Nightmare Magazine has been very good from its first issue, but the May 2013 issue, the eighth, is extraordinary.
The magazine opens with “Centipede Heartbeat” by Caspian Gray. Lisa believes that centipedes have invaded the home she shares with Joette, her lover. Worse, she believes that the centipedes have actually invaded Joette: “Each time Lisa rested her head against Joette’s breats, she heard the centipedes. In between heartbeats there was the tiny sound of hundreds of chitinous footsteps against bone, of miniature mandibles tearing at organs.” It’s a horrible situation, especially because Joette refuses to admit what is happening — or is Lisa insane? At any rate, Lisa feels she has to cure Joette of her infestation. Her behavior is logical, from her perspective, though Lisa’s perspective seems warped. But is it? The exterminator she has had in to consult says the place is crawling with the insects, but it doesn’t seem possible that they’re really infesting Joette’s body. It’s hard to tell truth from madness in this creepy little story.
“Houses Under the Sea” by Caitlín R. Kiernan is a previously published story that has the flavor of Lovecraft to it. On Cannery Row in Monterey, California, a cult arose, presided over by Jacova Angevine. The story is told by a nameless first person narrator who was Angevine’s lover, sometime after she has met her end, while Angevine still has energy to waste on scowling at tourists who have turned Cannery Row into a playground that is nothing like the place of which John Steinbeck wrote. Angevine knows her fate long before she goes to meet it, and she tells her lover that they’ll ask everything about her, everything about “the lunatic prophet from Salinas.” The narrator wasn’t pulled into the cult, but he has watched a tape of an exploration of the ocean floor in an unexpected abyss off Monterey Bay, a drop-off no one has ever seen before and that isn’t on any of the charts — a videotape made the day before Angevine’s “Lemming Cult” walked into the sea, in pursuit of something no one can explain. And what that videotape shows, and its relationship to Angevine’s cult that seems to worship some ancient sea god, combine to make a story that will make your blood run as cold as seawater.
“Doll Re Mi” is a new story by Tanith Lee, and it features this writer of purple prose — but not too purple! — at her finest. Folscyvio is a musician in some unspecified future time, when classical musicians command audiences of thousands of people in stadium shows, much as rock musicians do today. He is also an egotistical jerk, so much so that even his talent doesn’t balance it out. As the story opens, Folscyvio spots an instrument in a shop window of a type he’s never seen before. It is called a vio-sirenalina, and is said to be from the seventeenth century. It is essentially a violin that not only has the standard womanly form, but which is also decorated so as to appear even more womanly, with the addition of hair, a face, even nipples, and it appears rather like a mermaid: “A grotesque and rather awful object.” It doesn’t seem as if it should be possible to play such an instrument, or that it would have a tone worthy of a player like Folscyvio, but when Folscyvio takes it from the shop, paying a mere “uno lib’euro,” he finds it has a “sheer and dulcet sound, a little higher than expected, while from the inner body a feral resonance might be coaxed.” Folscyvio treats the instrument rather as if it were the woman it has been made to resemble, and it fascinates him. He spends months learning to play her, cancelling a concert in order to fully prepare. Finally the time for the concert at which he will demonstrate his mastery of this strange instrument, in more ways than one. But which of them will truly be the victor?
The second reprint story in this issue is “Feminine Endings,” by Neil Gaiman. It is a love letter to a woman who does not really know that the writer exists. The writer is one of those who plays at being a statue, and the woman has occasionally placed coins in the “statue’s” hand, but otherwise the woman does not know the person inside the gray robes, and certainly doesn’t know that this person is obsessed with her. This letter is the statue’s self-introduction to her. It seems rather romantic at first: “I love your hair, long and red . . . [Y]ou smiled all the time, as if everything you saw delighted you. You smiled the first time you saw me, even wider than before. You smiled and I was lost, like a small child in a great forest, never to find its way home again.” But it quickly becomes apparent that the statute knows far more than it should about the woman. It knows what music is on her iPod. It knows that her underwear is mostly faded and comfortable, but that there is a single set of red lace she saves for special occasions. And now the statue wears the guise of a stalker, and the story grows dark. Gaiman slowly builds the menace, interspersing the frightening with frequent protestations of love. It is chilling, especially in its final promise.
The nonfiction feature that appears in Nightmare every month, “The H Word,” is this month a discourse of domestic horror fiction by Nathan Ballingrud. Ballingrud notes that horror fiction is presently enjoying its latest renaissance, and I agree. This time around, he notes, the renaissance is due “in large part to a crop of highly literate, artistically serious writers who treat the writing of it as something akin to a spiritual calling.” His only misgiving is the emphasis on cosmic horror, the influence of Lovecraft, so that recent horror fiction focuses on the hostility of the universe to mankind. While he admits that this a “rich and generous vein, and much great work has come from it,” he finds that “it feels too distant in its intent to unsettle me the way I want horror to unsettle me.” A far greater horror, he believes, is that which can be likened to the sound of somebody crying in another room. I know precisely what he means, for nothing has ever frightened me as the sound of my father weeping, early one morning when a telephone call came to tell him that his own father had died unexpectedly. It is a far more frightening thing to learn that one’s father is emotionally vulnerable than it is to be told that there are grand forces in the universe that are indifferent or even hostile to you, it seems to me; and so I think that Ballingrud has discerned a fundamental truth.
The artist gallery by Benjamin König is varied and disconcerting, and accompanied by a fine interview. There is also an interview of Steve Niles, a writer of horror comics and a screenwriter. Each of the authors of the stories is this issue also give short interviews about the stories.
Nightmare has quickly become essential reading for anyone interested in the horror genre.