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Review of #DeadSealChallenge by S. C. Mendes & Nikki Noir

“Here we go. On three.” Looking at the infected penis on the cutting board, Gary fought back a grimace. He held the cock steady with his gloved left hand. His right hand held a cleaver. “One...two—”

If the opening lines of #DeadSealChallenge don’t grab you, few things will. Of course, they might disgust you as well, but S. C. Mendes and Nikki Noir have a habit of being able to hold your gaze even when showing you the most depraved scenarios and people. As storytellers, both writers exhibit a leaning towards the cinematic, and their ability to focus a camera unflinchingly is one resulting trait of their collaborations.

#DeadSealChallenge is a surprising short story, told Tarantino-style. We begin in media res, when everything has royally gone to hell. Through an interview with one of the principle characters, we begin to flash back and piece together the missing elements of the story. I say the story is surprising not just because of the strangeness of some of its concepts—bizarro authors eat your hearts out—but also because I’m frankly amazed at how much the two authors have crammed into a tale that can be no more than 6,000 words. #DeadSealChallenge touches on male insecurity, influencer culture, YouTube success, the depravities of the dark web, hashtag crazes sweeping the world, the monetisation of human shame, and the problems of fame, especially that unique brand of fame: “internet celebrity”. It’s difficult to say the main characters are likeable, but they are certainly believable, and you willingly follow them down the rabbit hole to see if they really can pull off their elaborate and highly immoral scheme.

#DeadSealChallenge explores the nature of viral media—and please bear that phrase in mind, because it might be relevant in more ways than one! I’ll say no more, lest I spoil a delicious surprise for horror lovers!—whilst itself being a viral piece of media that I have no doubt will infect the internet. When reading work by Mendes or Noir, one always has to be sensitive to the double meanings of things. A virus can infect the mind, body, or an online presence. A seal, in this context, is meant in the sense of the animal; but it won’t hurt you to also consider what happens when we break a different kind of seal… Seals keep things shut in, after all. Whilst Noir and Mendes clearly love writing about extreme topics, their work never descends into extremity for the sake of it, or shock for shock’s sake. Read between the lines and new meanings emerge; this is what makes their collaborative work so rich.

If I have one criticism, it is the same criticism I always levy at collaborations between S.C. Mendes and Nikki Noir: that I could stand to read 60,000 words, rather than 6,000! This story and concept has more places it can go. So, allow me to start a new hashtag:

#DeadSealChallengeII.

Let’s make it viral, folks!

You can purchase #DeadSealChallenge on Godless.

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Review of Cucumbers & Comforters by Nikki Noir


Horror and eroticism are both challenging to write well, and it is even rarer to encounter a writer who can do both whilst also throwing a bit of humour into the mix. Nikki Noir is one such author, and her novelette, Cucumbers and Comforters (available exclusively from Godless) manages to titillate, horrify, and make you laugh out loud in equal measure. 

The story follows Jen, a lonely teenager who is convinced she has seen one of her only friends, Dale Oberman, by the river. Dale is a younger kid with a learning disability who loves listening to stories about Kappas: Japanese water demons with a penchant for cucumbers. The only problem is that Dale Oberman is supposedly missing, and no one will believe that Jen’s seen him. 

Things only get worse when people start to get eviscerated. One by one, they’re found arse-up and guts leaking out of their hole. It’s gruesome stuff, and Nikki Noir pulls no punches when it comes to the frightening process by which these victims are turned inside out, although, in very Clive Barker fashion, she often misdirects us with a sexual encounterfirst. Noir writes like an erotic sadist in this regard, toying with our expectations; will we receive gruesome horror or an erotic thrill? We are never quite sure, and it is this duality, alongside the surprisingly layered plot, that keeps us on tenterhooks until the final page.

It’s clear that Cucumbers and Comforters was fun to write and is intended to be taken partly in jest. The image of a humungous cucumber on the front cover, and the blurb that tells us demons “want your ass”, is as tongue-in-cheek as it gets. But as with all great spoofs, there is a serious undercurrent, and I believe that’s the case here. Jen is an empathetic figure. We can all relate to her troubles with acceptance and her savage treatment by peers and adults alike. And Jen is not the only outsider. Dale Oberman is another, due to his learning disability. And Shaggy, Jen’s unlikely weed-smoking ally in the investigation, is a third. Nikki Noir handles these characters with surprising tenderness and we feel for them as they are disbelieved and maligned by the less sympathetic characters of the story. Beneath the ass-plumbing demons is a tale of how unlikely friendships form and become a comforter against social evils.

There is also an exploration of the modern fascination with asses, anal, anilingus, and scatology. Women want it. Men want it. And the “demons” certainly want it. Interestingly, it is only when the line is crossed, that a character actively seeks out this once-taboo sexual gratification, that the Kappa demons seem to arrive on the scene. I doubt Nikki Noir is writing a prudish warning against anal intercourse given the startling eroticism of much of her work, but I think there is certainly an advisement that we should be careful what we wish for. 

This leads to the final thing I want to talk about: which is the theme of desire and punishment through Cucumbers and Comforters. Jen desires to be accepted. But there are other characters, and I won’t say who or what for fear of spoilers, who desire less wholesome things, and they are prepared to go to great lengths to pursue these desires. But does pursuing our desires without regard for others have a consequence? At what point do our desires destroy us? 

Whilst I eagerly await a return to the balls-to-the-wall occultism of Nikki Noir’s Black Planet series, Cucumbers and Comforters is a brilliant novelette that is deeper than a book about ass-obsessed demons has any right to be. 

Pick up Cucumbers & Comforters on Godless.