Douglas F. Warrick’s short story “Cuckoo Girls” appeared in Apex Magazine in June 2016. You can read it here.
WHAT SCARED ME: Truly creepy monsters (yup, one’s 9 feet tall and has a baby-doll mask for a face) that hunt their “assigned” women through amazingly vivid scenes.
I first read this short story on my phone while I rode the train home at night. The atmosphere was perfect; lights flickered around me in tandem with the fireflies in the piece, and it was hard not to wonder if they, like the bugs, spelled the presence of something sinister.
This story follows Nikki and Samantha, two women on the run from monsters that have killed their loved ones and saved the girls for last. Each monster is grotesque in its own unique way (though they both seem to wear masks), and each doggedly pursues its designated woman. Oh, and Nikki and Samantha aren’t the only ones who have attracted otherworldly attention—there are internet forums where other women post descriptions of their monsters, plus theories as to why they’ve been singled out for inevitable death.
“Cuckoo Girls” is a phenomenal horror story that does what so few can: take inhuman beings that seem to be stitched together from familiar tropes, and make them entirely believable and threatening. Nikki’s long-necked monster has a baby-doll mask for a face, and Samantha’s wears a burlap sack. (Perhaps they’ve seen The Strangers?) But the inclusion of these accouterments doesn’t render the monsters cliché; Warrick’s way better than that.
Nikki never stops smelling it. Manure, wet asphalt, baby powder, bonfire smoke, the ripe sweetness of garbage long past needing to be taken out. That scent has haunted her since the moment it loomed over her in the unfinished basement of her parents’ house, its smiling baby-doll mask so close to her face that she could see that it wasn’t a mask at all, could see the way it pulsed and rippled as alien musculature clenched and unclenched beneath it.
It’s not just the masks that evoke horror movies. “Cuckoo Girls” plays out like a masterfully self-conscious film, from its initial scene wherein the girls load their guns and hit the road to a slow-mo strobe-lit (well, lightning-bug-lit) showdown in a motel hallway. Samantha even recounts one forum-goer’s hypothesis that the hunted women are film characters, and that their monsters refuse to die because someone up there keeps writing sequels.
“Cuckoo Girls” really stuck with me, enough that it partly inspired the creation of this blog. It’s deliciously scary with as satisfying of an ending as you can get when you’re dealing with unexplainable, unstoppable monsters. I feel elated when someone can pull this kind of story off, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Warrick’s later works!