Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Quick Sips - Nightmare #90

Art by Patila / Adobe Stock Art
Both of the stories in the March Nightmare Magazine deal with urban legends. With how they might start, and how they spread. And both of them rather directly examine the power of the darkness, the dangers that come from speaking into it seeking an answer. The issue is superbly paired to infect and spread, the nature of urban legends made a kind of contagion that can leap from person to person. Where even if a legend started its life as pure fiction, something can happen to it, believe fleshing it out, giving it very real teeth. It’s a creepy, a series of warnings, but let’s just walk past the boldly printed signs saying “Stay Out” and see what the reviews bring!


“A Study in Shadows” by Benjamin Percy (2159 words)

No Spoilers: Dr. Brandon Harrow is an Associate Professor of Psychology whose emphasis is on the belief in the invisible. Which here doesn’t mean religion so much as urban legend. His research asks participants to invoke and confront the darkness and what waits there. And his results, while perhaps interesting in an academic sense, also carry with them a high price and leave lasting scars. Because while it might be expected that his research would debunk the power of modern mythology, even ones created specifically as fiction, the results are not benign. People hear voices. Or go missing. Houses shake. And the fate of Dr. Harrow himself might just hang from how much he’s willing to confront the same darkness he invites others to behold. It’s a creepy piece, and I love the way it combines academic research with exploitation, monsters, and ghosts.
Keywords: Studies, Experiments, Stories, Urban Legends, CW- Death of a Child
Review: I like the way the story explores and then confronts the ways that Dr. Harrow abuses his position and power, pursuing results without really caring that people are getting hurt. Indeed, he’s trying to hurt people, hoping that he can induce the kind of belief that becomes a myth, that takes on power on its own. And I like that the story does sort of point out how toxic that is, and by extension how academic research, where results and publications are utmost, is a rather terrible system. Because it promotes this kind of aiming for showing something big, something provable. At least for me part of the issue here isn’t just one bad actor in a sea, but rather that the sea itself is hungry, dark in the way the rooms Dr. Harrow invites others into are dark. It becomes easy to act as a kind of predator because he’s mostly protected from consequence. Yes, people he interacts with die. Children. Adults. People go missing. But it’s all in the name of Science, right? All in the name of understanding the power of horror. But horror maintains its power in part by defying explanation. And what the doctor tries to map and control ends up getting away from him. In some ways it might be a cautionary story about the dangers of scientific research and ethics, about sending test subjects into situations that are known to be hazardous, that indeed the researchers want to be hazardous, because that will help prove their theory, a theory that cannot be proven without live subjects in real danger. But the doctor seems uninterested in using this research to help anyone, and it seems more and more becomes aware that all he’s doing by conducting his experiments is strengthening a force that needs no bolstering, that already lurks in the shadows waiting for any opening. I love the way the piece engages with horror, and how it closes the door Dr. Harrow tried to wrench open. A great read!

“Flashlight Man” by Merc Fenn Wolfmoor (1861 words)

No Spoilers: This story unfolds in two parts, framed as a warning against the Flashlight Man Game, and also acting as an account of one group who played the game, and what happened to them. The piece is short but deliciously creepy, a chilling account wraped in the kind of warning that seems bound to have the opposite effect of what it’s trying to do. Because there’s nothing to get kids to try something like a Dire Warning that they avoid it at all costs. It’s one part Bloody Mary, one part Choking Game, and entirely fucking Nope for easily-scared me. It’s a piece that looks at peer pressure and growing up bored and the horror and the trauma that can leave behind.
Keywords: Games, Urban Legends, Dreams, Flashlights, Faces, CW- Death of a Child
Review: I would never play this game. I’m not exactly Brave when it comes to horror things or urban legends, and so when the narrator decides to just phone it is, I’m all with them on that. For me, a lot of the horror of the story is about peer pressure, after all, and the narrator is rather desperate to fit in, to make a good impression. But they also know that this sounds like a terrible idea. Because if it’s fake, it’s useless posturing. Who cares who was able to almost die...the most? The competition, the “game” aspect of the urban legend, makes it closer to the Choking Game, where the object of the game is to come close to maybe killing yourself, but pulling away at the last moment. For people with space and time and not much to do, for people who feel out of control, left out, left behind, or otherwise desperate to be accepted, it can become a way of taking control. Or it can seem that way. Because in the end the amount of control is illusory, buried in having to ignore that there is a point of no return. That the consequence of failure isn’t just loss of social standing, but loss of life. And for people so young, the idea of dying is a complicated thing. And for me there’s another layer to all this, as well, couched in the framing, that this is supposed to be a warning. A warning that also acts like a vector, because it takes the form of something that would likely do the opposite of convince kids to not try this. It’s a hook disguised, and in that the horror here deepens with the knowledge that this game is far from over, and that more will likely end up looking into the Flashlight Man’s face. A wonderful story!


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