Issue 18 of Nightmare Magazine opens with “Have You Heard the One about Anamaria Marquez?” by Isabel Yap. The story is narrated by Mica, a fifth grade student at St. Brebeuf’s, a private school in Manila, the Philippines, but her narration is interrupted occasionally with different iterations of the supernatural, horrific fate of Anamaria Marquez, who once was also a student at St. Brebeuf’s. Depending on what version of her life and death you believe, she was raped, killed and hidden in a tree on the school grounds; locked in a bathroom by a school bully, where she drowned herself; or another half dozen possibilities. In any case, some believe she haunts the school. Home economics teachers who prattle on about opening their third eyes tend to encourage the students in their superstitious fears. The atmosphere of the upcoming school fair is heightening those feelings, as the fifth graders’ part in the fair is to create a haunted house. The flaring emotions, the blossoming hormones, and the excitement of the fair play havoc with Mica’s friendship with Hazel, leading to a fraught confrontation at the story’s climax. It’s a fine piece of writing from a new voice in the horror field.
In “I Am Coming to Live in Your Mouth,” a reprinted story by Glen Hirshberg, Kagome is Joe’s wife, and Joe is dying. In fact, Joe has been ill for most of his life; now, though, the end is truly within sight, and Joe is no longer fighting. Kagome is dealing with more than any human should have to bear under these circumstances: Joe’s mother, who thinks Kagome has talked Joe into giving up too soon by putting him into hospice; her husband’s frightening nightmares; her attraction to her husband’s friend. But more than anything else, dealing with the — well, what? Is he a ghost? The man in the stained tan overcoat and galoshes, wearing a trilby to hide his face, the one who says to her, over and over, “I am coming to live in your mouth, because you never have anything to say.” Is he a hallucination caused by her lack of sleep as she cares for her dying husband? Whatever he is, he is as nothing compared to the horrors of watching the man she loves slowly lose his life. Hirshberg wanders through a day in the life of a woman who must cope with this ongoing loss and all its consequences, detailing games, conversations, tea and the ugly physical aspects of caring for a very sick man, a dying man, with empathy, fear and terror. It is a haunting story, with gut-wrenchingly realistic characters.
Genevieve Valentine works with the myth and mystery of the sin eater in “A Dweller in Amenty,” the second original tale in this issue. The sin eater is the narrator of the tale, set in modern times, when sin eating is a luxury for the rich, who can indulge the sin eater with all of the requirements she sets forth in her contract. A white linen tablecloth, silver utensils, a silver vase with specific herbs and flowers, some of them hard to find: she makes things as difficult for her clients as possible. (I say “she,” but the sin eater in this tale has no stated gender.) Sin eaters are born, not made, she tells us: it’s an accidental hunger and an endless appetite. The story is more description than plot, an explanation of how and why the sin eater does what she does, the history of sin eaters, the effect of sin eating on the human who has that role — and what happens when the sin eater refuses her role. The tale is beautifully written, telling harsh truths about the horrors of the sin eater’s life with lovely descriptions and settings and other accoutrements, so that the blackness at the heart of the tale is a terrible contrast.
Nathan Ballingrud has the second reprint in this issue, “Sunbleached,” about a vampire. This is not a sparkly, sexy vampire, but a monster that is living under what is left of a family’s house on the Gulf Coast after it has been ravaged by a hurricane. This monster says that vampires are “God’s beautiful creatures,” “the pinnacle of his art.” But he is hiding beneath the house because he has been horribly burned by the sun. Joshua, a teenager, found him there, and tells the vampire he will only invite him into the house itself once the vampire has turned him, and then only so that the vampire can attack one particular person. Joshua doesn’t know that his little brother has been talking to the vampire, too. The boy doesn’t know the voice coming through the floorboards is that of a monster. The denouement is as vicious as the vampire himself.
“The H Word” this month is subtitled “Being in the Presence of the Dead,” and is written by the Stoker Award winning novelist Joe McKinney. McKinney is a police officer in San Antonio, Texas, and in that capacity is frequently in the presence of the dead. They scare him, not in the sense that he’s afraid of being around them, but because they remind him of his own mortality, his own responsibilities. “To say that we fear the dead because we will one day become them is so obvious it’s almost trivial,” he admits, but that is the basis of the fear nonetheless. McKinney nicely communicates the visceral nature of this fear, the fear that no amount of intellectualizing will conquer. It’s one of the best of these columns to appear in Nightmare.
Dave Palumbo is the guest artist in this issue. His showcase troubled me in that he relies too much on images of women in jeopardy and murdered women. His interview is strangely opaque, offering little insight into his artistic process. The featured interview is of Jeff Strand, a writer who combines horror and humor. It’s not a combination that appeals to me, so I’ve never read his work; the interview did not change my mind. The issue also contains the usual Author Spotlights. I particularly enjoyed Genevieve Valentine’s, in which she further discusses the mythology of the sin eater.
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