NIGHTMARES preview: “The Atlas of Hell” by Nathan Ballingrud

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


Atlas of Hell



didn’t even know he was dead. I had just shot this guy in the head
and he’s still standing there giving me shit. Telling me what a big
badass he works for, telling me I’m going to be sorry I was born.
You know. Blood pouring down his face. He can’t even see anymore,
it’s in his goddamn eyes. So I look down at the gun in my hand and
I’m like, what the fuck, you know? Is this thing working or what?
And I’m starting to think maybe this asshole is right, maybe I just
stepped into something over my head. I mean, I feel a twinge of real
fear. My hair is standing up like a cartoon. So I look at the dude
and I say, ‘Lay down! You’re dead! I shot you!’”

a bourbon and ice sitting on the end-table next to him. He takes a
sip from it and puts it back down, placing it in its own wet ring.
He’s very precise about it.

guess he just had to be told, because as soon as I say it? Boom.
Drops like a fucking tree.”

don’t know what he’s expecting from me here. My leg is jumping up
and down with nerves. I can’t make it stop. I open my mouth to say
something but a nervous laugh spills out instead.

looks at me incredulously, and cocks his head. Patrick is a big guy;
but not doughy, like me. There’s muscle packed beneath all that
flesh. He looks like fists of meat sewn together and given a suit of
clothes. “Why are you laughing?”

don’t know, man. I don’t know. I thought it was supposed to be a
funny story.”

you demented fuck. That’s not a funny story. What’s the matter
with you?”

pushing midnight, and we’re sitting on a coffee-stained couch in a
darkened corner of the grubby little bookstore I own in New Orleans,
about a block off Magazine Street. My name is Jack Oleander. I keep a
small studio apartment overhead, but when Patrick started banging on
my door half an hour ago I took him down here instead. I don’t want
him in my home. That he’s here at all is a very bad sign.

bookstore is called Oleander. I sell used books, for the most part,
and I serve a very sparse clientele: mostly students and disaffected
youth, their little hearts love-drunk on Kierkegaard or Salinger.
That suits me just fine. Most of the books have been sitting on their
shelves for years, and I feel like I’ve fostered a kind of
relationship with them. A part of me is sorry whenever one of them
leaves the nest.

bookstore doesn’t pay the bills, of course. The books and documents
I sell in the back room take care of that. Few people know about the
back room, but those who do pay very well indeed. Patrick’s boss is
one of those people. We parted under strained circumstances a year or
so ago. I was never supposed to see him again. His presence here
makes me afraid, and fear makes me reckless.

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

Cover by Nihil

Design by Elizabeth Story