The August issue of Nightmare Magazine is exceptionally good, and given the generally outstanding nature of this publication, that’s saying something. All four of the stories this month are excellent by any standard.
The magazine opens with “Dear Owner of This 1972 Ford Crew Cab Pickup” by Desirina Boskovich. It’s a letter from a woman with terrible insomnia to a man who wakes her every morning at about 3:00 a.m. by revving — and revving, and revving — the engine of the titular vehicle before heading home from a night at a local tavern, where he tends bar. The woman has written to the man at least three times before, asking for his consideration, explaining that she is exhausted from tending to her hospitalized mother as well as teaching as an adjunct at a local university. In fact, she is so exhausted that she has literally fallen asleep in the middle of giving a lecture, causing the university to give her the rest of the semester off, which means, effectively, that she has been fired and will be unlikely to be recommended for a job elsewhere. On the night she writes the third note, she watches the man leave the bar and come to his truck, grab the note off the windshield, and toss it without more than a glance. Something breaks inside her at this. We read her final note with growing horror, because Boskovich skillfully creates a situation in which her character’s solution to her problem, awful as it is, seems entirely reasonable.
“The Kiss” by Tia V. Travis should be read to the strains of “The Isle of Capri” as sung by Frank Sinatra, for that tune plays a major role in the story. A woman tells the tale of the death of her parents when she was a child as she visits her mother’s grave 40 years later. Her parents’ romance was wild and raw; Lana Lake was a sensual dancer to the jazz tunes of the day, while her father, Joe Caiola, was a drummer of such talent that he was in demand by the likes of Artie Shaw and Ol’ Blue Eyes himself. Travis conveys the heat of their passion with language so sensual it almost makes the reader blush, as if she has seen something too private between two lovers. And there’s a mystery here, hidden in the heat and the ice, the red and the white. The writing in this story will knock your socks off. In the Author Spotlight in this issue, Travis says that she’s writing a novel, and I’m already looking forward to it.
Ben Peek writes about an unusual sort of sin-eater in “Upon the Body.” This sin-eater has been called to the province of Zonia by Sonia, the wife of Arryo Salazar — the similarity of the names is not happenstance. The sin-eater had contemplated letting this particular commission pass him by, had thought perhaps it was time for him to retire, but Sonia’s letter persuaded him. His job is to remove the tattoos on Salazar’s body, the pictures that a mortician had etched into his flesh to record his life as the years went by. Salazar is still alive when the sin-eater sets to his job with his acid and his teeth. But this story is as much a history of a man who lived a horrible life as it is a tale of the horror of his death. The tale fascinates even as it horrifies.
I’ve come to look forward to reading any story authored by Simon Strantzas, and “Out of Touch” is no exception. It is a coming of age story, one that has something in common with Stephen King’s “The Body,” Dan Simmons’s Summer of Night and Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life; there is the same elegiac quality of the summer in which a boy sees things too adult for him, and learns more about life than perhaps he should know so early. Neil has been instructed by his mother to spend most of his summer days with Mitch, who is so ill that he is confined to his home (he seems to be something akin to a bubble boy, allergic to nearly everything). It’s hard to spend the bright days indoors, and it’s hard to be from a “broken home,” and it’s hard not to chase butterflies onto the empty property across the street, but Neil manages to do most of these things. But that house across the street; it’s a mystery. And one day there’s a face at the window, when no one has lived there for decades, and the curiosity is too much for Neil. And for Mitch. It’s a perfect story for the dog days of August.
Nightmare has been publishing novel excerpts of late. I’ve already said in these columns that I dislike the practice, but it does have the benefit of letting one know if a particular novel will tickle one’s particular fancy. The excerpt from Kristopher Rufty’s Proud Parents convinces me that this novel is not for me, regardless of the creepiness of the child’s drawings found by the police in an empty house. After the carefully chosen language and the indirect horror of the four exceptional short stories in the magazine, the inartful language and the blunt shocks of the excerpt do not impress.
Lucy A. Snyder writes on “The H Word: The Intersection of Science Fiction and Horror.” She takes as her first example Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, which strikes me as a good example of her point that the two genres share the same roots. Science does seem to have a dark side, as anyone who has ever thrilled to the likes of Alien and Terminator knows. It’s a clear, well-written and convincing essay.
This month’s featured artist is Reiko Murakami, who produces creepy and beautiful paintings of humans merged with beasts. In an interview conducted by Marina J. Lostetter, Murakami says that she works with these hybrid forms to capture a character’s internal struggle. It’s an informative interview with more interesting questions and fuller answers than has been the case with some recent artist interviews, and it encouraged me to look for more of Murakami’s work.
The long interview, conducted by Lisa Morton, features Daniel Knauf, who created and produced an HBO series called Carnivàle, which ran for two seasons. I’ve not heard of this series, but after reading this interview I’m intent on looking it up, especially given the interviewer’s comparison to Theodore Sturgeon’s The Dreaming Jewels and Knauf’s own citation of the same author’s Some of Your Blood. Throw in Clive Barker and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and you’ve got a series I really must watch. Knauf’s answers to good questions are lengthy and interesting, making this interview one of the best I’ve read in Nightmare’s pages. Knauf also talks about his work on Dracula, which has been making waves as another horror series for the discerning television viewer.
I’d be tempted to say something along the lines of, “If you only read one month’s worth of Nightmare Magazine this year, this should be the one” — except that the editor, John Joseph Adams, seems to top himself every month. Not only that, but the October issue will be a special “Women Destroy Horror!”m double-issue edited by Ellen Datlow with all of the stories written by women. This magazine is indispensable for anyone who enjoys literary horror.