This month, we’ve got original fiction from Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam (“Secret Keeper”) and Adam-Troy Castro (“The Narrow Escape of Zipper-Girl”), along with reprints by Micaela Morrissette (“Wendigo”) and writing duo Robert Jackson Bennett and David Liss (“Hollow Choices”). Over at “The H Word,” we’ve brought Lee Thomas in to discuss the unique role of Peter Straub’s novel Koko in horror literature. We’re also pleased to offer the first installment of a new quarterly media and book review column from long-time fiction contributor Adam-Troy Castro. Of course we’ll have author spotlights with our authors, too!
In This Issue: June 2017 (Issue 57)
Be sure to read the Editorial for all our nightmarish updates, as well as a run-down of this month’s chilling content.
You know how this story goes: the girl was kissed in the womb by the devil. When she emerged into the too-bright world, she was missing half her face where his teeth tore it off. The doctors did their best; they grafted skin over the left side, added collagen in her cheeks. “Smile,” they said, tickling her feet. But she could not smile, and so no one smiled at her. A girl is supposed to be beautiful. A girl is supposed to have rosy red cheeks and a laugh that makes men wilt to think of her bright future. A beautiful girl will have a beautiful life.
Dinner was special. The candles were miraculous, emanating a light that went oozing into pores, piercing into strands of hair, that found its way inside the thin glass of the champagne flutes, the rough, quartzy crystal of the punch bowl. Nothing glittered, nothing sparkled, nothing shone. Everything glowed, everything throbbed. The other guests did not smile, but they radiated pulses of tender heat in her direction, until her cheeks were mottled red. Each course in the banquet had an aura that hung heavily over the platter, like steam weighed down with rich globules of grease, thick particles of oily light.
I write horror novels. I’m a gay man. Many of my characters are also gay men. As such, I have the privilege of being known as an author of “Gay Horror,” though I don’t have a clue what that means. I’ve been asked. My answer is never particularly good, because the suggestion is that the horror I’m writing is just for LGBTQ readers, or that the horrors I’m describing are derived from the gay experience. Neither of which is true. The easiest way to cut through this nonsense is to invoke the name of Clive Barker. He writes horror novels. He’s a gay man. Sometimes he writes about bad things happening to gay men.
It was her zipper that drew me to her. She was beautiful enough, according to what most people seemed to consider beauty. She had a black buzz cut, the kind of body that gives the impression of lankiness even on someone petite, a complexion pale as milk, and an overbite that made sure that a sliver of teeth was always visible even when her bee-sting lips were mostly shut. Everything about her face seemed tentative, as if placed there by a designer who knew just how much any given feature needed before it gained enough prominence to overpower the others.
What struck me was that I didn’t feel happy in any way at all when they walked me down the hall. I’d seen other prisoners whoop and cheer they were paraded through the doors and gates and checkpoints, nodding to friends or even foes as they made their final exit. I’d seen smirks and shit-eating grins and knowing smiles. But I didn’t feel like celebrating. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even imagine how. Maybe it was who was walking me out. The guard on my right I knew well, or at least I knew his baton, which I’d felt on my shoulder or cheek occasionally when I didn’t look at him the right way.
Every once in a while in this life, and more so since the advent of social media, we find ourselves asked to name our favorites: our favorite color, our favorite food, our favorite book, our favorite movie. The answers we produce are almost always fictions, or rote repetitions, because our likes are malleable. But your friendly columnist does have a permanent answer for favorite horror story, an outing by a writer who earns several places on his life list of favorite stories, period: “The Renegade,” by Shirley Jackson.