I found some of the stories in Issue 46 of Nightmare Magazine to be a little opaque, making for interesting reading and leaving me to think about possible meanings. “Red House” by Gavin Pate begins with finding a girl lost in the woods but it splinters into several possible stories, perhaps because of the girl’s fragmented mind after trauma. The horror arrives in specific scenes that may or may not have happened, and in the ambiguity of who of at least three possibilities is the monster in the story. I tend to fear uncertainty in stories as my own failings as a reader, so it’s comforting to read how the writer in the accompanying interview views uncertainty as possessing “its own kind of unsettling.”
I enjoyed “Whose Drowned Face Sleeps” by An Owomoyela and Rachel Swirsky, particularly because of its unsettling imagery matter-of-factly described. The supernatural is like water in this story, and as the waters rise, so does the horror. There is a separate horror in the awful behavior of the character James, and a kind of justice in how these two horrors come together. It isn’t clear to me exactly how or why the characters “R” are intertwined in the way they are, but this leads to possible meanings due to fragmentation and uncertainty like in the previous story.
“Der Kommissar’s In Town” by Nick Mamatas explores a near-future dystopian escalation of the Occupy protests. Tension and horror comes from multiple sources, including the government’s pending advance on the protestors’ encampment, a violent murder, an the shocking entity that may be behind the murder. Thrust into the middle of this is the protagonist Charlotte, an experienced and cynical negotiator. The story deftly navigates issues of class, race, and gender. The biggest surprise to me is how the urban setting is involved in the situation, leading to a mind-blowing ending. I feel the writer is tapping into a fascinating new understanding of the city that suggest an exciting new subgenre (or maybe the subgenre already exists; it’s one I would like to read more of.)
My favorite story of the issue is a reprint of Seanan McGuire’s “Anthony’s Vampire.” I love how the story jumps right in, gives us two compelling characters, and follows them to a surprising and powerful ending. McGuire is definitely one of my favorite writers and it’s past time I start tracking down more of her stories.
Both essays in the issue are exceptional. In “The H Word: On Writing Horror,” Tananarive Due provides an upsetting reason why many people watch, read, write, and find comfort in horror. The panel discussion of “Demonic Possession.” helps clarify why these narratives are so interesting, and why movies after The Exorcist often fail to do the topic justice.