Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quick Sips - Nightmare #55

The April stories in Nightmare Magazine do a great job of capturing a sense of darkness and magic in settings that don’t seem too different from our own. Where, for all the violence and all the strangeness and all the eerie beauty, there are links too to the mundane and the common, to the chore of visiting a sick relative and the insecurity of being in a new relationship. The stories reveal characters being confronted by strangers and making decisions they might have reason to regret. But these are also stories where, for all their violence and betrayal and weirdness, also hold on to a lifting hope. And before I spoil anything more, to the reviews!

Art by Dusan Kostic / Adobe Stock

“Red Hood” by Eric Schaller (4469 words)

This is a nicely creepy piece that mixes bargains, fairy tales, and the undead. The story centers Red Hood, a young woman who lives in a world populated with danger and the Risen, who seem to be zombies but are never outright named that. Still, zombie rules seem to apply what with needing to destroy the brain and all that. The story brings Red Hood on a mission to deliver supplies to her sick grandma, and she is able to travel safely in the world thanks to a suit that her grandma made her made of skin and smeared with blood that fools the Risen. Along the way through the underground passages to her grandma’s apartment, though, she meets a strange who is big and bad, though not exactly a wolf. I love the way the story mixes magic and blood, the way that the lines blur between a story that is probably actually set in the future with the feel and sensibilities of a tale from long ago, from the original Little Red Riding Hood. The blending of genres and tones is great and the story manages to do very new and delightfully disturbing things with the story, imaging this stranger as a sort of conman and sort of vampire and entirely a creep. He preys upon Red Hood’s expectations and her fears all the while never really lying. He doesn’t have to. He just has to conceal enough and let the darkness and bleakness of the setting do the rest. The story does a great job too of using the pattern of threes and recurring it again and again. It’s a great way to help build the tension, each iteration another warning that these things have a certain inevitability to them, that this is not safe, that something Bad is about to happen. And yet I also like that the story doesn’t descend completely into tragedy. There’s plenty of blood and violence, yes, but that doesn’t mean the story is a hopeless one. Indeed, it’s a piece about learning from the harshness of an environment and standing up and fighting back and it’s a bit shocking but also a bit righteous and the ending had me smiling. A great read!

“Figs, Detached” by Jenn Grunigen (2455 words)

This is a lyrically dense and strange story that, like the last, mixes its magic into a world close to our own, one of day jobs and cars and the mundanity of relationships. Only this story also features a man the main character starts seeing who becomes pregnant from emotions and gives birth to fruit. It’s a weird premise and one that is rather disturbingly rendered in the prose. Even so, there’s something compelling about it, and for the main character it makes them wonder about the nature of their relationship with this man and, indeed, the nature of love in general. The mood of the story is thick and syrupy, dense and twisting so that some sections seem to pop up as if at random. The story follows like the taste of a fig, like the experience of eating and experiencing the flow of flavors and memories. The story imagines that the fruit the man produces has different properties based on what he takes in leading up to giving birth. With the main character they can produce a sort of love and definitely a lust, and a bevy of other flavors. But the man is not limited to that, and the main character starts to wonder where those other fruits come from. And that ends up planting a seed of its own, one of doubt and fear and hurt. The piece really does look at inspiration and affection and what might make up love. What might constitute cheating and infidelity. It’s a story that captures a raw emotional state in a very poetic and moving way. The relationship between the main character and the man, Lacticifer, is uncomfortably compelling and makes for a rather unforgettable reading experience. There are places where I personally feel I was missing something, not getting a reference, but even so I feel like it’s a story that deserves some time and attention. So definitely check it out!


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