Nightmare Flower and When Darkness Loves Us (short stories) by Elizabeth Engstrom
I read these when I was about 12 or 13 years old. Being a fan of Joan Aiken's gothic short fiction for young adults, I thought Engstrom's might be the next step. Wrong-o. Instead of the sustained eeriness I'd already come to expect from artfully crafted horror fiction, I found:
- a story about a woman trapped for years in a cave system very close to her farm. She gave birth to her daughter alone and raised her in the caves because no one thought to look for her down there. She finally got sick of eating blind fish, so she made a backpack out of lichen and strapped her baby into it. Then she crawled up a well-like tunnel to daylight, inch by inch. It took her a month, and she had to survive by eating slugs and sucking the water out of moss. Srsly.
- a story about a mentally handicapped woman without a nose. By the end of the story she has a nose, but you really don't want to know where she got it.
- a story about an experimental community in which every resident's heart and breathing rates are in synch with an electromagnetic pulse that sounds somewhat like the Taos Hum.
These premises could maybe be worked into something magical by more gifted writers (imagine if J.G. Ballard had written the cave story!). But poor Ms. Engstrom just didn't have the goods. The characters were stiff and soulless, the plots so absurd that they could only be appreciated on a camp level. "Lichen backpack! Ha!"
At least, that's what I thought. Nightmare Flower was actually nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in '92, and When Darkness Loves Us has recently been reissued (Engstrom is even doing a book tour to promote it). More evidence that someone up there hates us.