|Art by Vincent Chong|
The second The Dark Magazine of the year brings two new stories that explore, among other things, the messy dynamics between parents and children. Both find children trying to distance themselves from their parents, trying to live in a way that they find free and beautiful. Their individual visions of what they want are very different, but (given the nature of the publication) both of them find that there are monsters without and within waiting to stand in their way. These aren’t exactly easy stories, but they carry their own sense of beauty and resilience, and they’re both rather shattering. To the reviews!
“Emergent" by Rob Costello (4524 words)
No Spoilers: This story is framed as a...as a son coming to his father after death to recount the details of what happened to him. The events that led to his demise. It’s not a ghost story, though. The father here, a famed horror author who has recently found writing impossible, is not a peddler of ghost stories. He writes about monsters. And so in many ways that’s what this is, a son telling a story about monsters. It’s also an absolutely heartbreaking and devastating read about a young man dealing with abuse and neglect, with an alcoholic father more in love with his own genius than with his family. It’s difficult, because the prose is so moving and so sharp and so angry, but that’s also what makes it so very powerful.
Keywords: Family, CW- Abuse, CW- Suicide, Queer MC, Writing, Monsters
Review: Welp, crying now. Yes, I know, I’m a sucker for queer tragedy, especially when it’s messy and raw as this is. But it’s hard for me to not be moved when the voice of the story is so clear, and so angry, and so real. The relationships it reveals, between the narrator and Jamie, between the narrator and his father, are all complicated and fragile. With Jamie, it’s a summer fling, this beautiful flower that for both young men is something rare and needed, that keeps them going when everything seems hopeless. It’s their escape, their lifeline. With the narrator’s father, it’s the opposite, and I love the way tht estory begins to interrogate monsters, which is what the father writes about. Not ghosts, which are too passive, too benign. The father has no time for ghosts or guilt. He writes monsters as a way of expressing his own cruelty and desires, his lust for power and control and his enjoyment of hurting others. The beauty and joy of the narrator and Jaime’s relationship is shattered by the need of the father to make other people hurt. It’s a toxic will that infects everything around it, and the son is left with no way out, no way to escape, his last refuge shattered and soiled. The piece plays a bit with reliability. With doubt. The narrator from the beginning insists that he’s not a ghost, that he’s not trying to stir guilt or remorse. That he didn’t die the way that it seems like he must have. At the same time, the evidence doesn’t really fall in line with that. Did he die by suicide, or was he transformed by the creatures of his father’s imagination? Or is there some combination of the two, the narrator exactly what he says he’s not but not really lying. Rather revealing a truth in a way that maybe, finally, his father will understand. That might, at last, reflect back some of the pain that the narrator’s father has authored. Whatever the case, the story is bleak and damaged and fucking gorgeous, just a stunning read and it hurts, it hurts so much, and yet I fully recommend people check it out because it is a brilliant read!
“Ngozi Ugegbe Nwa” by Dare Segun Falowo (6042 words)
No Spoilers: Ngozi is working at a modeling career while being the fifth wife of a Chief and the girlfriend to an aspiring software developer. Her life is full of hope, of waiting for a big break that will let her reach for her dreams. Before that happen, though, she comes into possession of a strange mirror that brings some new, and not exactly welcome, changes into her life. The piece looks at the power of reflections, and the past, and the appetites that society instills in people.
Keywords: Mirrors, Dreams, Family, Death, Reflections
Review: This story speaks to me in the way it handles reflections, in the temptation that’s associated with Ngozi seeing a version of herself that’s without flaw, that’s perfect. Only there’s something poison about that reflection, about the mirror that only shows that perfection. It’s still water that hides something sinister underneath, and the story shows how even dipping a toe in can lead to much much bigger problems. The story follows the structure of a classic cursed object trajectory. Ngozi tries to reject it only to find out that she can’t, only to find out that regardless of how she knows that there’s a severe danger here, she’s also drawn to it. Inside the mirror she seems to be becoming something different, something with hungers that make meals of those she’s closest with. That make her into more of a predator. And to me this speaks to the way that dreams can become fuel for a dark transformation, where a person is so focused on what they want, on success and fame in this instance, that everything else is just a means to an end. She’s pushed by her own reflections to do whatever she needs to in order to become that vision of perfection. In order to get what she feels she deserves. Amid this the details and the setting are vivid and full of heat and walls. The characters easy to remember, their voices clear, their personalities distinct. And the piece as a whole shows a kind of descent, a mix of dream and reality, a test perhaps for Ngozi to pass or fail. Whatever the case, it’s a story that’s chilling and creepy, that pulls the reader into a shadowy realm full of strange reflections. And it’s very much worth spending some time with. A great read!