People of Colo(u)r Destroy Horror is official here, courtesy of Nightmare Magazine's October release, which means double the amount of original fiction to keep you up at night. The stories are…well, the stories show the range of speculative horror, with three mostly-contemporary pieces and one historical fantasy, all of which shine lights on very different aspects of horror and fear. The fear of the Other, of the foreign, and the invasion from the unknown. The fear of the self and the uncontrolled darkness a mind can harbor, that a mind can spin into tales to terrify, willingly or otherwise. The fear of anonymity, of the crush of circumstance and time that can strip people of their hope and humanity. The fear erasure, of dissolution, of death, of injustice. These stories know how to set the scene and each left me shaken, uneasy, and inspired. So yeah, without further hesitation, to the reviews!
|Art by Reiko Murakami|
"Wish You Were Here" by Nadia Bulkin (7200 words)
This story takes a look at tourism and ghosts, about violence and the wounds left behind after violence, after trauma. The story focuses on Dimas, a sort of tour guide in Bali where he chaperones foreign clients who want different things. A thrill. Something exotic. An introduction into the supernatural. And the city, he country, is one plagued by ghosts. By stories. By recent violence. Dimas lost his best friend during a period of transition and unrest, and ever since has felt haunted. Hunted. By her ghost and by his own guilt surrounding it. I love how the story stacks ghost stories, how it builds this great tapestry of ghosts in Bali, in Dimas' life. And how the tourists who he's supposed to be watching over are both fascinated and bored, detached from the horrors of what has happened and harboring a different sort of haunting within them, the aimless haunting of their gaze, the damage they do by trying to find in this country some bit of magic that they can exploit. They all come to Bali for different reasons but all of them seek to exploit it, to arrive with their foreign money and buy what they want. Excitement. History. Relief. And yet all of them come in with a sort imperial push, a new violence that Dimas witnesses, that he in some ways releases onto the city by his involvement in the scheme. The horror of the piece for me comes from the circling ghosts in the story, the way that the group is plagued by them, by the ghosts they bring with them, the darkness that lurks in each of them, the darkness that in some ways they've come to dump in this place foreign to them like a form of psychic pollution. It's an interesting and complex work and I love the way that Dimas struggles to deal with it, how he faces the wounds he sees and the wounds that he still bears from the violence of his past that have never fully healed. A great read!
"None of This Ever Happened" by Gabriela Santiago (5100 words)
This is a rather strange but relentless story that to me is about stories, about the drive to create and write, as much as it is also about the horrors of living. The horrors of consumption and eating and lying and telling the truth. Of being buried under the weight of the elements of story, the clichés and the tropes that writers are supposed to avoid. Things like not writing about writers. Things like don't introduce important things too late. Always pay off including details in the beginning by having them return, having meaning. Don't write too close to life. And so the story is a meta experience where the narrator and the author and the reader are all in question. Are we as readers the monsters looking in, looking out from the white space in the word document, and so are we the force that is compelling the narrator to write, to try and banish us even as they want us, need us for that affirmation, to have an audience. It's the horror of being stuck in something that doesn't seem wholly innocent or wholly mundane, because for many writing is magic, able to conjure up feelings. As this story does an amazing job of conjuring up dread and need, panic and desperation. The narrator is dealing with an awful lot and trying to fight against her own brain in some ways. There is a drive to the story as well as a nice tour of things genre, from horror tropes to Star Trek to magic and beyond. It's a haunting piece in many ways not because there is any real monster in it, not because there is a rock that requires a person eat, eat, eat, but because the story reveals the power of words and stories to obscure the real, to evoke the unknown and uncertain and leave the reader, as it has left me, tense and alarmed and wondering if the world around me isn't some huge lie and I'm just trapped in some corner of it, alone and afraid. However that existential worry turns out, though, it's a visceral and captivating story that's well worth checking out!
"A Diet of Worms" by Valerie Valdes (4200 words)
This is a rather disturbing story about a person caught in a sort of cursed life, jumping forward in time again and again, always employed by the same movie theater, always stuck in the same shitty job. The story moves around this character and is told in the second person so that in some ways the reader gets to stand in those shoes, walking the sticky floors, always hoping to quit at the end of the day only to find that, time and again, the goalposts are moved. The character starts the story in the hole, written up for being late because of bad circumstances, and things only get worse from there. At first just out of high school, the story shows them growing older and older as they enter into a certain theater, as they find time slipping more and more away. They can't really help themself because there never seems to be the opportunity, because like magic they are prevented from getting out, and it seems to me to speak to these sorts of jobs, low income that never pay enough for the person working them to ever quit, never able to move up because the lack of money means being late, means being written up, means being stuck in the terrible job. And they are always hungry, always trying to find a breath, a break, only to have it taken away, only to be degraded again and again. It's a powerful story and one that examines how these situations break a person down, how the constant stress and poverty spiral in on themselves, creating this almost magical horror of hunger and depression and stress and mistreatment and slow decline so that by the end there's nothing left but the desire to have quit, to have done something different, without the real chance of having been able to do so. It's certainly dark and richly drawn, the theater a kind of hell there's no escape from, and it makes for an excellent story!
"The Taming of the Tongue" by Russell Nichols (4000 words)
Taking place shortly after the American Civil War and featuring a young women who has been freed from slavery, to me this story deals heavily with the idea of promise and voice and freedom. It's another story told in second person, another story that asks the reader to put themselves into this situation, to imagine what it's like to be voiceless, to see so many relatives die or go missing or be sold off. To see a world that should be better, that you were told would be better, only to find that there is no difference. The monsters from the past are still there, are still hungry, and they don't know a war was fought. The situation has not changed, and a white woman can still walk in and strike a black woman with impunity. There is no promised freedom here, and when the main character of the story decides that she wants better, that she's going to seek better, she's met with resistance, met with the burdensome truth that is the past she's lived with, the oppression and the death that she's expected to swallow down and be grateful for. And I love that the story refuses that, that she does seek to escape but that she's not going to be quiet about it, that she's not going to go as a question mark, as an unanswerable mystery. That she's going loud, regardless of what happens. It's a bit of an unsettling story that contrasts the monstrosity of an actual folkloric monster with the monstrosity of an institution that was supposed to have been slain only to change its shape and live on. Striking and hitting, it's a great way to close out the original fiction in this special issue!