Friday, June 5, 2020

Quick Sips - The Dark #61

Art by grandfailure
The June The Dark Magazine brings a pair of stories that revolve around objects that come to carry a certain kind of power. That link our world with...something else. The first involves a bowling ball--and while that might seem like a setup for a joke, I assure you it’s not a funny story. The second centers a zoetrope, an old kind of moving picture device, and one that seems to be reaching across the mortal plane. Both stories feature people who feel helpless in the face of a hungry violence they witness. Both feature people who have to decide what to do, and how much they can do to escape, or fight back. To the reviews!


“The Maxo Polyester Swirl Bowling Ball, 14lbs” by Jack Westlake (3318 words)

No Spoilers: This story unfolds around a bowling ball. No, really, a bowling ball. And while that might not seem at first like something that belongs in this publication, let me assure you it’s not a comedy. The piece might seem too strange to be frightening, but the way that it toes that line of absurdity only to bring out the darkness of the details and the implications of the bowling ball is well done, and it breaks expectations with the crack of pins scattering, and the mysterious afterimage of a purple-black swirl that defies description.
Keywords: Bowling, Colors, Violence, Witnesses, Warnings
Review: There’s something almost innocent about bowling alleys, and I say almost because there’s also something rather sinister about them. The rented shoes, the borrowed balls in different colors. The smell of wax and old tobacco smoke that seems to be common to pretty much every bowling alley I’ve ever visited. There are equal parts fun and sadness to a bowling alley, to me, and in that luminous space lives a ball. A ball that comes and goes, that disappears and reappears. A ball that, if you touch it, touches you. And I think that’s the part of the story that resonates for me, that this is a small piece of the abyss, a darkness that is deep and unfathomable, and that touching it ends up opening something. Not in the ball but in the person, like the ball is a null it’s one of those holes that in cartoons you could slap onto a surface and reach into, or jump through. The ball doesn’t reflect so much as it pulls the person that has been chosen, or has chosen it, and once inside there’s really no escape. And I like how the piece slowly reveals not just what the ball is doing, but who the narrator is and what his role is in relation to ball. How he’s been witness, unwitting and at first unwilling, but with each iteration of the same story he finds that he can’t really resist. And he stops telling people, as if he knows that it more people saw the pattern it might cause some sort of confrontation that no one wants, that no one could win. So he’s silent, letting the ball claim its victims, so that the only thing he can end up doing might be what the ball wants anyway--helping it to move from place to place. Out of his sight, but now with an even greater range, so that you can’t ever really be safe from it, from the possibility that you might pick it up. So that every tragedy, every strange act of violence that happens, might be traced back to a fateful trip to a bowling alley. And really it’s just impressive to me that this piece is genuinely creepy as heck but builds around a bowling ball. It’s original and skillfully built, and very much worth checking out. A great read!

“The Zeotrope” by Alison Littlewood (5820 words)

No Spoilers: This story centers Frances, a young woman whose mother gifts her a zoetrope, a devices that allows people to view moving images. It’s a touch of magic for them, especially when her mother starts to paint papers of her own for Frances to watch. The peace is not to last, though, as Frances is bundled off to boarding school. While there, though, tragedy strikes, a tragedy that Frances begins to learn more about through a series of impossible zoetrope papers that seem to be left for her. The piece is grim and shadowed, but through the magic of the zoetrope, and the love between mother and daughter, it’s revealed how some cycles can be broken, some tragedies avoided.
Keywords: Zoetropes, Pictures, Ghosts, Murder, Family
Review: I love the way the piece works with the moving images, the cyclical nature of them, the way it plays into the labyrinth and myth. At its core the piece is something of a supernatural thriller, Frances sent away and then called home after her mother is murdered. It’s a fate that might be waiting for her, too, given that her father is the murderer and has plans to marry Frances off. Plans Frances wants no part of. That this was likely the reason for her parents’ arguments and her mother’s ultimate death weight on the narrative, give the further destruction a sense of inevitability. Frances feels she cannot fight, she cannot escape the violence that she is locked up with. She’s a prisoner of a beast, of a minotaur, and she doesn’t know the way out. Only it’s her mother who shows her the thread to follow, the mysteries of the labyrinth. Through the papers of the zoetrope, the secret scenes that detail what happened between Frances’ parents. And I just love the mood, the haunting, the sick anticipation that Frances has to live with. And again, the idea of cycles, that things always come back to the beginning. Which seems to imply that there’s no escape, no progress, no hope. Except that the images in motion don’t imply an ending. Don’t imply a descent into doom or obliteration. They are motion, capturing a few moments out of time, and though they always loop back, so too does time, so too does the world. The wheel of life is only short if that’s how it’s perceived. The zoetrope only works in moments. But it represents a larger cycle, the life not limited to paint and paper but open, full of possibilities. It takes a while for Frances to realize, and to being to paint her own story across the paper of the world, resolving to live her life however pleases her. It’s an exuberant ending, refreshing and open, and though it comes in the shadow of death and darkness, it’s like sprinting out from that shadow into the sun, into warmth and wonder. A fantastic read!


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