NIGHTMARES preview: “Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)” by Caitlín R. Kiernan

In celebration of the recently released NIGHTMARES: A NEW DECADE OF MODERN HORROR, Tachyon and editor Ellen Datlow present glimpses into terror from several of the volume’s horrifying tales.


Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8)


R. Kiernan

way of the transgressor is hard.” —Cormac McCarthy


Impala’s wheels singing on the black hot asphalt sound like frying
steaks, USDA choice-cut T-bones, sirloin sizzling against August
blacktop in Nevada or Utah or Nebraska, Alabama or Georgia, or where
the fuck ever this one day, this one hour, this one motherfucking
minute is going down. Here at the end, the end of one of us, months
are a crimson thumb smudge across the bathroom mirror in all the
interchangeable motel bathrooms that have come and gone and come
again. You’re smoking and looking for music in the shoebox filled
with cassettes, and the clatter of protective plastic shells around
spools of magnetically coated tape is like an insect chorus, a cicada
symphony. You ask what I want to hear, and I tell you it doesn’t
matter, please light one of those for me. But you insist, and you
keep right on insisting, “What d’you wanna hear?” And I say,
well not fucking Nirvana again, and no more Johnny Cash, please, and
you toss something from the box out the open passenger window. In the
side-view mirror, I see a tiny shrapnel explosion when the cassette
hits the road. Cars will come behind us, cars and trucks, and roll
over the shards and turn it all to dust. “No more Nirvana,” you
say, and you laugh your boyish girl’s laugh, and Jesus and Joseph
and Mother Mary, I’m not going to be able to live in a world
without that laugh. Look at me, I say. Open your eyes, please open
your eyes and look at me, please. You can’t fall asleep on me.
Because it won’t be falling asleep, will it? It won’t be falling
asleep at all. We are on beyond the kindness of euphemisms, and maybe
we always were. So, don’t fall asleep. Don’t flutter the
eyelashes you’ve always hated because they’re so long and pretty,
don’t let them dance that Totentanz tarantella we’ve delighted at
so many goddamn times, don’t let the sun go down on me. You shove a
tape into the deck. You always do that with such force, as if there’s
a vendetta grudge between you and that machine. You punch it in and
twist the volume knob like you mean to yank it off and yeah, that’s
good, I say. That’s golden, Henry Rollins snarling at the sun’s
one great demon eye. You light a Camel for me and place it between my
lips, and the steering wheel feels like a weapon in my hands, and the
smoke feels like Heaven in my lungs. Wake up, though. Don’t shut
your eyes. Remember the day that we, and remember the morning, and
remember that
time in—shit, was it El Paso? Or was it Port Arthur? It doesn’t
matter, so long as you keep your eyes open and look at me. It’s
hours until sunrise, and have you not always sworn a blue streak that
you would not die in the darkness? That’s all we’ve got here. In
for a penny, in for a pound, but blackness, wall to wall, sea to
shining sea, that’s all we’ve got in this fluorescent hell, so
don’t you please fall asleep on me.

For more info about NIGHTMARES: A NEW DECADE OF MODERN HORROR, visit the Tachyon page.

Cover by Nihil

Design by Elizabeth Story