Like many a nitwit in quarantine, I was at first optimistic about my productivity. I suddenly had no plans. Obligations evaporated. My social calendar emptied out. I’d get so much done. Life would finally slow down and I’d have time for everything I’d wanted to focus on but was too busy.
Then I had to homeschool three gremlins.
Then I was working in a bookstore pivoting to a phones-ringing-off-the-hook fulfilment center so fast it gave me whiplash.
Then, far from being isolated, I never had a single conscious moment to myself.
What a little idiot I was. What hubris. But it wasn’t as simple as being busy or mentally paralyzed because teaching me a hard life lesson is never that straightforward. I keep thinking I didn’t write at all over the last six months. I keep thinking I was totally unproductive and uncreative. I keep thinking I had a great summer, camping, swimming, and shaking the absolute shit out of fancy craft cocktails. I keep thinking that overall it hasn’t been so bad, that I’ve been okay.
Yet I did write two short stories, a novella, and query a publisher
Yet I did edit two books
Yet my buoyant moods are fragile, I’m latching hard onto anything I can hold up as proof of my uselessness, and I drink soooo much.
I’m a runner, right? It’s my medicine, meditation, religion, and all my goddamned races got cancelled. Adventures in the mountains bursting with mud, suffering, exhaustion, and camaraderie by the light of my dim junky headlamp. I’ve been running, of course. What the fuck else is there to do besides attend some shitty virtual hangout where everyone is awkward and looks like garbage and I’m so self-conscious I spend most of the time staring at myself on camera wondering if I’ve always been this ugly. So I run. I signed up for virtual challenges and did a self-directed urban ultra-marathon. I’ve been running more than ever.
But I don’t feel fit.
But I feel worn out.
But I feel sick sometimes and hate my face.
Anger? Is anger the right response? It feels better than despair. How many nuanced emotions are realistically available under these circumstances? Anger is the spearhead. It drives forward with purpose and a message. Aren’t these detonations nothing more than angry little letters to a disappointing world full of assholes? I guess this one is for me. I did not lose my job. My family is safe and healthy. What do I have to complain about? Suck it up, there are people with REAL problems out there.
I guess what I am is sad and bored.
I guess it’s harder to find happiness in the dark.
I guess the heading to this post should’ve had a question mark because I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing or what the fuck to do.
It begins, as so many things do, with Lola and Noggy’s inability to take even the smallest action without turning it into a quest, a quest inevitably deteriorating into a comedy of errors. And if you’re worried, you should be, but know that this boondoggle ends happily.
In all fairness this particular quest wasn’t their idea, but rather part of a summer scavenger hunt put on by some fun-loving race organizers after covid-19 forced a blanket cancellation of all the season’s ultra-running events. Thirty or so running challenges, and a badge for each one completed. Fun stuff like 2000 stairs, a sunrise run, running in loops, and saying something nice to every goddamned menace on a bike you see during your run. That kind of thing.
(By the way, this review is a TL:DR internet recipe. Scroll to the end if what we thought of the fucking milkshake means that much to you.)
Anyway, on this day Lola and Noggy had their sights set on the “Run for Food” badge. Basically what it sounds like. You run directly to obtain food. Their choice of sustenance was, no surprise, the much-maligned Arby’s.
But first, the run. Here’s the thing about these knuckleheads, they can never just “go to Arby’s”. No, those beef ‘n cheddars must be paid for in suffering. It has to be “get lost in a blizzard, wandering until Arby’s reveals itself like a celestial mirage” or “run 50km in February and stagger into the fancy Arby’s like smelly arctic explorers” or in this case “an easy 10km and then dive face first into the horsey sauce.” Simple, right?
You know where this is going…
Lola: I found a new trail!
(wading through waist high wet grass)
Noggy: This isn’t a trail and my feet are soaked.
Lola: You said you wanted an adventure. It’s the trail less traveled.
Noggy: Again, not a trail
(wading through waist high wet thistles)
Lola: Hmm, I’m sure this connects with the main path somewhere.
Noggy: How, genius? In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re on the wrong side of the creek.
Lola: Right…no problem, we can just crawl over these boulders and…Nog?
Lola: Ouch, that is some blood.
Noggy: I hate you.
(several kilometres later)
Lola: [rips off her sunglasses, screaming]
Noggy: Jesus, what?
Lola: [incoherently babbles, clutching the side of her face]
Noggy: Use your words, Silkysocks.
