C. Robert Cargill’s We Are Where the Nightmares Go
Words By Zachary Sanfilippo
C. Robert Cargill has always operated in a strange place (and not just because he was one of the lead screenwriters for Marvel’s 2016 Doctor Strange). Horror and humor, pain and peace, sickness and satisfaction—these are only a few of the binaries Cargill shamelessly stews together in his stories. He’s an author that thrives in the In-Between spaces, in the uncomfortable and uncertain; an author that derives just as much pleasure from writing as he does from playing with his readers’ expectations. He’s an author who, in short, writes weird. His newest book, We Are Where the Nightmares Go, fits squarely in that tradition. And it absolutely doesn’t disappoint.
We Are Where the Nightmares Go is a collection of ten short stories, ranging from the terrifying to the fantastical. No doubt intelligently designed by Cargill to break traditional genre boundaries, the only thing safe to say about the collection is that it is fiction. Of course, for most readers that’s about as useful as saying it’s printed on paper and has two covers. The stories perhaps skew more towards horror, but Cargill refuses to limit himself in what spaces he chooses to explore. He deals as comfortably with angels and demons as he does with dinosaurs and even Death. But it is this willingness on the part of Cargill to challenge tradition and enthrall his readers by throwing out the writing rulebook which sets his collection apart.
Cargill’s prime source of strength in We Are Where the Nightmares Go is inextricably linked to the depth of the imagination displayed in the book. There’s an originality to this collection that is almost palpable on the page. Each story seizes the reader, submerging them into settings that are entirely alien and fresh from the one that came before. And even when Cargill leans into well-known tropes, he does so in such way that reinvents them for the reader to keep them entertaining. Take, for example, one of my favorite stories in the collection: ‘Hell Creek’. Most people would think that zombies are a trope which has (pun intended) been done to death. And yet Cargill approaches it from a direction entirely original. Dinosaurs. Specifically, zombie dinosaurs. Now while the premise might sound ridiculous—and trust me, I hear it too—somehow in the space of forty or so pages, I found myself not only enjoying the Jurassic adventure but invested in the harrowing journey of its prehistoric protagonists.
Another example presents itself in ‘As They Continue to Fall’. Who knew angels were actually assholes who terrify and torment children for fun? The story takes the conception of a ‘guardian angel’ and shoots it out of the sky. Not unlike its protagonist whose job is to assassinate them, in fact. Cargill goes beyond simply twisting traditional fiction tropes: he straps them to a table and systematically dismembers them (It’s horror, remember?). Even so, he does it in a satisfying, intelligent, enjoyable way each time.
And every story in We Are Where the Nightmares Go is just as imaginative as the two above. It’s the ability by Cargill to enthrall his readers by defying them which also contributes to the collection’s success. The stories can—and often do—change radically in the space of a single phrase, tantalizing the readers with thinking they know exactly how the story is going to end. Only to leave them shocked, and even more satisfied, strangely, with the ending he chooses to create. We Are Where the Nightmares Go very much plays on the reader’s innate expectations, allowing us to think we’ve found it out when in reality we haven’t seen the real ending from a mile off. For a lesser writer, such twists might seem contrived or flashy, but Cargill pulls it off expertly.
All in all, We Are Where the Nightmares Go is clearly the work of a mad genius at the peak of his craft. In an era where authors more often cater to their audiences than risk originality and tropes are recycled rather than reinvented, Cargill dares to approach his readers and his work on his own terms, in his own way.
The result is fun, fantastical, suspenseful, enjoyable, horrifying, and, yes, just a little weird.