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Silver Nitrate

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Silver Nitrate

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Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Del Rey, 2023

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Horror
Sub-Genre Tags: Ghosts
Man-Made Horrors
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(15 reads / 11 ratings)


Montserrat has always been overlooked. She's a talented sound editor, but she's left out of the boys' club running the film industry in '90s Mexico City. And she's all-but-invisible to her best friend Tristán, a charming if faded soap opera star, even though she's been in love with him since childhood.

Then Tristán discovers his new neighbour is the cult horror director Abel Urueta, and the legendary auteur claims he has a way to change their lives - even if his tales of a Nazi occultist imbuing magic into highly volatile silver nitrate stock sounds like sheer fantasy. The magic film was never finished, which is why, Urueta swears, his career vanished overnight. He is cursed.

Now the director wants Montserrat and Tristán to help him shoot the missing scene and lift the curse...but Montserrat soon notices a dark presence following her, and Tristán begins seeing the ghost of his ex-girlfriend...

As they work together to unravel the mystery of the film and the obscure occultist who once roamed their city, Montserrat and Tristan might find out that sorcerers and magic are not only the stuff of movies...



An engorged, yellow moon painted the sky a sickly amber hue, illuminating a solitary figure. A woman, standing between two sycamore trees.

It had rained, and the earth was slippery as, breathing with difficulty, she ventured toward the cabin. The woods felt awake and dangerous, with the sounds of crickets and rolling thunder in the distance. There was a thin humming. Was that a bird? It was too high-pitched, that noise.

The woman pressed a hand against her lips and stared at the cabin, with its welcoming lights. But that oasis of warmth was distant. A twig snapped, and the woman looked behind her in terror. She began to run.

The noises of the night were now mixed with the patter of her feet. She flew forward, and her hands desperately pulled at the front door--there was a thump, so loud it sounded like a cannon--until she finally managed to burst into the cabin. She immediately shut the door, bolted it, and stepped back, waiting. Her eyes were wide.

The crash of an axe against the wood made the woman jump. Splinters flew. The woman screamed, pressing back farther into the room as a man hacked his way through the door. The scream was an annoying squeal that made the levels jump into the red. The man lingered at the threshold, clutching the axe. He began advancing; his breath was heavy, punctuated with an annoying pop.

"Demon possession again?" Montserrat asked. Her eyes were on the VU meter; on her knee she balanced a notepad.

"Ghosts," Paco said.

She scribbled in the notepad. "I thought you were into ninjas."

"We're still doing the ninjas. Just not now."

"A ninja moratorium."

The woman screamed again. Montserrat pressed a button. The image froze on the screen. She spun her chair around.

The padded room smelled faintly of the pine-scented air freshener that the other sound editors liked to spray around to cover up the fact that they were smoking inside. The whole place was a bit of a mess. The editors regularly left pizza boxes and empty bottles of Pepsi around the mixing room, along with the scent of cigarettes. "No food or smoking in the editing room" said a sign half hidden behind the random stickers the editors had pasted on it over the years. In theory, this admonition made sense, especially when you were dealing with film. You didn't want to smear a workprint with grease. In practice, though, all editors were supposed to eat in front of the monitors. You were constantly working your ass off in post-production, trying to make up for missed deadlines. Montserrat had never been in a facility that was perfectly neat and organized. Editing rooms all looked like war zones unless a client was poking their head around.

Still, she might have tidied up if Paco hadn't ambushed her. Unfortunately for him, this particular mixing room was small and, unlike the bigger rooms, didn't have a client area with a couch. Paco was sitting uncomfortably on a chair, by the door, next to a pile of tapes and vinyl records, and from the look of his position he was probably getting a cramp.

"So, what do you think?" Paco asked.

"I think this is the kind of shit you shouldn't have to be fixing in post-production. Did you shoot these scenes inside a washing machine? The sound is terrible. Those levels are way too hot."

"I know, I know. But what can you expect with these budgets?"

"It's going to take me a couple of weeks."

"I need it to be done in five days."

Montserrat shot him a skeptical look. "Not likely. Mario will tell you as much."

"Come on, I'm not asking Mario, I'm asking you."

"I don't want to be stuck here from the crack of dawn until midnight because you forgot to hire a person who can hold a boom mike in the right position."

