“No Kill, No Pay” by Jacob A. Boyd gets the September/October issue of Black Static off to a roaring start. Howard is a member of a high-pressure sales firm of some sort (we never get the details) that is ruled by five partners. This year, Howard has been invited to join the five in a hunt they take in the Yukon each year. They give Howard no details except that the hunt ends after the first kill. Howard believes that if he can prove himself in the hunt, he will be made a partner. About that, he isn’t wrong. About everything else, he is. This grim tale may make you think of Laird Barron, given the Alaskan setting and the hunt as the focus of the tale. Boyd writes well, telling a gripping story with a satisfactory, if unexpected, finish.
Stephen Bacon follows with “Apports,” another worthy tale. Cowan is trying to track down Mark Fisk, who is living under an assumed name, because he wants to kill him — and for a very good reason. He finds the man living in terrible conditions. Fisk explains why he is presently in such terrible shape, and Cowan has to believe him, because he directly witnesses how Fisk is haunted. Cowan comes unpleasantly close to being haunted himself; indeed, at the story’s end, it’s not clear whether he has succeeded in avoiding Fisk’s fate.
Tim Waggoner’s “Day 12” is an especially hard kick to the gut. His unnamed first person protagonist is on a plane, where he’s been for 12 days now. His fellow passengers have died over those 12 days, and he is the last, and now the plane wants him. It’s a fine story about one human attempting to deal with the inexplicable, fighting a solo fight against pure and baseless evil. This isn’t one of those stories about a fear we all have, or an evil that we recognize from our religions or the depths of human depravity; it’s completely unexplained and unexplainable, and all the more frightening for that. I’m afraid this one might show up in my dreams.
Christopher Fowler writes a gentler tale in “The Scent of Roses.” His protagonist became a chauffeur in the early days of the automobile, before most people knew how to drive one of those new-fangled machines. Through careful, honest work, he rises to become chauffeur to the Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the day he visits Sarajevo in the early years of the 20th century. On the way, he marries a jealous woman and eyes a princess, a bad combination that leads to slippery shoes, which slippery shoes lead to — well, anyone who knows the history of the 20th century can figure out where this one is going. “For want of a nail a kingdom was lost,” to paraphrase Shakespeare, and the guilt the chauffeur carries is unbearable.
V.H. Leslie writes of a woman desperate to change her last name by marrying the right man in “Namesake.” Cecelia J. Burden chooses a potential mate through a computer dating site solely for his last name: Blithe. Luckily for her, she and Andrew Blithe hit it off, though there’s not much of a sense that they fall in anything but lust. Still, before long they are engaged; and J, as she is known, is looking forward to no longer being a Burden. But what is that sound in Andrew’s mezzanine, an empty area above his bedroom that appears inaccessible? The author invokes “Rapunzel” and Jane Eyre, but the story made me think of “Bluebeard,” about the human monster who forbade his wife only one room in the house, but that on pain of death. It’s an eerie tale.
The goriest tale in this issue is “The Festering” by Ray Cluley. Ruby is a teenager who is feuding with her mother, as all teenage girls do, but this feud seems to have a lot extra: Mum is a drunk and a slut who leaves her daughter with Phil Browning, a man twice Ruby’s age who nonetheless seduces her — something Ruby has been looking forward to for a long time. Ruby tells her secrets including this one, to the odd, disgusting biological organism growing in her desk drawer. All of these horrors unite in such a way as to indicate that the cycle will repeat, now and forever, and that it is the aspects of the story that speak of real life that are the most horrific.
I have long admired Black Static’s dedication to reviews and criticism of horror. Tony Lee has seven pages of reviews of film and television. Peter Tennant reviews books for a good 20 pages, causing my “to read” list to metastasize, and interviews Nina Allan, who speaks with evident deep feeling about why she writes horror instead of any other genre. Lee and Tennant together provide almost one-third of the content of the magazine, complementing shorter introductory essays by Stephen Volk and Lynda E. Rucker about the nature of writing, and especially horror writing. These people are not content to give you visceral frights; they want to engage your intellect as well. And that makes them all the more terrifying.