This is my first time really reading an issue of The Dark all the way through. I've grazed a bit but I finally took the plunge this month and read the whole thing. A series of nicely dark stories (go figure, considering the title). With that darkness, though, there is also a sense of hope, so while this magazine is definitely dark, it's not really gritty. Grim, in places, a bit like the fairy tales, but not gritty. So on with the stories!
"Bearskin" by Angela Slatter (5197 words)
The story of a boy named Torben who's sent to live with an abusive uncle to apprentice to be a woodsman, this one focuses on grief and loss and transformation. It's an interesting story, one with many turnings. The repeated idea seems to be of that turn, of that change. Torben with his parents, and then not. Out hunting, then a murderer. Sacrificing himself, then changed into something not human. That focus on the moments when life seems to change makes the story one defined by Torben's ineptitude. He doesn't think he's any good at anything. He believes himself to be a victim, though that's not entirely the case. Some of the events of his life are truly beyond his control, but others, like shooting the bear cub, he did himself. Only when he stops playing the victim and decides to try and do something for himself, or at least make a decision himself, is his situation changed for the better. It's an interesting story, and while I found myself not exactly a fan of Torben as a character, I think the story makes a good point about agency and transformation. Indeed.
"In the Dreams Full of Sleep, Beakless Birds Can Fly" by Patricia Russo (3314 words)
A couple desperate to save their third child from dying the same way as their previous two entertain a woman who talks to spirits in this story. It's a strange story, where the spirit-talker arrives as both emissary of the old traditions and also as one who breaks them from time to time. Or at least bends them. But she offers the couple some hope, even if it seems like it's not much of anything, telling them they must bury their child in the ground so that it can be born again. I had some trouble deciphering this story, in part because I'm not sure exactly what these spirit-talkers represent. To me they seem to be a way of saying that the parents have to have faith, but perhaps it's more that the parents need something to channel their hope, to prevent them from despairing. I like the tone, the moodiness of the story, as well as the spirit-talker, who is rather sharp and who doesn't really have time for nonsense. The story flows nicely, and there's a sense of hope at the end, which is nice. For all that this is a dark story, it's one that ends with a lighter note, and that's not a bad thing.
"Welcome to Argentia" by Sandra McDonald (3323 words)
Well this is a nice and creepy story. About Argentia and the history of the place, located in what is now Canada and passed back and forth between controllers, it's about how the place itself has come to have something of a personality. Or maybe it always had a personality. it's about how it has come to have a hunger, and an anger, at the wounds it has suffered over the years. Argentia has been many things, most notably probably as a military base during and after WWII, and it's seen an awful lot of death. And the death it clings to, keeping the souls of the dead close, to be released only after its scars are healed, after it has become whole again. It's creepy because the way the story goes, this story being told, is being told to a dying man by a ghost, welcoming him and his family to the legion of the dead that are being held by the place. It really works quite nicely, revealing the long and troubled history, showing how it has become a place people try to avoid, a place of ghosts and vengeance. Brutal and hitting, the story succeeds at making the reader face the unsettling setting of it. Welcome to Argentia indeed. Good stuff.
"A Spoke in Fortune's Wheel" by Brooke Wonders (4351 words)
Apparently the issue saved the best for last because this one is probably my favorite, the story of a girl with a spinning wheel for a head who comes up against a creature named Rumplestiltskin who is not quite what he appears. Firstly, he arrives from inside her, from under her heart, and while she thinks that he has the key to gaining the prince's favor, the key to getting her to create wondrous items with her wheel, he's really more interested in serving himself and his immortality. She creates for him, but as she tries she realizes that she cannot. It comes out wrong. Only by creating for herself, solely for herself, can she finally find a way to defeat the small devil and unwind him. It's an interesting story that I think has some parallels to the creative practice in general. The imp here is the voice of power, he voice telling her to bend her gift to his benefit and then being cruel when she cannot give him what he wants. It's that idea that she is only free when she casts aside the despair that he represents, and embraces her own power and her own worth that she can succeed. A nicely layered story and one that I quite enjoyed. Hurrah.