A HUNKA HUNKA AWESOME SHORT PROSE
Stephen King‘s short story collection Night Shift is THE BOOK that made me a fan of scary stuff when my mom gave it to me to read at age 11 (thanks Mom!). Per Brian Eno’s famous quote about The Velvet Underground’s first album and how it only sold 30,000 copies, but every person who bought a copy started a band, I often wonder how many horror writers got their start in the afterglow of that insanely chockfull collection?
In a lot of ways, the short story is the perfect horror fiction delivery system. The brevity of form allows for great shock value and payoff, without being watered down by tangential shenanigans, and without suffering too much loss of energy.
There are a few ZILLION great horror authors who excel at the short story–way too many to try and sum up in any meaningful way. So, instead, I thought I’d bust out links to a handful of amazing free stories by sickeningly talented current writers, so that maybe you can check something out you haven’t read before. (They are in alphabetical order by author’s last name, so there is no weighting by list order):
1. “Sunbleached” by Nathan Ballingrud
This here Ballingrud fella is one mothertrucker of a writer, ladies and gentlemen. Hard to believe that the collection this story is from, North American Lake Monsters, is his first. “Sunbleached” is one of the finest vampire stories I’ve ever read and is sharp and nasty, just as I imagine a “real” vampire would be. Yum!
2. “Old Virginia” by Laird Barron
“Old Virginia” is the first story I ever read by Laird Barron (in one of Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best volumes, I think). It floored me at the time, and I began searching for his stuff in other anthologies. We’ll do a whole entry on Mr. Barron later in the month, but for now check this one out if you haven’t already, and consider buying the whole collection it comes from– The Imago Sequence. Frikkin’ GENIUS!!!
3. “I Am Coming to Live in Your Mouth” by Glen Hirshberg
Glen Hirshberg is a personal hero of mine, as it was running across his very first published ghost story “Mr. Dark’s Carnival” that started me down the path of trying to be a horror writer myself. This story is perhaps a little quieter than some of his other AWESOME pieces, but it has exquisite characterization and a finale that took my breath away the first time I read it. It can be found in his latest collection The Janus Tree and Other Stories. We will chat more about Mr. Hirshberg a bit later in the month, you can count on it…
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the publisher of Innsmouth Free Press and an accomplished editor, on top of killing it as a writer. This story can be found in her first collection This Strange Way of Dying: Stories of Magic, Desire & the Fantastic, and also in the AMAZING anthology The Book of Cthulhu. I love how this story feels truly occult, like we are getting a glimpse at the WAY THINGS REALLY ARE. A real modern classic in my book.
5. “Mrs Midnight” by Reggie Oliver
Reggie Oliver is a very talented writer of short ghost stories in the M.R. James tradition and is so very good at accumulating detail toward the building of dread, all the while couching it in a friendly narrative voice that lulls you along until he springs his traps. I was joking with somebody about this story, “Mrs Midnight”, and referred to it as Next-Level Jamesian. It has all the hallmarks of Mr. James’s spookiest work, with a modern nightmare quality that hits it out of the park. You can find this one, oddly enough, in Mr. Oliver’s collection Mrs Midnight and Other Stories, but I heartily endorse all his collections.
6. “Special” by Kit Reed
Kit Reed has been writing professionally for over 50 years, with a million published stories and novels that range from science fiction and horror, to literary fiction and thrillers. This story is a great introduction to her seductively funny powers of dark satire. I should warn you that this thing has teeth, though you may not notice they’ve been bared until it’s too late. You can find this one in her huge (35 stories!) career overview collection The Story Until Now: A Great Big Book of Stories.
7. “The Red Bow” by George Saunders
You might be thinking: George Saunders on a horror blog? Hells YES George Saunders on a horror blog! Yes, he is really, really funny (probably the funniest living writer imho), and his prose is deceptively breezy and fun to read. But DAMN this dude can take things to mighty dark places and leave you stranded there without breaking a sweat. Don’t believe me? Try this story of rabid dogs and small town fascism and see if you don’t shudder at least a little at the final lines. You should really just BUY ALL HIS BOOKS, frankly, but if you want to start with the collection this story is from, then by all means check out In Persuasion Nation and feast your brains out!
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Special thanks to Nightmare Magazine, Baen Ebooks, Tartarus Press, Weird Fiction Review, and Esquire for hosting these stories. Hopefully at least one of these nasty little nuggets of nightmare is a fresh find for you.
Check in tomorrow for another slice of sinister succulence…