This issue of Dark Matter includes:
"Good Neighbors," by Marlaina Cockcroft
"The New Family," by Elliott Gish
"A Ruthless Pedigree," by Bill Gusky
"Glacial, Eternal" by Aleco Julius
"Choose Your Own Destruction," by Amanda Cecelia Lang
"Devouring the Starry Night," by Angela Liu
"Stand Here, Close to the Light" by Murtaza Mohsin
"My Other Half," by Belicia Rhea
With reprint story, "The Door Is Open," by Warren Benedetto
Cover art by Voodoo Salad
And interior art features by Dan Fris and Cho-hyun Kim
Most can be found for free online as well here - have fun reading!
I also liked the illustrations inside, so maybe the Print will be worth it (for me, shipping is a bit costly, so I bought the Ebook instead).
And now I will talk about my Highlights.
The new family by Elliot Gish
This story will haunt me for a long time. Because I am a very mean mother, I also retold my oldest child (but I left out all the body horror that especially frightened me, the really spooky plot will be enough).
The perspective is especially interesting: It's a "we-form". The narrators stay anonymous. I gathered that the telling "we" in this story is the adults living in the street of "The Blue House". The adults, most of them parents.
A nice gimmick for people (like me), who like Pop Culture: The name of the Street is Englund Street. I am thinking about this Englund here.
A new family moves into the Blue House and we learn that there were other families before, the Weirs, the Eldrigdes, the Samsons and the Merrilands. We only learn fragments of the things that happened to these other families, but those are horrible enough to form an opinion on the "Big We" that just watches the new family move in, doing nothing to warn them and behave like people watching a horror movie in real life.
Of course we have all read our share of "Haunted-and-really-bad-houses", so it's not necessary to explain anything. And the story does not explain, which is great! There are so many "empty spaces" (not sure about the English term) that the reader can fill for themselves. Which is great, because this makes the story much more spooky.
What's great about the story is the premise. I will spoil a little bit. The "We" that is telling the story is cruel and knows it.
The most important sentence (which comes twice) is: "When you are forced to accept a cruel reality, you either become cruel in response, or you die."
The "we" in the text seems to think these are the only options and still think so in the end, still behaving cruelly, not having learned anything from the things that happened in between.
As for me, as a reader of this story, the answer is more complex. Obviously, having become cruel was not the way to go, can never be the way to go. Bad things will happen, then worse things will happen.
So this is not really a story about a haunted house. Like all good horror stories, this is a story about the worst sides of being a human being. A story about people. Absolutely believable and very bad people. who still think they are in the right, despite all the evidence against it.
Good neighbors by Marlaina Cockcroft
In a way, this story is much more harmless, more fun (and less spooky), but still about neighbors, and not necessarily good ones.
The protagonist, Ruth, is very much likable, although she makes some decisions that are not going well for every neighbor. But still, I can identify with her, because of the many authentic details in the story.
When she first meets the mysterious child, Keira, she hesitates, because she is not sure if she should introduce herself via her first name. "Wasn't she supposed to be teaching them to respect their elders?"
All neighbors seem to be one sort of disgusting, with Keira the only exception. And that's why Ruth is willing to fulfill Keira's wish to not to take away some really gross weed that towers over the other herbs in her garden. This weed actually is the "dark phantastic figure" in the short story, although I still think the only human neighbors are the antagonists here. Maybe. Depends on your point of view and your values.
However - it's great fun and a very cool twist in the end.
Devouring the starry night by Angela Liu
This author has posted her contribution to this issue on twitter and that's why I bought the magazine in the first place. I tend to stalk authors I like to read phantastic prose of. But do not worry, I live very far away and almost never travel. I am a fan of her Pinocchio photography, which still is my favorite, but I have so far only read three or four of her stories.
I asked google about some Van Gogh Paintings, but this question seems not to be easy to answer.
This story is much less fast forward and I needed perhaps too long to get who's point of view this is here.
There is a lot going on under the surface of this story. I have gathered something about not being useful any more (and all things want to be useful, at least in the world of this story, in which things could think and feel and tell stories). Plus, I enjoyed the different owners of the "thing which tells the story" (just trying to avoid spoilers), especially the old woman and her disgusting grandson. He is described like this: "He had the lidded eyes of someone who never really saw anyone completely". What a great idea to describe somebody!
The key scene is surely the one with the ear - very interesting and my first hint of what is really going on here. The dark phantastic component is interesting and surprising, but also already in the key scene before.
The ending is absolutely appropriate and satisfying.
My other half by Belicia Rhea
Smells like Science Fiction. Surely, it's spooky, but what's really spooky is what the protagonist has experienced with relationships with men.
And that's why she now engages with a very secure dating platform to find her other half, of which she is sure it exists and she's desperate to find. Soon.
The platform is costly and there is no danger of becoming pregnant or being murdered (later I learn why). There are so many hints about the past of the main protagonist and those are much more horrible than what's happening in the "present time".
I do not especially appreciate the very end twist, but everything which happens before is just my taste. There's sex in it, but interesting sex, well written with spotlights on the right details, not showing too much (because most of us already know how it works). Great work!
A magazine that I will have to look into much more often.