This week, three stories to keep you awake at night.
“each thing i show you is a piece of my death” by Stephen J. Barringer & Gemma Files (Apex Magazine September 2013)
The idea of infectious stories is an old one (and the basis for so many internet urban legends), but this piece dives right into the horrific possibilities of the concept. The story follows two filmmakers crowdsourcing their latest project. They receive a tape that appears to be of a man killing himself and reappearing, over and over. Things get worse when the man starts showing up in the background of other videos, and the filmmakers’ lives start going terribly wrong.
I am not, in general, a huge horror fan. My “freak yourself out” media of choice tends to be on the true crime side of things. But damn, this story is amazing. I think I’ve read it five or six times by this point. Barringer and Files tell the story through emails, press releases, and other ephemera to create a slow, slow build, so you don’t realize the true scope of what’s happened until the end. Go read this.
“The Food in the Basement” by Laura Davy (Apex Magazine July 2014)
Apex is not the first magazine that comes to mind when I think of horror, yet they’ve published some of my favorite dark tales. Like the story above, “The Food in the Basement” takes a common trope (here, vampires) and adds a new twist.
Sondra has been held captive, for months, by the vampire Kaden. He feeds off her but also cares for her the way one might care for a pet. The story follows her relationship with Kaden and her increasingly desperate attempts to leave, attempts that she knows are almost certainly doomed to fail.
For a story about vampires, there’s surprisingly little violence here. The real horror comes from the sense of dissonance, the ways in which Kaden tries to create a sense of normalcy for Sondra inside her cage. He buys her a chinchilla. He watches I Love Lucy with her. These mundane moments build the anticipation, because Sondra is waiting the entire time for Kaden to kill her. The whole story is built on these details, on what we can read between the lines of what looks, almost, like a normal life.
“Ten Things to Know About the Ten Questions” by Gwendolyn Kiste (Nightmare September 2015)
Unlike the prior two stories, this one doesn’t obviously approach a notable horror trope. But I see something like a portal fantasy in it–or at least, an attempt to peel back the happy portal fantasy to reveal the horror implicit in the premise.
This is a story about people disappearing. Not just one person, but hundreds. Thousands. Those people who feel like outsiders (like the typical protagonist of a portal fantasy) seem to be more likely to disappear. Panic grows, and someone develops a test for potential disappearers. The narrator is just a child, but when the test shows she’s likely to disappear she is put in a special classroom with other “dangerous” children, including Tally, who seems to long for disappearance. The story follows the two girls as they come of age in a world frenzied over the increasing disappearances.
On a more thematic level, it’s a story about paranoia. The people who seem to be in trouble are the ones being punished by ostracization and fear mongering. No one is really sure who is in charge of stopping the disappearances. A shadowy “they” develops the Ten Questions and takes away people who may be about to disappear. The world is clearly not safe for those who are different and not just because they risk disappearing. An excellent read.