|Art by Christina M. / Fotolia|
Nightmare Magazine throws a bit of a curveball this month with not a pair of stories but a single longer work. And wow, it’s a creepy one, unfolding like a boulder rolling downhill, set to crush all unwary enough to be caught in its path. The story combines cosmic-level horror with much more visceral and grotesque beauty and brutality. It’s a story that looks at possession, and in some ways at addiction, that circles an abyss like water circling a drain, moving incrementally closer and closer until the inevitable plunge. So let’s get to the review!
“Dead Lovers on Each Blade, Hung” by Usman Malik (12703 words)
No Spoilers: This story is framed as a man’s confession in the police station in a small town. A former junkie, his life took a sharp turn when he met a man who saved his life after a bad trip. A name named Shafi, whose wife (who Shafi bought when she was eight but who is in her mid twenties now and a doctor specialized in snakes) has gone missing. On top of saving the narrator’s life, Shafi also helps him beat his addiction, and in return the narrator agrees to help Shafi find his wife. It seems like an innocent enough thing to do, but it leads to some incredibly dark places as the two of them leave their city behind to pursue a lead that will take them both into a darkness they might never come back out of. Conversational but with a gripping dive toward horror, the piece draws the reader deeper and deeper until all the layers of old skin have been peeled away and something new takes shape, striking and terrifying.
Keywords: CW- Drug Use, Grief, Greed, Snakes, CW- Child Marriage, Poison
Review: I love that this story is a confession, that it’s this man pouring out everything that’s happened. Not really because he feels guilty about it, but as a sort of last rites. For me, it speaks to him just needing to get it out, because it’s been something more traumatic than death. As if death would be a mercy at this point, because he’s seen things that haven shaken his fundamental understanding of the universe. He’s seen beneath a veil that should have have been lifted, and so in the end he just needs to get this out like a balloon with a leak, left at the end empty and done.
And I say that it’s a confession despite the fact that the actual crimes in the story...well, they aren’t really something he feels were all that bad. The story for me is about the power of grief, of longing, and of possession. The central breaking points in both the narrator’s and Shafi’s lives come because someone they felt possessive of disappeared. And by the way I love how that’s happened with the narrator, how he’s died twice already, how his life unraveled with the loss of his son because of the guilt. How he came to rely on drugs, and how it puts him in the path of Shafi, who I think can see in the narrator something he can use. But I think there’s something to the losses that these men have suffered. Because it’s rather selfish. Because they’re mourning not precisely the loss of a person, but a loss of their illusions. A loss of the narratives that they were devoted fathers and husbands, when really they were more selfish. Shafi, who bought his bride when she was eight and raised her. The narrator, who raised a son to do better than him. And both of them who expected things in return.
And it’s there that the horror is allowed to grow. From their hunger to possess. The narrator says it himself, on being confronted by the terrifying sight of a goddess emerging into the world. “Our world is not our own, it is borrowed.” The narrator says this to give voice to his terror, and I think that says so much. That the horror here is in the system. In possession itself. And in the knowledge that comes when someone shatters the illusion that you are in charge. When you have to face the logical progression of the ideology that you can truly possess another person. Because they are yours. Because you can control them. Because you think you are owed them. Because the extension of that is that someone can possess you. And especially for those who have never faced that prospect, running into can be shattering. And it’s shape really is horrifying in the story, visceral and unsettling and dark and pitch. And it makes for a fascinating and rewarding read!