|Art by Kevron2001 / Fotolia|
Nightmare Magazine kicks 2019 off with a pair of short stories very concerned with falling. In both, it’s not so much the landing that’s the problem. It’s the feeling of freefall, of not having a ground beneath your feet. Of knowing that the world is run on money and that’s something that you either don’t have or know is tainted with blood. It’s a story of slow and wrenching climbs that can be toppled with a sudden shift or jolt and lose all the progress gained. These are not easy reads, but through the dense gloom and creeping horror they do offer a way forward, though not perhaps in an expected way. To the reviews!
“What It Sounds Like When You Fall” by Natalia Theodoridou (3100 words)
No Spoilers: An unnamed narrator accompanies their family to the graveyard, where their Uncle is going to be buried (alive) at the start of this piece. It’s a stark opening, made stranger by the presence of angels, creatures that look like little winged people and that are treated like pest birds, with even a bounty for killing them. The setting otherwise is defined by hardship and poverty, the narrator’s family struggling, the Uncle’s death an open wound that might finish the family off or wake them up to the need to change what they’re doing. The piece has a draining, almost mournful feel for me. A sense of having fallen, and not being entirely sure what to do with that. And it’s a dark, creeping read that really gets at the despair of seeing a future that isn’t a rise or a climb but a slide into a shallow grave.
Keywords: Death, Angels, Poverty, Family, Graves
Review: I love the mystery of this piece, the way that it never really explains what happened with the angels. It’s said that they fell, and now they’re something like vermin, though they don’t seem to really do anything. They are unwanted, though, a sort of reminder that something has happened in the afterlife, in heaven, that doesn’t really seem...good. They are unable to tell trash from treasure, and it gives the entire idea of faith something of a shock, because it all seems built on a shoddy foundation, on this core darkness that can’t actually see what’s valuable and not. And the narrator is stuck in a world where there really isn’t any hope. it’s a hell, a purgatory, where the future is only toil and debt and having to pay for more time, pay for more time until something gives and you have to enter the ground and die. It’s this grinding, wrenching read because of the weight that’s on everyone. The struggle that they have, with poverty and with grief and with just wanting there to be a different or a better way. And the grim reality that there really isn’t. That everyone is living after a fall, and the world is this harsh place that’s wringing people out until there’s nothing left. The angels, which could be magical or awe-inspiring, are drained of their holiness and seen as pests. All that’s left is loss and death and hoping you don’t fall further yet. A great read!
“On the Origin of Specie” by Vajra Chandrasekera (3405 words)
No Spoilers: An unnamed narrator is sentenced to a unique kind of punishment in this story, pushed into a hole for their role in pushing back against taxes to support the country’s war effort. The hole is dark and a special hell, but the story isn’t solely about the gritty physical reality that the narrator finds themself in. More so, it’s about the philosophical and moral grittiness that pervades societies because of what war is and does. It’s a slow and rather dense read, focused on the sensory deprivation of the narrator but also their mind working beneath that, working through what led them to this point and, eventually, where they might be headed next. It’s a strange read, haunting and vexing but also slightly freeing, about perspective and complicity and freedom.
Keywords: Taxes, Prisons, Disobedience, War, Complicity, Punishment
Review: This is a bit of a trippy read that in some ways puts me in the mind of the works of Poe, where we have this unnamed narrator who is put into a hole as punishment and the sort of terror that exists in such places, the claustrophobic darkness, the strange intimacy and crushing finality of it. At the same time, I like how the piece complicates itself, drawing outside the physical torture of what’s going on and at the deeper issues of why this person is in the hole, and how it speaks to the way that so many are in the hole, though many don’t exactly see it. More damning still, the story draws an idea that for me speaks to how many people are entirely aware of the hell they’re in, the complicity and the evil, and simply don’t care. That the hell exists largely for people who care, who hurt from the suffering they see, and how they are required and forced to suffer alone. The piece is difficult, the action a close up on the torture that this person is facing, this punishment that has been earned through the rules of this society, all because they could see how it’s not enough to be against evil. Not when you’re still supporting that evil, allowing it to continue. I love the way the piece looks at money, at taxes, at corruption, and how there’s this feeling of the physical dissolving in the hole, slipping free into something liquid, rushing. And it’s a somewhat uncertain ending for me, a triumph and a defeat, a letting go and a transformation. But it’s a beautiful story, and certainly one to spend some time with!