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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Nightmare #33, June 2015

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Nightmare #33, June 2015

"Snow" by Dale Bailey

"The Cellar Dweller" by Maria Dahvana Headley

Reviewed by Lillian Csernica

"Snow" by Dale Bailey

Dave Kerans and his wife Felicia are camping two thousand feet above Boulder, CO with Dave's buddy Lanyan and his girlfriend Natalie. The adventure turns into a crisis when Lanyan's satellite radio brings reports of a viral outbreak the broadcasts call the "red death" because of its blood-drenched symptoms. The group finds a summer cabin where they can ride out the winter in comfort. When Felicia falls while collecting firewood and breaks her leg, the situation begins to spiral downward into greater and greater desperation.

The opening paragraph of the story shows the group hunkered down inside a house left abandoned amid the urban devastation. Knowing that much at the start kills the tension of the flashback when Dave thinks back about the chain of misfortunes that brought them there. A blizzard and something big and scary outside force Dave into making a drastic decision. Dave is the only character with any depth. The other three are just names and character tags. The "virus devastates civilization" idea has already been done to death. No real surprises here.

"The Cellar Dweller" by Maria Dahvana Headley

This is the story of an unwanted little girl in a town full of pretty people who have a really horrible way of making sure everybody stays pretty. The little girl is the town's Banisher. She's willing to go down into the cellars and remove the fell dark things that dwell down there. As time passes, she becomes essential to the town and its devotion to keeping everything pretty. This gets her a role in city politics, a salary, and the means to get a college degree. Along the way she continues her banishing, all in preparation for that wonderful celebration to be held in honor of her parents' twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

There is so much to like about this story. The narrative voice, the use of rhyming fairy tale phrasing, and the coining of names for some of the creatures the Banisher encounters make the story a real pleasure to read. The perspective of the Banisher and how she relates to the creatures she's called on to get rid of says so much about how children face discrimination, how appearances are deceiving, and how far even the smallest gesture of compassion can reach. The originality and layers of meaning call to mind the work of Tanith Lee, of Jane Yolen, and Diana Wynne Jones.