November issue of ‘The Dark’ focuses heavily on childhood trauma

The November issue of “The Dark,” a monthly online magazine specializing in fantasy and horror as dark as its name, offers four stories guaranteed to make you sleep with the lights on tonight

The issue opens with “A is for Alphabet” by Steve Rasnic Tem. Tem plays with time, weaving the nostalgia of childhood adventures with otherworldly elements and incomprehensible stakes.

Tem creates an unreliable yet compelling narrator with Arnold, a boy who experiences violent intrusive thoughts and pyromaniac urges. His friendships with the supporting cast are tense and reliant on everyone playing caricatures of their true selves. When Arnold discovers devices with the ability to travel through time, their decisions become increasingly upsetting yet remain believable.

Many can relate to the need to fit in, even at the cost of one’s physical and emotional health. Tem skillfully contrasts Arnold’s inner turmoil with disturbing anomalies that crop up as the boys’ escapades begin to have consequences on the fabric of time itself.

“In the Smile Place” by Tobi Ogundiran also centers on the loss of childhood innocence. Though it has been 15 years since the last time they spoke, and even longer since they had a semi-functional relationship, John’s complicated emotions regarding his younger brother spring to the surface as if no time has passed when he learns Timi was reported missing.

Ogundiran illustrates how people can experience grief not only in direct relation to death, but also over the loss of a once-close relationship. John’s regret over how he treated his brother during their childhood is raw and painful.

My favorite scene was when John returned home and found his brother’s old camcorder and tapes. His futile attempts to find closure by watching the tapes are heart-wrenching. The ragged wound where love could have been haunts the narrative alongside the Long Man, the monster Timi claimed terrorized him.

I knew John was doomed before the story began. That did not ease the tension as I followed him on his quest to make up for the injustices he inflicted on Timi.

“Auscultation” by J.S. Breukelaar is epistolary, taking the form of emails from Maxine Bailey to Rebecca Lytton as the former enjoys a retreat in the countryside for the sake of her mental health.

It is difficult to accomplish “show don’t tell” in this format, but Breukelaar pulls it off beautifully. The descriptions of the property pay credit to the story’s gothic inspirations. My favorite lines are Maxine’s reaction to the perpetual silence she endures during her time in the cottage, “A kind of resounding absence of nothing. As if the whole place is holding its breath, intermittently released in a muffled wet rattle from the woods.”

Details about the fraught nature of Maxine’s mind and her relationship with Rebecca slip into the messages over time, as do descriptions of supernatural activity. The gradual deterioration of Maxine’s writing style was gripping and added to the satisfaction of the ending.

Issue 102 wraps up with “Never Lie to Me” by Priya Chand, which gives a beloved fairy tale a healthy dose of body horror. The unnamed main character and her friend Geo become obsessed with understanding Helen, a girl who attended their college without ever forging a friendship or disclosing her past to anyone.

This is the shortest story in the magazine and the easiest to spoil, so I’ll stick to reviewing my favorite aspect. Chand’s gruesome descriptions of Helen’s secret made me wince, but I could not look away. If you are not squeamish — and honestly, even if you are — I highly encourage you to give it a read. 

Overall, I believe the latter half of the issue was stronger than the former. Tem and Ogundiran presented complex plots that could have been better executed in longer pieces. The simplicity of Breukelaar and Chand’s stories made them easier to follow without sacrificing intrigue. Also, considering the brevity of the issue, I believe it would have benefited from not choosing two stories that focused heavily on similar themes of childhood trauma. However, every story has its strengths, and I am excited to see what the next issue of “The Dark” will hold.


4/5 Stars\


Featured photo courtesy of Elizabeth Hedrick, Flickr