I tell myself I don’t like scary stories. I definitely don’t like gore. I don’t watch horror movies. I don’t like walking away from a novel or collection of stories feeling like I need to give my mind a shower.
And yet I do love a good ghost story. When I was in grade school, my notebooks were filled with stories of monsters hiding in the dark. Years later, my first novel was born in a science fiction short story. And my most recent published story, “Bone Orchard,” found a home in the latest issue of Hypnos, a journal of the macabre.
Hypnos is horror with class. It has a certain sophistication (my story’s inclusion notwithstanding). As the magazine’s website explains, it wants to be a publication that highlights the strange and the weird lurking beneath the everyday and ordinary. It isn’t horror for the sake of shock value or goresplatter. Rather the stories in here are finely-wrought pieces (for the most part) with the twists and the subtle unsettling wrongness of Lovecraft or Victorian horror. This is about the thing in the attic, the thing in the woods, the thing almost forgotten in the past—not about the serial killer down the street.
There were some genuinely creepy bits in here. We Shall All Eat of the Tree by Lawrence Buentello was horrific in a monstrously Lovecraftian way, and The Spider by Hanns Heinz Ewers was also genuinely frightening. There were stories dripping with atmosphere, with the setting itself providing the depth and unnerving aspects, like Fishhead by Irvin S. Cobb and Old Dominion by Michael Gray Baughan. Especially impressive (to me) though are those stories that can take on the tone and time of another place or culture seamlessly, like Edward Lucas White’s Lukundoo in Africa, James M. Preston’s Dr. Price in colonial America, and Ralph Adams Cram’s Dead Valley in Scandinavia.
There were also a handful a pieces that, though they were still rich and creepy, didn’t feel quite like they had the depth of atmosphere of these other pieces and rather would have been at home in a contemporary magazine where the shadows didn’t lay so heavy. In particular I’m thinking about I Baked Him a Cake by Samantha Kolesnik, Way Station by Jamie Killen, and The Cold Girl by Michael Fassbender. Almost all of the works in this volume were solid, and only one or two felt amateurish by comparison. The issue concludes with a reprint of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil.
It’s an enigmatic production, thick and perfect bound with a cover that makes it look almost like a historical journal. There is no context to the authors within, no bios or links to websites or funny quips about how they live in a cottage in Kentucky with seven cats. They’re all anonymous wanderers who have stepped in out of the storm for a moment to tell their tales. If you want to know more about these writers, you’re going to have to do some digging on your own. Even the editorial that opens the volume, which discusses the comparative influence of Poe and Lovecraft, makes no mention of them.
But perhaps because of this, the issue (and assumedly the proceeding volumes as well) captures an overall tone or mystique more effectively than other speculative magazines I’ve read of late. But trying to define exactly what that tone is is more difficult: an unease, a chill, but one that doesn’t simply frighten with raw horror. Rather a richer experience, a ghost story told around a fire on a perfect evening, with the story lingering over the details of the place and time itself, giving a thick context for the central horrific element.
Take a look. Leave the light on.