|Art by grandfailure|
The two stories from The Dark Magazine this month follow characters who are in some ways trapped. By a curse. By a haunting. By guilt. By fear. They each seem to be waiting, and luckily (or not) for them, their wait seems to be over with the arrivals of mysterious women. With these new companions, the main characters are sent into a confrontation with what has been holding them back, and are given a change to change the context of their chains. They are strange, sometimes sensual, and very much worth spending some time with. To the reviews!
“It Is Not So, It Was Not So” by Megan Arkenberg (5643 words)
No Spoilers: Mrs. Voss lives mostly by herself in an Chicago house and makes her money by renting out rooms. Except that two of the rooms she can’t. Just can’t. Because they aren’t exactly empty. So when she gets a new tenant, it dredges up the past, bringing Mrs. Voss back into a confrontation with what she’s done. It’s a story full of ghosts and secrets that slowly unfold, Mrs. Voss and her boarder, Karolin, both being haunted for things they don’t really feel they should be. It’s a strange, with an air of mystery, and a sort of growing tension like a mob gathering.
Keywords: Ghosts, Tenants, Murder, Fairy Tales, Secrets
Review: For me the story moves around the idea of murder and hauntings. Mrs. Voss is someone who seems to have killed two of her tenants, one an old woman who Mrs. Voss had been stealing from who starting to figure it out, and the other a man who began to figure out what she had done. There was another man, too, whose fate is more up in the air. But for the most part Mrs. Voss has gotten away with it, living with her ghosts and forced now to rent out a room again, finding the young woman who comes to stay with her haunted as well, though in a different way. Guilt runs through a lot of the piece, and the idea of being seen. Mrs. Voss has not exactly gotten away scott free. She’s haunted. Seen. And that informs a lot of what she does, as if she can feel the watchful gaze of the divine and is waiting for the judgment to fall. And in the mean time there is a paranoia to her, and a kind of doubt about the nature of the universe. Like, if she can get away with this, does it shatter the thought that the universe is just? Or else what is waiting for her? The piece moves as she tries to find the sins of her tenant, trying to find the killer in others perhaps so that she won’t feel so alone. The piece is complex and dense, poetic and almost dreamlike at times. I love the feel of it, creeping and like a hand poised at the base of my neck, almost closing tight. The ending pulls away at a moment when the nightmare that has been stalking the story might finally be closing in, or it might mean something else entirely. But the horror of it implies that justice, since delays, might finally be catching up with this particular haunted house. A great read!
“Tiger, Tiger Bright” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew (2300 words)
No Spoilers: Told in the second person, the story reveals a you who is suffering from a kind of hell. Where the moment you enter your apartment you are in a pit, climbing. Forever climbing. Wearing away your flesh, grinding your bones. The rest of your time you spend at work, at a temp agency. It’s work that you’re good at, but mostly it’s an escape from your hell, so you work it as hard as you can. When you are assigned a rather special request, for a woman with a curse, you are brought face to face with a tiger wearing the skin of a tiger, who promises a release from the endless climb. It’s an evocative piece that grabs the reader and pushes them where it wants them to be, trapped in this hell and almost numb to the hope that it will end. Not quite numb enough, though, as the arrival of a visceral kind of hope kindles something dangerous and sharp and sensual.
Keywords: Curses, Hell, Tigers, Employment, Queer MC
Review: I love the way the story sets up the main character and brings the reader into that space. Where you appear devoted to your work not because it’s really that important to you but because you don’t have anything else, and indeed can’t really have anything else. Which brushes against the queerness of the story, the isolation, where you seem always to be climbing toward a promised salvation but always alone. Because you don’t really have a home that’s safe, that you can bring anyone to, your social life isn’t really taking off. So when the tiger appears and offers an escape, her hunger and her power is something that seems frightening and captivating at the same time. You are eager to please, to be guided, desperate almost to have someone else offer to take away the uncertainty and the fear. And I like that the story sets you up so that you think that the hell and your home are different things. That there must be a home underneath the hell. That there must be some way to pull away the climb and exist in moderate luxury, with fine accommodations. But the climb goes beyond that, exists not in the physical space but in the expectations and pressures of the culture all around you. That makes the hope that you might find someone and truly have happiness in that seem like a distance too far. That it’s just not possible, regardless of how much you want it, how hard you wish it. And that the magic that ends up setting you free is something that shatters not just the illusion of the hell but the illusion of the proper world as well, so that your true home comes only after both have been shrugged off and you can embrace the forest and all its shadows and hidden edges. And by embracing that power you are finally able to be the tiger you’ve always been, free to run and feel fiercely and alive. A wonderful read!