This issue of Nightmare opens up with Alison Littlewood’s “Wolves and Witches and Bears.” I will admit that at first, I didn’t have high expectations for this story, because it seems to revolve around a classic trope (maybe even a cliché) of horror: a couple of clueless hikers who get lost in the wilderness. But Littlewood won me over with two things. The first is a story element that one doesn’t often see in these kinds of stories. The second—and, I think, the more important one—is her mastery of atmosphere. The sense of building frustration, dread, and hopelessness that the main character experiences is vividly rendered, and the setting is given such detail that you almost feel like you’re out there with her.
The next story, Lisa Tuttle’s “Replacements,” is a reprint, having been originally written in 1992. I had read this story previously (although I don’t remember where), and the resulting sense of déjà vu as I started the story added to the unsettling atmosphere. One aspect of the story that I had somehow managed to miss in that first reading is the way Jenny’s adoption of the creature that the plot is centered on represents having and raising a child. The strain that this adoption places on their relationship—particularly the decrease in physical intimacy and Stuart’s insecurity that Jenny may love the creature more than she loves him—mirrors what some couples may go through after the birth of their first child. One could almost read it as an allegory for post-partum depression (though in the story, it’s the male partner who experiences those feelings).
One of the things I love about Stephen King’s older novels (Salem’s Lot, Needful Things) is that they’re just as much about small towns and the people who inhabit them as they are about the supernatural goings-on. Nate Southard’s “The Cork Won’t Stay” is a story in the same vein: it’s just as much about coping (or not coping) with loss as it is about the narrator’s supernatural power.
The last fiction piece in this issue is “Under Cover of Night” by Christopher Golden (his novel Snowblind is on my ever-expanding “to read” list). It’s a well-written riff on the Mexican folktale of el chupacabra.
This issue of Nightmare also includes several nonfiction pieces. Paul Tremblay’s “The H Word: The Politics of Horror” gives an interesting perspective on the resolution (or lack thereof) of a horror story and how it ties into the progressive/conservative dichotomy. There were also two interviews: one with tattooist and horror artist Dennis Carlsson, and one with Kc Wayland and David Cummings, who run horror-themed podcasts. I was impressed by the insightfulness of the questions and the depth of the answers (particularly for the interview with Wayland and Cummings).