We recommend you to read this editorial in a quiet place. A dimly lit room with a cold draft that caresses the back of your neck, though you’re not sure where it comes from. A closed door.
Murmurs. Two voices approaching. One is musical, waves dancing in the Mediterranean Sea, turning louder, dangerous, a storm. The other is echo, a distant gust of wind, rumble under your feet, an earthquake.
Let us tell you a story about something that happened and something that is to come.
It was in 2019 I met my co-editor for this issue, Nelly, during Clarion West Writers Workshop. It was a strange time—in a good way—that would become even stranger in hindsight. Nelly and I shared an affinity for horror, for dark things that go bump in the night (or day) but that unexpected trip to Seattle was anything but. I met some amazing people; classmates, teachers, and members of the broader community. I experienced so many new things and felt for the first time that I was a part of something bigger. Something that would soon bloom into a better, brighter future.
And then the real dread happened.
COVID-19 and the subsequent isolation and uncertainty it brought upon us, shifted this outlook into something smaller, more stifling. Something spiky and, at the same time, slippery had settled in my mind. It was fear and anxiety. It was a certain kind of dread. Writing out versions of this dread during the pandemic helped me get some of it out of my system. Reading other peoples’ horror stories helped me realize I wasn’t alone in this.
Many of us had personal losses. We shared collective pain and uncertainty because the idea of life, as we knew it, had been subverted. Reality became dread incarnated all day, everyday. We were left to cross a liminal space between the familiar and the unknown. While taking those first steps into that strange country named fear, we knew we were—we are—together. And when those steps became strides, we created art to keep the darkness away. Even if the result depicted the same shadows that haunted us, what better way to confront our fears than sharing them?
The eight short stories and poems we share with you may not have necessarily been created as a way to keep real-life dread at bay, but they certainly present us with anticipation, a certain appeal for discovering what the unknown voices around us are saying.
In this issue we bring you different flavors of dread, both in fiction and poetry so you can descend to the murky depths of fear and come back victorious, bringing with you whatever lesson you believe each story has to offer:
[Intermission: a polyphony]
- An unknown, yet familiar voice is calling for you in “Oh Jackie.” This story offers the dread of being haunted both inside and out.
- Listen to the one possessing you in “The Marriages: The dybbuk,” a poem that offers the dread of being one and many, and a multiplicity of meanings.
- “The Bones are Hungry” offers the dread of not being able to trust your own family, or your own eyes. What is the sound coming from that well?
- That nagging voice that keeps on interrupting in “CONSENT FOR FACIAL RECONSTRUCTION WITH THE SHELLEY CONCEPTS INC CUSTOM PATIENT-FITTED RECONSTRUCTION PROSTHESIS” offers the dread of never being comfortable in your own skin.
- “Luis, the Last Time” offers the dread of having to decide between keeping your loved ones safe and yourself whole. Because you’ll never forget the sound of their names.
- Laughter that becomes crying is all you hear in “Ghostboy Kills Our Mother With Trauma”, a poem where dread of one’s secret past comes back to bitterly haunt them.
- Chirps and warbles from beyond engulf the air in “Soulbirds.” This story offers the dread of finding out just how much of yourself you are willing to give to please your family.
- “Shut Mouths Sing Melodious” offers the dread of the mortal world and the world that lurks in the shadows bleeding into each other. Your voice, our voices sing in unison.
The role of the fictional dread isn’t just about the jump scares (although those are fun too!) Fictional dread helps people face their own fears and anxieties in the controlled environment of a page or a book, and come back unscathed when the book is closed, when the page is turned. Even if the characters don’t make it out. They still teach us about ourselves. We come back stronger and certain that we can face real life dread for another day.
It is in the possibilities of art that we find ourselves. In the safety of literary dread we have learned how to deal with the horrors of reality and how to enjoy the light that’s always present where there are shadows. We are together in this. Our voices reach each other’s ears even in the darkest places. Let’s keep writing beautiful words to share our dread.
The voices of a roaring sea and of a rumbling earthquake have gone silent. That cold draft now feels like warm fingers on your back, goosebumps. The once dim light is a spotlight on the closed door. Behind it, sounds, terrifying yet appealing voices calling for you.
We recommend you to open that door and let those voices in.
Eugenia Triantafyllou is a Greek author and artist with a flair for dark things. Her work has been nominated for the Ignyte, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, and she is a graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. You can find her stories in Uncanny, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, and other venues. She currently lives in Athens with a boy and a dog. Find her on Twitter or Mastodon @foxesandroses or her website https://eugeniatriantafyllou.wordpress.com
Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas was born and raised in Mexico but emigrated to the U.S. several years ago. She is a graduate of the Clarion West class of 2019. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, Nightmare, Strange Horizons, the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology She Walks in Shadows, and elsewhere. She can be found online at nellygeraldine.com and on Twitter as @kitsune_ng.
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Thank you for reading
Rebecca Bennett, Amy Henry Robinson, Tacoma Tomilson, and Clarke Doty