|Art by Chorazin / Adobe Stock Art|
“The Devil of Rue Moret” by James Rabb (2165 words)
This is a strange and haunting story about loneliness and isolation and, most of all, desire. It features a boy, made blank by his lack of a name and the lack of regard people seem to have for him. He lives in the bayou, walking the paths every day to go to school, where he doesn’t exactly excel in part because of his distraction with the girl that sits in front of him. His home life is...less than ideal, and the story to me focuses on the ways that the boy is unwanted, undesired, and what that does to him. How it creates in him a sort of hollow that he fills talking to a sister he never got to know, dreaming about a life where he isn’t alone, or where he is at least alone with someone else. The piece does a great job of building up the melancholy of his situation and the slowness of it, the way that everything sort of bleeds together, time and space blurring until something sort of cuts through. There’s something about the bayou, a lazy sort of magic that I think fits, and it eventually finds the boy, who learns a bit about himself and his own desires, who makes a sort of deal because that’s what one does in situations like that. And the deal works. The wish is granted, even though he never quite gives it voice. I like the way the story moves between dialogue and description, maintaining a distance from the boy, making everything feel just a bit hazy and syrupy. To me it sells the way the story works, the deliberate but unfocused nature of the boy, full of yearning but without any real direction to point it except hazily at a classmate, when really what he wants goes much deeper. It’s a touching and complex read with just the right touch at the end. Definitely one to check out!
“The Spook School” by Nick Mamatas (2279 words)
This story works in large part of juxtaposition, places a scene of almost boring tourism against a nightmare of blood and art that anchors the piece firmly into horror territory. The plot follows a couple who live in America, Melissa and Gordon, visiting Gordon’s family in their home in Scotland. The trip is for family, in part, but also in part for Melissa to enjoy some art—art depicting the supernatural. And the story progresses with a sort of matter-of-fact tone, what you’d expect from a couple on a sort-of holiday, navigating dealing with family and being a bit grumpy at the stress that comes with travel. There’s excitement, but there’s also a touch of the strange, as on their first day viewing the art Melissa had a bit of a fainting spell upon examining one of the works. And to me in some ways the story becomes not about the magic of Scotland, but the magic of the foreign. For Gordon and his family, the art is interesting or annoying, but it’s not really magical. They’ve lived with it their entire lives and for their part they don’t quite understand how foreigners react as they do to it. For Melissa, though, the art seems magical exactly because it isn’t her own, because she’s infused it with this desire to escape the baggage of her own culture’s art. As a Greek-American, she could perhaps find deep meaning and connection to Greek art, and yet because of the way it is treated within her family, she has to step outside of that to really find something that speaks to her. And she finds that in Celtic art, finds this call that draws her into a sort of magic. Of course, the magic isn’t exactly safe. Because it isn’t really her own, her fascination with it ignores any warnings or road signs that might have helped her avoid...what happens. It’s a story about tourism, yes, and about the way that people give power to what is foreign, and how that act, when giving power to dark and dangerous forces, can turn out fairly poorly. So yeah, it’s a story that pulls off a powerful and punchy twist toward the end and it’s a great read!