|Art by Miranda Adria|
The Dark is closing out 2019 with two stories that treat with horror in very different ways. In one, a young woman deals with social isolation and trauma while trying to both solve a mystery and navigate a very fragile space within her family. In the other, an artist deals with a much more physical isolation as he finds himself in a remote house where his inspiration has taken a rather sinister turn. In both, though, the characters are up against supernatural threats alongside emotional and mental ones. The baggage they carry is a weight on them, and they've effectively been thrown into the deep end with it. Can they shed it, or build it into something they can use to steer a course to safer waters, or will they be dragged down to the depths by it? To the reviews!
"You Were Once Wild Here" by Carlie St. George (4078 words)
No Spoilers: Emily is the daughter of monster hunters. Basically. It's complicated, and it's not exactly great for her mental health or her ability to make friends, constantly moving, always having to help bury a body but otherwise dealing with her parents trying to keep her sheltered from what they consider their world. Only it's her world, too, whether any of them want it or not, and she's got the strange, possibly prophetic dreams to prove it. What she doesn't have are friends. Until she meets Laura, who is dealing with her own shit, too. And the two bond, finding in each other some echo of the wildness they keep locked away. For both of them, it's a wildness they can't contain any more, but they'll go about dealing with it in very different ways. I love the world building and the character work, and if there were a show about this I would watch the fuck out of it. Just sayin'.
Keywords: Werewolves, Queer MC, Family, Witches, Transformations, Murder
Review: I really like where this story places Emily, in this impossible place where she's basically responsible for the survival of her parents. Not in a physical sense, because they are used to at this point being monster hunters and going up against some really powerful shit. But more that as long as they have Emily there as sort of this idealized child they are fighting to protect, while also working to avenge her brother, then they can sort of pretend that this is anything like normal. But it only works if they think they are saving her, if they are sparing her something instead of adding more and more trauma onto her already traumatized psyche. They act like they are the ones who have lost the most, t hat they are the ones most effected by what happened to their son, without really considering how it's fucked up Emily. So that she believes she can't get close to anyone, that she should always be the one to leave first. It takes this latest school, and the one friend she makes, to show her that it doesn't work like that. And it fucks her up, but it also pushes her to confront some things she's been running from—her relationship to her parents, her place in their strange business, and her powers as a psychic dreamer. I really love the world building, too, and the way that it all works visually, creating a dark and rather gothic paranormal feel without being entirely about tragedy and despair. No, it's not a happy story, but neither is it a story where everyone dies and is lost forever. And it's definitely not a story about a killer (I actually love that the killer in this instance is almost incidental, dealt with entirely off screen). It's about Emily and Laura. About friendship, and maybe love, and definitely the messy realities of growing up in a unique family situation. It's beautiful and fun and you should definitely go check it out! A wonderful story!
“The Muse of Palm House” by Tobi Ogundiran (4816 words)
No Spoilers: Sesan is a painter, famous enough although mostly that is relegated to the past now. Following a divorce, he’s not exactly in a great space mentally or emotionally, and so he travels to the rain forest to die. Or, that’s the plan—to go out in a blaze of creative glory, getting some measure of revenge on his ex-wife and perhaps sending the value of his works up, giving him another shot at relevance, if only posthumously. His plan sort of falls apart when he arrives, though, and enters into Palm House. Inspiration strikes, as well as something lurking in inspiration’s shadow. It’s a sinking story about an artist who doesn’t really see the world around him as it really is, and what happens from there.
Keywords: Painting, CW- Suicide, Portraits, Fire, Cycles
Review: This story takes something of a gothic premise—artist gone to a remote house who then experiences an increasingly creepy series of events—and adds in a commentary on art and artists. After all, the cycle that Sesan finds himself caught in is one that replays every year. The house is a sort of bait, somehow putting itself out there into the world, luring artists to it, but there’s something about the artists, too, that _wants_ to go. It preys on that kind of despair and vanity that artists often have, that self-destructive desire to produce something that matters and that will be experienced, will live on. And it’s that which the house seems to want. That the woman inside the house seems to want. To take that drive and ambition and turn it into a mirror by which the artists can seem themselves, stripped of all their pretense and safety. It’s rather terrifying, the art being created and the situation one where the artists think they are the one’s in charge, that they are steering things, but when they eventually step back, they find that it’s all just been staged to make it seem that way. And they discover how easily they’ve been deceived. I mean, the house is also insidious, a kind of pitcher plant where the artists find themselves encouraged deeper and deeper until there is no going back. But at the same time it works because it can offer something that the artist seems to want, or claims to want. Only where the artist would balk given the opportunity, would pull away and seek to escape back to their life, they aren’t allowed to. And it’s a creeping, incremental horror, the clues all there that something isn’t right. But Sesan is seeing the situation through his artist eyes, seeing what he wants in the finished piece. He’s missing what’s actually unfolding on the canvas before him, and it’s a terrifying twist that the story accomplishes to spine-tingling effect. A great read!