REVIEW: “The Summer Mask” by Karin Lowachee

Review of Karin Lowachee, “The Summer Mask”, Nightmare Magazine 62: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

The more horror I read, the more I get to ruminate on what it is that scares us. Sometimes it is the obvious things like spiders, death, or heights. However, some of the things that cause unease in us are not as obvious. Deformities, for example, seem to strike fear into us whether we recognize it as such. Perhaps it is a fear that such a thing will happen to us. Perhaps the ways we characterize monsters as grotesque leads us to apply that characterization to people who look different simply as a reflex. Whatever the reason, body horror like that in David Cronenberg’s movies puts many people off.

Karin Lowachee explores the nature of deformity and humanity in “The Summer Mask”. David, an artist, is commissioned to make a mask for Matthew whose face has been irrevocably altered by war to the point of unrecognizable damage. He wears a crude leather mask during most of the year, but it is during the summer that he is able to walk freely to feel the sun though he cannot see. Before the war, he was classically handsome and the artist seeks to create a mask which recaptures this outside reflection of inner beauty.

During this process, a relationship is formed between the two which (on the artist’s side) was certainly romantic in nature. The artist ruminates on ugliness and beauty and how one must justify its existence but not the other. His love for his subject leads him to give a sacrifice to his artistic work beyond what he is called upon to do. This short story is powerful as it examines love and beauty and the projections we place upon others.

REVIEW: “Mysterium Tremendum” by Molly Tanzer

Review of Molly Tanzer, “Mysterium Tremendum”, Nightmare Magazine 62: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

I really enjoyed this story. It was interesting, unique, and kept me guessing. Horror is a very varied genre because its definition can change depending on whose opinion you are getting. This horror was more unsettling and mysterious rather than out right scary, but the uncertainty made me eager to continue reading. I wanted to know what was going on. The setting combined with Marjorie Olenthistle’s lack of plot knowledge both lent themselves well to suspense.

Marjorie’s goal as a character is simple. She wants to retrieve expensive and rare mummified remains for her job at the library. However, it is the challenge of navigating the desires and hidden motives of the other characters which drives her along. Combine that with some potentially “not of this world” magic tricks, and you’ve got yourself quite the monumental task.

I loved the combination of Egyptian lore with the mystique of the stage magician whose acts confound and astound. Is it real? Or is it some elaborate scam to fool the unintelligent masses? Marjorie gets the chance to find out.

There was humor here. There was mystery. It reminds us to question what we believe to be real and what we believe to be a trick. Sometimes they are separate. Sometimes they are the same thing.

REVIEW: “The Zodiac Walks on the Moon” by Will Ludwigsen

Review of Will Ludwigsen. “The Zodiac Walks on the Moon”, Nightmare Magazine 62: Read online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

The concept of the Zodiac Killer fascinates me. The use of incomprehensible symbols and clues leading the police on a chase- the mystery of it all is intriguing and spooky. A story from the perspective of this killer detailing his first kills and his desire to move from the darkness of obscurity into the light of fame allows for a lot of speculation. What drives a person to serially murder other people may not always be clear, but exploring these motivations can be and interesting foray into the human psyche.

For me, this piece turned into a meditation of sorts on our need as a society to sensationalize mass murderers. More specifically, I think about how we discuss the ever increasing number of deadly shootings and the detailed exposes on the shooters themselves. It makes me wonder how many other killers we create based on the fame they would receive alone. Although in this case it was the moon landing which drove this fictional representation of the Zodiac killer to crave the lime light, I think the core is the same.

I really enjoyed reading this piece. As much as they terrify me (which is kind of the point), I love reading serial killer stories. Monsters are one thing, but these are real people who could live right next door to you. There is a sense of safety involved in reading about terrifying creatures that you don’t find with serial killers. Anyone can make that shift. “All it takes is one small step.”


