|Art by Rodjulian / Adobe Stock Footage|
The two stories in the December issue of Nightmare Magazine focus on the relationships that men or boys have with other men or boys. In one, two brothers are the focus on the piece. In the other, it’s two best friends. In both, the characters have secrets they are keeping from one another, jealousies and angers that have warped their relationships. That threaten to make them something poisoning them rather than enriching their lives or helping them to deal with their problems. In one of the stories, the boys are young enough that there might yet be time to change things, to understand each other and grow. In the other, it’s possible too much time and bitterness exists for the men to ever come back from where they’ve gone. To the reviews!
“Methods of Ascension” by Dan Stintzi (5708 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a man who doesn’t seem to have the best handle on his life. He drinks heavily, his marriage seems to have fallen apart, and he’s become mostly estranged from his brother, the last of those might not seem like a great loss because he never really liked his brother. Except that then his brother gets back in touch with a request for money for a strange kind of self-help program. One that involves dreams and architecture. The piece in some ways is about the two reconnecting in their father’s house, the narrator facing not just who his brother has become, but the shadows that were present under his entire life, that thanks to his brother’s program are starting to become clearer. It’s a strange and nightmarish tale, rather literally, and it carries a mystery and implication that is rather terrifying.
Keywords: Family, Buildings, Dreams, Portals, Drinking
Review: I like the way the story handles the relationship between the narrator and his brother. The sort of way that neither of them exactly like the other, the way that they are full of their own bitternesses and their own guilts and their own hopes. How they seem to be damaged in the same way, though perhaps not through overt abuse or violence. Rather, that they both had a sort of toxicity all around them and they ended up absorbing it. And for all the narrator seems to pride himself on facing his emotions, he’s also running from them as well, and is just as defensive and angry when he’s confronted by people questioning his life. He’s been using his brother to feel better about himself, to try and step back into the role of big brother and feel good about that, but what he steps into instead is a kind of nightmare. One that he could have seen and escaped if he paused to think. If he wasn’t drunk for so much of his trip. Instead he is drawn deeper and deeper into the world that his brother has opened up. And it’s a rather horrifying place, one where the shadows are alive and everything is just off, dreams melting into reality and vice versa. It’s a creepy read, one that does a great job with its visuals, hinting just enough to let the reader fill in the gaps. It doesn’t really resolve anything, for the narrator or his brother, but as a work of horror it’s certainly effective and well rendered, a nightmare that lingers even after the reader wakes up!
“Dead Worms, Dangling” by Joanna Parypinski (2693 words)
No Spoilers: This story opens on something of a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting. Two boys meeting on a lazy day to do a little fishing in what’s essentially a swamp. There’s a certain inherent nostalgia I feel in depictions like this, like it’s leaning on that idea that children were more authentic in the past and that what with the internet and video games now there’s a loss of...what, innocence? But this is directly challenged by the story, the horror growing out of just that assumption of innocence in the scene, the way that certain clues, certain warnings, might be shrugged off by the reader as merely products of a different time or place. And it manages to be unsettling and complex even as at the surface it seems simple, just a scene of two boys idling away the afternoon.
Keywords: Family, Friendship, Fishing, CW- Abuse, Monsters
Review: This story teases some possible speculative elements before sort of pulling back and letting the horror here be entirely “normal.” I think that’s a big part of why it works, though, and what it’s doing with the horror—taking off the mask, as it were. Not exactly Scooby Doo style, because well, Scoob and the gang never pulled the mask off a corpse. And that’s really what seems to be happening here. The abuse that Buck faces is something that the boys talk around. It’s a shadow that darkens their world, and it’s messy and it’s real. And it’s at the heart of the differences between Milo and Buck. Their friendship, and the ways that both of them are a bit envious of the other. Buck because Milo doesn’t face the same abuse, and Milo because he feels that any father would be better than his having been absent his entire life. So when Milo hooks a fish, the two sort of go back and forth, mocking each other and challenging each other, all the while they have this thing on the line. This weight. This shadow. Something that Buck knows immediately what it is, and Milo doesn’t. And it takes a long time for Milo to really realize what it is that’s going on, and it’s a nice build that the story manages to that point, to the reveal. That might clear away the fear that this is a monster, but also not. Because as the boys themselves say, the body was the monster. And it might take something of the childhood innocence with it in death, some of that nostalgia that seems to drip from the story, but it was always a false nostalgia, one monstrous and wrong but viewed as a product of a simpler time and place. Character building. And in the end it’s revealed as the horror it is, the tragic loss and staggering shadow that is backdrop to what might have otherwise been just a story of two boys fishing. It’s a harrowing read, but definitely worth checking out!