|Art by Caro von Chaos
“Snake Season” Erin Roberts (5695 words)
No Spoilers: Well shit. This is an incredibly unsetting story about Marie, a woman whose children keep on being born twisted. Ever since her first, her Sarah, all of her daughters have be born...not right. Except Junior, her son, her perfect child. And now she’s getting ready to give birth again, and things...get...fucked...up. The story is tightly contained to Marie’s home, held in from the outside world by the darkness of what’s happened there, the original sin that has haunted Marie since it happened. Compounded by an evil magic, it has fed on Marie’s situation, growing even as Marie has lost again and again. Now it’s coming for everything she has left, and her battle is visceral, disturbing, and blisteringly dark.
Keywords: CW- Pregnancy, CW- Death of an Infant, Magic, Haunting, Drowning
Review: For me, a lot of this story is about the power of guilt, about the way it can be twisted and turned. Marie killed her first child, Sarah, because she didn’t look normal. Because Marie wanted perfect children. And, more largely, because having perfect children was so pressed upon her, that any deviation was her fault, her sin. So that in many ways she's couldn't win without being perfect, which just isn't always possible. And that act remains a huge part of Marie’s life, Sarah (or something wearing Sarah’s shape) returning every time that Marie has a new child. Except for Junior. Only that exception seems to have run out and Marie is trapped in this steepening spiral of hurt and abuse and death. For me, so much of this falls into the ways that Marie isn’t really offered a path to heal. She’s isolated and vulnerable and her husband often has to leave for long stretches of time. He then puts her under the authority of a man she doesn’t trust, one who tries to get into her home when she doesn’t want him to. Though his concerns might be genuine, it’s certainly a loaded situation and one that still blames Marie for what happens, for not doing something to have prevented Sarah’s differences. Marie, stuck and shamed and guilty about everything, has nothing to help pull her out of the hole she and others have dug for her, and so she sinks further and further. And it is a violent, disturbing descent which takes everything that she has and promises to take more still. It’s a story full of moments when I winced and had to look away, peeking back to find my worst fears confirmed. It’s difficult and it’s dark but fuck is it an effective bit of horror. Definitely not for the faint of heart but a terrific read!
“Being an Account of The Sad Demise of The Body Horror Book Club” by Nin Harris (3505 words)
No Spoilers: Lila is a single woman living on her own in an apartment underneath a place where she hears screams and dropped nails and the drip drip drip of blood. Or maybe it’s just music, and a clumsy carpenter, and a leaking pipe. Alone and a woman, she knows that police don’t really trust her, and so she sinks into an isolation brought on by the knowledge that she can do nothing, that she might be killed as well and wouldn’t be able to do too much to stop it. And then she gets an idea to start a book club, in part as a way to socialize but more as a way to cope with what’s happening above her—with what might be happening above her. The story is tense and nerve wrecking, the club itself rather fun except for the darkness that it’s meant to cover up, the darkness that it can’t quite. And Lila is a woman who knows very well the trajectory of stories like hers, knows just how easy she can become a victim, so it’s rather interesting to watch how she uses that knowledge. Gripping and tense but with moments of humor and a bit of a metatextual flare.
Keywords: Book Clubs, Spectator Effect, Neighbors, Foxes, Serial Killers
Review: I love the idea of a horror story nesting inside a horror club that actually reads and engages with horror. And I love that, through each of the characters engaging with that horror, we see how people distance themselves from the horror around them. In their lives. How they believe that they would do something, but how they fall into the same old tropes and traps of horror. How they try to invite the monster in. And how it comes down to Lila to not only know the tropes, but still push back against them. For most of the people in the club, there is a certain comfortable distance that they keep between the horror of the works they discuss and themselves. For Lila, though, there is no such distance. It lives right above her and she knows that the moment it knows her that she needs to act. And what I like about this story so much is that she does. What could have gone in a direction we’re all familiar with (woman living alone stalked and killed by evil killer who lives above her) instead chooses to take an entirely different direction. And I like how it defies expectations there, how Lila struggles to make herself heard even as she knows she’s unlikely to be believed. How she uses that to her advantage when talking to the police, trying to sell them on what they want to do and have happen. And even then there’s a supernatural element that still wants the old story told, that still wants Lila. And still she fights. And I just like the feel of the piece, casual in the way that Lila is alone and stuck and yet behind that there’s also panic and despair and pain and hope. Beneath the seemingly serene surface there’s a whole world of darkness, and Lila refuses to sink into it. A wonderful read!