Lola: A wasp stung me twice in the brain. Am I going to die?
Noggy: [inspects Lola’s swelling temple] Definitely scarred for life. Come on, let’s get some curly fries.
Our intrepid dimwits, with their fancy gps watches, cannot navigate themselves out of a wet paper bag and end up running closer to 16km before the semi-iconic ten-gallon Arby’s hat comes into view. They stagger into the parking lot, scraped and inflamed, spirits buoyed by visions of meatcraft, and in this way their “Run for Food” attempt is foiled, ironically, by three Corona-fuelled words…
Drive Thru Only
Anyway, the Arby’s orange milkshake is not at all terrible. You should try it.
You know what’s great? Books not written by white people. So we’re sharing some recent reads so delicious you should definitely buy them and lick every page with your horny eyeballs. BIPOC voices are crushing it, and if it’s been a while since you waded off white author island, you really ought to dive in because the water is glorious.
Noemí Taboada is a Mexico City socialite sent to check on a sick cousin at High Place, a dilapidated Victorian mansion in the mountains, and the ancestral home of a once wealthy English family that owned the nearby silver mines. Soon Noemí finds her cousin has married into a family with secrets eating away at them much like the strange mould devouring the wallpaper, carpet, and draperies of High Place. At a loss for how to help her cousin or herself, Noemí’s dreams turn to dark horrors and every flicker of light leads her down yet another haunted corridor.
This book serves up mood and atmosphere big time, steadily dialling up the dread, violence, and desire. It’s Noemí, however, that keeps the story from tilling up the same gothic soil farmed over and over again by so many others. She’s spoiled and beautiful. Sharp and tenacious. Neither a damsel in distress nor a Strong Female Character perfectly executing roundhouse kicks. She’s a young woman still discovering who she is and what she stands for in a world controlled by men. She’s also frequently bored, and enjoys rubbing one out in the bathtub on occasion.
Between the ghosts, family tragedy, eugenics, mycology, feminism, and romance, Mexican Gothic lives up to the hype and leaves you with a lot to think about.
This book isn’t horror, but it’s pretty fucking horrible, in the very best ways. I’ve got a stygian sense of humour, and damn if this novel doesn’t tickle my blackened funnybone.
It’s pre-911 NYC, and the unnamed narrator is tall, blonde, pretty, and above all, thin. An art history major, recently fired from her job at a shitty gallery. Her best friend Reva is sleeping with her boss and obsessed with her twin interests of “weekend plans” and pouring tequila into cans of diet Mountain Dew. She’s a wretched human, but she’s all the narrator has left. Both her parents are dead, and though they were objectively terrible people, she can’t bring herself to sell their house. She decides to sleep on it. For a full year. Sleep as much, and be awake as little, as possible. Her project requires that she seek out a goofy psychiatrist and manipulate her into prescribing ever increasing doses and varieties of tranquilizers, downers, sleeping pills. All taken with an OTC chaser of NyQuil, or Benadryl. In her passionate dedication to hibernation, she hopes to find a way to truly wake up.
This novel is so, so dark, and utterly hilarious. You’ll cringe, you’ll laugh, you’ll want to black out for three days and wake up on your couch wearing nothing but a Brazilian bikini wax and a mink coat with broccoli in the pockets.
I’ve had the good fortune to read not one, not two, but three fabulous cosmic horror novellas over the last number of weeks, and there are few things I love more than cosmic horror novellas. They hit the sweet spot. Long enough to tell a fleshed out story, short enough to devour in one or two jaw distending gulps without leaving you cramped and bloated. Which happens more frequently than you’d think – especially to hairless guinea pigs – but that’s a different horror entirely, one we totally don’t need to get into right now. Unless you want to? I’m here all night.
Anyways, on with the show.
All three of these are about the monsters within us, either figuratively or literally. In these cases, definitely leaning on the literal side.
I’ll start with a two-fer, a pair of delightfully dark stories starting off Cassandra’s “Persons Non Grata” series (which I’m now impatiently waiting for more – so chop chop!). This is cosmic horror of the Lovecraftian persuasion, with just enough to anchor you to the mythos.
Hammers on Bone tells the story of a John Persons, a unique private eye cut right out of the detective classics. While there are the elements of that homage you’d expect, it’s just enough to give you a warm fuzzy and not make you roll your eyes and mumble “oh god….” John’s a monster who hunts monsters and the story is solid and excellent with a great hook: A ten-year-old kid hiring him to kill his step-dad. Wow. Not something you see every day.
A Song for Quiet is not a direct sequel, but shares the setting including John Persons in a cool supporting role. This story is a deeper one, more musical than pulpy. Lyrical. Deacon James is a bluesman haunted by a lot of things, including the music in his head that wants, and needs, to get out. Though that’s not a great thing. For him. Or everyone on the planet.
I adore the covers. Black and white and red. Powerful stark imagery. One of the things that drew me to them me when I saw people gushing on Twitter. Where you should definitely follow Cassandra at @casskhaw.
I’m a slacker. I’ll come right and say it. I’ve been meaning to read this since it came out, but somehow never did. Why? It kept popping up in my “this is your thing, why haven’t you read it yet,” list and yet… Yeah. Anyways, I did read it and I did love it. And now I have The Devil in Silver sitting on my table staring at me, taunting me. I’ll slack less with it. I promise.
The Ballad of Black Tom is a retelling of H. P. Lovecraft’s story “The Horror at Red Hook” through a substantially different lens. I read that original story way way back, and it comes up often as quintessential Lovecraft horribleness, so it was cool to see how Victor turned it on its head.
Tommy Tester aka Black Tom is an interesting fellow, a not so great musician, but with a knack for doing jobs and going into white neighborhoods where his fellows fear to tread. One of these jobs lands him in the sights of a the police and goes swiftly off trail from there. There are some great cosmic horror elements at play, with a spooky old lady that’s obviously way more than she seems, cryptic books, dark cults, a rich occultist, and powers beyond time and space.
I’d highly recommend it, especially for the rich setting and feel of 1920’s New York and the racial conflict which is as real today as it was then (which makes you realize how much HASN’T changed in a century).
Victor is also found on Twitter, at @victorlavalle, and is always worth listening to.
Untuck your tentacles and unfurl your freak flags…
The Seventh Terrace is delighted to announce the Spring 2021 publication of Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy by Hailey Piper. Eighteen stories of queer horror, isolation, and the monstrous feminine, including an original grim novelette, “Recitation of the First Feeding.”
This collection is darkly fantastic, queer as hell, and we can’t wait to share it with all of you.
Hailey Piper is the author of Benny Rose, the Cannibal King from Unnerving, and her short fiction appears in Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, Tales to Terrify, and elsewhere. She lives with her wife in Maryland, but can be found online at www.haileypiper.com or on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays.
The news is dominated by ‘rona coverage. Most online content is at the very least pandemic adjacent in focus. You could escape into a book but that requires an attention span, and yours went out the window in March, approximately eleventy-hundred days ago.
We’ve got COVID on the brain and it’s hard to make good art when you’re distracted.
The solution: make COVID art!
Well, aren’t you fucking original. I’m sure no one has thought of that. You must be confident that everyone is starved for yet more angsty plague-centric literature and especially poetry. We can’t get enough. Riveting accounts of weight gain, images of a soggy magpie, or LOLOLOL your quarantine-drunk, spear-wielding spawn rampaging through your 9am Zoom meeting. Here’s the thing, these experiences are now universal to the point of cliché. In other words, anything but novel.
And what’s with the relentless insistence on the essential nature of poetry in this bonkers world where your closest relationships are with your co-workers’ nostril hairs and double-chins? I’m not a doctor or anything, but I dunno how essential it is to read something that feels like reading nothing. Scratch that, less than nothing. A nothing that leaves a little bit of itself behind, like a tiny malignant egg laid in your ear, whispering its nonsense in poet voice.
Maybe you’re compelled to indulge this shitty impulse to wax lyrical over a pile of rocks or giving birth in a rain barrel as a metaphor for social distancing. Maybe it quells your anxiety or lubes your ego to think someone might read your tortured placental images of loneliness and swoon. Maybe they will, but it’s the kind of swooning you do when you find the cat busily decapitating a rabbit on the front porch. The kind where it seems physically impossible to have eaten the amount you just vomited.
Real talk, okay? Poeming about COVID is not a noble pursuit. This drivel is for you, so stop inflicting it on others. We’re all struggling to find ways to cope and function in such times. Your poetry may be a balm to your soul, but it’s an acid bath to mine, so Jesus frick-fracking Christ, keep it in isolation.
P.S. Octoclot was in a mood when she wrote this. She’s also a wretched hypocrite who admits to writing a poem or two herself.