Thursday, January 19, 2023

Nightmare #124 (2023)

Nightmare, ed. Wendy Wagner. Issue 124 (January 2023). Online at

Reviewed by Christina De La Rocha

The 124th issue of Nightmare is, for this online magazine of horror and dark fantasy, typically compact, consisting of three short stories, one poem, one essay, one book review, and some author interviews. Freshly freed from holiday hell with the people who are the reason you are in therapy, you might not welcome the news that the issue’s central thread is family. But you might concede that horror has an endless furrow to plow through this topic. None of the stories in this issue of Nightmare go with the obvious. There are no wicked stepmothers here, nor evil children, nor men making Stepford Wives or mummifying their overbearing mothers before moving on to murder women who incite their desires. Instead, the works of fiction mine other dark corners of family life.

For me, the best story of the issue is “To Cheer as They Leave You Behind” by James L. Sutter, in which an overly invested mother discovers the power to fix all of her daughter’s mistakes by inhabiting her. Daughters everywhere will shudder at this premise. But, of course, this story is all about the mother. And it’s a fun story to read, rather than one that fills you with dread, rage, or outrage. It helps that the story romps crisply along—the writing is admirably efficient—although perhaps the expense of conveying the horror of its twisted situations in the full gut-punching way that it could have. All in all, worth a read or two.

The other two stories are also fine, although I didn’t like them as much as the first. The longer story, Katherine Quevedo’s “Until It Has Your Reflection,” which is possibly about the obliteration of self that comes with trying to persist in a domestic space where you don’t feel you belong, was based on a nightmare the author had. My nightmares must be entirely different beasts, or maybe I’m just not the swiftest feet on the street; I couldn’t see what was so horrible about what was happening in the mirror, nor how the solution was any better than the problem. Finally, the shortest of the stories, “Last Night at the Side Show” by Gordon B. White, paints a creepy picture of that sort of family of freaks and geeks that is a circus. Although well executed, being flash fiction, there is only so much story this story can tell alongside its generous conjuring of atmosphere. I needed more story there to care enough about the characters to wonder what was going on at that menacingly eerie circus.

Normally, I dislike poetry for many of the same reasons I’m not a fan of flash fiction. Also, I’m lazy and reading poetry takes work. But I enjoyed the issue’s poem, “Fruit” by Alyza Taguilaso. This poem tells a lean story beautifully and leaves you reeling with questions that set your mind wandering.

I enjoyed the nonfiction in the issue as well. “The H Word: The Living Dead—Us Versus Them” by James Chambers tackles the role of the dead (or undead) in zombie movies, how that has changed over the years, and what that says about the state of society today. In short, zombies have gone from being a vehicle for social critique to representing a “them” that we cheer when one of “us” smashes their brains in. Progress in a good direction this is not. It is no wonder, at the moment, we can’t all just get along.

The other piece of nonfiction (aside from the author interviews) was the first article in the magazine’s new column, “de•crypt•ed,” which will offer book reviews and musings by writers. The inaugural book review (which was also the end of an era for the reviewer, Terence Taylor), covers the classic book The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. The review lays out a good case for reading the book and sets the book into historical and political context. I’ve been meaning to read The Master and Margarita for more than two decades; this informative and enthusiastic review may be what finally pushes me over the edge.

All in all, whether you are a horror fan or not, the January 2023 of Nightmare is worth a read, either free on their website or by stumping up the couple of dollars it takes to buy the issue as an e-book.

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