|Art by Dominick / Adobe Stock Image
The stories from August’s Nightmare Magazine are all about growing up. About rituals that come at the dawn of adulthood, during those awkward teen years. When people aren’t children but don’t know how to be adults yet, and are still dealing with all their shit, with the expectations and realities that they don’t want or need but have to deal with anyway. The stories are dark but carry with them a certain beauty, as well, and a yearning for things to be better. Most of all, they carry with them the knowledge that things should be better, and that tradition is no reason to pass along abuse and damage generation after generation. It’s a great dark issue, and I’ll get right to the reviews!
“The Bleeding Maze: A Visitor’s Guide” by Kurt Fawver (6055 words)
No Spoilers: This is a strange story frankly told by a narrator who is revealing what they know about the Bleeding Maze, the maze that sits at the heart of their village, where kids just entering adulthood are sent to face whatever it is that the maze holds for them. It’s different for every person, sometimes being relatively simple and other times being hellish and other times still being annihilating, so that the person entering the maze is never seen again. The nature of the maze isn’t really known, but there’s an ominous feeling that the story builds as it moves. What happens inside the maze is often horrific, and the story does a fine job conveying the unsettling nature of it all while leaving things vague and undefined enough that the mystery of it all deepens the dark strangeness.
Keywords: Mazes, Rituals, Growing Up, Bargains
Review: The idea of a mysterious maze existing in the heart of town, perhaps in the heart of every town, is certainly a creepy one. The narrator speaks with a calm matter-of-factness that comes from the mission that they have, that they reveal in the end, but throughout it gives them (for me, at least) the feeling of a documentary. They’re speaking outward, to an unknown “you” who becomes the reader, and what they’re revealing is a seed of something that is growing into our world but that seems very much not of our world. Immediately from the description of the narrator I knew this was gonna get creepy, but the story takes its time building it all up, in showing what exactly happens inside the maze. And I like that it happens as a sort of coming of age ritual. Because the town has just sort of agreed to shove all their children into this thing because they were thrown, showing the power of cycles, of traditions. It gets a bit into the toxic nature of these kinds of systems, where the children as sacrifices, fed in more to keep them connected to the system than because it doesn’t anything good for them. Seeing as how it kills some of them, it’s really not in their best interest. Even the ones who come out “okay” and with an interesting story to tell are perhaps touched in ways they don’t understand. And all throughout there is just a creeping dread that comes with the piece, that for all the mystery it should be obvious that the maze is Not Good, or at least that it very much doesn’t have people’s best interests at heart. It’s something hungry and bleeding, and for all that the narrator thinks many things are better being ignorant of, they also realize that if nothing is done, the maze is only going to keep growing, keep taking people, hurting people, and making sure it continues. It’s a tantalizing mystery, but more than that it’s a dangerous threat, and I like how the piece ends with that. A great read!
“The Skin of a Teenage Boy Is Not Alive” by Senaa Ahmad (4967 words)
No Spoilers: Parveen is a high school senior along with her best friend, Aisha. But where Parveen seems ready to be done with school, to be done with her town, to be done with just about everything, Aisha is a bit more comfortable and happy with herself and her situation. She makes friends easier, and falls in with a strange group that are kinda sorta a demon cult. Kinda sorta not because the demon isn’t real, but because in high school everything is kinda sorta, the whole experience one defined by false starts, awkwardness, and uncertainty. But there is a real darkness, a real demon who keeps returning, who seems trapped in high school just as many young people feel trapped by teenhood. The piece traces the hopes and fears and hungers of that cage while exploring the relationship between Parveen and Aisha and what happens to them. It’s deep and it’s yearning and it’s a haunting experience.
Keywords: High School, Demons, Cults, Possession, Friendship, Growing Up
Review: The feeling of this story captures a great deal of high school for me, the teenage dissatisfaction and isolation and depression that for some can be so large, so lonely. And Parveen is someone who carries with them a general distrust of the world, a guarded skepticism that comes from anxiety and fear, from a perhaps inexplicable trauma. The piece features a bit of nostalgia but also a deep loss. Parveen spent a large part of her teens wanting to escape it. Wanting to escape school, her situation, and maybe even her life. It’s something that resonates with the character Benny, who was bright and happy (or so it seems) until he got possessed by a demon, and then things seemed to have changed. It speaks to the ways that depression and despair can strike teens, intensely and in ways that it’s hard to explain or understand. But the description of it wrenching, the way that he seems so different afterward and forever more, looking back at the boy he was and wondering what happened, if it was real. And feeling a kind of profound sadness at the loss of it, the waste. Not a regret, exactly, though that’s how it’s always framed in conversations and when adults talk about it. That it’s sad a person regrets not doing this or that when they were younger. But regret I feel is different than loss. I don’t feel that Benny or Parveen were just “being difficult” or “moody teens.” I think they were struggling in ways that wasn’t being seen and that even as adults they lack the language to describe properly. Maybe they were dealing with repression, unaware of it and unseen by any adult that might have helped (or, even worse, seen but suppressed because the adults didn’t want them to be themselves). It’s a story that strikes a rather personal chord, so it’s possible I’m a bit off the mark, but in any case it’s a gorgeous piece with prose that infiltrates like smoke, like a presence angry and alive and needful. And it’s so very good. Go read it!!!