The first time I heard the name “Nathan Ballingrud”, it was in the fifth edition of Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year series. I knew nothing of the author going in; at the time he was just another heading on the table of contents. His story “Wild Acre” was towards the back of the collection, and I came to it with no expectations and an open mind.
At the time, I was working in a dingy office and my lunches were sometimes spent in a cramped closet space fitted with a glaring fluorescent light. This is the spot I chose to read my books in relative peace and quiet, tomb-like though it was. For an hour on that fateful day, I was trapped in that little room with nothing but “Wild Acre” to keep me company. After I finished, I resolved to message Nathan as quickly as I could to let him personally know how much I enjoyed it.
Though “enjoyed” isn’t really the right word, at least not entirely anyway. “Wild Acre” didn’t feel like just a story to me: it was a raw blister on someone else’s heart, and as it progressed I could feel mine beating in sympathetic pain. I saw people I knew and people I could never be, but they were all real, every one of them written with such crystalline honesty that it brought an immediacy and intimacy to the narrative that I hadn’t felt in some time.