“Be Light. Be Pure. Be Close to Heaven” by Sara Saab is a tale of a Christian sect that takes Antonietta Meo, the Little Matron, as its guide. Meo lost her leg to disease when she was five years old, and declared it “ballast shed to lighten her ascent to Heaven.” The people in this sect, therefore, submit to voluntary amputation of some sort in order to demonstrate their devotion. Tanta is a young woman whose mother gave up a leg, and whose father gave up his eyes, who is now contemplating her own sacrifice. Though she is extraordinarily devout, in the course of the story she faces substantial temptation, and makes her choice. It’s a creepy story that reminds us of all the oddities that historically occur in every religion. (It’s not part of the story, but: Meo actually existed. She was an Italian girl who died at the age of six from the same cancer that took her leg. She is on her way to being canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, having been declared a “Venerable Servant of God” by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007. As far as I can tell, though, there is no Catholic sect that practices — or has ever practiced — amputation as a religious rite.)
You were a friend of Jonathan Chin, the preacher’s son, in “Scarecrow” by Alyssa Wong, told in the second person. You have to attend his funeral today, because Jon, they say, committed suicide by jumping from the roof of the church. And you are turning into a bird: your hands are twisted like claws, and you’re growing feathers. It’s an effective tale of guilt, peer pressure, adolescence and love, and no one gets out unchanged.
In Noah Wareness’s “What Happened to Marly and Lanna,” the nameless narrator has a sister, Lanna, and a dog, Marly. When Marly appears to die, the narrator and Lanna bury him, even though the narrator sees him open and close his mouth just before they put him into the grave they dug. Several nights later, the narrator proposes that they dig the dog up to say another goodbye, and ultimately confesses to Lanna that they’d buried the dog while he was still alive. At that point, the story goes off its rails; the narrator and her sister are suddenly in the middle of a huge yard sale being run by the Salvation Army. The story now becomes full of symbols and metaphors, leaving the reader to figure out what happened. It’s confusing and strange and ultimately, for me, simply does not work.
Matthew Cheney’s post-apocalyptic tale, “Patrimony,” features a world in which no one wishes to procreate any longer. The world is just too terrible to bring a new life into it; giving birth is immoral. But into one town there comes a stranger who wants nothing but to procreate, no matter whether any particular woman is willing or not. He wreaks havoc in the town, furious at the disgust expressed by the women he propositions and rapes when they refuse. When evidence of his work becomes apparent, the townspeople track him down, and their revenge is horrific. But what of the children? Their story is even more horrible. Cheney tells his story in shades of gray and black with red accents. It is a tale that never lets up, and the imagery lingers in the mind.
A second story is told in the unusual second person in this issue of Black Static. In “Goat Eyes” by David D. Levine, you’ve been attacked, but you’ve managed to escape. It’s the way you escaped, though, that troubles you, because what happened was you impaled the man with the golden eyes, the eyes with horizontal slits, on a splintered fragment of an old fence — and he’d dissolved. A vampire? Vampires don’t exist. You stay home for weeks afterwards, recovering from your trauma, but eventually you venture forth. And then you find another one. Levine’s story is entertaining and well-told.
“December Skin” by Kristi DeMeester, is about Rory and her brother, Aaron, who is determined to take care of her. And all Rory can think about is horrible things to do to Aaron, because she has fallen into the darkness and the cold. Only light can keep her from giving in to her desires. She’s fighting, but it’s so hard. It’s a short, terrible tale of being overtaken by the horror within oneself, and it’s one of the most powerful tales in this issue.
If you go to work every day wondering why you do it, whether the paycheck is worth it, whether you should give it all up and just sell tickets on the commuter tram, then Stephen Hargadon’s “The Bury Line” is the story for you. The first person narrator of the tale describes his work with a couple of different managers, and how they moved on — one fired, one getting a new and better job. To his surprise, though, he then sees them as ticket inspectors on his daily commute. One of them attempts to recruit the narrator. It’s an extended metaphor that everyone who has worked too long and too hard with too little enjoyment will understand.
One of the best features of Black Static is its emphasis on extensive reviewing. In these days when so much horror fiction is available at little or no cost in electronic format, one needs the advice of smart reviewers to help guide one to the best the field has to offer. Peter Tennant intelligently reviews twelve books, causing my “to be read” pile to grow beyond its already impossible height. His reviews are insightful, but he has a somewhat strange style. Often, he reviews an entire story from a single-author collection in only one extremely long sentence, meandering through comma after comma, sometimes falling into run-on sentence territory. In his long interview with Carole Johnstone, Tennant asks smart questions that show a considerable familiarity with Johnstone’s work and the entire horror field; Johnstone’s answers are bright and sharp. Tony Lee reviews 26 movies on DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as each of the movies in The Werner Herzog Collection. The sheer volume of material reviewed makes one wonder if Black Static’s reviewers ever get any sleep. The issue also opens with provocative essays by Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker.
I can think of no better Halloween gift for the horror reader in your life than a subscription to Black Static. The fiction is strong, but the reviews, interviews and columns take it that step beyond what is offered in most other contemporary horror magazines.