|Art by Ddraw / Fotolia|
The two stories in the first Nightmare Magazine of the year both build up some nicely strange and haunting situations. Situations where there’s a mystery to solve. Who murdered a woman? What happens in the forest outside the city? Death is very present in these pieces, and the characters all have to decide what to do and how to approach that death. Will they run from it, or be driven to despair by it? Or will they face it, resolved and ready, and in forcing that confrontation, do something about it? These are some haunting reads, walking a line between triumph and destruction, and I’ll get right to the reviews!
“Familiar Face” by Meg Elison (4039 words)
No Spoilers: Annie just lost her wife, Cara, a deaf woman who was taken from their home and murdered. Rather shattered by it all, Annie has been trying to put herself back together, helped by her roommates and their friends, a wonderful found family who have been working on a plan to figure out who murdered Cara and maybe even find some justice. The piece is careful and lovely, the descriptions of the sign language used full of layers, and the situation truly terrifying. Tying it all together is a security camera doorbell that went in a day too late to do anything for Cara, but might not be too late to help. The piece is heavy with loss, with memory, with a fragile tenderness, but also a strength built from people helping people, a family whose bonds are no weaker for not being forged in blood.
Keywords: Murder, Loss, Sign Language, Queer MC, Roommates, Found Family
Review: This piece for me shines in the way that it builds up the characters and their messy and beautiful relationships, their friendships, their family. The piece largely follows them as they deal with this absence, this unbalancing of their group, something that has tipped them all into sorrow and grief. It’s largely warmth mixed with the terror of what has happened, but the ending turns the story’s trajectory toward revenge. Only I don’t really see it as quite that simple. The piece seems a bit more about the family here, their dedication and their shared loss. It’s one thing for one person to feel angry and want to lash out at the person who look their loved one. It’s a bit of something else for a whole group to decide together that this is the best course of action and to orchestrate a situation where it might be possible and justified that they kill someone. For me this speaks in part to the ways that these people don’t trust the established avenues of “justice” to work for them. The murdered woman here is a deaf lesbian, and they all have their own disappointments and hurts about the system and how it’s failed them. Obviously the cops could have and should have figured out who was the killer, especially given that Annie is in danger, too, is still a target of the same person. I love the light haunted feels, the ways that Cara seems to be lingering, trying to point them all in the right direction, hoping maybe to save Annie’s life and give her a little closure, as well. And that’s what makes this more triumphant than sinking into despair and revenge. Because this is a communal effort, because they are there to get something done, and because they’re all there for each other. And for me the heart of the story is still the people, the way that they form this network, this grid that supports each other, that holds them all up. And even with one point in that network gone, they are not broken. They are formidable, and out to show one particular asshole that he made a terrible mistake. A wonderful and wonderfully dark read!
“Elo Havel” by Brian Evenson (3135 words)
No Spoilers: This story is framed as a letter, written by a person named Elo Havel, to an unknown recipient. We as readers only are treated to the one side, though the content of the letter the narrator here describes seems fairly straightforward. The narrator has been contacted because of what happened to him in the forest. Because he came back. Because of the city’s special relationship with the forest, and a ritual that is still ongoing, one that has taken on some very dark implications since its earliest incarnations. The piece is a creeping horror, revealing slowly both what the city is collectively trying to forget and what it ultimately cannot avoid, all wrapped in this frame of a letter and the strange details it describes.
Keywords: Forests, Hospices, Sacrifices, Letters, Sacrifice, Monsters
Review: This story captures something of an older aesthetic, kicking things off with the letter and the voice, which places the story somewhere in the past, though where exactly is rather impossible to tell. There are other elements that seem like the story must be set fairly recently, and the whole things builds a sense of strangeness like this is a city on the outskirts of things. On the outskirts of space and time, a place where the normal rules don’t apply. A place where a city can have a ritual to take the dying out into the forest and leave them there. To allow them to “commune with nature.” And I love that it starts off as this rather benign thing. That people don’t mind going, and everyone treats it like it’s a mostly pleasant thing. Something that works for everyone. Until one person doesn’t want to. And the response to that one person who finds the forest terrifying, to refuses to be left to whatever is waiting there, ends up defining so much of the city’s future. Because it starts this cascading effect where something that was peaceful becomes violent, and that violence ends up infecting the whole population, that fear becoming something that just grows and grows. And I feel the story does a good job building the horror, the infection, the mystery of what exactly is going on, and giving a reveal that is strange and horrifying without necessarily giving all the answers. And instead of working toward a better solution, they double down, become more and more forceful, and it just makes everything worse. It’s a brooding and almost gothic story, and one very much worth spending some time with. A great read!