Nightmare #12, September 2013

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Nightmare #12, September 2013

“Halfway Home” by Linda Nagata
“The Nest” by C.S. McMullen

Reviewed by Lillian Csernica

Linda Nagata‘s “Halfway Home” takes a hard look at the way we ignore the strangers around us until disaster strikes and we’re all in it together. Halley is an American photojournalist taking a flight to Los Angeles. Her seatmate is Anita, a nice Filipino lady who appears to be ill. Anita assures Halley it’s just her allergies. Their polite social chat about the airline’s safety brochure spooks them both. When the plane’s engines start shutting down, Halley finds herself trapped in a chain of events that make her rethink what her will to survive really means. Linda Nagata is a talented writer, keeping her theme subtle and giving the reader hints that crank up the tension without revealing the story twists. I complain a lot about stories being predictable. “Halfway Home” is all about the unexpected.

“The Nest” in C.S. McMullen‘s story is a very strange house that has undergone some extreme modifications thanks to its owner, Mr. Marsden. When the story’s protagonist, an unnamed female real estate agent, arrives at Mr. Marsden’s request to estimate the worth of the house, she is appalled to discover the mostly organic nature of the structure. The bizarre architecture is deliberate because Mr. Marsden has built an enormous ant hill. The first person viewpoint creates a claustrophobic intimacy with the weirdness of the house and the obvious monomania of Mr. Marsden, who just gets creepier as the story progresses. The second half of the story left me with several questions. Why does the real estate agent get so involved with what’s happening inside the nest? Why does she return not once, as her job demands, but a third time, alone and at night? The climax of the story works, but the actual story ends two or three paragraphs before the end of the text. That dangling epilogue contains an implication that is really unnecessary and not a little annoying, given the originality of the premise.