|Art by Yana Moskaluk|
"Reaper's Rose" by Ian Whates (2169 words)
This is a nice and greatly creepy little story about the smell of death. Or about a person who can smell death. Who seems to be at the heart of a great many catastrophe's and comes through more or less unharmed, but who gets an olfactory premonition. And it's well accomplished through the form of one side of a police interview. One side only, just the answers without the questions, which is neat and something I've only seen a few times. It makes the tone of the story very conversational but also off slightly, mysterious because while it's pretty obvious from the answers what the questions are it's not certain and it gives this faceless quality to the officer conducting the interview. Which in turn puts the reader in many ways in that place, a place that becomes increasingly unsettling as the story progresses. It's tightly and effectively built, everything leading up to the ending which is coiled with precision and which hits with an impressive force. And it's a neat concept, one that fits into the speculative horror nature of Nightmare and delivers that sinking unease with the character being interviewed, the way that they slowly reveal how much they are drawn to the smell, how much they are almost addicted to it. It's sensual and alive and rather short and just quite good. Definitely give it a read!
"The Girl Who Escaped From Hell" by Rahul Kanakia (5944 words)
This is a slow and rather unsettling story about Hell. About what it means to be in Hell, and how Hell reflects the world that we live in. The story revolves around a man and his daughter. The daughter, Abby, had a near-death experience as a young child and went to Hell, an event her mother capitalized on but that her father disapproved of and got custody and moved her out to California. It's a complex story about family and about ambition and about the crushing weight of apathy. Of struggling and not seeing progress and so falling into the mindset that it doesn't matter. That the evilest thing there is is the voice that says it doesn't matter. That no matter what you do it's all crap and you won't get far anyway. Because that's how it feels so often and that's how the world seems to be, all full of point and kicks and no escape. Never any escape. And it's incredibly well done for that, building the way the main character lives, a sort of hippie mixed with a Millennial, full of ideas and hopes but really more convinced that they could do better if they just had a chance, if they just had something indefinable. When really what matters is the struggle, is the swimming against the slow sinking, keeping it up so that you can reach a place where happiness is possible, where escape is possible, and that's another thing I love about the story, that the title sets up the hope of it, that idea that it's not all bleak and lost, that the characters can find a place of happiness even if it's not what they were expecting. That people aren't doomed and that working and struggling pays off. It's a bit of a slow story, unfolding over a great many years, but it's very solidly constructed and the prose is striking, capturing the voice of the main character and showing a sort of growth that seems to me to be very difficult to handle well. But the story makes it look easy, landing with a splash and a pause and a sudden rising. A must read!