Dark Regions, Winter 1999

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"Shattered Wonderland" by Shikhar Dixit
"Voice Of The Turtle" by Ken Wisman
"False Signs" by Steve Eller
"John Sadness" by Jeffrey Thomas
"Eyes Of A Child" by C.S. Fuqua
"Nixies" by James S. Dorr
"Cleaning Up" by Brian Hodge
"The Disembodied" by Peter Crowther
"Dust Motes" by P.D. Cacek

This is my first visit to this periodical and I'm happy to say it was a pleasant interlude. It bills itself as two periodicals in one, and is quite substantial with 112 pages of material; eight stories plus poems, columns and reviews. The layout is professional and clean, with a LARGE type font that makes for easy reading for one with bad eyes such as myself. As you might expect, I found this issue's offering of fiction to be a mixed bag ranging from so-so to marvelous.

"Shattered Wonderland" by Shikhar Dixit is an odd unfocused tale about the loss of our magical sense of wonder as we leave childhood. Ramon has visited a fantasy land called Wherever since he was very young. It's a magical kingdom peopled by giant bunnies and bears, where there's no pain or death or sadness. But soon it all changes, as the people from the other side of the mountain wage war on Ramon and his friends. Thus starts a cycle of pain and death that steadily escalates, and so ends Ramon's innocence. This was a nice tale, but it just never grabbed me.

"The Voice Of The Turtle" by Ken Wisman follows Michael as he revisits his old home town, and the site of the end of his childhood. Mike, his brothers, and his sickly, frail sister all used to come to the river to swim and play. His sister Ilaine was crippled by childhood polio, but gamely fought to keep up with her older brothers. We follow the gang as they explore the river, in tune with its natural rhythms. But then tragedy strikes. Ilaine is attacked by a giant snapper turtle and drowned. The brothers respond by capturing the turtle and murdering it slowly. And in the end, their wonder and joy is lost as a result of this brush with life's cruel, dark side. This was well written with some wonderful imagery, but had nothing new to say.

"Cleaning Up" by Peter Crowther follows Chris as his madness leads him to death. His parents, his girlfriend, and his best fried have all died suddenly, from accidents or suicides. His life has gone on as his sanity slips away under the twin burdens of grief and guilt. The pain of his life is exquisite, but he lacks the will to kill himself. So he waits patiently for the phantoms of his past to come and claim him. This was a poignant tale, strong on emotion but very unfocused and rambling.

"John Sadness" by Jeffery Thomas is an after-the-apocalypse tale. Jane and her husband live near the polluted lake that nobody goes near. Their son, John Sadness, is born blighted by the poisons of the lake, and cast adrift on the lake by the village holy men. They decree that all such children must be so treated, but assure Jane and the other mothers that each child is actually being sent to the island in the middle of the lake where heaven exists. One day a boat arrives from the island, and all the children abandoned to the lake return to claim vengeance. This was an odd, disjointed tale, but with a nice ending.

The remaining four tales were the best of issue. "Nixies" by James S. Dorr follows the pregnant woodcutter's wife as she rides out to rescue her husband. Evil spirits have inhabited the dark woods around the village, and many have disappeared. Popular wisdom decrees that the nixies have stolen their souls. So Megan rides forth when her husband does not return and must overcome many obstacles to save him. This was a nice tale, with a fairy tale quality I found wonderful.

In "Eyes Of A Child" by C.S. Fuqua, Hollis prays for a miracle to transform his physically and mentally handicapped daughter. But when an angel comes, Hollis captures her and cuts off her wings. He imprisons the angel with his little girl, and pleads with her to do something. Hollis is dying, the child's mother is dead, and he knows how cruelly the world will treat his daughter once he is gone. But the angel explains that she can't change the past, that's not her province. She can only intervene to change the future. In the end, she does help Hollis and Patsy, but in a way that was both tragic and joyful.

"False Signs" by Steve Eller is the most disturbing tale of the lot. A few people realize that cruel actions have magical power that enable one to work miracles. One such boy commits a ritual mass murder so he can be with the high priest of the cult, William Lyles. Lyles is in prison awaiting death for his crimes, and takes the boy under his wing. Soon Lyles is executed as he planned, as part of a grand spell of evil. The boy waits behind in the prison as his execution date approaches, hoping for the dark resurrections Lyles has promised. Overall, this was a deeply menacing tale. The plot itself was not new, but the brutish and casual cruelties impossible to forget.

Last, and best, was "Dust Motes" by P.D. Cacek, last year's World Fantasy Award winning short story, here reprinted for the first time. Leslie is very ill from cancer, but recovering. She travels to the local library to escape the boredom of her home, and finds herself in the company of ghosts. She among all the living at the library can see them because she is still on the cusp between life and death. The ghosts themselves have experienced sudden deaths, and cannot move on with their life's endings unresolved. So they crave Leslie's help. She only among the living can hear their final concerns. And so she listens to their tales, and relearns her own love of life from their examples. This was a wonderful, moving tale well worth your time.

Overall, I was well pleased with this magazine. It should still be on the shelf, and I recommend it to you