Because Wednesday is Halloween, here’s another serving of the new magazine Nightmare, edited by John Joseph Adams. The second issue of this new online magazine makes me think we’ve got something special going here: the fiction is excellent, the nonfiction informative, the art compelling.
The first story in this issue is “Construction Project” by Desirina Boskovich. The married couple who tell this story in first person plural believe that a creature is waiting for them should they drop their guard for even a moment. They therefore go about making their third-floor apartment into an impregnable safehouse. The building goes on and on, over the months and the seasons, followed by the acquisition of the supplies Eli and Sarah will need to survive in their home while the creature hunts them. Their folie a deux ends up with them all but completely sealed into their home, but still, they believe, the creature stalks them. The love they have for each other can dictate only one solution to this problem, chilling a prospect as it is.
Joe Haldeman’s “Graves” is the first of this issue’s two reprint stories. This story deserves to be widely read, so the reprint of this World Fantasy and Nebula Award winning tale, originally published in 1992, is an excellent choice. The narrator is a veteran of Vietnam who now, in the aftermath of his time in the jungles, has a persistent sleep disorder, a type of post-traumatic stress reaction to his work as part of Graves Registration. Usually the job only requires that the soldier open body bags, figure out which parts belong to which dog tag — though that’s not usually overly important — sew the corpses back up, seal the caskets, do the paperwork. But every now and then there’s a body that some officer wants examined in the field for some reason. On one such occasion, the narrator is called into a hot zone to look at a body that just seems weird, moldy but dry, naked and probably male, but incomplete, with all the soft parts gone. It looks like a Montagnard rather than an ethnic Vietnamese, with its teeth chipped and filed to points. But just as the narrator is offering to the pain-in-the-ass major in charge of the local unit to write in his report that the corpse shows signs of torture by the Viet Cong, a battle erupts around them and the major is shot in the small of his back. That’s pretty much to be expected, but what’s not expected is what they find when the battle is over. You’d have a sleep disorder if you’d seen this, too. Haldeman makes the Vietnam War come alive, as you imagine it must remain alive for this story’s narrator — forever.
The other reprint story is by Poppy Z. Brite: “The Ash of Memory, the Dust of Desire.” It’s a story about a dying city and a dying relationship, written by the narrator years after the events he recounts. The tone is elegiac despite the ugliness that is described, and the writing is vivid and polished. The horrific event that comes along toward the end of the story seems, by then, almost poetic. This story will leave you with terrible pictures in your mind, hideous events described so beautifully that they will haunt your dreams.
Ramsey Campbell closes out the fiction in this issue with his new story, “At Lorn Hall.” The tale is built around an Englishman who loves to partake of the very British activity of visiting stately homes — old manors that can no longer be maintained by the families that own them without opening them to the public for a small payment. In this case, Randolph visits Lorn Hall mostly to escape a downpour on his drive. The place is oddly dilapidated and underlit for the typical stately home tour, and it seems totally deserted even though Randolph seems to glimpse another visitor ahead of him. Each room contains a painting of the host, Lord Crowcross, who is also apparently the narrator of the pre-recorded tour that comes to Randolph through the headphones he digs out of the dust at the entryway. Randolph maintains a weird sort of dialogue with the recording, which soon enough starts speaking directly to him. There’s a sort of weird humor to this story, which creates an atmosphere so strong that it reaches out from the text to surround the reader. Campbell is a master, and this story amply demonstrates his mastery.
R.J. Sevin’s monthly column, “The H Word,” this month deals with “The Ghosts of November”: what makes a good ghost story? The Artist Spotlight features Maxim Verehin, whose paintings, even in black and white on my Kindle 2, have an immense power. One portrait — for these are all paintings of people, animals and … well, monsters, I guess — is of a face that seems to have a single feature, an eye that stares out of the screen with malevolence and horror at the same time. You can bet that once this issue goes up online I’ll be checking in to see what these look like in color and enlarged. And you can also bet that I’ll sleep uneasily thereafter. The spotlight pieces about the artist and the authors of all four of the stories are informative. But the real highlight in the nonfiction is the second part of John Langan’s interview of Peter Straub, which primarily discusses Straub’s more recent work, beginning with The Hellfire Club. You’ll want to grab Straub’s novels and move them way up in your to-be-read piles. Straub gives wonderful, conversational answers to intelligent questions, making this interview extremely interesting.
If you like horror at all, you need to be reading Nightmare.