Thursday, October 8, 2020

Quick Sips - The Dark #65

Art by chainat
October brings a special treat to The Dark Magazine--an extra original story! And all three of the works in this issue are wonderful, are full of characters pushing back against the oppressive worlds they find themselves in. Not always able to do much. Sometimes able lto escape. Sometimes able to create change. Rarely able to avoid loss, though. Never able to avoid grief. The works offer complex views of delicate situations, and people hoping to get by or else willing to bring it all down around their head. But before I give too much away, let’s get to the reviews!


“A Few Words From the New Tenant of ____ House” by Rob Costello (2118 words)

No Spoilers: Framed as a letter, though to whom and by whom are never really named, this story finds the writer, the narrator, in a a new place. A house famed for being haunted, for being demonic, for being evil. he found his way in through a dream, through a door, through need and through longing. And, now there, he relates his experiences, diverging only so far as needed to give context and scope to his life, his desires, his hopes. The story finds him in this supposedly haunted location and in that it seems to live up to its reputation. What to one person might be horror, though, another might find completely...comforting. And the story explores that, how a haunted house can be a home while losing none of its bite, its edge, or its terror.
Keywords: Books, Haunted Houses, Queer MC, Demons, Family, CW- Abuse, CW- Pandemic
Review: I like how this story sets up an argument for how horror as a genre can become a welcome escape, even with its baggage, even with (and largely because) of its sharp edges, its harshness. Because in some ways it offers those up in familiar ways, intimate and personal and so in some ways a lot more aware of the reader, or some readers, than other works. Or, to put it differently, some people can feel seen by the dread, the by the grisly murders and shocking monsters. By the freaks in all their othered glory. For those who find themselves similarly outcast, similarly scorned, it becomes...not exactly a power fantasy. Not exactly an acting out of “dark” impulses. But it can be a way to feel empowered all the same, to feel present and allowed in ways that otherwise seem impossible. For the narrator, gay and raised by an abusive, religious single mother, horror offers him something like a mirror, a twisted version of his life where all the invisible things are suddenly visible, are tangible ghosts instead of the specters that can’t be seen or touched. And for as uncomfortable and unpleasant as some of those things are, they still come as something of a relief, and allow the narrator to explore themself in a way that they don’t have to really unpack all their repressed shit first. It’s still there, wrapped in their fascination with monsters and blood, their escape into horror. And I like how the story comments in some ways on the current pandemic, as risky as that is, because it recognizes that for many they are forced into a home that might not be safe, that might be full of dangers not necessarily physical but no less real for it. The narrator here is haunted by the taunts his mother throws at him, the hate he must bathe in daily. It gets into him, and in his attempt to get away from it he seems to slip sideways into fiction, into situation where he can feel welcomed and accepted, which is rather messed up but that seems the whole point. That there are a lot of messed up people out, and perhaps especially queer people, for whom horror means more than just ghosts and monsters--for whom it means a kind of home, and I really like. A wonderful read!

“Stretch” by Shari Paul (4751 words)

No Spoilers: Jenaiah has heard a lot of stories of the Jumbie on the Stretch, the road between her town and the next one over. Unexplained accidents. People gone missing. Superstitious nonsense, maybe. But when her brother dies on that road, she knows that it’s real. And she’s about to do something about it. The piece finds her going up against a myth, a monster, and own refusal to accept what she’s lost. And the story rocks with the power of her fury, her rage, and her love. It’s a pulse-pounding, action-packed read, and it’s breathless from start to finish.
Keywords: Jumbies, Roads, Family, Exorcisms, Salt, Races
Review: I love this one! It’s such a ruch, so defiant in the face of something that so many people seem to know about, to vaguely believe in, but that no one does anything about. Which speaks to the ways of these kinds of things, these deep rots. People just sort of hope that it’s not them that gets eaten, but they put up living with the monsters because getting rid of them requires a confrontation, and those are dangerous. No more dangerous than facing the monster in the dark, though, on its terms and by its rules. Jenaiah goes in knowing vaguely what to expect. And, more than that, she goes in ready to fight with everything she has. Everything that hurts after losing her brother, knowing that their friends had been claimed before that. Even the dead try to convince her that it’s useless, that she can’t win, that there’s no killing these things. And it seems like a part of her knows that, but the other part uses her desperate wish that she can bring her brother back to do the next best thing--to banish the Jumbie from the road. She might not be able to win in the way she wants most, but that doesn’t mean she can’t make sure that the Jumbie doesn’t win, either. She forces a compromise by refusing to start at the point where she’s already given up on her brother, and I really like that, the power it gives her. It might hurt more, in the end, because it’s something of a failure, watching him be taken. But she does prevent it from happening again, to someone else, to someone else’s brother. And yeah, it’s sad, but it’s also rad as fuck. The car race battle is just so cool, and it adds to that with a salt-soaked cutlass and I am 100% here for this. Hopefully she goes on to become a monster-hunter because she is awesome at it and I would read 100 more stories of this. Just so cool, so satisfying, and such a fantastic read!

“The Wendigo at the End of the Blue Line” by Gabriela Santiago (6009 words)

No Spoilers: Unfolding in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, the story recasts the Mall of America as the wendigo, a massive creature bound and chained and made into a giant shopping and amusement park. An attraction that Prospirity, as half Anishinaabe, isn’t supposed to work at, because of her cultural ties, because this is her monster, come out of her stories. But she needs to eat, and it’s a paying job, and those were hard enough to find before the protest (not stated as those started as a result of the George Floyd murder but given the timing of the piece perhaps a fictionalization of it). The piece looks at hunger in interesting ways, looks at attractions and history and being in the service industry. Prospirity is caught, wanting somehow to guarantee that her struggle now will buy her something, increasingly suspecting that it might just buy her more and more debt, more hunger, a descending cycle whose bottom is grim indeed.
Keywords: Wendigos, Malls, Employment, Cities, Hunger, Protests
Review: So I love how the story deals with the Cities, which I hardly ever have been to despite them being practically a skip from where I live. But it dissects the idea of the Mall of America, ties it to a deep history, reminds us that it’s all built on taken land and that the result is this cycle of poverty and racism, uncertainty and insecurity, all with the promise of capitalism, the promise of America, that if only you work hard enough, if only you be good enough, you will earn a life of ease and luxury. The American Dream, which has always been a tool of oppression as much as it has been a way of “upward mobility.” Because it’s capricious, often withheld, often used to pit one group against the other. And Prospirity, a person between groups, Native and Black, not really understood by any of her family, even when she isn’t outright rejected, really captures the way all that’s left is hunger. It reminds me of the ways that hunger is sometimes valorized. People will say you gotta stay hungry, meaning you have to stay ambitious, kinda brutal, only that’s not the only reaction to hunger. Some just waste away, until there’s nothing left. Some find food where they can. And I love how that ties into the wendigo, to the story of it, to the reality as revealed here, where the wendigo is huge, and has been pulled down. It’s both victim and beneficiary of this system, not so much a person or even a monster any more so much as a will and a body. Hollowed out. Used by an even greater monster--a corporation. And the whole thing just bears this heavy weight. Of trying to get by in a world that doesn’t want you to. Of always being hungry but never allowed to show it. Of having always to be fortified, protected, because showing any vulnerability, any of the deep anger about how unfair it is, will be met with aggression and violence, arrest or worse. It’s a difficult story, challenging and wrenching, but it’s also brilliantly done and an amazing read!


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