Although they’re set in contemporary Argentina, many of the short stories in Mariana Enríquez’s Things We Lost in the Fire have an almost primal feel. A current of macabre superstition and urban legend threads the collection together, and nearly every story has some kind of undefinable darkness looming over its protagonists. The terror that transpired during Argentina’s relatively recent dictatorship — thousands were murdered in the 1970s and early 1980s — also haunts the pages. These are horror stories feel like they could be real.
Enríquez is very talented when it comes to creating atmospheric tension. Most of the stories take a surreal turn, but they all start out with recognizable contemporary scenarios: poverty, drug abuse, social inequality, childhood curiosity, obnoxious boyfriends. It isn’t until the reader is drawn into the relatable, reality-based settings that weird things start happening.
Victoria McQueen was born with a special gift; whenever she’s riding her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, a bridge will appear can transport her wherever she needs to go. Once there, she can find things that are lost. It starts out innocently enough, with Vic looking for things to keep her parents from fighting, but the temptation to do more with her trick is always there.
Meanwhile, Charles Talent Manx is out on the prowl for children. He has a special vehicle of his own, a Rolls Royce Wraith, which he uses to transport children to Christmasland, a ghoulish twilight zone of yuletide cheer where soulless children revere Manx unconditionally. Hundreds of children (and sometimes their parents) have mysteriously disappeared over the years, and when Vic figures out that she might be able to find them, she goes looking for trouble. She ends up barely escaping from Manx’s Sleigh House, the only child to ever have done so. In the process of her escape and subsequent rescue, Manx is caught and imprisoned for life, assumed to be a pedophile and serial killer.
Now Vic is an adult, and Manx has never stopped thinking about her. But rather than come for her when the opportunity arises, he decides to come for her son, Bruce. Meanwhile, Vic is convinced that she’s always been mentally ill; once would have to be schizophrenic to actually believe that magic bridges and places like Christmasland exist. Unless she can find a way to trust her instincts and her sanity, her son’s life is on the line.
In December 1975, George and Kathleen Lutz moved into their new home in Amityville, NY. With three young children and a limited budget, they could hardly believe their luck: the house on 112 Ocean Avenue had everything they wanted at the right price. After they toured the house, they found out why: the previous year, Ronald DeFeo Jr. had gruesomely murdered his parents and four siblings there (true story). Still, when they learned the reason the house was so cheap, they brushed it off.
But from the moment the Lutzes moved in on December 18, weird things started happening. Certain rooms were ice cold no matter what they did. The priest that they’d asked to come and bless the house quickly fled; he became ill and had extreme physical reactions any time he tried to reach out to the Lutzes, even over the phone. George and Kathleen grew moody and lashed out at the children. George found himself waking up at 3:15 a.m. every day like clockwork. One of the children suddenly had a mysterious imaginary friend.
Confession: Up until now, I had never read a full-length vampire novel. I do, however, love a good vampire story. This summer, when I went to Europe, I was even going to make a trip out to Čachtice, Slovakia, where the ruins of the alleged real Dracula’s castle remain (FYI: Dracula was actually a sadistic woman/serial killer of noble blood who brutally tortured her servants before killing them). Unfortunately, my sprained ankles killed my plans for that hike, but I’ve remained in a Dracula mood ever since. Rather than read Bram Stoker’s classic in print, I listened to it all throughout October. There’s a full-cast production of the novel on Audible featuring Tim Curry(!) and Alan Cumming(!).
Honestly, I had no idea what to expect going into this. My primary experience with pop-culture Dracula is the whole, “I vant to suck your blood,” thing. Stoker’s Dracula isn’t quite so open about it; nowhere in the book does that line appear. Instead, the book is told from different characters’ documents, letters, and diary entries (my heart sank over this at first — y’all know how I feel about epistolary novels — but it gets good fast, so I stopped caring). It begins with Jonathan Harker, a solicitor, who is sent to Transylvania to finalize the purchase of a home in London for a mysterious elderly man named Count Dracula. Despite all of the red flags of the townspeople who try to warn him away from going anywhere near Dracula’s castle, Jonathan proceeds as scheduled and soon finds himself a prisoner on the terrifying property.
Trigger warning after the jump
Spoilers after the jump
Even though he remained as faithful to the original as possible, I was never a big fan of Roman Polanski’s film adaptation of Rosemary’s Baby. That Scene was the most memorable/terrifying/skin-crawling part of the film for me, as was the chilling ending. Everything else? Meh, I’d always thought. Now having read Ira Levin’s classic, I know what’s missing: the slow-building psychological thrill of it all.
The book starts with Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse being offered an opportunity to move into The Bramford, a luxury building in Manhattan. A friend of theirs warns them of the building’s dark history of mysterious deaths, cannibals, and the occasional high-profile practitioner of witchcraft; Guy and Rosemary laugh it off as superstition. They settle into their new life, Guy as a struggling actor and Rosemary as a nesting housewife who hopes to start a family soon. Soon after, they also befriend their nosy elderly neighbors, Minnie and Roman Castevet; Rosemary is unsettled by how clingy they are, but Guy seems to love their company and starts spending more and more time with them.
Things are soon looking up for them. Guy has a big break, albeit under unfortunate circumstances: the actor he always seems to lose jobs to has suddenly gone blind. Now Guy is getting all kinds of roles and finds himself on the brink of great success. He and Rosemary have also finally agreed to try and start a family.