The creepy stories continue to pile up, making for a very interesting October. And the more dark fantasy and horror we read, the more we appreciate that subgenre. Please share your own suggestions of great creepy and terrifying stories in the comments!
Image: detail of Daughter of Necessity by Ashley Mackenzie
Santos de Sampaguitas by Alyssa Wong | Strange Horizons
The dead god descends on me as I sleep, the way it did my mother the night before my conception, and my grandmother before that. Even with my dream-eyes shut, I know it's there; the weight of folded limbs on my body threatens to crush my ribs, and I can smell the wreaths of sweet sampaguita hanging from its neck.
"Go away, po," I tell it, adding the honorific since Nanay always taught me not to be rude to gods. "I'm having a good dream for once." I usually have nightmares during bangungot, trapped halfway between sleep and waking, unable to push my way fully to either side. The pressure on my chest, the terrible prescience that something very bad is about to happen, and the sound of distant screaming, like a boiling saucepan of human voices, are too familiar to me. But tonight there is only a pleasant floating sensation, fresh from a dream of flying over the oceans cresting Manila.
Cool, smooth fingers push my eyelids open. Just as my mother told me, the dead god dresses like a saint, all in chipped, white paint and dried offerings braided together on cheap twine. It is man-shaped, though it is neither a man nor a woman. Even though it has no skin or flesh, the stench of rotting lechón assaults my nostrils. Magandang gabi, my child, it whispers. Blessed evening, Maria, my heir.
"Why are you here?" I shout. The shrill boiling sound has started up again, a high wail in the distance. "Nanay promised you wouldn't show yourself to me until I was grown. I've still got years! Besides, Nanay is your disciple right now, not me."
No, says the god. It has no eyes in its empty, hollow face, but somehow it manages to look away. Not any more. Your mother is dead.
This story isn't as creepy as it seems from the opening but does go to some dark places. Most stories about love do. Wong explores many types of love here and never shrinks from the consequences and complications that arise when people (or gods) love deeply and freely. Aside from the characters, I enjoyed being immersed in the world Wong spins around them—sights, smells, and all.
Daughter of Necessity by Marie Brennan | Tor.com
She drops the shuttle, shaking with horror. No, no. That was not how she meant it to go.
"My lady?" the maid asks, uncertain.
She almost takes up scissors and cuts her error away. Some fragment of wisdom stops her: that is not her gift, and to try must surely end in disaster. Instead she retrieves the shuttle, sends it back through without changing the shed. Unweaving the line that had been. "The pick," she commands, and her maid gives it to her in silent confusion. With a careful hand she lifts the warp threads, passes the shuttle through, reversing her movements from before. Undoing the work of hours with hours more, while her maid helps without understanding.
I must weave a funeral shroud, she had told them. She'd intended it to be for them. Not for all her city.
But the power was there: within her grasp, beyond her control.
She retires for the night, trembling, exhausted. Frightened. And exhilarated. When morning comes, all is as it was before, her problems unchanged, her desperation the same. Gathering her courage, she goes back to the loom.
Surely control may be learned.
I've never been a big fan of the Odyssey, though I have studied and loved Greek myth. Odysseus is just not that interesting to me. His wife Penelope has a far more poignant story. No, she didn't have to escape a sorceress or Sirens or live through the Trojan war. She had to deal with far worse: a huge group of handsy dudebros all up in her house demanding that she marry one of them. For years.
I love this take on her story. Of the reason given for her weaving. Homeric myths are not always kind to the women—specifically the wives of the men involved in the Trojan War. So often they're depicted as passive, waiting. Unless they're depicted as cheating murderers. Here, Penelope is not passive, not waiting. Highly recommended.
Unfair Exchange by Pat Cadigan | Nightmare Magazine
Dear Future Me:
I haven't been myself lately and neither have you.
I don't even know if I'll understand that or remember anything of what happened. TBI—traumatic brain injury—is dicey and unpredictable. Did you know you could fall down a flight of stairs, hit a concrete landing head-first, and after spending a week comatose in intensive care with a subdural rainy weather? Or you could bump your head on a kitchen cabinet door, never lose consciousness, but stroke out two hours later and spend the rest of your life in a care home. The brain is a strange and temperamental organ. This is why it's so dangerous for people to use magic—we've got a lot to lose.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Or am I? What do I talk about first—the necklace Grandma gave me—you—and my—our—twin brother Jesse? Or the fact that I was wearing it when the three kids broke into my downstairs neighbor's flat? Or that I forgot I was wearing it when I charged in like Jools the Superwoman?
This story won't be available online until next week. So why am I teasing you with it? To spur you to go buy the Women Destroy Horror! issue of Nightmare Magazine. If you do, you can read this story right now. And you want to.
The narrator's headlong rush into the story swept me along and kept me off balance for most of the beginning. It wasn't until I was deep into things that I started to ponder all the implications of the necklace, the grandmother, and Julie's psyche. This is another story that mixes some light in with the darkness to great effect.
What are your favorite stories from the week?