amazing read. Go check it out!
"Later, they found her journal" by Tina Parker
Okay well as far as creepy poems go this one is seriously creepy, about a person living with loss and with something haunting them. Hunting them. The poem uses the Bloody Mary urban legend in order to structure a poem as a series of journal entries that grow…well, that get pretty weird pretty fast. There's a huge gap between the first entry and the next and then a series all taking place in the same month and then…[SPOILERS] well, I love how the poem uses its title, something that I might have missed if I didn't go back and look at it again, because sometimes titles don't strike me but one I read I think I was slightly desperate to know wait, what happened? What…and then I read the title again and it slowly dawned on me and oh…oh shit. It's incredibly well done and I like how the poem ties the specter of Bloody Mary to loss, and perhaps specifically to the loss of a child. To menstruation and blood and it's really quite effective at selling that something huge has happened. Something shattering. That might not be real, that might all be a mental break of some sort but also might be something larger, something that has brought…something out of the ether, out of the darkness and the loss. It's dark and it's scary and it's good. Another great piece!
"Ghost Plague" by Tina Jens
It's almost odd to find rhyming poetry in a horror publication (well, a dark fiction publication) but I do think with one quite works out, with more of a musical feel to it, like this is a ghost plague blues and it makes for a great read. The narrator is having some ghost problems, and the mixture of mundane concerns next to the rather not-mundane fact that ghosts are everywhere is rather fun, a nugget of humor twisted around some horror elements and a candy-coating of grief. The ghosts are mostly faceless but some are real, reminders of mortality and anxiety and life and death when the narrator just sort of wants a normal life and freedom from those things haunting them. I like the way the meaning of the ghosts is slightly muddy, both to the narrator and to me as a reader. They are present but don't necessarily stand in for any one thing, their voices garbled, their presence insistent but uncertain, and it's a great way to describe the sort of funk the narrator finds themself in, plagued in most definitions of the word. And it's a fun and rather quick read that's well worth going through a few times to enjoy of the flow and the sound and the adorable ending. Indeed!
"By Payette Lake" by Cullen Groves
This is an interesting poem about transformations and the cost of reaching back to a world our of obligation. The poem centers on a person (presumably male) who becomes a tree. Who leaves the world behind in favor of something different and inhuman that seems to suit them better. [SPOILERS] Only there is a call from beyond, from the human world, a call that draws them back, only to find that they can't return to the beach, to their life as a tree. Only to find that they've lost something of themselves there, never to be regained. It's a moving and beautifully rendered poem, the feel of being a tree peaceful and serene and slightly dark as well, the wanting to be buried, to be drowned. There is a nice sense of loss at the end, a great sense that there is something gone that cannot be regained because the narrator listened to the call of their father. To be a man. When really they might have much preferred to be a tree. So it's a nice poem about not doing things to please others, that waiting, that going back, might mean that you lose your one chance at being truly who you are. A nice way to close out a very (very!) dark and rather intense issue, with a slow poem, a peace just out of reach. Another great read!