We have original short fiction from WC Dunlap (“Caw”) and Jon Padgett (“Flight 389”). Our Horror Lab originals include a poem (“Every Night and All”) from Sonya Taaffe and a flash story (“I Summon You”) from Dale Bailey. We also have Lisa Morton bringing us the latest installment of our column on horror, “The H Word,” plus author spotlights with our authors, and a book review from Terence Taylor.
In This Issue: Oct. 2021 (Issue 109)
This month, I have to confess to you all that I am a very poorly traveled person. I didn’t take my first flight until I was twenty-five, and since then I’ve only flown a few more times. Part of this is due to economy, and part of this is because for about a decade my husband refused to fly. When his brother got married in Michigan, he had to leave on a train four days before my daughter and I left to enjoy our flight. But I love flying! As the plane launches itself off the tarmac, I like to think about all the scientists and inventors whose work went into solving the mystery of flight.
He looks at me, and I am his. A steady rhythm of flickering light cast from above, pursuing me like a shadow. I scurry through tunnels, crawl through gutters and across fields, and always he is there. Relentless, wearing me down, toying with me. I escape it, breathless and relieved. But when I look down into the puddle of water at my feet, he is me. Black eyes slowly displace my brown, like thick tar pouring slowly into my pupils. Soft red lips stretch into a hard, pointed beak. Oily black feathers spread across brown, hairless skin.
I wrote this poem in a quarantine October; I wish the year that followed had made it a period piece. The title comes from the refrain of the “Lyke Wake Dirge,” which I learned as a child from the singing of Buffy Sainte-Marie and which has threaded through my own work ever since. Years after the fact, I discovered she was singing a variation on the classical arrangement by Benjamin Britten, but as much as I admire the eerie lilt of Peter Pears’ famously dry white tenor, less like the living waking the dead than one ghost calling another down, the old sistrum jangle behind Sainte-Marie terrified me.
Picture a teenage film student in 1978 (me), who loves horror movies but has grown up wishing that occasionally, just every once in a while, the women would be the ones to defeat the evil and save the day. Alien’s Ripley and Dawn of the Dead’s Fran are still a year in the future; the big fright flicks of the previous ten years have featured women in the traditional roles of passive or victimized wives or mothers, while the men have served as the heroic exorcists, Antichrist investigators, shark hunters, and the ones who nailed the boards up over the windows.
This time I will definitely die, Jeffords thinks. He feels that this conscious thought affords him a certain immunity from such a fate, though logically he knows that’s nonsense. As always, he chooses a window seat, not the aisle or—worst of all—the middle seat. The window seat is essential for a simple reason: Jeffords must remain in control of the window shade being up or down throughout the flight. At certain times it must be closed. At certain times he must open it, even though he dreads doing so, for, when he does, he finds himself trapped in one of three familiar nightmares.
I’ve never written a short story this short before. I wrote this one for a Halloween event at a great independent bookstore in Asheville (shout out to Malaprops!). There were four or five readers scheduled, and we were each asked to read a very short Halloweenish piece. I set mine in the late Victorian era because I’ve been spending a lot of time there working on a historical novel (still in process) and the period is right now much in my mind. Plus, I’m fascinated by the spiritualist movement.
This month, Terence Taylor reviews two new novellas: Zin E. Rocklyn’s Flowers for the Sea and Jason Marc Harris’s Master of Rods and Strings. Find out what he liked about these short reads!