I'm actually super glad that The Dark Magazine is out so promptly at the beginning of every month. Not so that I can get it out of the way but so that I can have the entire month to recover. Once again The Dark more than earns its name with two stories about artifacts. In one, the artifacts are postcards from a sister. In the other, they are bits of scrimshaw. Both sets of artifacts tell a story, and both stories are in turn interpreted first by someone within these tales and then by us, the readers. The effect is to both create distance from the events, from the traumas described and eluded to, and to obliterate that distance by deconstructing the way that we interpret those artifacts. It's a pair of complex, layered stories, that hit with the vengeance of a storm and have left me a bit adrift in still waters and both glad I have a month's respite before the next issue and hungry for more. So let's get to those reviews!
|Art by Ben Baldwin|
"Postcards from Natalie" by Carrie Laben (5912 words)
*stares at screen* Okay maybe in a week or so I'll able to blink again without fear of crying because fuck this is an intense story. Not in the typical sense, not in the way that there's something violent about to happen or there's some monster out there coming in through the window. No, this story looks at emotional abuse and family and the unnamed and presents it with a light touch that seems all the harder for it. When Mandy, the main character, says something in her quiet voice, calm and matter-of-fact, it's that much more powerful because the emotion behind, the raw hurt behind it, is there as well, waiting, like the thunder after a lightning strike. The story begins with Mandy getting postcards from her sister, Nat, who left home with her boyfriend after fighting with their mother. And the story builds so well the hope and the conflict in Mandy, her fear of her mother and the way that she is trapped, the way that she just wants to be with her sister again. That yearning is a lot what makes this story so painful, so hitting, because Mandy loses so much. Because it is unfair and tragic and there's nothing that can be done about it. And [SPOILERS] I love the way the story treats the road that Nat is on, the idea of being nameless. And that there's a movement among those who have been failed by the world, failed by their families and the law and society. That something is going to happen. The ending here is perfect, and everything builds together, creating a momentum to the story that can't be denied, that can't be withstood. At least for me once I realized what was going on there was this tightness in my chest that never left, that's still there, a grief for those who go nameless and for those left behind. It is an amazing story and you should read it right now!
"The Last Sailing of the Henry Charles Morgan in Six Pieces of Scrimshaw" by A.C. Wise (1841 words)
This story takes things into more of an atmospheric horror through the lens of art appreciation. Or perhaps a form of anthropology, with a series of works of scrimshaw being examined and interpreted. I love how this story frames itself, through that impersonal and detached lens of observation, like looking at a historical artifact that doesn't quite make sense. Is there artistic license at work in the strange images depicted? A warped imagination from a doomed voyage? Or are these images telling something more literal? I love this in part because those kinds of questions are often brought up when looking at artifacts from the past, bits of art that historians deem either too outlandish to believe or not enough in keeping with the narrative they want to be told about the events or times. So to see that here is great, giving the story this academic feel that contrasts so nicely to the growing idea that these things aren't metaphors at all. [SPOILERS] And I love the way the story flows through the pieces of art, through the small flourishes that the story manages to imbue into the scrimshaw. The materials and the way that everything is carved and crafted is important, suggests the tale of something hungry coming out of the sea, suggests that the ship met with an unfortunate end, though what end is still unknown. It's a great build and a nicely creepy story about the hunger and hostility of the sea, yes, but also of what might lurk within it. A great read!