She Said Destroy: A good introduction to Bulkin’s beautiful, creepy prose

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She Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin horror story reviewsShe Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin horror story reviewsShe Said Destroy by Nadia Bulkin

Nadia Bulkin’s horror stories are surreal, subversive, often political. 2017’s short story collection She Said Destroy offers 13 stories, some set in our world, some set in worlds almost exactly like ours and some set in strange, feverish landscapes unlike what we’ve seen before.

“Intertropical Convergence Zone” and “Red Goat, Black Goat,” are set in an imaginary country that looks more than a bit like Indonesia. (Bulkin writes many stories set in this place.) “Intertropical Convergence Zone” follows the country’s dictator, the General, as he ingests more and more magic. In the opening passages, he eats a bullet — literally. He eats a bullet that was used to shoot a man in the heart; it protects the General from bullets. The narrator, a faithful member of the inner circle, distrusts the dukun or shaman who delivers the magic. The narrator supports the General, but little in life gives him joy except his young daughter, who draws him pictures for his protection — and the dukun demands greater and greater sacrifices to provide the magic. The story is an evocative, dark and horrifying tale of loyalty, particularly political loyalty, and its costs.

“Red Goat, Black Goat” is a conventional horror story, with Ina Krisniati, who goes by Kris, coming to the Gunawan estate to be a nanny to the family’s two children. The children are unfriendly, and say they miss the “Goat Nurse.” Kris soon begins having strange experiences. Is she seeing a ghost? Did the family make a deal with a demon? And what makes the goats behave so strangely? This genuinely scary story brims with lush imagery.

“Truth is Order and Order is Truth” follows Dhani, a princess, as she leads the last of the faithful of her realm toward her mother’s homeland, Jungkuno. In Dhani’s recollection, we see how the Prime Minister usurped her throne after her parents died. Dhani’s mother was a powerful woman from a distant land. The Prime Minister named her shaman, and later, sorceress, and when the king died he had Dhani deposed. Since her mother’s death, the sea-faring kingdom has begun to decline, losing ships to storms and accidents. Dhani leads her followers through a deadly jungle to the land of her mother’s people, and her mother’s people are not human. From here, the scope of the story changes, ultimately spanning centuries, as Dhani retakes what is hers, and we learn how she becomes first the Shaman Queen and later the Demon Queen. “Truth is Order and Order is Truth” is strange, but not frightening. This is a Lovecraftian tale with a main character we understand, with whom we emphasize.

“Endless Life” is a different take on a haunted room story. The Hotel Armitage is famous for the death of one person in room 305, Jon Henry Fest, also known as General Fest. The General committed suicide in that room, but seven years later a maid died accidentally in it. “Endless Life” follows the cycle of death tourists who come to the room, like Ed and Lauren, who after a day of exploring battlegrounds and sites of mass executions, rent room 305 and “defiantly make love” under the room’s mirror, sure they are taunting the spirit of General Fest. It’s Melanie the maid who haunts the room, however, enduring ghost-hunters, tourists like Ed and Lauren, and ultimately people she calls pilgrims. The story moves both forward through these encounters, and backwards, showing us Melanie’s life and death. There were a few too many elements in this story for me, and I was confused about exactly what was going on, but the language is beautiful, and I felt sad for Melanie.

“Pugelbone” is horror set in a dystopian future. Lizbet, our narrator, was born and grew up in the Warrens. Now an adult, she is trying to regain custody of her child from an authoritative government, and she tells us the story of her family and childhood in the Warrens, and about the Pugelbone, a boogie-man-like monster. The government official tells her that the Pugelbone is actually a Helix Warrencola, a new species.

Both parts of the story of frightening; both the stalking of child Lizbet by a Pugelbone and the inexorable drive of the government to shape what Lizbet says and ultimately what she thinks. In the end the government proves to be the greater monster.

The “final girl” is a common horror movie trope, the innocent young woman who screams all through the movie as one by one her friends are killed, the one who dies last or survives to the final frame, often covered in blood. “And When She Was Bad” examines the relationship between the final girl and the monster. The beauty of this story is the economy with which Bulkin depicts the scenes of horror movies, which become archetypal here: the bed the final girl hid underneath while the monster killed a person on top of it; the wrecked car with the body of a friend hanging half out of it; the hay baler, the barn. The story describes the monster in scraps, even though the final girl can see it clearly. The monster does not talk, but she talks to it. “Why me, huh? Why do I get to be the last girl?” and later, “Why did you come here?”… “Did I invite you somehow? Did I dream you into being?”

“Girl, I Love You” explores the effects of bullying in a world where magic is real and curses are common, so common that many people wear protective amulets. Mishi and Yurie are best friends, blood-sisters they call themselves, who are both bullied by Asami Ogino. Yurie reaches out to both bureaucratic advocates like the school board, and supernatural avatars like Rika Yamizaki, who was killed by a jealous boyfriend, for relief from Asami, but to no avail. She employs a desperate solution, which fails, putting the responsibility for finally stopping Asami onto Yurie. I liked the way curse magic and Japanese-style ghosts existed believably in the same world with cell phones, bicycles, and high school choruses.

The other six stories include a town of monsters that are part human and part other animal; a tree-based witch; eerie violet lights above a doomed farming couple’s cornfield; the strange ghost of a dead sister, and gods who demand human mothers for their children. All but one of the thirteen are reprints; “No Gods, No Masters” is original to this volume. If you haven’t encountered Bulkin’s twisted world and rich, fever-dream prose, She Said Destroy is a good start.

Published August 20, 2017. A dictator craves love — and horrifying sacrifice — from his subjects; a mother raised in a decaying warren fights to reclaim her stolen daughter; a ghost haunts a luxury hotel in a bloodstained land; a new babysitter uncovers a family curse; a final girl confronts a broken-winged monster… Word Horde presents the debut collection from critically-acclaimed Weird Fiction author Nadia Bulkin. Dreamlike, poignant, and unabashedly socio-political, She Said Destroy includes three stories nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, four included in Year’s Best anthologies, and one original tale, with an Introduction by Paul Tremblay.

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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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One comment

  1. Okay, I gotta get my hands on a copy of this collection. :D

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