|Art by Joey Jordan|
2020 starts with an extra story at Diabolical Plots, bringing the month's total to three and ranging from horror (where childhood fear and trauma get a twist) to portal fantasy (but not how you might expect) to a contemporary piece, well, featuring a talking gorilla Wall Street tycoon. So it's an eclectic mix, not only in subject but in mood and impact. But the stories are all powerful, all challenging, and all reviewed by me! Right now!
“This Is What the Boogeyman Looks Like” by T.J. Berg (1374 words)
No Spoilers: Aiden has been afraid for most of his life, ever since his little brother Nate was taken in the middle of the night by a boogeyman, by a creature who came out of a special dark in their closet. The event deeply scarred Aiden, and ever since most of his life has been defined by fear, until finally his relationships fall apart and he seeks some mental health help. Which leads him back to the place where it all began, and to a fateful confrontation. The piece is short but creepy, building the scene nicely, the fear of this creature coming through from the unknown palpable and sharp. It’s careful, too, and it introduces a wonderful concept that I want to see explored further, but with such a limited space, the piece when in a bit different and raw direction.
Keywords: Family, Trauma, Fear, Boogeymen, Closets
Review: Okay so I love that Aiden has been so wounded by this, and that his wounds are something that have impacted every area of his life. And, finally, after most of his life has fallen apart from fear and possible guilt about what happened to his brother, he’s trying to confront things. Trying to return to the place where his brother was taken. His old bedroom, with its old closet, where he expects to confront the boogeyman who has haunted his memories for so long. Only something very different comes through, and I love the idea that his brother has been alive this entire time, that he’s become a boogeyman hunter, and that he was inspired to do so by Aiden’s bravery in trying to save him from the boogeyman originally. Which, like, wow. It’s so messed up and so striking. I almost wish the story took that and made it into something positive, because instead the story double dips into the tragedy and introduces the bombshell that the brother has been hoping all this time to be able to reach his brother, to come back to the normal world, but could never sense him because his brother never slept in rooms with closets. And now the brother has been gone too long that he can’t live in the normal world anymore. And okay, that was massive spoilers, but fuuuuuuck that is some messed up shit. And the emotional impact on Aiden is utterly devastating, and the impact on me as a reader is similarly strong. It builds up this place where there is no easy out from the trauma they’ve all faced. And that Aiden, instead of trying to work through that, sees a better option in just walking away. Which I find kind of really bleak, but also understandable given the absolute shock he’s just experienced. It’s a messy moment, but trauma is messy, and even something that’s “supposed” to be good can be hard and damaging. And it’s definitely an interesting piece and very much worth spending some time with!
“Beldame” by Nickolas Furr (2823 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a gay man with epilepsy, and the piece follows him on a bus trip (he won’t drive because of the threat of seizures) to visit his maybe-kinda-hoping-to-be boyfriend. On the way, somewhere in the remote areas of Kansas, the bus stops and he gets out. And he’s presented with a prospect he’s never really considered, an opportunity that seems too strange, too magical, to be real. And the piece details his choice and the consequence of it. It’s sweet and the portal fantasy elements are mysterious and captivating. No one probably expected to find a doorway to another world in a bus stop grocery, but here it is.
Keywords: Buses, College, Portal Fantasies, Relationships, Queer MC, Epilepsy
Review: I kinda love everything about this. The narrator is a delightful mess, sloppy in love with some guy but neither of them seem quite able to make anything official. Despite their obvious feelings. So it takes something of a gesture. The narrator traveling to see his boyfriend, to meet his family. It takes this bus trip. And along the way he gets this cryptic message, this opportunity to apparently leave it all behind. Not just the uncertainty about his maybe-boyfriend but also his epilepsy. The witch/woman selling it makes a decent case if being cured were his greatest dream, which it’s not. And I love that he’s allowed to want to manage his illness, is allowed to even want a cure, essentially, without that being the only part of his character, without it being such a big drive that he would walk away from the man he’s kinda in love with. Because yes, it might be complicated. It might be messy. But he does actually want to deal with that. Just like he doesn’t want to make a mistake just because someone promises a way out of having seizures again. Not that he forgets that there might be a spot of magic. But that he’s not going to go alone. And I love it. It’s heartwarming and sweet and the ending is just wonderful. And I just love how it takes the idea of a portal fantasy, this Call To Action, this mysterious thing that only he is being told about like he’s the Chosen One, and he just...walks away. But not forever. It neither rejects the desire to enter into a fantasy realm nor the knowledge that there are some things that can’t be reached by short cut. And the narrator refuses to do something he does want if it’s not on his terms. And it pays off, because he’s able to finally find that place again, and maybe the step through the magical doorway, and he doesn’t have to do it alone. A fantastic read!
“Gorilla in the Streets” by Mari Ness (3370 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this piece is a journalist who has managed to secure an interview with one of the biggest names (and people) in Wall Street--Magot Stanton. And Stanton isn’t big just because he’s a Wall Street giant who is worth a huge amount of money and maintains a somewhat mysterious lifestyle. He’s also a gorilla. A talking gorilla. And the piece plays with that, showing the mentality that he brings to Wall Street and to human life. The story handles the messy, often uncomfortable parallels that Stanton might represent and comes up with I think a messy solution--one that neither lets us view Stanton as merely allegorical but also neither entirely literally. It’s a careful and fraught line to walk, but I feel the story does it well, with a wry humor and sharp gaze.
Keywords: Gorillas, Wall Street, Interviews, Journalism, Tea
Review: For me the idea of a gorilla deciding to essentially integrate but also dominate Wall Street is an interesting if loaded one. It’s not a colonization, exactly, but there’s some feeling of that all the same, borrowed from the source it most readily cites--Tarzan. Tarzan didn’t conquer the apes, after all, he joined them, became one of them, and then showed that he was capable of being a better ape than apes while still maintaining his humanity. That Stanton decides to do that and is so good at it is just as much a narrator hand wave as Tarzan’s ability to be the leader of gorillas, but the implications of it are so much different. Instead of having a small English boy just naturally rise to ascendancy in whatever situation (and no doubt in part because of his noble birth), this story has Stanton’s ascent be much more calculated. Researched. He went to America hoping to be adopted into a very affluent family. From there, the rest was much easier. And again, Stanton himself denies the allegories that might be put on him. He’s not disabled. And despite the link to Africa and the ways “gorilla” has been racialized and weaponized, he’s not black. And yet his denial of the connection doesn’t necessarily break it. There are points on disability and race, but filtered through this lens of wealth. He’s incredibly wealthy, excusing every luxury because it allows him to accumulate more and more money and influence and power. And in that it actually takes part of what was at the heart of Tarzan, part of why it’s still something people return to, and confronts us with it. And that’s a sense that humanity has devised so many ways to obfuscate and hide their corruptions. Their abuses. Tarzan represented an outsider who could see the unfairness and maybe try to work against it. He gained a sense of honesty, forthrightness, and boldness from nature that didn’t care for social niceties. Stanton, though, learns much different lessons from the human world, and they are reflected in his position, an apex capitalist who cares about the bottom line and not really the people. And it’s complicated and messy because one almost wants to root for Stanton and the ways he succeeds. At the same time, though, he’s good at...being a Wall Street executive, which isn’t something anyone should cheer. And again, there’s a certain charm throughout, through the framing of the journalist’s interview, through the way the voice works to capture just the kind of article that would look at the celebrity of wealth and try in turn to make money off it. It’s a fascinating read, and definitely one to spend some time with!