REVIEW: “Suffer Little Children” by Robert Shearman

Review of Robert Shearman, “Suffer Little Children”, Nightmare Magazine 61: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

What is it about governesses and boarding schools that make for such excellent spooky stories? Perhaps it’s the constant cold and rain that seems to be associated with such locations as well as the creepy old schoolmarms who always show up at the most suspect moments.

Part of what lends to the tension in this particular story is the way the reader is let in on the details slowly. This slow reveal allows the reader to speculate as to why the main character- Susan Cowley- was fired from her governess position. She is sent to the suspiciously named H___ Priory where her interactions with the children are a little bit abnormal. How does everything tie together?

While not outright “scary”, Shearman’s story was unsettling in that there is a natural distrust of every character borne out of my own paranoia vis a vie other horror stories as well as the crafting of characters whose motives are as muddy as the ground after the constant rain. While I enjoyed trying to figure out what was going on, I was also surprised by the ending and pleased at what was still left open for interpretation.

If you enjoy creepy children in a Victorian setting, give this a read. It’s a fun classic spooky story.

REVIEW: “We are Turning on a Spindle” by Joanna Parypinski

Review of Joanna Parypinski, “We are Turning on a Spindle”, Nightmare Magazine 61: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

Time marches ever on. It pays no attention to the desires of us mortals, and it certainly doesn’t stop for anything. One of the fun aspects of science fiction is that it gives us a chance to imagine how the future might appear. Some choose to go not too far into the future, but Joanna Parypinski goes so far that there is hardly anything left. You can’t even be sure if this was Earth or if it’s some other planet where beings like us may have existed.

In this retelling of Sleeping Beauty, the main character traverses a long distance in the far off future in order to find the greatest beauty in the universe. The world is so changed that it is alien and ancient and falling a part. His obsession with his quest is what drives him- the strength of the legends he’s heard and the strength of his own convictions.

I love the descriptions in this story. The details were gorgeous (even when they were describing things that were less so). It was a very visceral read.

I really appreciated the introspective tone of the tale. Possession is a tenuous concept, and this story examines what exactly this term means and the consequences that can come with it. Be careful what you wish for.

REVIEW: “Click” by Brian Evenson

Review of Brian Evenson, “Click”, Nightmare Magazine Issue 61: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

In a word- creepy. What do you do when you can’t trust your own memory- when you have no memories to trust? When we forget something, we search for clues and cues- something to help everything “click”, but what if that thing never comes?

More than just a story of how frightening memory loss can be, Evenson’s story made me reflect on the nature of hospitals, care from doctors, and the ways in which we can be mislead by those we are supposed to trust. The main character has no concrete memories to hold on to; he must accept what those around him are telling him. He is given conflicting information and finds it hard to trust even the things he sees with his own two eyes. The nature of reality is fickle, and our grasp on it even more so.

I enjoyed the ways this story moved. We keep moving even when we have questions and things don’t make sense. There is no space to pause and try and ruminate. What would be the point anyways? The reader has as little information as the main character which forces us to experience things as he does with only the barest glimmer of hope that we will get some answers. But what if we never do?

REVIEW: “Don’t Turn on the Lights” by Cassandra Khaw

Review of Cassandra Khaw, “Don’t Turn on the Lights”, Nightmare Magazine 61: Read Online. Reviewed by Winnie Ramler.

I love stories which examine the act of storytelling itself. Khaw reminds us that the story can still surprise us. All it takes is the shifting of a few details. The core may stay the same, but the the impact changes. Horror as a genre can be particularly formulaic in its approach. Readers may expect certain things- for the story to be told in a certain way. Khaw plays with these expectations as she crafts a discussion about who is telling the story and why.

Sally (if that is her real name) isn’t a protagonist in the strictest sense. Instead she is the lens through which we view the story. Like a cardboard cutout, she is dressed in different plots and motivations as we are asked to question what we think we know to be true.

The casual voice of the narrator lent itself well to the varying story plots. Like a museum tour guide, we are taken on a journey through perspective, and not knowing where you’re going is part of the excitement. This was a super fun spooky read that reminded me just how much I love horror.