Friday, July 20, 2018

Quick Sips - Nightmare #70

The pair of stories from Nightmare’s July issue focus on people trapped in situations where they don’t have a lot of power, mostly because of their age. They weigh in on opposite sides of the specrtum, though, one character made vulnerable because of his old age, put in a home where he might be preyed upon at any moment and aware always of his own approaching death. The other piece focuses on a young person in a stifling household, living with rules that aren’t designed to protect him so much as to make his parent’s life easier. In both situations, the toxicity of the environment manifests in ways great and small (and sometimes furred) and forces the characters to choose if they’ll stay and try to face them or try to escape from a power they might not be able to defeat head on. Let’s get to the reviews!

Art by Chorazin / Fotolia

“Ways to Wake” by Alison Littlewood (5998 words)

No Spoilers: This story walks the edge between mundane and speculative, visiting with Mr. Wescombe as he faces his own mortality in a nursing home with a cat that seems to predict who’s going to be next to die. The cat, Jack, becomes something of an obsession for Mr. Wescombe, who has never liked cats and who bristles at the idea that the cat might predict his death. The story is very conscious of life and death, about the ways that people hold on out of doubt and fear and sheer stubborn pride. There’s a Gothic feel to the piece as well, an isolation that comes because Mr. Wescombe isn’t sure who he can trust, what he can trust, even down to his own mind. He might be jumping at shadows, or there might be something else going on than people think, something dark and powerful.
Keywords: Cats, Aging, Death, Nursing Home, CW- Animal Abuse
Review: I love the way this story plays with doubt, because on its surface there’s that question of whether or not there’s anything inherently magical or speculative about what’s going on. It’s possible, though as described it seems unlikely to me, that this is just a normal place. That the deaths are all natural. That what happens between Mr. Wescombe and Matron is just regular old person abuse. Which is an interesting move, because it forces the reader to come to terms not just with the horror of this cat and/or witch/monster/etc. but with the horror of death and age. The horror that Mr. Wescombe really can’t do anything to stop Matron from hurting him. That if he kills this cat, or if he tries and fails, then he’s opening himself up to further abuse. And it’s interesting in part because this is a kind of threat he’s never faced and that age has made him vulnerable to. And whether or not the cat is part of some magic that wants to consume him, maybe it’s easier to imagine that than imagining a situation where he is powerless, and in constant physical danger. It’s a tense and gripping story, and for what it’s worth I do like the evil cat, that here is this situation that’s stalking him, and even if he did something, even if he “won,” there’s still the shadow of death on him, and the uncertainty and fear about what happens next. A great read!

“Kylie Land” by Caspian Gray (6348 words)

No Spoilers: Kyle doesn’t exactly fit in at school, and at home he must tiptoe around his father’s very strict and very numerous rules. So it’s something of a surprise when he strikes up a friendship with the new kid, the dangerous new kid who was kicked out of his last school—Ramage. Still, the two seem to understand each other, and not just because Ramage can read minds. They connect because they are both different. Not broken or wrong, but with a different outlook on the world because of how differently they perceive it than most everyone else. And as much as Ramage doesn’t want to use his power, doesn’t want to know the shit that’s in everyone’s minds, Kyle draws him out, uses him as a sort of rescue ladder to climb out of the situation he’s in and reach toward something better. Touching and showcasing two lonely kids finding something redeeming in their friendship with each other, the story is tense and dark with a vein of bright hope.
Keywords: Telepathy, CW- Child Abuse, School, Friendship, Neuroatypical MC
Review: I love how this story gives a picture of a parent-child relationship that reads as very real, especially for children who do not fit into neat boxes, who do not meet the expectations of the parents. The label of “special needs” is a fraught one but here is does encompass Kyle, who certainly for me reads as not neurotypical. At the same time, he’s very capable of moving through the world and handling most of his own things. Holding him back are the rules his father enforces, that keep him isolated and quiet. That keep him from learning what’s safe and what’s not, something vital in the development of a child. Still Kyle finds ways to question the confines of the cage his father has metaphorically put him in, and Ramage offers him an opportunity he cannot pass up. First to see if there’s anything wrong with Kyle, and then to see if Kyle’s father really cares about him. The answer to those questions are what give the piece more of a horror feel, a pressing darkness that Kyle must face and reject. And it’s a wrenching read, but one that I truly appreciate because it looks at Kyle’s situation and puts the greater importance on him getting away from that abusive and toxic situation. Not that he will necessarily do well out on his own, but that the story doesn’t blame him for making that choice anyway is great, and that it gives him hope that maybe running away does hold more hope that trying to stay and deal with it is refreshing. It’s a wonderful read!


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