We have original short fiction from Manish Melwani (“The Plague Puller”) and Steve Toase (“To Rectify in Silver”). Our Horror Lab originals include a flash story (“The Mothers”) from Laur A. Freymiller and a poem (“When the Wraith Smiles”) from Ali Trotta. We also have the latest installment of our column on horror, “The H Word,” plus author spotlights with our authors, and a book review from Adam-Troy Castro. We also have an excerpt from Blake Johnson’s new novella, Prodigal: An American Parable.
Dec. 2021 (Issue 111)
If you’re in the northern hemisphere, welcome to winter. Winter, that long dark season of hardship and despair. It is a season that strips life from the world around us and leaves our bodies enervated and fragile. Even in our modern era, we can’t help but feel exposed in these harsh months. There’s a reason humanity turns to history and ritual in this time—we desperately need the reminder that we have faced the cold before.
Stopping by the canal to piss, and only a third of his way back to the House of Death, Ah Keng found his friend Leung, dead of the cholera. He recognized his oldest friend immediately, even in the darkness; even in this state. Leung’s sickness-shriveled body lay a few feet from brackish water, pallid face upturned towards the moon. Leung. It was really Leung.
“The Mothers” came mostly from “hidden mother photography” that was popular in the Victorian era—these are essentially photos of children with their mothers “hidden” in the background. The result is utterly unsettling. I’ve been interested in the blurring of binaries for a while, and the binary of mother/not mother felt ripe for exploration.
The first time I considered the effect of ambiguity in horror fiction was while reading Simon Maginn’s excellent 1994 novel Sheep. It tells the story of James and Adele, a young couple who have moved to a small farmhouse in Ty-Gwyneth, Wales, with their young son in order to restart their lives after the accidental drowning death of their infant daughter. The scene that caught my attention opens with the broken family seated around the dinner table.
At least twice a day it occurs to Marissa that the photos she uses to find Neolithic long barrows and Roman forts were taken to better plot destruction. Every image passing through her hands is labeled at the top in a language she cannot speak. A freezing of the land to ease the locating of bombs and the advancing of invasions.
My friend, artist John Gallagher, posted a collection of art pieces on social media. And I saw one that had two figures in shrouds, with smoke swirling around them, in a desolate place. It was such a mood—albeit one of predation and despair—and I immediately exclaimed I needed to write something inspired by that. So, I did.
This month our reviewer tackles two of the biggest books of the year: Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street and Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group. Should you believe the hype and pick up these books? Find out!