Thursday, December 17, 2020

Quick Sips - Nightmare #99

Art by Marko Stamatovic / Fotolia
I continue to be impressed with the way that Nightmare Magazine has been pairing original stories in their issues, as December brings two works dealing with the bonds of sisters. Bonds that are cut short. By tragedy. By loss. And that provoke the remaining sisters in some difficult, profound, and unsettling ways. The stories are grim and they are creeping, complicating relationships that the survivors form and have, pushing them into perhaps dangerous situations, and always bringing them back around to the loss they’ve suffered. It’s a strong and resonating issue that works even better than the sum of its parts. To the reviews!


“The Book of Drowned Sisters” by Caspian Gray (6003 words)

No Spoilers: Diamond had a sister, Tyesha. In back of their house, in the overgrown field and the fetid pond, they’d play a game of make-believe. A war of imaginations. But Diamond only _had_ a sister. Tyesha is gone now, and not just because Diamond found her face down in the pond. No, her sister is more than dead. She’s gone, disappeared, forgotten by everyone by Diamond herself. And Diamond is alone because of it. At least, she is until she gets to college and meets an older queer student, Bana, who has a similar story of a drowned, lost sister. The piece is heavy with the weight of what has happened, with the trauma the young women are carrying, and with the very different ways they respond to it.
Keywords: Lakes, Siblings, Disappearances, Drowning, College, Queer Characters
Review: I love how different their grief has shaped these two young women. How they have reacted in such different ways but both carry around this absence that can’t exactly be filled. Not that their trauma is the only thing that defines them, but this loss that they can’t share with anyone else until they find each other is just such a big thing from their childhoods, this really profound moment in their lives, and I really like how the story explores that, how it finds them still so hurt by it, this loss an open wound that can’t close because they can’t appropriately get closure. That has been taken from them, in the same way that they feel their sisters have been taken. And I like just like the subtle implications and magic here, the way that these ponds are like portals, the ways that it takes place near hills, the traditional home of the fae, who are known for stealing young children. And I love the character work, the way that they’re so messy, Diamond trying her best to sort of keep her head down, to stay out of trouble, amazed in some ways by Bana, who is so much more brash, more seemingly confident. But Bana is also more self-destructive, more risk taking, perhaps punishing herself for what happens, for what she couldn’t have stopped. And that runs through both of them in these different ways, crashing together in the ending, which is full of tragedy and hurt, the characters knowing that there must be answers about their sisters, suspecting that there’s only one way to find out, and suddenly it seems unafraid, as terrible as that might be. For me, the story dives in the way neither character is really able to get over what happened, because their grief was cut short, their mourning amended, made into something they couldn’t express for fear of being seen as ill. And now, free from their parents, confronted with the confirmation of their truths, everything is reopened, and might get the chance to heal, or might end up being a fatal wound after all. A fantastic read!

“The Wrong Girl” by Angela Slatter (4002 words)

No Spoilers: Ilsa and Will have something of a unique relationship. Friendship without a strong pressure for romance. Ilsa sees Will for what he is and yet remains his friend, in part because it’s easy for her and it’s hard for her to really form attachments to people. He’s a storm she can watch, beautiful and terrible, that never touches her. But when her sister comes to visit, a storm in her own right, Will and the sister, Sophia, meet with a fury and drama that is profound and devastating. And in the aftermath Ilsa makes some changes to her relationship with Will. The piece is tense, with an air of inevitability to it, of people so drawn by their natures that it’s like they can’t stop themselves from acting out the same cycles, over and over. Until they meet someone else who stops the cycle for them.
Keywords: Art, Siblings, Relationships, CW- Suicide, CW- Torture
Review: I like the ground work the story lays down, the way that it sort of sets Ilsa up for the eventual reveal. She’s sharp, and perhaps a little bit she’s cruel, though at the same time she’s also fairly honest. She doesn’t lie, and indeed as an artist she reveals, in sometimes uncomfortable ways, the truths of body, pain, death, and rebirth. Her relationship with Will might be in part a kind of way of reminding herself of why she does what she does, wallowing in his narcissism enough to know that what she’s doing could almost be considered a service. She’s so masterfully perfected the mask she wears, the one that allows her to pass through the world as an artist, as prey. It only slips in moments like how she doesn’t call the cops when she knows she’d had a break in. In the way she waits to call emergency when she finds her sister’s body. She’s not unfeeling, couldn’t be to do the work she does. But she’s fueled by something grim and bloody, something that she hides quite well, so that the final turn of the story feels both a logical and natural extension and also a wicked surprise. And I like that, for all that it treads some familiar ground in terms of setting a serial killer against a supposedly deserving victim, and per-haps a whole pool of them. But it’s still effectively, done, not exactly a fun read but about the closest one could get with the subject mat-ter. Sharp. Brutal. For me it manages to not make the story about the revenge, but rather about the sort of toxic cycles people are caught in. Sophia with me. Will with women. Ilsa with her sister. And how they sort of come to a close, the only way they were ever going to. A great read!


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