Monday, November 23, 2020

Quick Sips - Nightmare #98

Art by Alexandra Petruk / Adobe Stock Images
The two original stories in November’s Nightmare Magazine present the horrors of school. Both the horrors of being around other students who might be terrible and abusive, and of being under the power of a teacher or professor who might be preying on students in some chilling ways. In both, the focus is on the ways the the students are made powerless in their situations, subject to the corrupt power of either a popular student or a teacher. For one, the horror stops with the things a teacher can do, the ways they can make their lesson stick in the most disturbing of ways. For the other, the horror doesn’t reach its peak until the student being abused and bullied finds she has nothing left to lose. In both, schools make powerful settings for the horror that unfolds, at least in part because the vast majority of people know exactly how school can be a horrifying place. To the reviews!


“Tiger’s Feast” by KT Bryski (3586 words)

No Spoilers: Emmy feeds her sin to a tiger in the park. Every day, because every day it fills her from the rage and suppressed violence she imagines and wants to deliver onto Jessica, the class popular kid...and bully. It doesn’t help that Emmy’s mother only cares about her turning the other cheek, blaming all of her problems on a bad attitude and outlook rather than looking at what’s really happening. Emmy’s difference is like blood in the water for Jessica and her friends, and they seem to have it out for Emmy in particular. It’s a brutal, at times very difficult story to read, and one where the ending isn’t exactly a triumph, isn’t exactly a defeat, but is rather a complicated tragedy that manages to be powerfully moving.
Keywords: Tigers, Sin, School, CW- Bullying/Abuse, Queer MC
Review: This story is hard to read in part because bullying is such a difficult thing. Many people, and especially a lot of queer people, have experience with it, and have be scarred by it, and what happens to Emmy is complicated by her religious upbringing, the way that she’s gaslit and abused when really what she needs is some understanding and compassion and help. But of course that’s not on the menu and the story shows that just because these are kids doesn’t mean they aren’t both real fucked up and very good at hurting one another. Emmy holds back the physical violence she wants to do because it doesn’t help, doesn’t make the situation any better. She’s powerless, and Jessica can feel that, knows that in this deep way, and it’s chilling to watch her work. Emmy is in a bad place, a dark place, and Jessica keeps on pushing her farther and farther, giving her hope only to shatter it. And it is a shattering moment in the end, where all as a reader I wanted was for Emmy to have this good thing, and instead it turns to ash and mud and blood and shit. And it’s hard because in some ways the ending is a scene of Emmy taking power, embodying this sense of justice and taking on a form that will allow her to be protected and safe. Just also...the price of that is not small. In order to be safe she has to cut herself off from ever finding acceptance, for ever trusting someone as being genuine. And that’s not a celebration but this weird messy ball of pain and emotional devastation. The story is powerful and it pulls no punches, offering this visceral experience that ends with a sense of lifting but in this... Like, the ending imagines a kind of justice for Jessica and her friends, but not for Emmy. Her loss is a given at that point and that’s hard because it’s true, because in her situation she doesn’t have any more options. It’s wonderfully captured but oof, it hits right in the feels, and I recommend people go in with some care to this fantastic read!

“Introduction to the Horror Story, Day 1” by Kurt Fawver (3886 words)

No Spoilers: The story is narrator by what seems like a professor in probably a a collegiate level course about horror stories. And the piece shapes itself into a lecture that explores basically what makes a horror story and what would essentially count as the barest minimum in order to qualify. The narrator brings the reader into the class using second person, as they explain and lead to the increasingly unsettling conclusion they are aiming toward. The story begins in a purely academic space but slowly veers to less comfortable realms, and in so doing exposes a few different kinds of horror, and certainly that of a teacher who is out not just to educate their students, but to hurt them as well.
Keywords: Horror, School, Lectures, Stories
Review: I like how the story reveals this sort of seamlessness between teaching and horror, how easy it can be with the power of an educator do something terrible. Because education is supposed to be (at least in literature in a class like this) entirely theoretical. The learning is all about ideas, about argument, about following logical progression. About sort of collaboratively arriving at a point having learned something. But that’s a powerful thing, and it’s something that takes a great deal of trust and care, which is partly why teachers are often some great people, because they respect the power they have and strive to use it for good. This story revels in the darker side of things, the narrator violating a level of trust by taking things out of the theoretical and into the intimately and horrifically personal. The story masters pacing, building just so, step by step, like an argument, safe until it’s not, with little hints along the way to clue you into just how bad this could get. And I like the flow of it, the way that it sounds so much like a lecture, and the way that it’s a fairly interesting lecture and dissection of what makes horror stories horror stories. It’s interesting and engaging and wrapping it in the horror of academia is a nice touch. I’m not sure I personally agree with the overall lesson, with the conclusions it draws, but it does makes its case fairly well. And it certainly speaks to a certain kind of horror, crossing a line that was supposed to be safe and making it decidedly not. It’s a lively and fun read, for also being rather spine-tingling and creepy. A great story!


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