Baffling Magazine’s early access Patreon, which means three new stories just in time for PSL season. And while the stories aren’t exactly spooky, they do feel a nice fit for the season, for autumn and its lengthening shadows, it’s creeping chill, and its mix of monsters and magic. The stories blend romance and horror, love and death and betrayal. Each of the stories finds characters apt to hurt each other, characters who might be preying on one another. Hungry magics and mad sciences. But wrapped in that is the messy reality of affection, love, and heartbreak. To the reviews!
“Birds Are Trying to Reinvent Your Heart” by Jennifer Mace (714 words)
No Spoilers: Told in the second person, you are a being of the shore, of the sea and sand, of the in-between place where birds nest and hunt. You are a god, perhaps, immortal and used to the devotion and gifts of those around you. From the birds, giving you shells, items that might resemble a heart. From the sea creatures, who give up their treasures of pearl and secrets. And from a woman who comes to you, a seeming penitent, whom who show it all to. The piece is strange, poetic, and with an air of tragedy to it, where you start to let someone in to your life only for them to betray your trust. And what’s left is the powerful rage of a storm, of a god spurned. Which is not going to be a good time for someone.
Keywords: Birds, Hearts, Gods, Seas, Queer MC
Review: I like the way the story unfolds, the way it sort of builds you up as a power of the shore. And for all the way the birds and the sea creatures seem reverent of you, there’s also a loneliness about the whole situation. The being on the shore, attended by creatures very different from them. Served, and given treasures, surrounded by beauty, but no one to share it with. Until there is someone. Someone to show all the awesome sights, to experience the secrets of the coast. Someone who slides a knife into your breast. And the piece is sad in that, in that betrayal, the way that you don’t see it coming, think of the penitent as innocent, naïve. Probably because that’s what you want her to be, someone who can be in awe of you and whom you can teach, you can show your mysteries to. Who will know you and love you. And who won’t stab you over your pearls, or because you represent a threat to the humans who live nearby. And the truth is, that betrayal is the spark that seems to ignite the storm. That reminds you that you are power, that you are not to be fucked with. That leads you to looking up the coastal cliff at the smoke from a human settlement and know that it’s time to act. It’s not an easy story or a particularly happy one, and it’s possible that I’m off the mark here, as the prose is poetic, doesn’t always seem strictly literal. But there is a sense for me of a storm breaking, and maybe a dream dying. Hearts are fragile, after all. Once broken, there might be nothing to hold back the raging power of a divinity attacked. And whatever the case, it’s a wonderful read!
"Why We Make Monsters” by Rem Wigmore (614 words)
No Spoilers: Halifax and Crown of Thorns live together on the coast. And when what amounts to a sea monster washes ashore, alarming the locals, Hal has a pretty good idea where it came from. What they don’t know is what the full implications of that monster are. Because on the one hand, maybe their partner is just being herself, embracing her love of science and her passion for conservation in some...rather unorthodox ways. On the other hand, maybe Crown has been lying about her reasons for moving in with Hal, lying about her feelings, and using Hal’s affections to hide the fact that Crown’s first and only priority has been to Mad Science! And okay, maybe there’s a bit of a middle ground there, but the story does a great job of exploring that, with all the doubt and anxiety that accompanies fearing your partner has done something to violate your trust.
Keywords: Monsters, Science!, Relationships, Non-binary MC, Seas
Review: I love the way this story blends romance and super science, Hal caught trying to make sense of knowing that Crown has done this thing that...well, doesn’t seem super cool. But that might be a smaller deal than they’re making it out to be. Because yeah, Crown did make this monster that has washed up on shore. Yeah. she didn’t really say anything about it. Yeah, it seems like maybe she’s doing something that is really not great. But at the same time, I like how the story acknowledges that there’s some wiggle room. Like the monster itself and the town reacting to it, unsure what kind of a threat or emergency it represents, so too does the monster take on that uncertain air for Hal. It might be this thing that Crown has been lying about. A fissure in their relationship, the big obvious proof that they and Crown aren’t really meant to be, that Crown is using them, that Crown doesn’t love them, that none of it is real and Hal has been a fool for believing it, for wanting it. At the same time, it might be something else, something...well, not something super great. But something that just is, that is part of who Crown is. And the super science, the trying to convince the world to take action on environmental destruction and pollution...that’s not really diabolical. It makes sense. It’s for a good cause. It’s...okay, still not sweet. But certainly it reveals that Crown is trying to do this in a way that isn’t breeding or creating a giant monster to attack humanity for its sins. And that she wasn’t do it to betray Hal. That she does care, and that they’ll just have to go from here, in all it’s weird queer messiness, and see what happens. And that’s rather beautiful. A great read!
“Sonskins” by Dare Segun Falowo (1095 words)
No Spoilers: The narrators of this story are the mothers of sons who are gay, who are queer, who dream of finding heat and release in the embrace of other men. But to their mothers, to the narrators, they are in thrall of a Beast, and their dreams, as beautiful as they are, are reason enough to strip them of their skin as they sleep and wear that skin to try and murder the other queer men in their sons’ lives. It’s a grim and violent cycle they play out every night, and one that shows the hypocrisy of the mothers, their insistence on the prevalence of this Beast while using their own magic to brutalize people, even supposed “innocents.” All in the name not of their sons’ happiness, but their own selfishness and hatred.
Keywords: Dreams, Queer Characters, CW- Anti-Queer Violence, Family, Skins
Review: This is a rather difficult story to read in many ways, because of how it uses this voice that professes love even as it spreads violence, coercion, and death. The mothers here see the dreams of their sons, see the opulent wishes those very sons have for their mothers, to give them palaces, to make their lives easy. To make up for all the ways that they’ve been a burden to their mothers, all the troubles they know their mothers have gone through. But the mothers look past that. Through it. See only the sons escape into the arms of another man. See in that a Beast and see nothing else then. Feel only the need to kill that Beast out of their sons. And so they try, however they can. Using pointed questions at first but then quickly escalating. Using magic, violating their sons’ bodies to try and get at the Beast when they don’t see the Beast in their own actions. In the way they ensorcel and ensnare, they fall victim to the same kind of corruption they accuse their sons of, a corruption that doesn’t touch their sons because there’s nothing wrong with them. The piece is difficult because of that turn, because it stays with the mothers, a slowly turning horror as they descend deeper and deeper, convinced of their righteousness even as what they do is more and more obviously...well, evil. It shows the hypocrisy of those who want to hurt and hate those whose only crime is love, is trying to find joy their own way. Blaming their sons for hiding who they are when the mothers are also hiding the depths of their hate, the ugliness of their crimes. All because they feel a kind of ownership of their sons and their futures, a vision of a life and family that can’t stand the prospect of their sons having no wives, no children. Making it more and more unsafe for their sons while claiming it’s done out of love. It’s chilling and twisting and powerful, and it makes for a wonderful read!