This issue of The Dark Magazine seems to me to focus on quiet desperation. Loneliness. Loss. Of two men who find themselves haunted by the dead. By those they have outlived. And who find their lives lacking something. Hope, perhaps. Or purpose. Both are looking for ways to escape the places they find themselves. Are seeking in some ways to exorcise their ghosts and find a way to move on. With…mixed results. There's a lot to like about these stories and a nice creeping dread that permeates both. So yeah, to the reviews!
|Art by Susanafh|
"Too Many Ghosts" by Steve Rasnic Tem (4640 words)
This is a story about death and about being stuck. About aging and about hope and loss. It features a man named Hector living on a stretch of land that's not good for much but dust and cottonwood trees, that he uses for carvings. And specifically for carving faces. And yet lately his pieces have become a bit more…familiar. They've started wearing the faces of the dead. And I love how the story shows Hector dealing with his loneliness and isolation. His bitterness for the pain in which his wife died and for the way that the world seems full of ghosts. Memories of those who have passed. And their lingering presence in the form of the carvings. The story is nicely gothic, too, showing the old man alone in a remote house, beset by ghosts, living with his daughter and her young sons who are kept very religious. For Hector he's living in his own sort of Purgatory, his own sort of desolation. He is trapped. In a body that is failing him. In a growing cynicism about his religion. In some ways I read the story as Hector dealing with the specter of his mortality, finding that he's trapped not only on the land but in his body, wanting to move on, to join those he cares about, but afraid, his faith shaken. The ghosts that haunt him are the reminders that he might not be able to move on, that he might remain just as stuck. It's an interesting and deep read and even though it's a little late for Halloween it does go nicely with the season, which still feels autumnal where I live. A fine read!
"As Cymbals Clash" by Cate Gardner (2516 words)
This is a rather haunting piece about going off to war and coming back not only changed but to find the rest of the world didn't stay still, either. It follows I'm guessing World War I but it's possible it could II, and the main character, Godfrey, has returned to find his wife, Caroline, has taken his job at the post office and that there's really not a place for him anymore. At least until he takes a position at the local theatre as a stage magician. One who really doesn't do magic, merely provides a male presence so that the real magician, the assistance, can perform. The story is steeped in examinations of gender roles surrounding times of war, times in the past where young men were shipped out and young women were allowed to work. And how, upon returning, the men find things so changed. That they fought and died but did not struggle any more than those they left behind, and everyone has come through changed, and that Godfrey hates that, hates that the illusion he clung to when he was fighting was false. And it's a chilling story of magic and of hate, of how Godfrey can't seem to forgive the world for changing, Caroline for becoming more independent and accomplished. His pride is hurt, that he's not the center of everything, and he seeks to take back the spotlight only to…well, [SPOILERS] the implications as I read them were that he acts on his rage violently and that's why no one sees Caroline after a certain point, and that's why he doesn't want to go home, because he was only taught to face his issues with violence, and after everything he could not deal with what happened. It's a great story with a vivid flow and a balanced look at Godfrey, who is tragic, who is victim and perpetrator, who is damaged and damaging. A great story!