Matthew Cheney’s “How Far to Englishman’s Bay” leads off the eleventh issue of Nightmare Magazine. Max, the protagonist, impulsively decides to close up his bookshop and permanently leave his home on the day he turns 50. Max drives miles away from his home, finally deciding he’s lost and stopping to ask directions. It’s here that his story has its denouement in an odd bit of horror that seems unrelated to what went before, all the detail about his leaving, its effect on a friend, giving away his cat, gathering snacks — a full half of the tale. Is there a moral to this story? Perhaps: that we should not be so concerned with the years that have gone before that we forget to plan for those that still lie ahead. Or maybe that being self-centered is bad. Or maybe that obesity can have unexpected consequences. It’s a strange story that doesn’t coalesce into a focused tale.
Robert McCammon’s “Nightcrawlers” is much more satisfactory. It’s the tale of a Vietnam veteran who has an unusual ability to make manifest in the physical world whatever passes through his mind, thanks to a chemical used in the war. When he is awake, he can control this ability. But when he sleeps, and when he dreams, his nightmares have tragic consequences for those around him. The writing is assured, the plotting smooth, the tale chilling. I’ve read this story before, and it was a pleasure to read it again, this time with an eye to how a master assembles a horror story that works. It’s not surprising that this story was adapted for The New Twilight Zone.
“All My Princes Are Gone” is Jennifer Giesbrecht’s first published story. The narrator is Lilith, Adam’s first wife and the mother of Ereškigal and Ishtar. The story is a vicious morality tale of the mistreatment of women from the beginning of the species, and of the ongoing war between Adam’s daughters and Adam’s sons. The story succeeds on the level of myth-making, but lacks subtlety, characterization and more than the rudiments of a plot. Still, the poetry of the language indicates that the writer has talent, and I look forward to her next effort.
Clive Barker’s “Lost Souls” is the second reprint in this issue. It’s the story of Harry D’Amour, who is tracking Cha’Chat, a “shy and sublimely malignant” demon. A blind clairvoyant has given him a good lead, but he doesn’t find the demon, and is left with all of New York to search. In the meantime, Eddie Axel has just left a tavern, drunk from celebrating his 55th birthday, and lucked into a cab with a driver who knows his name and destination, perhaps a gift from the guys at the bar. But even though the driver offered to take him “home,” he’s driving him downtown and into the demon’s arms. It all results in pre-Christmas chaos, another strange story in an issue of strange stories. The reader is left feeling as if there is a lot of history missing, as if one has picked up the tenth story in a series.
“The H Word” this month is by Richard Gavin, who writes of what he calls “Nightmare Horror,” “any work so steeped in the uncanny and the darksome that it manages to pierce through our logical safeguards.” Gavin notes that these works are usually quite short, as they are so intense in their imagery that they cannot be sustained over an entire novel. It’s a good piece, adding to the taxonomy of horror that this monthly column seems to be developing.
The issue also includes an artist’s gallery for Lena Yuk, as well as an interview with her about her troubling images; short interviews with Cheney, McCammon and Giesbrecht; and a piece about Barker in lieu of an interview. It also includes part two of a lengthy interview with Joe Hill, which concentrates on Hill’s projects and future plans, as well as a fairly lengthy discussion of one of Hill’s most disturbing stories, “Best New Horror.” It left me want to reread Hill’s first book, the excellent collection titled 20th Century Ghosts.
The Hill interview is worth the price of the issue all by itself — which is fortunate, as I did not care for most of the fiction in this issue, the first time I’ve had that experience in eleven issues of the magazine. I’m eager to see what September has to offer.