Children of No One
by Nicole Cushing
They say art is subjective, but even the most avant-garde art snob would be hard-pressed to consider the torture of little kids a form of art. But hey, you can't blame a guy for trying.
In Nicole Cushing's debut novella, an underground art world eagerly awaits the unveiling of an artist's latest masterwork. To hell with paintings, sculptures, or even the Piss Christ though, because Krieg deals in death and degradation on a nearly unfathomable scale. Krieg, a perverse eccentric of unparalleled fame among the underground, has outdone himself this time. He's constructed an enclosed maze, in which abandoned children are trapped and forced to wander its pitch-black corridors with the outside world a mere memory that is brainwashed from them. I recall a scientific experiment from decades ago that was quite the urban legend of a child being raised from birth in a cage, but even that pales compared to the god awful conditions created here.
It is in this macabre maze, hidden in the aptly named Nowhere, Indiana, where Cushing places a few characters inside and let's them do their worst. Already inside the structure are two brothers working together to survive the darkness in hopes that the "angels" will bring their next meal or finally rapture them to a world of light in heaven. The products of Krieg's sinister mind. But it's when Krieg, along with his cohort Kitterman, take a morbidly curious millionaire and a occult afficianado known only as Mr. No One into the maze for a top-secret tour that the depravity and and dueling philosophies of each party come to bear.
Cushing's exploration of nihilism, sadism, elitism, and manipulation are unsettling to say the least. Krieg's maze makes the Piss Christ look like a quaint piece of art by comparison, and to see each corrupted character that sets foot inside meet some kind of reckoning was, quite frankly, enjoyable on its own unsettling level. Aside from the children subjected to this prolonged imprisonment, there are no good guys. Then again, when the story sets a deranged nihilist against an even more deranged sadist, why bother looking for a good guy.
If I have a complaint about the story, it's over the novella-length work feeling a bit abbreviated, missing what I consider a couple of prime opportunities to dig deeper into the psyches of its characters. The two brothers are a bit of a looking glass into this sightless experience and wind up having minor roles in the big picture. I would have enjoyed seeing their story fleshed out a little more. That said, Cushing has a minor gem here, with a wicked sense of character, and wonderful hand at imagery. I've already come to enjoy her short fiction and anticipate more good things from her in the future.