Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Quick Sips - Nightmare #62

It’s November at Nightmare Magazine and the month has brought a definite feel of impending winter. Of a chill that sinks into the bones. The stories actually take on different aspects of beauty and art. The first looks at the beauty of murder, the art of the killer, imagining a future where anything is possible, and the form of being a serial killer has been spread out among the stars. The second looks at beauty and disfigurement, ugliness and sacrifice. It shows a very different sort of artist, a more conventional kind of artist, seeking to find the magic of beauty, and to give himself to that magic. Both stories are dark and difficult and rather unsettling, but it makes for a great descent into these colder months. To the reviews!

Art by Psychoshadow / Fotolia

“The Zodiac Walks on the Moon” by Will Ludwigsen (1529 words)

This is a rather short story that’s framed as a letter. And not just any letter, but one from the Zodiac killer to an undisclosed future of journalists written on night of the first moon landing. It’s an unsettling piece not least because it dwells on inspiration and hope and progress but in some very dark and violent ways. Walking on the moon means a lot of things to a lot of people, but it’s rather disturbing to hear how it gets to this killer, how it pushes them to think of new ways to kill and to terrorize. At the same time, the letter reveals a lot about how the character thinks about death and about murder. In some ways like art, but in a sort of juvenile sense. They imagine all the ways that this will change how people think about murder, but their ideas about murder in space are just...swapping the setting for murder. It’s all theater to the character, not so much inspired by the idea of space and progress as...almost upset that this thing has so captured the attention and imagination of the country, of the world. And that I think is where I get the most out of the story, as showing how obsessed the character becomes to one-up the moon landing. To bring people back to the depravity and violence of people, imagining that he is a sort of bogeyman that humanity cannot escape, that he’ll only get more extreme, more inventive, as the horizons expand. And yet it comes off almost sad, almost pathetic, that they imagined that there would be this world their letter would reach that doesn’t exist. And as much as he’s become something of a myth, a legend, it’s not enough. The moon landing remains this moment, this idea, this hope, in a way that all their murders cannot touch or fully tarnish. To me, the story does a great job of complicating the original historical killings by placing them into this moment, and I like the result for how it shows this deep contempt for hope and yet how it’s something that in many ways is stronger than the most determined of killers, more powerful in some ways than fear. So yeah, a fine read!

“The Summer Mask” by Karin Lowachee (5269 words)

This is a wrenching story about art and about beauty and about trauma. It features David, an artist who has been assigned to make masks for veterans of war who have had their faces damaged. He meets Matthew, who was blinded and disfigured from the war, and sets about making his mask. It is a slow process, however, and one that comes along with the two men drawing close together, relying on each other. David, used to obscurity, revels in the attention, in the way that Matthew wants and needs him. But the story goes down some dark avenues, David’s growing love and obsession meaning that he has to make a perfect mask, one that will give Matthew back everything that he’s lost. It’s a story about the price of that, the way that David seeks to give this gift to Matthew, even knowing what he’ll have to pay, and knowing that things are not exactly equal about it. The story lingers on the idea of beauty and the worth of it, the need to justify the ugly but the magic of that sort of beauty that seems to lift a room. A magic that David doesn’t possess, though he does have a different kind. The mood of the piece is intense and tense, not because of action really but because of desire and restraint, these men stuck by their hurts and their traumas, each unsure of what will happen if any of their hurts were to be soothed, miraculously healed. And, ultimately for me, it’s not a very happy story, about sacrifice for something as nebulous as beauty, its magic present but lacking warmth or true satisfaction. [SPOILERS] Indeed, for me the story becomes about the way that David gives himself to beauty even as he knows it will lose him Matthew, that for all he will do more for beauty, Matthew as a beautiful person stops needing to justify himself, and stops needing David. Like a swan, his presence in the world is supposed to be enough, even as a swam in not exactly a companionable creature. It’s a complex story and one with a yearning voice and feel that revels in the darkness it creates. A great read!


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