Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Quick Sips - The Dark #67

Art by grandfailure
December brings more to a close than just the year at The Dark Magazine. It also represents the final issue with the editorial input of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who has been co-editor for a few years now. I’m trying hard not to think of it as a loss, as her participation on editorial has in my opinion led to a stellar few years, where the magazine has been competitive in terms of quality with any publication out there (at least going by the number of stories that have landed on my recommended reading lists). And while this doesn’t necessarily mean that without her there the quality is going to slip, what I do know is that I’ve greatly appreciated what she’s managed to do there, the stories that authors have trusted her with to bring out into the world. Especially with a venue like this one, where the stories are so often grim and difficult, I find that trust is often an important thing, and I can only hope that the level of trust authors have in the publication to handle their stories compassionately and professionally will not falter. At the very least, I would like to thank Silvia Moreno-Garcia for her work and for the amazing range of stories she’s help put out, and to wish her all luck in future endeavors. It’s another bittersweet moment as well, as this will be my final complete review of an issue from the publication (though I will definitely still be reading). Luckily, it’s an extra-big issue in terms of content, with four originals, most of them spinning out from and taking place in Nigeria. So let’s get to the reviews!


“For Successful Haunting” by Jessica Reisman (2359 words)

No Spoilers: Sin is a ghost, haunting an old inn. They learn to flit into the memories left behind, wealthy guests eating rich food and drinking good wine. They meet a cat and name him Hui, and the two keep each other company as the summer leans through autumn and into winter. And then some men come, and shatter the peace of their haunting. And remind them of their life, and more, of their death. The piece is tense and stilled, the danger of the men a power of memory but no less powerful. Not unless Sin can face their own past and tragedy, and find a way to be more powerful than it. It’s a bracing read, touched by violence and sorrow but finding itself in this new place, this small family, and in that there’s plenty of beauty as well.
Keywords: Ghosts, Cats, Hauntings, CW- Beatings/Murder, Memories, Non-binary MC
Review: Okay so cat and ghost are friends is pretty amazing, even as the story finds that in the midst of trauma, danger, and in the wake of tragedy. Sin is dead, and their dead is still this weight on them, a fear that clings to them long after their flesh has fallen away. When men come into their world, their violence an intrusion, Sin wants them to go. To leave this place where they could experience some happy memories--memories that weren’t theirs. And where they have Hui, and the two of them can be kind to each other, and enjoy each other’s company. But the noise and the destruction forces its way in, this reminder of Sin’s life and death. It threatens to splinter apart what they have, to destroy them a second time. And at first Sin doesn’t seem to know what to do about it. They try small, subtle things, because that’s what they did while alive. To live. They stole and they begged. It’s what they know. What they knew. And it takes them time to see that they don’t really need to go that route. That for these men subtlety...might not be the best route. And I love where that goes. That this is a story about Sin coming into their power, to their presence. Learning to defend their home and their family. It’s a moving and lovely picture of a person finding themself only after death, when being a ghost has freed them from the dangers and corruptions that made their life a hell. It’s not exactly triumphant because, well, it’s also a sad testament that it took death to give them this, but it is a sort of happy ending, and it makes for a wonderful read!

“Camouflage Baby” by Ebuka Prince Okoroafor (3572 words)

No Spoilers: The narrator of this story has given birth to a child who might be the reincarnation of her grandfather. Rather than a blessing such a return normally is, though, this is something of a curse, and immediately seen by the hospital staff, by her neighbors, by her family, as a cause for alarm and drastic action. Because the child is born with a camouflage pattern on his body. Because the grandfather in question was a soldier, a rapist, and an all around bad man. Because anything different in Nigeria needs to be handled with fire. The piece is from the first moment balancing on the edge of violence and tragedy, the narrator handling her own desires against the social expectations and stigmas that are brutally and sometimes fatally enforced where she lives.
Keywords: Babies, Mobs, CW- Pregnancy/Child birth, Resurrection, CW- Rape
Review: For me so much comes down to the way that the narrator sees difference being punished around her. The way she imagines that in another country, in America, her child might be embraced, might be a sensation, might actually lead to positive attention. But where she is, with its scars, with its taboos, difference is something to be attacked. Something to be hated. A sign of some inner corruption. And I think it’s interesting then that for the child in some ways it is a sign of an inner corruption, that this reincarnated grandfather was awful, did hurt people. But that really the mob trying to hurt the narrator don’t know that. It’s not about the reality of it, not about the grandfather, who probably was in his share of these kinds of mobs. It’s not about rape or violence directed in ways that the society deems acceptable. Those sins aren’t the ones that are ultimately punished, because the grandfather gets to go free. Gets to be reborn and each time he is it’s these other people who suffer. These women who just want what they want, none of which is to hurt anyone. And yet they are the witches, the ones deemed needing to be killed. And it’s that tragedy that for me drives the horror of the story, the grimness. That for all the grandfather’s sins it’s the narrator who suffers, who loses everything despite being only incidentally linked to him. She loses, and the cycle continues, and it’s wrenchingly told. It’s unsettling in the ways it offers no happy ending, only a spreading shadow that devours light. A fine read!

