|Art by Alexandra Petruk / Adobe Stock Images|
There are two new speculative horror stories in this month's Nightmare Magazine, both of them in some ways dealing with rooms. It's the natures of the rooms that make them both interesting and terrifying, building off of traditions in horror that stretch far back into fable and myth. The pieces are visceral, revealing women who have been deeply hurt by intimate partner abuse, who have survived despite the crushing weight of it and the lack of support they've gotten, and they both move in very different directions around their themes. As an added bit of news from the publication, it sounds like an editorial shift is on the horizon, with Wendy Wagner taking over editorial duties in 2021 while John Joseph Adams So yeah, let's get right to the reviews!
“The Blue Room” by Yohanca Delgado & Claire Wrenwood (6657 words)
No Spoilers: This story plays out a bit like a twisted Bluebeard, with Amada on the run from an abusive ex, one who nearly killed her, and finding a place to work that will hopefully allow her to live outside his influence--a strange little hotel that she finds herself immediately drawn to. It’s not that the work is easy, just that she finds she likes showing up, and the hotel seems almost like a companion, a guardian, someone who is looking out for her. Except that there’s one room no one is allowed to go into, and the seemingly random things that happen in the hotel shift from making Amada feel safe to...exactly the opposite. The piece captures well the way that some relationships fall from happy to terrifying, from safe to abusive, in a seamless descent that acts a bit like a pitcher plant out of which there seems no real escape. For all the horror, though, the piece also looks at hope, and how some cycles can indeed be broken, some traps survived.
Keywords: CW- Abuse, Hotels, Employment, Secrets
Review: I really like the way the story sets up how nice things seem at first, the hotel (like the relationship that Amada is recently out of) something that appeals to her, that makes her feel safe. Despite the fact that the opposite is actually true. And I think the piece is careful never to imply that she’s at fault for like this building, this hotel (just as she’s never at fault for like her ex). Rather, there are a great many pressures on her to find what they are attractive. To feel safe and like they will protect her. The reality, though, is that the system exists and is designed to exploit that, to allow predators to seem like they’re safe but hiding their true nature away, in a room that only opens when the person they’re targeting is vulnerable. And then things turn violent, and more overtly oppressive, but always with a sense of control, one that blossoms into a terrifying drive when that control is challenged. Amada leaving her ex doesn’t change him. Indeed, for him nothing is over, the relationship a sort of game that he’s intent on winning, Amada an object who has no say in the matter. And everyone else goes along with it because all they see is the outside, the charming exterior, not what he keeps hidden in the blue room. And the culmination of that is visceral and chilling, strange and nightmarish, where Amada ends up trapped between one predator and another, her ex and the hotel, neither of them willing to let her go...alive. And yet through all that I love that Amada is not stripped of either her compassion nor her agency, and is able to fight back, Evading her ex and doing much more to the hotel that thought it could destroy her. A creepy and great read!
“Decorating with Luke” by Adam-Troy Castro (2863 words)
No Spoilers: A narrator has invited a second person “you” to her home to show her a room. A special room that has to do with their shared history. Because they were both involved with, abused, and dumped by the same man--Luke. And they’ve both managed to move on from that...kind of. You certainly seem to have. The piece seem to pick at that wound, though, examining if people ever really get over wounds, both physical and emotional, that are so intense and sustained they kind of break a person. And the horror comes from the nature of the room the narrator reveals, and what she does in it. It’s a creepy story, unsettling and dark, but it’s not from a school of horror that I tend to enjoy. Your mileage might vary.
Keywords: CW- Abuse, CW- Torture, Punishment, Bargains, Rooms
Review: This seems to me to fall into the subgenre of horror that is basically revenge torture porn, which I am not wholly a fan of. Certainly the piece is creepy, and I don’t think it does a poor job of selling the physical horror of the situation, not the abuse that was visited on the narrator or the woman she’s speaking to, but the horror of supernaturally making a person into a room. It borders on being a bit like Barker, though it shies away in what I feel are two large regards. First, the narrator and woman she is speaking to are placed a little too close to what I would consider Perfect Victims for my taste, both of them abused women whose brokenness essentially makes them evil, and secondly, I feel it makes Luke a bit “too deserving” of torture to be all that terrifying or satisfying, because it opens up too much distance between the reader and Luke. He’s a Bad Guy, likened explicitly to Nazis, so whatever happens to him acts as a sort of catharsis, which I personally just don’t feel horror should be. But that’s just me. Fans of this kind of story will probably find more to enjoy, and I certainly recommend people make up their own minds about it.