Friday, June 19, 2020

Quick Sips - Nightmare #93

Art by grandfailure/fotolia

The two stories in the most recent issue of Nightmare Magazine might not seem super similar at first glance. One is a slow building horror about punishment and guilt, about a story literally coming to life. The other is a story of strange people doing strange things, only for the frame to shift a bit and reveal that the real strange people might be those we consider normal. But in both we are faced with characters who care. And whose caring is starting to eat them up inside (and out, kinda). And both need to work through their fear and their insecurity, their doubt and their shame, to reach a point where they can care for themselves, and find some release and healing. It’s a great issue, and I’ll get right to the reviews!

Stories:

“We, the Folk” by G.V. Anderson (6120 words)

No Spoilers: Dorothy Miller is an author, though her most popular work has been in nonfiction where she wrote about soldiers come back from the Great War with trauma and the rather disturbing practices meant to “heal” them. Practices she was either complicit or participated in, and has come to see in a much different light than before. Now she’s researching folklore, which brings here from her to the countryside chasing the story of the Dorset Ooser, a mask worn by people being punished ritualistically. What she finds, though, is something very much not relegated to the annals of history, but a bit of living shadow that might just catch her and all her guilt and shame up in it. The piece is slow and intense, a great way of showing that the folklore of the small, backward places isn’t always so backward after all, but intensely practical.
Keywords: Folklore, War, Writing, Interviews, Trauma
Review: I like how the story deals with guilt, both in the rituals that Dorothy is studying and in her own heart. She knows what she did with the men back from war was wrong, forcing them to face their trauma in some sort of attempt to get them over it. It’s something she carries now because of the wounds she helped inflict, and something that might have helped to fuel her push into folklore. Because those rituals that she’s looking into were largely about punishment, about cleansing a person of the sin they were carrying. They were, from an academic standpoint, meant to restore a sense of peace and cohesion to a community by reinforcing their beliefs and values and allowing the person being punished a way to re-enter their society. At least in theory, the Ooser might be a kind of sin eater, taking on the transgressions of the accused so that the community can punish them, after which the accused is clean, is freed from what they’ve done. And I can see how that might be a rather compelling thing for a person who feels to weighed down by their sins. For me, the research is at least in part a search for penance, and one that she then helps to bring back with her questions and her evocations. In many ways then it takes away the question of if she’s doing enough, placing that question into the hands of a supernatural being who exists for that kind of judgment. Which is inviting a shadow into the world, one that isn’t benign, that has no problem killing people. At the same time, it does allow her to move on, to get back to writing her own words, knowing that she’ll still carry the fear always, the trauma, but also knowing that if she transgresses too much, if she hurts people too much, there will be a very real consequence. Which is actually more liberating for her in some ways than not having that. It’s a strange, creeping story, expertly built and paced and with a great ending. Definitely go check it out!

“D├ęgustation” by Ashley Deng (3509 words)

No Spoilers: You (the second person subject of the story) are...not quite a regular person. You are part of a colony, raised to pass as human though the truth is more complicated than that, more unsettling (perhaps). It’s not something that other people have an easy time picking up on, but people can normally tell that you’re...different. Describing you as cold, aloof, standoffish. You make friends with difficulty, and have a hard time fully understanding the ones you do make. The piece follows that, the lengths that you go to in order to feel seen and accepted, and the roadblocks that tend to constantly creep up to frustrate you. It’s a strange but rather beautiful story, not heavy on the horror even as the underlying world building definitely hits a lot of horror notes.
Keywords: Mushrooms, Family, School, Friendships, Cooking
Review: I love the way that the story slowly moves around the idea of acceptance, with You wanting to be accepted and fully seen by your friends, to feel that you are actively participating in something, that your care is appreciated and returned. The You of the story could really fit into a lot of groups that get othered, that are considered Different (probably most notably for me autistic, because the tendencies to not really understand why people would lie or mistreat you). But within the speculative confines of the story, the piece does a great job of resisting the urge to make Your nature, your not being exactly human, as something that’s actually horrific, that actually makes You a monster. Rather, you might not be human in biology but you still value family and community, still care about people and want to be in a place where you don’t have to pretend as much, where things aren’t so shallow, so hinged on deception. In many ways the piece defies becoming a horror by showing how reasonable You are, how grounded, how you just want other people to stop acting in these ways that don’t make sense. The fact that you’re feeding them parts of yourself could be gross but instead it shows that you’re willing to serve people with something that takes so much energy. It’s a beautiful story and one that I can’t get out of my head. It works, and while in some ways it feels out of place in a horror publication, I think it fits because of how it takes on the tropes and the trappings and complicates them, crafting a story where You can finally find a way to treat yourself, to find a bit of peace and comfort and accept how awesome you are, how much you care and try, and where you can get a little reward for that, even if you have to give it to yourself. A fantastic read!

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