|Art by Peter Polach (Apterus)|
February brings a pair of stories to The Dark Magazine that center energy in different ways. Ghosts, in different ways. Exploitation, in different ways. But both look at women moving through a world where it’s dangerous to exist. Where it’s dangerous to be competent and independent. And where they can’t really maintain what they have without a little help. Now, for one of the characters that help is freely given, a form of justice and strength and hope. For the other...well, for the other it is something taken from those with less power, with less rights, and with less ability to fight back. And both are great dark fantasies that look at the abuses of society and show how hard it is not to be pulled under by the currents of societal roles and expectations. To the reviews!
“The Crying Bride” by Carrie Laben (4117 words)
No Spoilers: This story is told by an old woman to her grand-niece, discussing something that’s not exactly a haunting, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t involve ghosts. And the difference is explained as she looks back over her long life to where she began, and how she grew up, and the complicated mess that was her family. It’s a tale of death and life, hope and growing things, and it’s dark in the tragedy that it revolves around, that it grows out of—the soil made fertile by the body of someone that barely gets named, but who lets her voice be heard for those who choose to listen. And it’s a rather uplifting story, dark but also hopeful, about the ways that ghosts are not always out for vengeance, and that some people can escape their prisons and redefine their circumstances, making beautiful something that for so long had been ugly.
Keywords: Apples, Doves, Science, Family, Queer Characters, Ghosts
Review: I love the way this story challenges the idea of haunting. How the piece begins with this denial that the narrator has been haunted, something echoed again at the ending of the pice, but that in between there it becomes obvious that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a ghost present throughout her life. It’s just that the idea of haunting is often something that is unwanted, that is dangerous, that is about revenge and the dead lashing out at the living. And...well, that’s not really what this piece is about. For the narrator, it might become clear that there’s a ghost around, but it’s one that becomes the narrator’s only help and friend in her life. A comforting presence that helps her, that whispers to her, explaining the way the world works. Who sees injustice because of the life she lived, the way she died. The way that she’s been lost and forgotten underneath an apple tree, and how it takes a little girl to find her there and see in her a kindred spirit. And so they help each other, trying not to take revenge but to gain freedom. To embrace the future that the dead woman should have had, where she was able to use her intelligence to thrive. To shine. Instead of getting caught up with a drunk and his family, murdered and buried under an apple tree. The way the narrator reveals her story is just refreshing and defiant, defined by her desire to get away from the life that confined her and the joy she felt at finding her calling. And it’s just a great and freeing story about ghosts and hope and a freedom that’s more important than vengeance. A fantastic read!
“Butterflies and Hurricanes” by Julia August (5990 words)
No Spoilers: Susanna is a Finder, a person who can find the true names of all matter of living things. Which makes her a somewhat sought-after person when a desperate magician (the Conjuror Supreme, no less) needs a lot of names for his latest project. Recovering from a bit of romantic hurt and needing to pay her rent, she takes the job despite some red flags. The piece is mostly quiet, a horror of manners and a kind of dispassionate politeness that covers over a bubbling anger and hurt. The depiction of finding the names viscerally contrasts the language of proper ladies and gentlemen seeking their fame and fortune in this historically-tinged dark fantasy.
Keywords: Magic, Names, Queer MC, Money, Contracts
Review: I really like the contrast of this piece and the darkness of it, the some of detached brutality that taking something’s name really requires. Because it’s about power and about ownership, the name giving a magician the ability to basically own whoever or whatever they have the true name of. For Susanna, it means that she doesn’t really like to find names of anything but plants, though of course plants aren’t really enough for what the Conjuror Supreme requires. And as Susanna gets drawn into his designs, into his plans, she is forced to face the real darkness of what she’s doing, the ugliness of it. She’s made to feel what it means for these entities to live. For plants it doesn’t mean much but for animals it’s something that has more of a toll, and really for me it’s about the system that she’s in, the wealthy getting to use this energy while contracting out the cost and pain and drain of it. It’s a whole system of magic that works by exploitation, by violation, so a bit like capitalism in that way. And Susanna is someone who is forced to really confront what using that system means, what it does, who it hurts. And she has to ask herself if it’s worth it. The lifestyle she can keep up, the place she can rent. It’s a piece that shows just how terrifying and bloody what she does is, regardless of how little blood actually deals in. It’s there, always, and she can’t stay clean of it forever. It’s an unsettling and complicated read, full of complicity and violation and it’s very much worth checking out! A great read!