|Art by AJ Jones|
"Golden Hair, Red Lips" by Matthew Bright (4500 words)
About monsters and history, sickness and desperation, this story brings Dorian Gray to the more recent past, to the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic. Here Dorian is a man struggling with his own immunity to a disease that has felled all those around him. Haunted by the idea that maybe, maybe it was him that started it all, his deal with the devil that initiated the sickness, he watches as his lovers die. The story does an excellent job of examining Dorian's relationship to the disease, his lack of fear because he is immune but the growing apprehension that maybe, somehow, he's causing some of it. If not as the cause, then definitely as the one who passes the sickness on to his lovers. A carrier who doesn't think to stop, who just continues spreading the danger. The story brushes against the ideas of what is monstrous, what is fear. Dorian sinks lower and lower until, finally, he can take no more. Until he has to face his part in the death, in the tragedy. Until he has to examine himself, something that for him is a loaded concept indeed. But there is sense of looming dread in the story that is captivating. That drew me on. It's not a happy read, but it sets the stage well for what the issue can be. Dark, unsettling. Indeed.
"Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" by Alyssa Wong (6600 words)
This story is...disturbing, yes, about doppelgangers, women who can eat the dark emotions and thoughts of other people and take their form. But this story is also funny. Deep and complex, about legacy and about finding a way out of cycles and about feeling trapped by circumstance, it still manages to be darkly humorous. The main character, Meimei, is full of energy, of desires and action. Her voice is brash in the face of the horrors that she encounters, in the face of the darkest thoughts that she is witness to. In many ways she revels in the darkness, is fed by the violence and the pain and the cruelty, but at the same time it's obvious that she wants a release from that cycle. The story revolves around her relationship with Aiko, a friend who Meimei desires for the opposite reasons she is attracted to her meals. Aiko is...good, and there is something compelling about that, about Meimei recognizing that as she consumes darkness it also consumes her, that it's an easy thing to lose herself to. Like her mother has, like others of her kind have. And in the end the story asks the question of whether she can change or not, whether there is redemption for her or not. It doesn't quite answer that question, leaves it hanging, the impact of the story the way it trails off, the final images of desperation and hope and loss. A very good story.
"The Lord of Corrosion" by Lee Thomas (9500 words)
Stories about children and their "imaginary friends" are rather common in horror stories. For all that it plays with some classic tropes of the genre, though, there is nothing common about this story which sort of grabbed hold of my innards and kept twisting. The setup is tragic, wrenching, a single father trying to raise an adopted daughter alone following the death of his husband. Seriously, way to make me tear up reading about the guilt and pain Josh feels, his loneliness, his anger, his devotion to his daughter. Add to that the daughter, Sofia, is suddenly challenging some seriously hateful things that don't seem to have a cause, and the story excels at being creepy, unsettling, and very apt at making want to hide under a blanket until it's over. Seriously, I'm the not the best at scary things and this story has some scare to it, the creepiness of the expanding mystery coupled with what exactly the mystery uncovers. All in a relatively short space and, damn, this one is one to read and reread and not stop reading. It's dark and difficult but it's also about Josh's strength in the face of hate and the depths that hate can take a person. The story gets some great kicks in, visceral moments of terror, of doubt, of humanity. And the ending brings everything together and then tears it down, releases Josh's anger and frustration, his drive, his need to protect his daughter, his frustration and loneliness and it's a great moment, an amazing thing to read. Definitely, definitely don't give this a miss.
"Dispatches from a Hole in the World" by Sunny Moraine (4400 words)
This story takes a very deep look at a fictional series of events, a year that saw over three hundred thousand young people kill themselves. The main character, a researcher, is going through the records, the entirety of the records, to try and find meaning in it, to try and draw conclusions around it. Because it spread, like a virus, and it consumed so many, and what it left behind were questions that no one could answer. That no one was incredibly interested in answering because they were too busy with the crush of it. The reality of it. But it is a harrowing look at what happened, and, deeper than that, the world in which war is constant, where young people are seen as leeches when they are leeched, when they are used, when they are promised so much and then told to "earn" it. It's a Millennial story, in many ways, focusing on the fear and the dread that comes from rising suicide rates, from the fear, from the loneliness and also the connections that are possible now. The story travels some very dark paths, and I loved that [SPOILERS] it didn't try to use even those fictional deaths as a tool to make some sort of truth. That what it did do was reveal the wound and also the human tendency to want to heal, to want to help. No to cheapen death or mock suicide but to confront it and continue on, changed and not enough changed. An excellent story.
"Let's See What Happens" by Chuck Palahniuk (5974 words)
This is an interesting story about truth in relationships, about lies, and sortofkindof about religion. Or perhaps on focusing on what's really important. Truth be told, this story plays into a lot of things I don't particularly like in fiction. Namely, questions of parentage and especially the question of legitimacy in parentage. Because for all these are liberal, humanist parents, they are also extremely concerned about who's the father of the daughter in the story, Heather. Who is really the father. Now, there is a lot else going on here, the parents taking their child to a rather extreme revelations church where the parents dance and pretend to experience religious ecstasy while punishing their child for being interested in religion. And the story does an excellent job of criticizing such a fake liberalism, one that is still very selfish, very ego-driven. One that really isn't too different from conservatism in how they seek to control their child. But I felt a little too much was spent on the [SPOILERS] revelation at the end about Heather's true parentage. Perhaps I am a bit too sensitive to stories dealing explicitly with parenting, but I felt the ending left the parents still a bit too firmly in their quasi-liberal selfishness. Perhaps the story is about how they can't escape that. Certainly I like the message that they should be thinking about choice and agency for their child instead of how to "properly" raise them, but I wanted more. Because in the end the child still remains a tool buy which the parents learn a lesson, and I would have liked to see more done with that. Still, the story is told with a rather humorous tone, with some great lines and a sense of urgency with all the Nows. Like I said, an interesting story, just one I'm a bit conflicted about.