We have original short fiction from James L. Sutter (“To Cheer as They Leave You Behind”) and Katherine Quevedo (“Until It Has Your Reflection”). Our Horror Lab originals include a flash story (“Last Night at the Sideshow”) from Gordon B. White and a poem (“Fruit”) from Alyza Taguilaso. James Chambers brings us the latest installment of our column on horror, “The H Word,” plus author spotlights with our authors, and Terence Taylor launches a new book review column about classic horror novels.
Jan. 2023 (Issue 124)
Apparently after all the family-centered holidays in November and December, most people are sick of their families and ready to hang out with strangers. That’s not how we’re rolling here. After all that time stuck inside with our relatives, I know a lot of us need to decompress before we can be expected to function properly again. So I’ve collected a handful of works about family—not the families we choose, but the families we’re stuck with—to ease us back into ourselves.
She comes early, forcing you to reschedule meetings from the car as Alan drives, white-knuckled. You don’t mind—sending contract notes while in labor is the sort of story the partners will tell for years. Delivery is an athletic event, but you understand those. You ran cross-country in college, before law school took over. You understand pain, how to bear down and force your body into submission. And then it’s over. They put her in your arms, swaddled and squalling, and she is exactly as you imagined.
This story started life just over nine years ago—October 30, 2013, to be exact—as an assignment in an online workshop taught by Craig Clevenger. We’d been focusing on escalation of events and status play between characters, so the jockeying that surrounds gendered expectations, especially involving sex, seemed like a good place to start. Beyond that, I’ve always found carnivals unsettling because of their atmosphere of blatant disguise, so the theme and setting fit hand and glove for horror.
Do the dead still matter? Years ago they did. Very much so. Especially in the horror genre. The dead—of the shambling, ambulatory, flesh-hungry variety—led the vanguard of the genre’s social commentary in George Romero’s horror films from the late 1960s through the mid-eighties. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead captured conscious and subconscious social tensions of their times better than many stories in any genre. Racial conflict. Anti-war sentiment. Consumer culture. Cold War dread.
I hold the crayon to the mirror, ready to swipe it across my reflection’s neck just as my husband, Tomas, instructed. Make a quick horizontal line, then break the crayon against the glass. Snap it like you would your reflection’s neck. I’ve chosen the shade closest to my skin tone because it feels fitting for the occasion, the brown that I’d had to explain to our kindergartener was not “the skin color” crayon. Not everyone has skin as dark as ours, and some have darker. I imagine similar conversations in other households, about other crayons.
As for the process of writing the piece—this was one of the pieces I wrote with fellow writers in a weekly writing session where someone gives a prompt and we each take an hour to create something. I have a fascination with the bubonic plague and fairy tales so I wanted to combine those elements. I got the idea of burying someone by a tree from “The Juniper Tree” story. My medical profession also helped in the making of this poem—since I’m a surgeon, I can actually say I’ve seen a couple of human hearts that really resemble fruit.
My quarterly review column “Read This!” is being replaced by “de•crypt•ed,” a space where guest authors revisit favorite books to decode their personal interpretations for the benefit of other readers. The recipe is a flavorful, well-seasoned stew of analysis and homage, with a dash of memoir in any influence the work has had on the author’s own. For my farewell column and the debut of the new I want to share a notorious Russian novel I first read in the Michael Glenny translation: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov.