Wall of Fire ignites on Nov. 5, 2019

What would you walk through fire for…

Cover design: Aaron Bilawchuk & Emily Pratt

November 5, 2019

Terrace VII: Wall of Fire

By Robert Bose & Sarah L. Johnson

Welcome to the Seventh Terrace of Dante’s tower of Purgatory. Here, in darkness lit only by a wall of flame, we find souls enslaved by the sin of lust. Desire, curdled by madness and desperation. From a pair of crazy-in-love criminals on a scavenger hunt at the outskirts of Hell, to a lonely custodian working in a love doll brothel, to a sinister lingerie boutique hidden behind a red door. Lust is a great and terrible thing, and this collection of dark tales follows a mere handful of the many paths leading to the wall of fire.

Hot or Not?

We review books, music, trail races, deep sea creatures, colours on the visible spectrum, and whatever else we feel like, on a rating scale of one to five sin-purging flames.

Detonation #16: What to do when you feel like shit and nothing is fun anymore.

Navigating Life in a Literary Minefield

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.

I guess…I need a better damn headlamp.

Arby’s Orange Cream Milkshake

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?

Noggy: …

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

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Anyway, the Arby’s orange milkshake is not at all terrible. You should try it.

4/5

Rad Recent Reads

Lola’s Picks

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.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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.

Catch the author on twitter @silviamg

5/5

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

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.

5/5

Noggy’s Picks

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.

Hammers on Bone and A Song for Quiet by Cassandra Khaw

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.

The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle

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.

5/5 For the lot

Trace & Solomon: Torrington

Review by Noggy Splitfoot and Lola Silkysocks

Available at: AmazonAmazon CanadaKobo

Trace & Solomon: Torrington

Welcome to Torrington, Alberta. A wide spot in the blacktop, home to the world-famous Gopher Hole Museum above, and a massive convergence of mystical energy below. When a rogue exorcist acquires a soul translocating relic, the Vatican reluctantly – very reluctantly – turns to the only mercenaries capable of taking it back. The hard-drinking, double-crossing, catastrophe-courting mercenaries that sold it to him in the first place.

Trace and Solomon ought to know better. Church work is always a handshake with the Devil, but this time there’s more than money on the line, and it forces them to question what matters most. In this life, and the next.


Noggy Splitfoot: So, why are we interrupting my day drinking again?

Lola Silkysocks: It would be nice if you took our first paying gig seriously, and it’s 10am for Christ’s sake.

N: You got paid?

L: You didn’t? Nevermind. This is the part where we disclose that in exchange for unspecified remuneration, we are providing a fair and unbiased book review that doesn’t “violate community standards” whatever that means.

N: Okay, so it’s a grey market review. Fair and unbiased is overrated. I think I read that in a book, a philosophy book, or maybe it was a Wikipedia article. Everyone lies about these sorts of things. Objectivism is dead.

L: We’re reviewing a book, not objectivism. Focus.

Speaking of grey area, this is a long short story, or a short novella, or something in those murky waters. I can see why they self-published, not like anyone else would.

N: So, short enough to lack guts and long enough to get boring?

L: You can read it in half an hour is what I’m saying. That was probably my favourite part. 

N: Well, the cover has occult symbols and a beaver on it, so I’m thinking it’s about possessed nocturnal, semi-aquatic rodents.

L: Sigh…Noggy, did you read the book?

N: Well, I skimmed the introduction, which made absolutely zero sense, if that’s what you’re asking.

L: You disappoint me, Splitfoot.

N: Because I have better things to do? What are they even paying you? Twenty bucks?

L: No one here is proud. Go read. I’ll wait.

N: Fine. BRB

30 minutes later…

L: Nog?

3 days later…

N: Wow, what the hell did I just read? Not even one beaver.

L: Congratulations on finishing the equivalent of an I Can Read book.

N: Looks like Torrington is a real place. Like a prison for undead Richardson’s ground squirrels and other unwanted farm things.

L: The book is like From Dusk ‘til Dawn meets Little House on the Prairie, except Ma and Pa are evil Catholic clergy, the kids are rabid vermin, and Clooney and Tarantino are a trashy couple of grifters on a perpetual road trip in their shitty Winnebago.

N: The bar in the story didn’t have Salma Hayek. Or Machete.

L: Minus a star for that alone. But I like the idea of an evil ashtray that can capture your soul and funnel it into someone or something else

N: Sure, I guess. What kind of cigarettes would Jesus smoke do you think?

L: Had to have been weed. I mean, no one loves everyone, not that much. But back to the story. Did you find anything…familiar about these characters?

N: I guess Trace and Solomon are sort of like us, only Solomon is a lot older and uglier. Like who wears Hawaiian shirts, likes 80’s rock, and drives a 70’s era Winnebago? Not very relatable if you ask me.

L: Yes, he is 100% unlike you in every conceivable way, and Trace is way more dedicated than I am. That’s a lot of hassle just to get an ashtray back from an evil exorcist. I would have abandoned the quest and gone for tacos.

N: The quest is the whole point, dummy. The story is about Trace and Sol getting to Torrington. They need to gather wards and stuff so they can’t be soul swapped. You see a lot of what their relationship is like.

L: Yeah, about that. Why are they even together? They fight all the time and screw… everything up. They’re going to get each other killed sooner or later. Reminds me of the time we got drunk under a bridge skipping stones and you hit a duck.

N: I’m a hell of a lot luckier than Sol, that’s all I’m going to say about that! At least I didn’t try to catch a duckling for a pet. Trace though, she needs a pet something fierce.

L: A lady needs something fuzzy to cuddle in the night. Speaking of…that sex scene in the graveyard was kinda yikes.

N: Sol finally got to pet a beaver.

L: You mean he got attacked by a badger?

N: Right, that.

L: Why would you pet a beaver?

N: Beaver/Badger, point is these authors are sadistic perverts.

L: They do seem to have an axe to grind. Against the church, flightless birds, and humanity in general. Everyone in this story deserves to be ground into hog feed.

N: At least that feels real! So, what was your favourite part?

L: When the 50-foot gopher attacks downtown Torrington. That was badass.

N: Clem T. GoFur!

I liked the crossroads demon scene. I hope they market Carl plushies. They’d sell dozens, probably make a hell of a lot more than selling eBooks.

L: Yeah, like who is this book even for? I was expecting Christian Tentacle Romance and got this trash. An occult heist story loaded with violence and sex and blasphemy.

N: I don’t even know what genre this is supposed to be. Weird Crap? Probably shouldn’t give it a name. Names have power.

But since they’re sort of paying us, well you, I can’t say it’s bad. I’m also not going to say it’s good. Twenty bucks is worth two stars I guess.

L: -1 Flame. Took too long to arrive in the mail and didn’t look like the picture.

N: We’re doing flames, right, totally forgot about that. They go negative? I thought we reserved imaginary numbers for poets and astrophysicists?

L: Rock bottom is for quitters, and these two brought shovels.

N: I do see they labeled it as #1 in a series

L: One more than anyone asked for, so I guess I’ll close us out on that note of despair. And since I’ve got $20 burning a hole in my skirt, I say we go to Arby’s.


?/5

Cover Reveal! End of the Loop by Brent Nichols

Cover design: A. Bilawchuck

David isn’t sure why he lives in the Institute. He’s not sure why the doors are locked and guarded. He doesn’t know why he has to take pills that turn his memory to mist.

But one day he doesn’t swallow his pills. On that day, he starts to remember. Once, things were quite different. Once, he went outside. He had friends, a lover, a life.

Once, something bad happened. 

Soon the staff will notice. They’ll make him take his pills, and these precious scraps of memory will fade away. There’s only one way to prevent it. Only one way to find out what’s truly going on.

He must escape.

“A tensely suspenseful reconstruction of a cold case reclaims a life lost to unimaginable tragedy.” ~ J.E. Barnard, author of When the Flood Falls

Tiny Sledgehammer: Fall 2020

Gary’s got great news!

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 FictionThe ArcanistTales 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.