Nadia Bulkin’s first collection of short stories, She Said Destroy, was recently released from Word Horde, and it’s intense. The Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author specializes in socio-political horror stories, often based in Indonesia where she grew up. Paul Tremblay — author of A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock — wrote the introduction, so right off the bat, you know you’re in for something special. If you like cerebral speculative horror rooted in the world’s faults, this collection is for you.
The thirteen tales within She Said Destroy mainly focus on women and their struggles within the confines of oppressive socio-political structures. Each one is a reprint from various outlets with the last story, “No Gods, No Masters,” original to this collection.
The book opens with one of my favorites, “Intertropical Convergence Zone,” a story about a megalomaniacal general hell-bent on becoming his people’s savior — and the lieutenant who’ll help him at any cost, even if it means sacrificing his daughter. According to a recent interview with Bulkin, these characters were inspired by real Indonesian political figures in the 60s. As our history is filled with “the evil that men do” not actual monsters, I can’t say I’m surprised. Bulkin treats her characters with poignancy and care, and this is one instance where her skills work especially well.
“The Five Stages of Grief” is an intense look into the possibilities of a world where souls aren’t allowed to move on — and/or become emotional terrorists to their families and society at large. This is one cool story, focusing on an afterlife in frenzy, and what that means to those still living.
“And When She Was Bad” will certainly have the attention of those who love slashers, particularly the Friday, the 13th series. In this tale, a final girl keeps battling the un-killable monster only to find freedom in the fight itself. It’s one of the shorter stories here, and quite an interesting treatise on the tropes at hand.
“Only Unity Saves the Damned” takes on a local legend, “Raggedy Annie’s Witching Tree.” When a group of friends desperate to leave their hometown decides to make a video about the myth, it goes viral — but then the hauntings start. Spoiler: no one can ever leave. I can see this one adapted to the big screen by a studio like Blumhouse.
In “Pugelbone,” terrible creatures roam the landscape and are able to eat you or your children up at anytime. Throw in some societal discrimination and a version of child protection services, and you’ve got a weird little tale that lingers.
“Red Goat, Black Goat” once again has its roots in Indonesia. A terrifying goat-nurse lords over a family like the petulant animal demi-god it is. This story is one of the scarier ones in the pack, due not only to its supernatural and gory elements, but in the masterful way it was written.
In “Seven Minutes in Heaven,” a woman grows up entranced by the nearby ghost town, which flourished before succumbing to a mysterious disaster. I’m not quite sure if the woman is alive or dead, but she haunts the town all the same, and becomes part of the local legend.
“Girl, I Love You” is probably my favorite. Reminiscent of Japanese and Korean horror films, this story sinks its teeth into the vengeful ghost tale with considerable panache. A schoolgirl attempts to getting back at a bully with several rounds of black magic before killing herself to commit to the ultimate vengeance — only it doesn’t work. Her best friend is left behind to finish the job.
Ghosts dominate a luxury hotel room in “Endless Life.” The main location is the known haunted room, where a maid died in a mundane way, but everyone goes there to be possibly spooked by the spirit of General Fest, a war criminal who committed suicide there to escape authorities. The dead maid’s ghost not only lingers, but is angry enough to mess with the people who keep coming to shout at another entity, who doesn’t exist in her plane. This is a fun story for anyone who’s a fan of those paranormal “ghost hunters” shows.
Much like Lovecraft’s “The Strange Colour From Outer Space,” Bulkin’s “Violet is the Color of Your Energy” is about a farmer family and some kind of extraterrestrial influence. The family’s crops — corn, in particular — grow larger and taste funny. Then there’s the matter of the patriarch losing his mind and forcing his family to eat the corn, to the detriment of everyone, of course.
“Truth is Order and Order is Truth” is another story heavily influenced by Lovecraft, this time within the realm of Dagon. An ancient royal society goes through political upheavals in the struggle for power; add in a dash of bloody battles, some betrayals, and fairy tale-esque storytelling born in horror, and you have an entrancing story of the servants of the Old Ones.
“Absolute Zero” is a dark look into the myth of the wendigo, specifically growing up knowing that a monster is your father. What do you do when you meet this creature face-to-face within the seedy constructs of a makeshift freak show? Find out!
Finally, the brand-new “No Gods, No Masters” closes out the book with a tale of demons and a blossoming antichrist and the generations of women who have tried to keep it from being born — due to a coerced pact hundreds of years ago.
Bulkin should be on your radar if you’re looking for some seriously weird stuff — and like to read smart literature.