The stories in this issue of Nightmare Magazine are a mix of older tropes and newer innovations. The many faces of haunted houses. A very different take on cults and Heaven. These are stories that don't flinch away from difficult topics—death, suicide, grief, despair—but the stories also show or hint at the other side of that, of the only power able to cut through the oppression of loss. Hope. They show the utter hell of hopelessness and the redemption of hope, of escape, of finding power to move on and move toward a future that might be brighter. So to the reviews!
|Art by Luis Molinero|
"Four Haunted Houses" by Adam-Troy Castro (3715 words)
This story, to me, looks at the different ways people can be haunted. That homes can be haunted. From something that's a bit of a joke to some thing hungry and alive and cruel to something…well, to something that's not quite so supernatural as it is sad. But all of the instances of haunting are interesting, from the ghosts that we conjure to fill the silences and darknesses to the ghosts that are alive and vengeful to the ghosts of guilt and punishment to the ghosts of loss. Each house, each reveal, is steeped in the tropes of the genre. Of horror and hauntings. To me then the story is something of an exploration for what haunting can look like, how haunted houses are generally portrayed. And in some ways I also feel like the story is asking which one is more frightening, more horrifying. To which I have no great answer. The story ends on a house that is less traditionally haunted and more…psychologically so. I will admit that I was a bit put off by how the story uses the tropes of horror, casting each member of the family in the broad, familiar, and rather problematic strokes of how the nuclear family can implode following loss. It's an evocative piece, vividly and viscerally rendered, and I think there's a lot to digest and like about what's happening here. It revels in the horror of the situations, of the unknown and the known. I might personally have wished that it did more with the tropes it evoked, but I think it does an excellent job of enunciated them and casting them in a compelling light. It's certain an uncomfortable story that succeeds at being disturbing and illustrative of the different sorts of haunted houses. An interesting read!
"Little Widow" by Maria Dahvana Headley (7027 words)
Okay then. To me this is a story about abuse, about exploitation, about how women are often viewed as disposable, as property, as vessels, and about how three sisters find their way through that and out into something else, something better. How they free themselves from the ways in which they have been let down and the ways in which society and those around them want them to be used and killed. The story is strange and with a voice that seems part Western, part religious, and all resistance. Natalie, the narrator, was the youngest wife in a cult where the Preacher had fifty, and forty-seven died when the Preacher decided the cult should suicide. It's a rather graphic moment to pin a story to, but it doesn't flinch from the ways in which this moment was a failure. Not of the people dying but of the people who let young women be brought into this cult. A failure of people not to care, to send off people without a thought of what might happen. That they died is no more tragic than how they lived, preparing to become weapons to take over Heaven. And the way that the sister-wives are treated after the death is telling, how they have such anger and mourning, how they have lost so much and are just expected to lose more. How their mothers are glossed over but the man who abused them is remembered. The story focuses on justice and on escape and on the ways in which people (largely men) underestimate women, miscategorize them, and seek to oppress them. And that Natalie and her sisters manage to find another way, manage to find their own power to get themselves out rather than buying the supposed escape that Heaven offers, is well done and powerful and fun. The whole story has a nice feel to it, dark but also resolved, with Natalie not afraid to show she knows many ways to kill and has no problem with biting the head of a pterodactyl. It's a weird, beautiful story that's definitely worth the price of admission. Go check it out!