This week’s featured story is about two kinds of disturbing people. One is a type that we, as a culture, are fascinated by to the point of reverence. And the other, we turn from uncomfortably and don’t talk about. I’m talking about serial killers, and creepy as f—- children.
The World in Evening By Jei D. Marcade | Strange Horizons
Harley is rinsing the blood from his instruments when he hears a banging from upstairs. He pauses, hands dripping, and when the sound persists, shuts off the tap and leaves the bone saw in the inch of water swirling pinkly down the drain.
He opens the front door to find his neighbor Sable on his porch, her fist still raised mid-pound. She is breathing hard, sweat-and-paint-matted hair pulling loose from a sloppy ponytail, a smear of spring green on her cheek. Mouse, her youngest sibling at fourteen, stands behind her, arms folded around an oversized hardcover and a bunny doll.
Sable’s words tumble out in a breathless rush: “Oh thank God you’re home I’m so sorry to burst in on you like this but could you watch Mouse for an hour or so? My idiot brother shot himself in the leg with a nail gun and Mouse has had this thing about hospitals ever since our parents—”
“It’s no trouble,” he hears himself say.
“Thanks, Harley, I owe you one. Just sit her in a corner with her book; you know how she is. I’ll be back as soon as I can, okay, Mouse honey?” Sable gives the girl a quick hug and leaps off the porch shouting, “Stephen, I told you to start the damn car!”
Harley watches the battered sedan peel out of the driveway and disappear down the street. He looks at Mouse, who has not moved. He steps out onto the porch to push her gently into the house.
A pale baby alligator watches them from the foot of the stairs; a coyote is poised mid-stride in the corner, mostly lost to cobwebs and shadow. Mouse drags her dull stare from one to the other, tugging absently on the ear of her bunny doll.
Harley guides her down the narrow path worn through the dust carpeting the floor. He can feel the hard curve of her shoulders and the ridge of her clavicle through the thinning material of her sweatshirt.
She has good bones.
This story is as disturbing as it is well-written. It explores two types of monsters, both of which masquerade as normal or at least acceptable during the day.
Though I did enjoy the TV series Dexter (until it jumped the shark after season 4) and love Hannibal so much I can’t even watch it until I’m emotionally ready, I’m not an overall fan of the current squee over serial killers our culture is going through at the moment. Here, I don’t feel like the author is trying to make me empathize or sympathize with the monsters, even if they do use a tired setup for killing near the end. Instead, I want to run as far away from both of them as possible, because creeeeepyyyyyy. That’s what makes the story successful for me.
Stories like this are a big reason why I have always enjoyed reading Strange Horizons and support it. At the moment, they are having a fund drive to raise money for 2016 and I personally urge you to go contribute what you can. The money goes toward buying really amazing fiction, such as that gorgeous story by Gabby Reed I highlighted last week, Beyond Sapphire Glass by Margaret Killjoy, Vacui Magia By L. S. Johnson, and other stories I’ve highlighted in this column. If you enjoyed those or any of the poetry, reviews, or columns, the best way to ensure more of that in the future is to donate.
Artist Credit: Maggie Ivy
The Oiran’s Song by Isabel Yap | Uncanny Magazine
Trigger Warning: Rape, Sexual Exploitation
The Body Corporate by Mark Pantoja | Giganotosaurus
K. Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction author, media critic, issuer of the Tempest Challenge, and author of “Until Forgiveness Comes,” reprinted in In the Shadow of the Towers: Speculative Fiction in a Post-9/11 World. Follow her on Twitter, G+, Tumblr, or her blog.