Growing up in North Carolina, I bore witness to and soaked up stories, which often seem made up to outsiders. On my grandparents’ porch, I begged cousins and aunts, and uncles and their friends to tell me about the past, to tell me the most messed-up tales they could come up with. So-and-so lost his hand to a corn picker. Uncle Joe stabbed the man who was sleeping with his wife as he tried to escape the scene of the crime in a taxi. The kid Aunt Lou adopted wound up in trouble with the law, then turned up a mysterious kind of dead. Don’t trust the Presleys across the street because they’re on the dope. Old Charlie up the road runs girls and they’re on the needle and too young. So-and-so worked for Duke Power and took a live line to the head after Hurricane Hugo blew in and we had his funeral by candlelight because it took a couple weeks to get everyone’s power fully restored. So-and-so died from Agent Orange and you can’t imagine the stink. Cousin John-John died playing in an abandoned house after the stairwell collapsed on him. I seen my buddy step on a landmine and, poof. The weird thing about our kind is that my grandpa, he let out a little laugh when he told that one. I saw a lot of death and tragedy with my own eyes, too. My great-grandpa had both his legs amputated before he died and when my daddy told me to kiss him in his casket, I flailed, screamed, and ran. When I was fourteen, I saw a man commit suicide and burn in his car.
I guess you could say the gothic tradition of storytelling is my birthright. I have always been drawn to stories of isolation and marginalization, of violence, of the grotesque and freakishness, of destitution and decay, but I don’t think this is unique to the American South or Nineteenth Century British Literature. To me, it’s there in every story that elicits a bit of the uncanny—the sense of wickedness lurking just below the surface, whether it’s natural or unnatural. We live in an interesting time for this type of storytelling when we have cities in decline, crumbling infrastructure, and widespread migration to and from both rural and urban areas. It’s no longer just an abandoned plantation house or inexplicable nostalgia for the Antebellum South (which has always sickened me); it’s about the ephemeral and idealistic idea of this country and its unavoidable rot. To me the gothic tradition represents conflict and tension and storytelling at its best. I love my home. I hate my home. I love myself. I hate myself. I am capable of great and terrible things. I am human.
I extend a huge thank you to Georgia Bellas, Dan Cafaro, Jessica Thwaite (our new Managing Editor), and our talented contributors for their help in bringing this gorgeous issue together.
Welcome to The Gothic Issue.
We kick off the issue with Emily O’Neill’s arresting story, “The Moon is Dead.” With a first line like, “The day they pulled Paulie Sisto’s body out of the bayou, he came over to ask me for a slice of watermelon,” how could you not keep reading?
Jacob Cox explores the sense of dread and guilt of a doomed friendship and perhaps a doomed city in his story “The Empty Wicker Chair.” Beautiful decay abounds: “One watches as their skin peels away in layers, like paint leaving only ash…the perpetual tint of…of death…that underlying color…”
In Abbey Mendelson and Vincent Rendoni’s story, “Frozen River,” we get an outsider at her most troubled and peaceful as she navigates a northern landscape: “Stepping across her backyard, Tabby considered the silence. She paused, slowed her breathing, balanced in the snow, listened. It was there, palpable, millions of cubic feet pressing on Tabitha; yet it was not there.”
Two children learn grief is its own kind of haunt in Christina Sun’s “Promises.” Navigating loss, the protagonist says, “He made me feel like I had a disease.”
Sarah Wilkinson shows us a woman who retreats from the light in her post-911 New York story, “Umbrella.” Carrying her umbrella everywhere, she knows, “If the sun’s out, people look at her. They think she’s a vampire, scared of the sun, or just allergic.”
In “Varsity,” Erin Lyndal Martin writes the story of two teenagers tinkering with forces unknown, daring each other to take it further.
Timston Johnston’s “that pretty hollow cage” is a lyrical whisper that calls you to “Name the names, see how they sound in open air.”
Chamandeep Bains is left reeling after an encounter with a corpse in her striking essay, “A Ghastly Title Like the 100 Faces of Death.”
“Butchering Chickens–Ten Years/after my Father’s Death on a Farm” by Angela Williamson Emmert paints a brutal, but loving portrait of farm life.
Nicole Santalucia looks into the murky boundary between self and place in “I Can’t Tell if it’s Me.”
In “Arson,” Stephanie Dugger writes of a barn set ablaze, a father saving his tractor, and the spectacle of the sudden destruction of their property.
Amanda Pauley writes, “Just don’t get around the machinery and be careful of the cows,” in her eerie story, “The Pastoral View.” Seriously, beware of the cows.
We close The Gothic Issue with “The Girl From Thorn Point Road” by Kristen Valentine. It is a bloody story of heartbreak and insecurity, of sweat and heat, of poverty and torment, of execution, of misfits, and illicit love. Flannery O’Connor would be proud of this unforgettable story.
Photo by Jason