I’m reading the most recent issues of Nightmare Magazine and also going back to the beginning to read every issue.
“Property Condemned” by Jonathan Maberry is a great standalone story set in (according to the interview with Maberry in this issue) the same town where some of his other stories and novels take place. Not having read anything else by the writer, I really appreciated how well this story worked and how chilling it turned out to be. The action begins like the best Amblin productions: four kids on bikes heading toward what they think is a haunted house. Where it ends up is much darker, though, and much more Stephen King than Steven Spielberg. In the interview with the writer, I learned something I didn’t know about the psychology of abused children, and it actually lends to the story a tiny, grudging element of hope where at first I only saw hopelessness. As a reader who unfortunately understands a little too well what the protagonist suffers at the hands of his father, the story resonates and gives me a lot to think about.
“Frontier Death Song” by Laird Barron is a gory chase story that leads from Alaska to the East Coast while the protagonist flees a being he probably shouldn’t have messed with in the first place. There is a lot of tension and horror to contend with and the pace is nonstop. I especially like the elements that seemed Lovecraftian in a story that already works well with the mythology it’s updating. The ending is horrifying and satisfying, although I was left with a few questions I don’t think were answered, including what it was the protagonist had done (prior to the events of the story) to lead to this fate.
“Good Fences” by Genevieve Valentine is vivid psychological horror centered around a burning car and an increasingly paranoid, isolated, and perhaps insane city resident. The horror is in inaction and cowardice bred by apathy. The story is dreamlike and surreal, but ultimately I don’t think it matters if these things are really happening or if it is all in the protagonist’s head; it is horrifying no matter what the reading (which is something the writer points out in her interview.)
My favorite story in an issue of great stories is “Afterlife” by Sarah Langan. Like the previous story, there is some question to the protagonist’s sanity, though I think Langan clearly suggests the supernatural elements are really happening (and she says as much in her interview.) The horror is Grey Gardens-like–a daughter and her mother trapped in their home by mental illness, social anxiety, physical and emotional abuse, and poverty–with supernatural elements that offer the protagonist moments of great heroism.
What is so horrifying about the story is not the ghosts but how they ended up there, their choice between fates, and how this parallels the protagonist’s situation with her mother. The labelled jars are going to give me nightmares…
Final note: to truly appreciate Jeff Simpson’s art spotlighted in the issue, these must be viewed on a big color screen. http://www.nightmare-magazine.com/non…