fantasy and science fiction book reviewsIssue 9 of Nightmare opens with “The House on Cobb Street” by Lynda E. Rucker. There is a long italicized quotation from a purported learned treatise about the house at the top of the story, reciting the history of so-called Cobb Street Horror, but noting that the witnesses have refused to speak to the author. Another italicized segment comes from the blog of Perry “Pear Tree” Parry, referring to a video of Felicia Barrow, speaking of Vivian Crane, who has disappeared. The entire story has the aura of a scholarly piece, even when, the reader’s curiosity piqued, the story proper finally begins with the ominous words, “Vivian wakes.” Vivian can hear the house around her as if it is a living entity, and she believes it is preparing itself, as a cat stalking its prey readies its muscles for the pounce. Vivian is a college professor, teaching Faulkner while living in a haunted house, one she knew was haunted from the moment she entered it with her husband, a man glad to be moving back to the town where he was raised. Why doesn’t Vivian leave the house? Why don’t people who live in haunted houses ever leave? It is a story thick with atmosphere and foreboding. Whether it is a story of Vivian slowly losing her mind or of a true haunting, no one can be sure. This Southern gothic tale is beautifully told, and I’ll be looking for Rucker’s first collection, The Moon Will Look Strange, when it is published later this year.

The first of the issue’s reprints is Laird Barron’s “Shiva, Open Your Eye.” It’s told in the first person by an old man living in Eastern Washington State who receives a visit from a man who says he’s a state property assessor. The man wants to ramble about the property in order to figure out its worth. Our narrator isn’t fooled, though; he knows that the man is up to something else, and that his credentials are forged. When the man asks to look in the barn, the narrator smilingly obliges him, knowing that the so-called assessor has made a fatal mistake. It’s Lovecraftian horror at its purest, missing only the word “eldritch” to distinguish it from H.P.’s own work. Well, no, that’s no true; Barron has a better grasp of the language than Lovecraft ever did, and has a way of making existential horror seem like just something that happens on Tuesdays. Don’t read this one when you’re alone in the dark.

I’ve not previously read much work by Joe R. Lansdale, but after reading the second reprint in this issue, “The God of the Razor,” I plan to change that. Richards visits an all-but-abandoned house in order to search for antiques, with the permission of the owner. Unwilling to leave any stone unturned, he heads into the basement, down a wooden staircase that is none too sturdy. Before he gets too far down the stairs, he realizes that the basement is flooded, and that there are rats swimming around in the floodwaters. He hates both water and rats, and so makes the sensible decision to turn around and head back up the stairs. But as he does so, he sees a man above him who is unwilling to give way.  Instead, he wants to talk. Worse, he wants to talk crazy. “When I tried to put a blade in my razor [this morning],” he says, “It saw that it had an eye on it, and it was blinking at me, very fast.” Uh oh. The man’s story gets crazier, and more dangerous, from there. When Richards tries to cut it short and get past him and out of the house, the man bounces on the stairs, threatening to throw him into the water. Richards has no choice but to hear the man out. And the man tells him the story of the God of the Razor. It’s a scary story that would be perfect to tell around a campfire, presuming no children were around; this is a very adult tale, devoid of hope.

The second original tale in this issue is “Fishwife” by Carrie Vaughn. It’s about a fishing village, where the men go out to fish in the cold waters of the bay because that’s what their fathers did, because that’s what men in this village had always done. The women waited to gather the catch, gut and clean and carry the fish to market, because that’s what their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers has always done. But the fish aren’t there any more, and the best catch amounts to nothing more than a few limp, dull fish. One day, though, one woman’s husband returns home in mid-morning to ask her to come with him to the beach. They’ve found a man, who seems drowned at first but then sits up and talks to them, promising them bounty. He can prove it, he says, and he bids the men to put their nets into the water. It comes up full, with a hundred fish and even gold — a cup, a place, a circlet. All they have to do to keep this plenty coming is to offer blood in sacrifice. And this particular woman is willing to lead the way in murdering outsiders to provide the necessary blood. Such worship has its price, though, and the village people soon discover that they are changing in ways they didn’t anticipate. It’s a fine work of weird fiction.

“The H Word,” the monthly column about some aspect of the nature of horror fiction, is by W.H. Pugmire this month on Lovecraftian horror, as suits the stories in this issue. Pugmire writes about Lovecraft’s influences as well as his influence, and attempts to define what is meant by “a Lovecraftian story.” It’s a broader interpretation of horror than one might imagine.

The artist spotlight is about Soufiane Idrassi, whose pictures of winged women are lovely and frightening at the same time. Lisa Morton’s interview with Robert McCammon leads the master to explain his inspirations, the influence of Halloween on his work, his reading and his future writing plans. There are, as usual, Author Spotlights with each of the authors of the stories in the issue; I particularly enjoyed the interview with Barron, who seems to me to take a highly intellectual approach to his work, and to explain that approach without explaining his stories, which are better left mysterious.

I continue to admire this magazine. I’ve probably reviewed it more than any other periodical, but my reason for it is that it’s just so good. Nightmare is must reading for every horror reader and writer.


  • Terry Weyna

    TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She reads all day long as an insurance coverage attorney, and in all her spare time as a reviewer, critic and writer. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, two rambunctious cats, and an enormous library.

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