I’m so not Mr. Horror, and so when I work my way through The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 and see the “Nightmare Magazine” listed as the source of the story, I wait until it’s full on daylight to keep going. I’m not kidding. Me reading horror just before bed is a recipe for no sleep, so I’ve learned my lesson.
And I’m glad I learned my lesson because “Loneliness Is in Your Blood” is so freaking disturbing on so many levels, and has the sort of imagery that stuck with me all day despite having read it post-breakfast, and it still snuck into my dreams. So, Cadwell Turnbull, consider this as praise: you did, indeed, cause a nightmare.
The narrative here—written in second person, for extra creep factor—is of an immortal creature whose immortality comes from temporarily peeling off its skin and being disturbingly alluring and feeding on the blood of those driven by this allure. The descriptiveness about the skinless body is high on the squick factor, but the allure is absolutely there, hence the way the story really socks that imagery home for later nightmare inducement.
The pivot of the story comes with the narrative realization of something changing, and it’s a pretty damn important something, and the shift from immortal allure to this other place is also shudder worthy, and slides some deft world-building into the mix before it’s all done.
Again, I’m not Mr. Horror. I always feel like a complete sham when I try to talk about horror fiction, but this story managed to turn a predator into something more, and something borderline sympathetic in places, which is a pretty darn impressive accomplishment for a non-horror reader like me.