Monday, January 8, 2018

Quick Sips - Nightmare #64

It’s a pair of fairly strange horror stories from Nightmare Magazine to kick off 2018, but both are full of horror and the lingering feeling of dread. In one, a woman is reduced to a head in a box, only to find that the sense of reduction might be misplaced. In the other, a man finds a home maintenance problem might reach much deeper than he originally suspects. Both explore the way that people approach sudden change, how there’s this attempt to make sense of it, and how sometimes the answer asserts itself, and sometimes it does not. They’re rather different, as far as stories go, but they make an interesting one-two punch. So yeah, to the reviews!

Art by Gromovataya / Fotolia

“A Head in a Box, or, Implications of Consciousness after Decapitation” by Lori Selke (3703 words)

No spoilers: The Actress is decapitated in an accident but her head is kept alive by a team of doctors. The story explores what it means for the Actress to be just a head, and keeps a strange edge to it as the reader is shown how her life changes and how it doesn’t.
Keywords: decapitation, medical, celebrity
Review: This is a rather intensely strange story about loss and about society. At its surface it’s about a woman who suffers an accident where her head is removed from her body but is kept alive...after a fashion. She remains herself but there are some strange side-effects and the piece explores those and how the Actress is treated by society at large. And in some other ways it seems to me very much about how we treat celebrities and how people are valued. Here is this woman valued for her beauty who becomes just a pretty face quite literally, a timeless head in a jar. It’s interesting what the story does with that, too, showing how she becomes more valuable as a mind, having lost the weight of her body, and I like how there’s the implication that the body was holding her back. At the same time, the story doesn’t really ignore that if she wasn’t still pretty, if she wasn’t still famous and rich, the story would have liekly gone much different. And there’s a lingering darkness to the piece (fitting given the venue) that leaves me just a bit unsettled. Perhaps it’s that focus on something unnatural having happened, that this crosses a line that causes some pause. Really, though, I like the strange quality of the story, the frame where the narrator jumps in and out of the Actress’ head and will go off on tangents and otherwise helps to question the gaze of the story and, in turn, the gaze of society. We too become something of a stationary object, able to see only what we’re allowed to, to go only where we’re allowed to. Which is the nature of prose, but it’s used well to mirror a bit what’s happened to the Actress, to blur the lines of what happening. And it’s a fascinating read!

“The Owner’s Guide to Home Repair, Page 238: What to Do About Water Odor” by Vincent Michael Zito (1571 words)

No spoilers: You are a man who finds the water in your house suddenly stinks, the odor so bad it pushes you to try and pinpoint the source. The style is immediate, the impact of the ending brutal. It makes good use of both the second person and the idea of the home repair guide.
Keywords: murder, haunting, revenge, plumbing
Review: This story moves quickly from the start, but there’s a great sense of growing desperation as the situation persists. Unfolding in second person, you find this water odor to be invasive and pervasive, taking over the space of your home. There’s no escape, and I like how you go about trying mundane ways of fixing things, all the while the story is keeping back the big reveal, the real “what’s going on” in the background. Until everything clicks into place. Until the nature of the odor becomes clear. And I love that moment, that moment when decisions that were make in panic and with no real thought for what happens next come back to bite you. And really it’s about justice, about revenge, a sort of telltale heart of a story, where you are facing the consequences for your actions and the growing dread and certainty of what this is. And the ending is a gripping and powerful moment of horror, where you lose control over what’s happening, when you are forced to give in to the gravity of what’s happened, to the inevitability of retribution. Which is a nice way to warp things up, the imagery and the mood of the piece intense and sinking. What begins as a weird but completely mundane becomes anything but, and the story uses a deft touch in getting the reader, through the frame of the main character, to really understand the stakes and the back story, to convey what you, what we as readers, are guilty of so that the sentence makes sense, and the carrying out of that sentence leaves a lingering chill and the faint smell of rot. A great read!


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