|Art by Hwitte / Adobe|
The two new stories in February's Nightmare Magazine peel back the masks that people wear, the facades of decency that adorn the faces of a lot of people, and reveal the ready hate and violence waiting there. What the stories do with that is what makes them different, in one story that revelation coming with an almost scientific distance, an interesting survey question but no meaningful action. In the other, that revelation is followed by a kind of retribution. Either way, the focus is strongly on the horror of the reader realizing that many people wear masks, and that some, even some very nearby, might be covering over some heinous thoughts and actions. To the reviews!
“Today’s Question of the Day in Waverly, Ohio” by Adam-Troy Castro (1986 words)
No Spoilers: This story is framed as a sort of series of one-question interviews run by a mysterious organization that can solicit replies that are completely honest and which are immediately forgotten after given. The question that provides the focus of this day is what people would do if they were suddenly put in charge of Hell and were limited by nothing but their imaginations. The answers, as one could imagine, show a great variety of approaches to the idea, with people letting their innermost thoughts out and revealing some very ugly (and a few not-so-bad) visions of what Hells we are all carrying around inside us. It’s not a pleasant read, by any means, as the premise might indicate, but for some it’s probably an interesting exploration.
Keywords: Interviews, Hells, Punishments, The Devil, CW- Torture, CW- Rape (implied)
Review: For me, the obvious benefit of showing how all these people would handle Hell is that it reveals how quick they are to use and abuse power, how eager they are to torture, how injured they themselves might have been, and how all of that reflects in how they would run eternal damnation. For me, though, it seems like a very thin line between using this kind of question to reveal how visions of Hell often reflect inner issues, insecurities, and hatreds, and using this kind of question in order to confront the reader with some really awful takes on torture and vengeance. Though each answer to the question is interesting in many ways, I didn’t really find any of them surprising (the closest was with the very first answer, which I think was the strongest of the answers but muddled for me by a religious angle that didn’t have the space to be complicated) and, unfortunately, that means I didn’t find the story worth the emotional investment of being confronted by people’s desire to torture, often in graphic detail. For others, that might not be such a consideration, but I find myself increasingly tired of fiction that uses torture as a device without really doing much to complicate or interrogate it in some new way. Still, it’s a story that many might find worth checking out, and I encourage everyone to make up their own minds about it.
“Things Boys Do” by ‘Pemi Aguda (2894 words)
No Spoilers: Three men are hoping to celebrate the births of their sons (in the case of the third man it’s birth and adoption, but still). But something about their children, their sons...seems a bit off. And as the story moves forward, and the men’s lives begin to unravel, the mystery of what the children might be, and why they’ve found these three men, deepens and expands. The piece is creepy and creeping, slowly bringing the men to understand what exactly is happening to them, and what they did to deserve it. It’s a look at the casual violence of boys, that can leave lasting and toxic rot that passes down from generation to generation.
Keywords: CW- Pregnancy/Child birth, Haunting, Children, Family, Bullying
Review: This story definitely creeps the hell out of me, so mission accomplished there! The way that it weaves together the threads of these three nameless men is interesting and complex. At first I thought I was reading about the same person, and only slowly did it become clear that each of these men is distinct, for all that they’re also pretty much the same. My main complaint here is that the women of the story, the wives of these men, get caught in the crossfires of something that doesn’t really concern them, and one of them at least dies. That this is done to punish their husbands is unfortunate, though the implication might be that their reduction to set pieces, really only there in context to their men, is also an element of what boys (and men) do. That kind of cruelty isn’t just the violence of the three boys in “accidentally” killing the school mate, but part of his revenge, as well, where he is retaliating cruelty to cruelty, only really considering the boys, now men, and how to take everything from them. I do really like that the story builds as it does, working through the three men as they all go through similar circumstances, showing how it isolates them, how they eventually find each other through an online forum. For me the piece speaks to the culture of violence that does end up making all men seem indistinct, the same in the histories and their horrors, in their crimes and their desires. It puts them all in a space where they haven’t come to terms with their pasts, with the toxic structures they’ve been soldiers for, and so it carries forward on and on, generational momentum keeping it from being stopped and dismantled. And it’s an effective bit of horror, creepy and haunting, and well worth checking out!