|Art by Ksenia (Iren Horrors)|
It’s an interesting issue of The Dark this month, with two new stories aimed directly at history and the military and South America. Both pieces deal with women running up against a wall of tradition, of a history of abuse and hunger. They go in wanting to succeed, wanting to excel, and find that the system isn’t set up to let them do that. Instead, pushing only seems to make them targets, to put them on the menu for the appetites of those with power. It’s a creepy and at times difficult pair of stories that challenge but also take on the weight of corruption, slowly crushing the reader beneath the tide of corpses the past keeps bringing forward into the present. To the reviews!
“An Open Coffin” by H. Pueyo (3073 words)
No Spoilers: Amélia is a woman who has been hired to care for a body. A corpse of a man who’s been dead for a great many years but still inspires certain guests to arrive week after week to visit. It’s her job to wash and change the corpse and to let the guests into the house. The events of the story aren’t necessarily difficult to follow, but the style and flow make figuring out what’s really going on rather tricky, at least for me, though it’s possible I’m missing a bit of framing, too. It’s strange and it’s beautiful and it’s creepy as well, though, and it balances its uncertainty with a heaping helping of darkness.
Keywords: Coffins, Employments, Guests, Marriage, Corpses
Review: This is a deeply strange story that captures a sort of haunted damage very well. Amélia’s world has become this corpse, no one else really interacting wtih her except the guests that she increasingly despises. The job is something she needs, for the money to help raise her children. And yet there’s something so off about the situation. And not just with the corpse and the guests, but with Amélia herself, whose family life is shrouded in a way because it’s happening elsewhere, away from this strange house and these strange people. And there’s something so delightfully creepy about the people who show up to view the body, to pray over it, to crawl over it, seeking something from it and from Amélia as well, something dark and hungry with a feel of wrongness. And if that’s the case then the story is about the slow erosion of Amélia’s protection and safety, her resistance and defiance to these people who treat her like a maid. She can remain standing against them but only so long as her strength holds, and without support, without help, she can’t last indefinitely. For me it speaks to the way that the past is still devouring the present, how this dead man is still exerting his will on others, still reaching out to do terrible things. And Amélia is caught by it, caught in a situation she doesn’t have much control over or power in and forced to conceded point after point until she is the maid they see her has, until that’s all she has left. At least for me the ending seems to show the last hope of safety stripped from her, so that she must submit and deal with what happens next, as awful as it might be. It’s a bit skin crawling but that also seems appropriate for the venue, and the piece has this weirdly haunted feel that makes for a fine read!
“Seventy-Seven” by Francisco Ortega, translated by David Bowles (7092 words)
No Spoilers: Sergeant Amador Martínez has spent fifteen years as little more than a clerk in the police force following his dogged pursuit of a case he was told to drop. A case involving twenty people being grusomely murdered. It’s a case that ruined his life, and now it seems whatever caused those deaths is back, with the exact same MO popping up again and a plucky young assistant DA, Antonieta Baculic, who is determined to get to the bottom of things. Despite the sergeants warnings to let it go. The piece explores an alt-historical take on Chilean history, where the secret to the nation’s military successes has not been because of ideology or firepower, but rather something much darker. And it’s a story with teeth, that draws the reader in before opening a door a revealing that something else has arrived, as well. Vaguely noirish, it builds up the mystery and delivers a resolution with devastating impact.
Keywords: Police, Cover Ups, Undead, History, Corruption, Investigations
Review: I am a sucker for a good mystery, and I do like how this story takes history and tweaks it, imagining different explanations for national incidents. And Amador and Antonieta make good foils, him older and bitter about what’s happened, her younger and more on fire to solve the case. As it turns out, though, the case has already been solved, and what’s really going on isn’t exactly what it seems. And I like what the story does for a few reasons, not least of all because the sergeant makes more sense given the rather twisted ending. Because it starts being more and more obvious that he’s not just bitter about what happened to his career—he’s lost most of his faith in his country. Everyone assumes that he’s just upset because he was stifled, but what seems more the case is that he did learn the truth, pushing forward like Antonieta wants to do now, and he found out what was going on. And the truth is what broke him. And it’s a dark piece because of what he does with that, because once he was broken he didn’t really want to do anything but live his small life. And that he is trying to protect the assistant DA because he knows what’s at the end of the story. And that the truth is no help. Which is a blisteringly depressing thing but also reflects some what happens when anyone really digs into what their country does in conflict. The atrocities it commits and then covers up. Because history is full of these kinds of things, tehse kinds of murders, and there might not be zombies, but humans have done bad enough, and really finding out about them can be illuminating, but without the power to actually bring people to justice, the only outcomes are to fail against the wall of corruption and power and be crushed or to join in. And Martínez makes his choice. And it’s a chilling, creeping mystery that pays off well. A great read!