Dark Regions, #16, Fall 2001

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"His Visitor" by K. A. Corlett
"Working for the God of the Love of Money" by Kaaron Warren
"The Storybook" by P. D. Cacek
"Body Care" by Anne Tourney
"Rat Girl" by James S. Dorr
"Bridges" by Alan Smale
"Blue Teeth" by Marge Simon and Bruce Boston
"Portrait in Shades of Black" by R. Michael Burns
"Thorns" by Katherine Woodbury
"Song of Death" by Laura J. Underwood

Dark Regions packs a great deal of short (sometimes very short) fiction into 54 pages. Production values are high, though the editorial policy of labeling the various stories "Horror," "Dark Fantasy," and "Fantasy" is eccentric. Although the editorial indicia claims that this issue is for Summer 2001, the cover reads Fall 2001. The stories within are for the most part variations on familiar themes; many feature the vampire, that old horror chestnut, in altered settings and guises.

"His Visitor" by K. A. Corlett bridges East and West as a European vampire looks for redemption through the aid of Oriental religion. The cultural mix is refreshingly different, though the story conflates Hinduism with Buddhism.

Kaaron Warren shows how hard the job can be when you're "Working for the God of the Love of Money." Tom is apprenticed to the titular deity, a being with the power to discern and punish greed in others. The god really enjoys the work, but Tom doesn't, and slowly he plans a fitting revenge. The story possesses some interesting devices, but as a protagonist the nebbishy Tom doesn't give the reader much to sympathize or identify with.

"The Storybook" by P. D. Cacek relates the story of Ross, a divorced father who misses his daughter terribly. He rents an upstairs apartment and sinks into alcohol and self-pity. Then from across the hall he repeatedly hears the voice of a little girl asking to be read a story. Fearing that the child has been abused or abandoned, Ross threatens to call the authorities, until his landlord reveals the truth. The portrayal of Ross is strong, but the plot is predictable, and a number of copyediting errors mar the story.

A strange sense of nightmare underpins Anne Tourney's "Body Care." Kay (the name evokes Kafka) has survived unspeakable torture and been cast aside. She rebuilds her life on the twin foundations of forgetting everything and feeling nothing. Then a co-worker introduces her to Nula, a mysterious woman who operates an equally mysterious day spa. Nula gives Kay a chance to rediscover herself, to step out of her nightmare…and perhaps to step into a new one. A chilling look at the horror simmering just beneath the surface of ordinary life.

"Rat Girl" offers up the Frankenstein story as retold by James S. Dorr. Manassas, a corpse-eating ghoul, creates a stir when he goes against the nature of his kind and brings a corpse to the city. It's the body of the Rat Girl, crossbred of human, rat, and other creatures. Her kind were bred as pleasure slaves, but they proved unmanageable. When they were destroyed, Rat Girl escaped. She sought out the Necromancer, Manassas' master, to create a mate for her, but he realizes that her kind were destroyed for a reason. The story, all atmosphere, has a moody, Weird Tales flavor.

In "Bridges," Alan Smale puts a contemporary spin on the vampire legend. Anton, the vampire, has seen it all in the past two thousand years, but he finds himself at a loss when trying to deal with Rachel, a thoroughly modern young woman. She's having trouble with her unruly husband, and her directness and candor disorient the vampire and lead him to remember the problems of his distant, mortal life. An intriguing concept, but in trying to be both serious and comic the story stretches itself too thin.

"Blue Teeth" by Marge Simon and Bruce Boston is a droll little short-short. After a final heartbreak, Sally has sworn off men. But one night at a club she meets a man with perfect, blue teeth. He's a nice enough sort of guy, and he further piques her interest by claiming that his teeth have magic powers. Sure enough, they do. As any reader of fairy tales knows, however, not all magic is benign. Simon and Boston quick-sketch an amusing little jape.

An unusual artist composes her masterpiece as a "Portrait in Shades of Black" in a story by R. Michael Burns. Cassia Sibyl Spare is a twelve-year-old prodigy, painting visions no one else can conceive. She can see into another place, a dimension of alien color and shape, and from there she draws her inspiration. But the pressures of her mother and her audience — always demanding something more, something new — are beginning to weigh on her. The story resolves predictably, and the writing, like Cassia's art, is rather florid and overheated.

Katherine Woodbury reimagines the story of Sleeping Beauty in "Thorns." A prince comes to awaken the enchanted princess, only to be warned away by another woman who claims that she is the real princess and that the woman in the tower is a witch. Or is she a witch? And why are the killer thorns around the tower dying? The old story spins to a different conclusion, though it doesn't rule out a (sort of) happy ending.

In Laura J. Underwood's story, the young harper Anwyn finds himself caught up in a "Song of Death." Anwyn finds himself in a strangely deserted village, where he learns that the Lady of Dungeal still holds power in her nearby castle. Anwyn senses a strange darkness there, a malevolence that masks other secrets. The story is a quilt of standard fantasy devices, and the writing is curiously uneven.

Of the stories in this issue, "Body Care" comes nearest to being a complete success. The others have interesting parts, but they don't add up to consistent wholes.

A writer, teacher, and at-home dad, Jeff Verona lives in the wilds of Iowa with his wife and son. He can be reached at jverona@pcpartner.net