The great thing about speculative horror that Nightmare Magazine always showcases is how wide a field it is. From contemporary fantasy to off-world science fiction to historical fantasy to basically any speculative genre, horror can be added. This month's issue sees a pair of stories that at first blush seem vaguely similar. But one is a military contemporary fantasy and the other a near-future science fiction and both are creepy in their own ways, filled with strange sights and a darkness lurking, ready to consume. These are stories about place, about darkness stepping out from where it had been confined and into a whole new world. So to the reviews!
|Art by Jeffrey Collingwood
"Great Black Wave" by David Tallerman (4002 words)
This is a story about war and about desecration and going somewhere, doing something that you don't understand. Overstepping. It takes place in Afghanistan in a village that's meant to protect something. Or maybe a village that's meant to protect everything against something. The story follows a bomb disposal team as they are called in to investigate a suspicious cave and a bad situation gets much, much worse for everyone involved. In some ways it's a classic sort of monster suspense story with war as its background. [SPOILERS!!!] The force that's unleashed is like the war itself, making men into puppets. Causing violence and destruction. Disagreements that become murders. But in another way I think the story plays with the idea of peace. Peace as death in a place where foreign interests have made living in peace something of an impossibility. The soldiers are perhaps just doing their job but there's more to it than that. It's bullshit, as they say. They have a chance to turn back and they don't. They push forward because they want to know, because they don't actually respect the local beliefs, and it's what ultimately dooms them. It's a creepy story and a nicely suspenseful one and certainly worth checking out!
"The Finest, Fullest Flowering" by Marc Laidlaw (2674 words)
In some ways this story feels like a weird take on the idea of the Collector, as the Patron of the story is someone who gathers artists from all over the world in order to build a community of them, to allow them all to inspire each other and let their muses free without constraints or worries. The main character, Mr. Milston, is a prospective resident, allowed on the island where the community lives in order to gauge if he's interested. The story plays around a lot with the idea of art, and in some ways it's not that difficult to guess what Milston's field is, but the story does a nice job of building it up, showing this lush setting, this garden of talents, and then positioning Milston as, well… [SPOILERS] So I love that the character is named Milston. As in mill stone, as in a force to sharpen and also destroy. That his gift is in murder, or maybe torture, was something that seemed fairly likely given the nature of the publication and story, but I was never bored for knowing. The characters and the situation are fun and interesting and if there's a harden then MIlston sees himself as gardener. Or snake. And that's an interesting concept in part because the Patron is completely okay with that, even encourages that. Why else show Milston the composer? There's this underlying feeling here that while artists need freedom to create, some artists…don't work out. And the darkness and the horror of the story comes from the realization that there's no retiring from the community. There's no leaving. And there's someone in the garden whose art is deadly. It's a fun premise and a fine execution! Indeed!