"Don't do this to me. I've got hundreds of units due at Videocentro and can't run the duplicates if the master is a mess. Don't you get overtime for this stuff? Must be a hefty check."

"I wish," she said.

Though there was the yearly discretionary bonus. The full-timers got the aguinaldo mandated by the law, but freelancers like Montserrat couldn't count on that. They had to rely on the gratitude of their employers. At Antares, Mario gave his editors a turkey, a bottle of cheap whiskey, and a Christmas bonus. It was never a generous bonus--it shrank or expanded at whim--this despite the fact she was by far the best sound editor at Antares. She was also the only woman on the Antares team, aside from the receptionist, which was probably why she never became a full-timer, never had the right to an aguinaldo, and instead had to rely on Mario's mercurial temper: the editing business was a boys' club. There were a few women working at studios writing the scripts that were used for subtitling and dubbing. There were also female translators, though those were often freelancers who were contracted for single projects. But full-time female sound editors? Those were as rare as unicorns.

"Look, I have to meet someone for lunch," Montserrat said, grabbing her leather jacket from the hook by the door and slipping it on. "Why don't you talk to Mario and we'll see what he says? I'd love to help, but he was raging about an unpaid dubbing--"

"Come on, guys, I always pay even if I'm a few days late. As soon as I offload those videos I'll be golden, I swear."

Montserrat didn't know how true that was. Paco had scored a modest hit with an Exorcist rip-off a few years before. Mexican horror movies were scarce these days. Paco had reaped the benefits of a nascent home video market a few years back. But he wasn't doing well anymore. Four years before, René Cardona III had tried the same concept: shooting a low-budget horror copy of a hot American film with Vacaciones de Terror. Although Vacaciones was a blatant attempt at mixing Child's Play with Amityville, the film had one semi-famous star in the form of Pedro Fernández, whose singing career had assured at least a few butts in seats. Vacaciones de Terror and its obligatory sequel had performed decently, but the market for local horror productions wasn't substantial enough to support two filmmakers intent on churning out scary flicks, and Paco didn't have a singer to put on the marquee.

Not that there was a market to produce anything with a semi-decent budget at this point. The best that most people could hope for were exploitation flicks like Lola La Trailera. Paco was, if anything, a little better off than most Mexican filmmakers, since he'd managed to rope a few Spanish financiers into his moviemaking schemes and so the bulk of his output was meant for the European market. He'd dump a bunch of copies at Videocentro, then sell the rest to Italy, Germany, or whoever had any dough to spare. Paco's work was slightly more nutritious fare than what most of the other exploitation hounds offered, but nothing to get excited about.

"Montserrat, come on, darling, you know I'm solid. How about we do this: I pay you the overtime. I'll throw in... oh, how much would you want?" he asked, reaching into his pocket and producing a wallet.

"God, Paco, you don't have to bribe me."

"Then you'll do it?"

Montserrat had been working at Antares for the past seven years. She'd never made it into the two big film studios, but you had to be the son of someone to edit at a place like that. Positions were passed down through the STPC and STIC like knighthoods. Now that Estudios América was being dismantled, the movie business was even more of a mess than before, and competition for positions was cutthroat. Antares had been, when you added all the pluses and minuses, not that bad.

Not that bad, that is, until the previous year, when the company had hired a new sound editor. Everyone loved young people and despised old ones. Help wanted ads always specified "35 and under," sometimes even "30 and under." Samuel, the newest member of the team, was definitely under thirty. Mario had funneled a bunch of assignments to Samuel, in part because his youth meant he was one of their lowest paid employees. Antares saved money with Samuel. And, as a result, Montserrat had been pulled from several projects. She'd gone from working five, sometimes six days a week, to three, and she was sure Mario was going to cut her down to two by December. Maybe they'd end up assigning this job to Samuel.

Crap, she needed to make more money. Her sister didn't ask her for anything, but Montserrat knew she was hurting a little. She had been working only part-time for half a year now; the cancer treatments were too exhausting for her to manage her usual workload at the accounting firm. Montserrat tried to chip in when she could.

"Follow me," she muttered, looking at her watch. She'd be late if she didn't step out now.

Copyright © 2023 by Silvia Moreno-Garcia


Silver Nitrate

- Ziesings


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