|Art by Grandfailure / Fotolia|
The two original stories from February’s Nightmare Magazine deal with death and life, hunger and desire. And the ways that those forces are corrupted and twisted so that they become prisons. So that a family is caught in the web of poverty and place as their town goes to the ghosts. So that a woman is caught in a marriage she doesn’t really like but that she’s unwilling to give up. So that all the characters end up making choices and hurting people because they just want what they were promised—security and safety—that might always have just been a carrot to keep them in line with a society that doesn’t actually benefit them. These are some dark and layered horror stories, and I’ll get right to the reviews!
“Quiet the Dead” by Micah Dean Hicks (6436 words)
No Spoilers: Kay is haunted. Though in her town that’s not exactly uncommon. The place is full of ghosts, the town holding on largely because of the pork processing plant, which employs most of the people living there. Which, until she let her ghost take over and assaulted someone on her shift, was the only thing allowing Kay to support her two siblings after their mother left them. And what is left is a whole lot of ghosts, a younger brother whose life plays out every day the exact same way, and a younger sister who has become uncommunicative following an unknown incident. It makes for an oppressive and dark atmosphere and a feeling that hope is as insubstantial as vapor, as fragile as glass, as fleeting as ghosts clawing desperately at a world that never gave them what they wanted.
Keywords: Pigs, Ghosts, Siblings, Family, Small Towns, Growing Up
Review: I love the feeling of decline that this story captures. The way that it conveys this sense of despair, of desperation, of dwindling opportunities and hope. That the town itself is almost shrinking, the living being pushed out, outnumbered by the needful dead. And Katy is stuck in a role that she really doesn’t want, having to try and look after and support her siblings when she’s full of ghosts herself, and rage, and it’s eating at her acutely because of all the things she’s supposed to see to. And yet there just aren’t opportunities for her. Or for her family. Not for Oscar, who is also haunted and has to live with the sort of predetermined life that he sees every day, growing haggard and old each night like being trapped inside a fate that he can only even want to change briefly, without time to really act. And Not for Mira either, the youngest, who is haunted into not speaking about what happened to her. Not being able to express herself in a way that people can comprehend. And yet needing that expression, needing to actually say what happened. It’s all so fraught and so heavy and it’s crushing the siblings despite ghosts supposing to be weightless. And I just love how it gets at that feeling and how it seeks to get through it, or around it. How it shows Katy and Mira finally fighting back in a way that still probably won’t do them any good financially, but where they can put aside their anger and their fear and connect in this moment of terrible commotion. Where amid the chaos that they unleash the weight of their ghosts can lift maybe enough to have a purely alive, human moment. It’s tender and it’s quiet and it’s wrenching as hell, and it makes for a great read!
“58 Rules to Ensure Your Husband Loves You Forever” by Rafeeat Aliyu (3612 words)
No Spoilers: Iman wants to ensure that her husband, who has something of a wandering eye it seems, is faithful to her and loves her forever. At least, that’s what she thinks she wants. When exactly that is offered to her, though, it comes with some...side-effects that are a little extreme. And Iman learns that she has to follow the rules or risk people finding out who, or what, she’s married to. The piece does not pull its punches when it comes to horror, when it comes to depicting some rather uncomfortable material. But at the same time there is a sort of humor to it, from how it mirrors the sort of magazine listicles that promise to tell women how to make their men always faithful. The result is an unsettling piece that reveals the toxic landscape that many women have to navigate to maintain their status and self-regard.
Keywords: Zombies, Marriage, Magic, Obedience, Rules
Review: I love the way this story confronts the rather toxic ideas about marriage that Iman has to wade through, the pressures to be the perfect wife and to somehow make it so that her husband doesn’t cheat, as if that comes down to something she does or doesn’t do. Here, those rules, given like they’re from an issue of Cosmo, are made rather literal. After the ritual that Iman takes her husband, Kevin, to, she must follow the rules lest he become a mindless beast bent on devouring anything in his path. Which is a clever way to frame the idea that underlies those lists, that men are indeed mindless beasts ruled by their libidos and if they are not kept perpetually over-content, they will stray and be justified in doing so. Couple that with the stigma of being a divorced woman, and it paints a rather grim picture of human coupling. Which makes for a rather effective horror, especially with the ending, which is difficult as hell to read, the corruption and foulness polluting Iman’s relationship becoming invisible even as it infects and is passed down to the next generation. It is a wonderfully rendered and squeemy story and it’s so worth checking out. A fantastic read!