|Art by Chorazin / Adobe Stock Art
Both the characters in this month’s Nightmare Magazine feature characters who are monsters in some ways, who live off eating the flesh or drinking the blood of others. These characters can be more than their drives, though, can choose not to kill if they want to. But both of them are also caught in toxic systems, in places where the cycles of abuse and pain seem so set, so deeply rutted, that there’s no getting out of it. They try. But every time they do it seems to weaken them, and when their efforts come to dust or worst, betrayal, it leaves one the desire to give in to the power they have, the hungers always waiting to be embraced. To the reviews!
“See You on a Dark Night” by Ben Peek (5674 words)
No Spoilers: W-- is a vampire who has just lost a friend he had been caring for for over a decade, and who finds himself in the wake of that loss attending a “vampire night” at a local bar. Where he meets Z--, who seems into him, and who just might have figured out his secret. The piece follows their relationship as W-- finds himself falling into a pattern that he didn’t really see himself falling into. One that he recognizes, and that complicates his relationship not just with Z-- but with himself, and the strange balance of human and monster that he is. The piece is quiet and reserved but with a sensuality to it, a heat that lends itself to the traditions of vampires. The world building is strange, though, and focus seems to be on cycles of abuse, hurt, and monstrosity.
Keywords: Vampires, Loss, CW- Abuse, Cycles, Monsters
Review: This story takes an interesting look at vampires, at hunger, at loss and abuse and cycles. The piece finds W-- as he’s just had a crush with mortality, as an old friend has just died, and it makes him maybe take some chances that he wouldn’t have otherwise, that he shouldn’t have. Exposing himself in a way that feels like the start of something...self-destructive. And for me the piece sort of circles around what it means to be abused, and especially how with the world building there the way you make a vampire like W-- is through abuse. By making them and then showing them cruelty enough to want to kill the person who turned them. For W-- it’s something that has shaped, it seems to me at least, a lot of his kindness. His mercy. Not wanting to be the monster that his father was. At the same time, though, he seems to see it as inevitable. As a part of growing old. And perhaps because as time goes on the cumulative loss, the having no real place to belong, takes its toll. The pressure to be a monster or to be a human, when really W-- is neither and both. Caught between in shades of gray, but pulled based on his thirst and his passion and his pain. His loneliness. It’s something that in many ways he could keep at bay while his friend, E--, was alive. But now he’s feeling the loss keenly and he sees an escape from it. One that is truly monstrous. And it’s there the horror dwells for me, that W-- walks knowingly into the cycle that has hurt him so deeply. Expecting it to play out the same way. And maybe it won’t. Maybe Z-- will defy his expectation, or maybe he will. But for me the story follows W-- the man as he loosens his grasp on humanity and begins to drift in the familiar direction of monsters. It’s a tense and atmospheric read, out of time in the way that it blends the mostly-contemporary setting with the archaic --s instead of giving the names. It’s interesting and complicated and sensual and very much worth checking out. A fine read!
“A Moonlit Savagery” by Millie Ho (4960 words)
No Spoilers: The main character of this story is a ghost tied to a wall in Bangkok, a hungry presence that most locals know to avoid by not falling asleep inside her area of influence. Because she eats the people who do. So mostly it’s tourists she eats, relishing their flavors and their ignorance and their fear. That is, until she meets a man who isn’t afraid of her. Who seems to see in her something very different than what she is used to: inspiration. The two develop something as their time grows, but he’s still just passing through, and the story follows what happens when they part, and how their meeting changed both of them. The piece looks keenly at gaze and the power of it, the ways that this man sees the narrator, and the ways he clearly does not. It’s violent and full of an aching yearning, and one that can’t really have a peaceful ending.
Keywords: Ghosts, Hungers, Art, Tourism, Exploitation
Review: I really love how the story explores this central misunderstanding between the characters that seems at first a bit like love. For the narrator, it’s because no one has really looked at her without fear, with something like desire. And she’s working across a cultural line, and so Seb’s (the white dude) devotion and art does seem to be reverent. But as time goes on it becomes clearer and clearer (first to the reader, hopefully, and then to the narrator) that he doesn’t actually care for her. That considering her a muse doesn’t mean that he considers her powerful or worthy of respect. She’s a resource to be exploited, a “savage” who he gets to feel powerful by portraying her for his audience. But despite the way that his art begins almost understanding (perhaps because he feels lost as well, feels a longing for something as well), it quickly slides into a much less kind place. As he gets what he wants, his desires care less and less about what she wants, about her as a person. And she doesn’t really see this for a long time, because her world is so small, because for her he remains this shining memory. Only when he returns is the vision of him put into the proper context and she can see how he really sees her. Not in reverence, not as a person. She seemed to me to think he didn’t see her as a monster because he wasn’t afraid. But the truth seems to be that he does see her as a monster, but just feels invincible before her because he’s white and male. And it’s a rather deadly miscalculation on his part, because when she finally sees him and sees how he sees her, she knows she has to right things. She has to show him the truth of things. And it’s a bloody moment, one locked in by toxicity of misogyny and racism. It’s a dark but moving story, full of this isolation and hope that crumbles into something sharp and jagged and hungry. A wonderful read!