In Hailey Piper’s cosmic horror novella, we follow Monique, a trans woman living on the streets of NYC and searching for her partner Donna, who was abducted along with a host of other women by a mysterious person / being. Her search takes her beneath the city into a subterranean world populated with a strange cult who worship The Worm, an intergalactic deity plus the other bizarre denizens who are not of this world.
In only 114 pages, Hailey Piper builds a rich and complex mythology involving gods, space and ancient prophecies. The world beneath is vividly imagined and while it can be a touch confusing at times, this adds to the tension, as Monique is also struggling to keep up with the bizarre happenings. I detected hints of both Clive Barker and The Dark Crystal, particularly the last third of that film.
Monique is a strong empathetic character, and Piper makes us feel for her plight, by showing us both glimpses into happier times for her but also the trauma following her transition at the hands of a dodgy surgeon. Her tenacity in the face of extreme adversity, from the harsh world above ground still not fully accepting of trans people to the cult below who have plans for Monique and demand fealty to their god.
I only wish we could’ve had more of Monique’s journey before she ended up homeless and the introduction of the cosmic element happens quickly with the Gray Maiden appearing very early in the book. As a result I found the initial chapters quite jarring as I felt I was dragged beneath the ground as opposed to being drawn there naturally by the story.
After that first section though, I thoroughly enjoyed this strange, emotional and horrific journey and the ending is one of the best recent examples of full cosmic horror as Piper bends time and space into a brilliant phantasmagorical explosion of ideas and images.
4 “Oooh’s” out of 5.