Horror Sampler Platter: January
I am a horror anthology junkie. Always have been, always will be. My formative years were spent inhaling 80s short horror fiction like nitrous oxide. I scoured used book stores for anthology series like Shadows and Whispers like a miner panning for gold. I worshipped at the altar of Charles L. Grant. There is nothing like the quick fix of a wicked-good horror story.
With the prevalence of online horror fiction zines, as well as the reliable print contributions of old stalwarts like Cemetery Dance and Black Static, the art form is alive and well, my friends. It’s something I’d like to celebrate with a column dedicated to these under-appreciated masters of the form. Each month I’ll throw out a handful of short horror stories, recently published or republished, for your consideration. There will be new jams, deep cuts, and this being the world of short fiction, reprints are inevitable (the most recent publication will be cited). I’m not necessarily claiming these are the best of the best; simply a cherry-picked selection of bonafide winners for your reading pleasure.
An Ocean the Color of Bruises
The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2017; December 2017; edited by Paula Garan
In Isabel Yap’s vacation nightmare of a story, a handful of longtime friends, lost in the real world of adulthood, decide to regroup and reassess their lives on an island getaway. The tiny, exclusive island of Punta Silenyo has allegedly recovered from a catastrophic storm that wiped out Beach Week several years prior. But upon arrival, the friends discover that the island isn’t as fully restored as TripAdvisor may have claimed. The check-in lady is decidedly weird, fat cockroaches wave from the toilet rims, and sad-eyed children litter the sparse beaches. Not exactly the best environment to plan a new life course. But as the bummer of a vacay continues, the spoiled, whiny buds discover that scary bugs and dead-eyed check-in ladies are the least of the island’s horrors.
Yap expertly captures the pathetic, existential angst of impending middle age, and the slow-burn progression of terror is handled with an admirable finesse. File this one alongside your favorite stories of vacations gone horribly wrong. It will fit in perfectly.
Smoke, Ash, and Whatever Comes After
The Dark; Issue 32; January 2018; edited by Sean Wallace
In a bizarre sort of familial bonding, a father and daughter are gleefully about to demolish an old bureau when dad Peter discovers something in one of the drawers. Not a doll exactly: a malformed flop of stitched together socks, fabric, and even hair. When Peter asks his daughter Tracy where it came from, she admits that she made it; ‘I wanted a baby sister,’ she says. And then things get really eerie.
I’m not quite sure how he manages to pull it off, but Schaller establishes a powerfully creepy tone from the very first paragraph and maintains it to the very bitter end. As chunks of wrecked bureau burn in the backyard, Tracy slowly approaches the fire and proffers her mangled, doll-like thing: ‘You forgot this.’ Did your horror senses just start to tingle? Mine sure did.
Timothy G. Huguenin
Hinnom Magazine; Issue 4; December 2017; edited by C.P. Dunphey
Poor Fischer. Every Spring a bright red mouth with big front teeth sprouts out of his forearm. It disappears after about a week, so he simply tolerates its presence, covering it up with long sleeves like you would a regrettable tattoo. His mother just hopes he’ll grow out of it. But then Fisher’s arm-mouth starts talking, and suddenly Fisher’s got a serious conflict on his hands. Or arm, I guess.
Editor Dunphey is behind the annual Year’s Best Body Horror anthology, and most of his fiction selections will make you squirm out of your skin. But Huguenin’s darkly funny twist on The Hands of Orlac isn’t here to gross you out; it’s a story that wants to open a dialogue about the unspoken horrors of arm-mouth bullying. It’s about time. His clever take on body horror rolls with its high concept and pleasantly silly dialogue, resulting in a satisfying diversion for those days you feel bossed around.