“Param” by Susan Snyder (2020 Splatterpunk Awards)

triggerwarningbodyhorrorThe final contender for the Splatterpunk Award for Best Short Story hails from the Madness Heart Press anthology Trigger Warning: Body Horror. The main character of “Param” is an individual of unspecified gender who frequents a certain club. There, our anti-hero routinely picks up women for one-night stands, taking them home and torturing them with a range of implements.

The story opens with the protagonist smoking a cigarette while looking upon the corpse of their latest partner, the sex toy of that night having been an immersion blender: “I started using it on her breasts but the splatter of tissues and fat was off-putting and killed the mood.” This act, we are told, was consensual. The club is a gathering place for sadists and masochists, and the protagonist has a connoisseur’s ability to identify the most willing partners – although this latest woman is, so far, the only one willing to die. But then, heading upstairs from the basement torture chamber, the killer makes a terrible discovery: they have managed to lock themself inside.

“Param” is a very brief story, one whose subject matter offered two obvious approaches. The first would have been to fill it with excruciating torture; the other would have been to use the trapped-in-the-basement twist as the ending. Author Susan Snyder avoids either tack.

The story does have its quota of wince-inducing physical violation – how could it not? – but it derives its horror less from gore and more from the calm, collected tone of the killer as they describe the infliction of torture and murder. This element of the story comes into its own after the killer finds themselves trapped in the basement: what many writers would have used as a punchline instead becomes the lead-in to the story’s climax, as the protagonist maintains their unflappable demeanour even when facing the possibility of their own death. Given that the killer is trapped with the decomposing corpse of the victim, the story’s finale is able to incorporate body horror as well as a touch of psychological insight.

Writing a story about brutality and degradation is easy, but coming up with an impactful structure within a short space takes more craft and inspiration. This is how “Param”, for all its outward simplicity, is able to leave an impression.

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