John Joseph Adams, editor of the well-regarded science fiction and fantasy e-journal, Lightspeed, as well as numerous excellent anthologies, has launched a new horror e-zine, Nightmare. It will feature two reprint stories along with two original stories each month, along with in-depth interviews, short interviews with each author whose story is featured in the issue, and non-fiction discussions about writing and reading horror.
The first issue is out today, and it is terrific. I’m an early subscriber and a Kickstarter supporter of the project, so this is good news for me, but I’m happy to say that this is actually good news for everyone who enjoys good short horror fiction and thoughtful discussion of the genre.
This first issue features four original stories (without reprints) as an inaugural celebration. The first of the stories is Jonathan Maberry’s “Property Condemned: A Story of Pine Deep.” Maberry revisits the characters we first met in his Pine Deep trilogy, especially Malcolm Crow, who is the protagonist of the story. Four friends, all nine years old, ride their bikes out to the Croft place, a famous haunted house in the area. Malcolm wants very badly to see a ghost, but he’s always been afraid to go into the Croft house, which has been empty for his entire lifetime. Malcolm, Val, Terry and Stick dare each other to go inside, Val saying repeatedly, “It’s just a house.” They speculate about what they’ll find, with Stick saying he’s heard that the people who do see a ghost see a ghost from their own futures. They terrify themselves without ever entering the house, a theme echoing Stephen King’s story, “The Body,” but ultimately they set foot indoors, and Malcolm knows as soon as they open the door that this is a terrible mistake. What Malcolm finds inside, and how he reacts to it, is a tale more of sorrow than of horror. He gets to see his ghost – and more.
One of my favorite writers, Laird Barron, is the author of the second story in this issue, “Frontier Death Song.” Barron draws on his personal history to tell a story of the Wild Hunt – a hunt for which his protagonist, who bears a striking resemblance to the author himself, soon becomes prey. One of the best parts of reading a Barron story is enjoying his use of language, and this story is no exception to that rule. Here’s a description of a day running the Iditarod:
All twelve dogs in harness trotted along nicely. The end of the trail in Nome was about two days away. Things hadn’t gone particularly well, and I was cruising for a middle of the pack finish and a long, destitute summer of begging corporate sponsors not to drop my underachieving ass. But damn, what a gorgeous day in the arctic: the snowpack curving around me to the horizon, the sky frozen between apple-green and steely blue, the orange ball of the sun dipping below the Earth.
I want to see that sky, don’t you? A screen later, though, and the scene has changed completely:
The killing ground was a fucking mess, like there’d been a mass walrus slaughter committed on the spot. Dead huskies were flung about, intestines looped over berms and piled in loose, steaming coils. Graham himself lay spread-eagled across a blue-white slab of ice repurposed as an impromptu sacrificial altar. He was split wide, eyes blank.
Yikes. This sort of vivid writing can give you nightmares. And as hard as it might be to imagine, things go downhill from there for the protagonist. Unusually for Barron, though, there’s more than bleakness to this story; you might even crack a smile.
Genevieve Valentine’s “Good Fences” is an odd story without anything overtly supernatural or traditionally horrific; yet it presents one of the most frightening pictures in this issue of Nightmare. The protagonist lives in a neighborhood that he considers a bad one, with teenage delinquents hanging out under a broken streetlight and planning trouble. One night a car burns on the block, but no one calls the police – surely not he, because who wants all that trouble? Maybe they’d think he did it. The car falls apart slowly over the next few days, but it’s still none of his business even when the roof of the car collapses and reveals the horror inside. This is “good fences make good neighbors” taken to a frightening extreme.
Sarah Langan’s “Afterlife” fills out the fiction. Mary Hogan lives with her hoarder mother, in a home as hideous as the word “hoarder” can possibly conjure up. Her mother is, and always has been, abusive, but now Mary is her only source of contact with the outside world, as she is now old and frail, if still vicious with her tongue. Oddly, the house seems to be a gathering place for the ghosts of children who cannot seem to pass on to their afterlife; the Catholic Church has declared that Limbo no longer exists, so the house has become their Limbo. Mary tries hard to persuade the children to move on, but they resist her, not believing that they are dead. When the bank takes action to foreclose on the house, Mary’s task becomes urgent. Between dealing with her horrible mother and the mountains of trash in the house, together with getting the children to move on, it is hard to imagine what her happy ending is.
R.J. Sevin contributes an essay entitled “The H Word: The Other Scarlet Letter.” This inaugural column discusses the typical reaction received by those willing to confess that they read, study and even write horror, that slight withdrawal from the recipient of the information, the sideways glances that seems to suggest that there’s a fear that you’ll start to enact a horror plot at any moment. Often people who read horror deny that that’s what they’re reading; some even believe that, since they like Stephen King, he can’t possibly be a horror writer. Sevin blames it on horror movies, and makes a compelling case in support of his thesis.
This issue also contains the first half of John Langan’s interview of Peter Straub. I loved reading Straub’s thoughts about serial killers and how they have occasionally been the “most beloved” characters in his books and stories – that doesn’t seem to make much sense, but Straub explains. His thoughts about Milwaukee, and the way he displaces his memories of the town in which he grew up into other states, is a great glimpse inside the mind of a writer. Straub also talks about teaching and whether it’s a good fallback for a writer or not. And his recommendation of a particular writer sent me scurrying for Amazon.
The remainder of the issue consists of interviews of the writers of the short stories, providing interesting insights to the stories. I had some different theories about what was happening in a couple of the stories from what the authors thought they were writing – or at least what they were willing to say without giving too much away. It’s illuminating to get a glimpse into the writers’ minds.
This first issue of Nightmare is promising. I’m looking forward to many more issues.