A young woman’s fears regarding the gruesome photos appearing on her cell phone prove justified in a ghastly and unexpected way. A chainsaw-wielding Evil Dead fan defends herself against a trio of undead intruders. A bride-to-be comes to wish that the door between the physical and spiritual worlds had stayed shut on All Hallows’ Eve. A lone passenger on a midnight train finds that the engineer has rerouted them toward a past she’d prefer to forget. A mother abandons a life she no longer recognizes as her own to walk up a mysterious staircase in the woods.
In her debut collection, Christa Carmen combines horror, charm, humor, and social critique to shape thirteen haunting, harrowing narratives of women struggling with both otherworldly and real-world problems. From grief, substance abuse, and mental health disorders, to a post-apocalyptic exodus, a seemingly sinister babysitter with unusual motivations, and a group of pesky ex-boyfriends who won’t stay dead, Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked is a compelling exploration of horrors both supernatural and psychological, and an undeniable affirmation of Carmen’s flair for short fiction.
Imagine you’re in a very cramped, very dim, and very silent antique store. You’re scanning the stacks, the piles, the shelves, breathing in the yellowed air, deciding whether or not to listen to your intuition which is telling you that you might want to leave this place. You notice a box on one of the lower shelves. It’s wood, dark wood, maybe it has even darker stains, maybe there are some arcane carvings on it. It is heavy, and things rattle within as you pick it up. You lift the lid. You see many things inside: scary things, forbidden things, harmful things…
This is what it’s like opening the cover of Christa Carmen’s Something Borrowed, Something Blood-Soaked and venturing through its stellar and unnerving thirteen tales. There are bones, blood-covered blades, black-eyed dolls, snatches of hair, dried grave flowers. Crypts. Corn Mazes. Masks that might not be masks. There are dubious babysitters, the phantoms of dead ex-boyfriends, people trying to recover and people who will not recover. It is visceral, but it is also poignant, and the language in the collection is exquisite.
Some examples? Behold: “Her name dies on your throat like a poison-doused perennial.” “When you wake again, the light is softer, more diffuse, like yellow begonias at dusk.” “His movements caused the satin ribbon to cascade over the side of his desk like molten lava over a volcano summit.” “In the ramshackle Victorian on Elm Street that had once been her parents’, but now belonged to her and her sister, dried bouquets of flowers covered every available surface of wall, upside down and desiccated like a silent colony of bats.”
While the items you find within this metaphorical box of sharps and relics may be terrifying and suggest a past of horror, death, and possibly worse, they also tell a human story—one of struggle, terror, grief, and perhaps most of all, courage when the very notion of it seems audacious and hopeless. This is horror with a heart—one that continues to beat no matter how hard the world tries to make it stop.
Joshua Rex is an American author of speculative fiction. He was born in Sandusky, Ohio and grew up between the Midwest and New England. He is the author of the collection What’s Coming for You (Rotary Press, 2020) and the novel A Mighty Word (Rotary Press, 2021)
What’s Coming for You —
In these ten unsettling tales—the debut collection from Joshua Rex—cities and houses become predators, mothers macabre curators, dormant antique coats and colonial legends revivified dangers. A psychometress resurrects a rapacious fiend, and a psychologist counsels an eerily familiar patient. A man returning home to bury his father is forced to exhume a horrid secret, and a bullied adolescent’s game-winning shot is not only a team victory but a bloody and visceral personal triumph.
Uniting these doomed is the unequivocal certainty that what is coming is coming for us all.
Includes: The Leap. Breakout Season. The Unfinished Room. What’s Coming for You. A Mother’s Museum. Coattails. The Whispering Wheel. The Reveal. In Situ. The Voice Below.
A Mighty Word —
Kevin Heartstone is a past-obsessed tenth grader grieving the loss of his father, an architect and restoration specialist, and struggling with his mother’s new relationship with the owner of a demolition company. While visiting his father’s grave, Kevin encounters Jane Cardinal, a fifteen year old girl who has been dead for over a century and a half. Jane, along with her contemporaries, have recently been re-animated by the by-product of an anti-depressant produced by Still City’s leading employer—Preventative Solutions—which has been illegally dumping the waste into the decaying area neighborhoods and cemeteries. Jane will be Kevin’s link to a time for which he longs, while Kevin himself will become central in his fractured hometown’s survival, and the dilemma of reconciling its past with its present by conciliating the dead with the living.