Monday, October 8, 2018

Quick Sips - The Dark #41

The two original stories from The Dark Magazine’s October issue occupy the thin and nebulous space between the “normal” world and what lurks beneath and around that. The world of dark magic and death, of beings willing to make bargains, even if those bargains are always made in bad faith. And they feature characters made desperate because of the plight of their families, their parents or children. Willing to do something but not exactly sure how to start. And the stories are tragic but not crushingly so, sharp but with enough hope to smooth some of the rough corners and make for an interesting and entertaining issue. To the reviews!

Art by Gloom82 (Anton Semenov)

“Dukkering” by Nelson Stanley (5432 words)

No Spoilers: A young boy becomes accidental witness to a strange conversation between his mother, a sort of fortune teller, and a woman come to call who seems...quite different than she appears. The story moves with a slow weight, full of a child’s fear and hesitation and loyalty and love. The narrator is caught having to navigate between the world he knows and a darker one waiting just outside, not bothering to wait before forcing its way in. It’s unsettling and strange with a moving tragedy, and it leaves the narrator with a sense of loss and rot and sorrow.
Keywords: Fortune Telling, Curses, Family, Dogs, Wasting, Bargains
Review: I love the uncertainty of this story, the way that grief mingles with magic in the retelling, in the secret that the narrator doesn’t ever tell, but shares with us, the readers. Not the uncertainty that there is magic. No, that one is drawn up pretty clearly in the giant talking dog that appears and tells the narrator what’s going to happen, what the bargain is that’s been made without his mother’s consent. Rather, it’s the magic of his mother that’s uncertain. What he says, and what she says, is that she’s not magic, but rather has a way with words, a way to use a talent for lying in order to help people, to give them hope and keep them working for something even when all seems lost. Essentially what they claim she does is offer a kind of prophecy placebo, and one that has some very definite results, often giving people enough of what they need that they can do the rest themselves, to make that future possible. When a being comes to call that requires more than a placebo, though, that requires some sort of real magic, that’s where I feel the story opens up a question of whether the narrator’s mother has it to give. Now, it’s possible that she does, that she can indeed read fate and does use that in order to try and help people. But this being does not seem the sort to true deal with, and the narrator’s mother seems to know that. To sense it. To realize that what happens after that is all that she can do to try and protect her family, if not herself. And for the narrator it has this great helplessness to it, that once this has happened there not much to be done except to refuse to play, refuse to make a deal that has the promise of saving everything. Because there’s a cost, and there’s a decision, and his mother makes hers in defiance and strength, refusing the be bullied or manipulated. And while it might not save her body, I get the feeling that it saves something more important. A great read!

“Psychopomps of Central London” by Julia August (3207 words)

No Spoilers: Told in second person, you are on a quest to find your daughter. A quest that begins in an old church, with a strange statue, and leads through a circuitous route toward the Underworld. The piece is narrated by your guide, who takes you along to each milestone, each psychopomp that is necessary to visit before crossing the border into the land of the dead. At least, necessary if you’re to have any chance of coming back. The piece is strange and magical, exploring a mostly hidden world of magic and death. Evoking in some ways the Divine Comedy (for me, at least) the piece takes on the feel of someone undergoing a change, but only really starting on a journey that has slim odds of success, but still needs to be attempted for your sake and the sake of the narrator.
Keywords: Guides, Tours, Landmarks, The Underworld, Family
Review: There’s a great visual and surreal style to this story that’s captured in the style of this tour. At first it might seem as if it’s just another sight-seeing expedition, though a strange one, but as the piece moves it becomes more and more clear that there’s something else going on here. Something deeper, and darker than originally is apparent. And for me it works into older works like the Divine Comedy, where the narrator is walking with this character, with you, who has become a bit lost in the grief of losing your daughter. And you need to follow her footsteps in order to find out what happened to her and to possibly bring her back to the land of the living. It’s a hope that drives the guide as well, that links them, and that I feel drives the story on long after the scene ends. Because it allows the reader to wonder what happens next. This is the first step, that leads you to the gate but doesn’t actually see you through it. There’s a sense of urgency but also of needing to take time, of not being able to rush anything. It’s the shortest day of the year, which also makes it the longest night, and I like how that plays into what must come next, the actually journey into and through the Underworld to try and rescue someone who was lost there. Who went in because of family, and who isn’t sure what state her daughter will be in. Captivating and increasingly fantastical, it’s a story very much spending some time with. Go check it out!


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