“Forwarded as Received” by Osahon Ize-Iyamu (5501 words)

No Spoilers: Mama Ibeji is the moderator of a group chat that was meant to help encourage her local women to vote. Two years after the election, it’s become little more than a home of the occasionally forwarded chain message. And Mama Ibeji, fed up with it, is out to set things right by ridding the group of this nonsense. This superstition. It’s all ridiculous, right? Especially the story of the rice that turned into worms in the stomach of a hapless soul, eating them from the inside out. When Mama Ibeji finds a bag of the rice supposedly responsible, she warned by one of the “superstitious” women to stay away, and so of course she has to buy some in order to prove that it’s all a lot of wash. And, well, the story follows what comes next, which is chilling and creepy while also being kinda hilarious.
Keywords: Chain Messages, Rice, Worms, Family, Group Chats
Review: I love the voice of this story, which takes a critical and skeptical look at chain messages. Messages that for most people seem ridiculous, almost jokes (I mean ask me about the blog comments I get about vampire cure-alls). And yet the story...makes them creepy as fuck. Which is an accomplishment because yeah, wow, I love how Mama Ibeji just wants to sort of stand up and be this responsible, rational woman, encouraging others not to step in the superstitious crap around them. One of the other women basically says “what’s the harm” and Mama Ibeji insists that it’s...unseemly. At the same time, though, there’s something to be said about the reasons why she’s making this stand. Not really because she cares about the people sharing the messages. But because she wants to be right, wants to maybe be better than these superstitious people, even as her own house isn’t exactly in order. And that really is where I think the story hits, that in many ways it’s a very morality play kind of story, showing this woman’s life ruined because she refused to take the magic of chain messages seriously. Except that, beyond that, I think the story really is getting more into the why of it. About inviting calamity by taking on a position of superiority. And for me that’s where these chain messages have their power. In finding people who might pass it along just in case, and in provoking those who can’t let it be that people are doing something so largely harmless, and in some cases actually helpful. In any even it’s a really fun story, and gross, and wonderful. Do go check it out!

“My Wife” by Ernest O. Ògúnẹmí (6659 words)

No Spoilers: Duro has a wife. Which for a young man still in university might not seem that strange. That she only appears to him when he’s sleeping, though, is perhaps a little odd. That she gets violent and destructive to him when he strays even a bit, and that the wounds she inflicts on herself are reflected on his body when he wakes...well, that’s a cause for some concern, if not to Duro than to his mother. The piece shows how this ends up effecting Duro and his family, the struggle between those who want Duro present in the waking world and the allure of the dreaming pleasure he can experience with his wife. It’s a story of magic and the dangers of the spiritual world intruding on the physical one. At the same time, it’s a complex horror about desire, pleasure, and family, not wholly a triumph, not exactly a tragedy.
Keywords: Dreams, Relationships, CW- Suicide, Family
Review: I feel like I’ve been reading a few recent stories that deal with creatures who prey on human sorrow, children who are born from spirits who want to make parents suffer, who live to commit suicide when they’re young. And I appreciate the way this grows the focus on myths from the area, each story different, playing with the themes of loss, of lust, of malevolence. Here Duro might be such a spirit but one with no memory, tied to that possible past by Temi, his dream wife, a being who protects him, to has sex with him, who loves him, so long as he’s sure of the plan to die when he graduates university so they can be together again. Meanwhile Duro’s mother seems to recognize what is happening, to know what something is wrong, and what it might be. And...I like that Duro himself is mostly a passenger in all of this, going along with Temi in part because it’s pleasant to do so, because she cares for him and helps him, makes his life easier, gives him sex and fun. And I like that he never really changes his mind, even as his family is trying to “save” him. He sort of wants to please everyone, to not make waves, and it might have made him an easier victim, but it’s also not wholly, well, happy that Temi is defeated, that she is taken. The ending has a note of sadness to it, Duro losing this part of his life, this person who did mean a lot to him. It’s a complex piece, sort of wondering where it leaves Duro now. Is he “safe” from the suicide he was planning, or is that still on? No one has really sought his input, and now that his wife is gone, it’s unsure what might happen. Probably he’s better off, and yet there’s a small doubt in the back of my mind. Whatever the case, it’s a great way to close out the issue and the year at The Dark Magazine!


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