Review: Black Static #70, July/August 2019

Review: Black Static #70, July/August 2019

Originally Posted at Tangent Online, July 31, 2019

“I Write Your Name” by Ralph Robert Moore
“A Crown of Leaves” by Kristi DeMeester
“Pendulum” by Steven J. Dines
“Glass Eyes in Porcelain Faces” by Jack Westlake
“Massaging the Monster” by Cody Goodfellow
“The Touch of Her” by Steven Sheil
“The Summer is Ended and We Are Not Saved” by Natalia Theodoridou

“I Write Your Name” by Ralph Robert Moore is a wandering story. Generally speaking, it follows the tale of Roger and Mia, two people who meet, very briefly, when Roger is fourteen and Mia is a newborn. They meet again thirty years later, get married, Roger gets dementia, dies, turns into a dog (?), accidentally gets Mia killed, then spends his remaining days at her grave begging her forgiveness.

I’m honestly not sure I followed the story properly by the end. Every hook or dangling bit of angst either doesn’t resolve or twists into a weird, not-quite-explained story angle that evolves into something even weirder; i.e., he changes into a dog. Also, the opening hook, with Roger looking at a baby and the author saying they fell in love, is creepily reminiscent of Lolita.

If you’re looking for something creepy, just pure creepy in a not-scary-just-super-weird sort of way, then this story is for you.

Kristi DeMeester‘s “A Crown of Leaves” follows Opal as she’s driven to the childhood home she was taken from as a child by her sister Maribel. As children, Opal and her sister were taken to the woods by their seemingly crazy mother and forced to wear crowns of leaves under an insane tree with glass leaves.

The tension build in this is pretty good. Opal’s sister slowly but steadily seems to lose her mind as the story goes on and is limned with rather terrifying memories from Opal’s childhood. As they get closer to the house, it gets worse, with Maribel turning off the lights and driving through a forest in the dark.

As we hit the climax, I was astounded by how disturbing DeMeester gets while staying true to the spirit she established at the beginning of the piece. Definitely worth a read.

“Pendulum” by Steven J. Dines. Phew. Dines presents this story in a non-linear way through the birth and death of the Milly’s son, Jack. It’s a terrifying story, though not much happens, contextually, just a constant slow build as Dines uses the metaphor and imagery of a pendulum to repeatedly amplify the worst parts of the tale. It’s a great story about a terrible thing.

“Glass Eyes in Porcelain Faces” by Jack Westlake is about how Darren’s life falls apart after he starts seeing people walking around with porcelain faces.

As the story progresses, it’s clear Darren has a history of mental illness. As his symptoms get worse and more people have these porcelain faces, he tries to hide his symptoms until, finally, he breaks down and orders two porcelain masks for himself and his girlfriend. Everything comes to a head when he goes out in public, finally feeling like he’s blending in with everyone else. The ending is apt, terrifying, and made me shudder.

Overall, it’s a great horror story. The pacing is spot on; the tension build, well written. And the ending is horrible with an apt twist that still makes me cringe. Very well done.

“Massaging the Monster” by Cody Goodfellow tells the story of Jocasta, a woman who has been through a hell unlike anything I can imagine and finds herself at a massage house as a masseuse who can see the sins of men in their skin. When the man who murdered her mother and father arrives, she decides to channel an ancestral massage style to get her revenge on him.

At its core, “Massaging the Monster” isn’t an original concept, even down to the idea of mystical energies helping someone get revenge. What really makes this story special is the execution. Goodfellow does a great job with the minutiae of the story, lending us such detail in the art of the massage that when it turns to the speculative element, it’s easy to accept what’s happening. Great story with quite the rush at the conclusion.

In Steven Sheil’s “The Touch of Her,” we’re put into the head of Mark, a man obsessed with a barista, Hannah. It’s a disturbing dive into his thoughts as he obsesses over Hannah and demonizes another admirer of hers, an overweight man known only as The Toad. The first huge chunk of this story is Mark rationalizing his crazed thoughts about Hannah until, after waiting for Hannah to leave work, he tries to follow her home. He ends up finding Hannah in a car with The Toad, then proceeds to go absolutely nuts.

I think the majority of what makes this story a success is the constant, pressing horror of how unstable and violent Mark might be.

That said, the ending is a little off for me, and not just because it’s the first evidence we’ve had of a speculative element in the entire story. There’s this change in the environment after Mark kills The Toad and hurts a little girl during his flight that, I believe, is supposed to be because social media and the like is grabbing onto his actions and turning the world against him. The speculative piece is the entire world turns into a single, focused being, all looking at him as he’s trapped in the subway.

I think the reason I’m having issues with the ending has less to do with the setup and more the message. Is it a critique of callout culture? Is it a celebration of it? I don’t know, and, as such, I can’t say for certain if the author is excusing Mark’s actions or criticizing them and that, in and of itself, terrifies me the most.

“The Summer is Ended and We Are Not Saved” by Natalia Theodoridou is written perfectly for the story. The main character, known only as Cherry girl, narrates, hinting at everything, but showing nothing. What she does reveal is her husband as some sort of supernatural being, possibly a vampire, whose mood impacts the world around him in very real ways, both good and bad.

I like the distance the narrator puts between herself and the reader. There’s this allusion to dark actions and past murders, but Cherry girl glosses over them in a haze, like she can’t see the demon in front of her, which, as we find out later, she probably can’t. It’s an intriguing story and worth a read even if it’s only to explore the great use of an unreliable narrator in telling a deep story that never says anything straight.

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