I began work on my own collection recently, a process that included looking at some renowned exponents of short story writing, together with some of the finest examples of their work in the horror and dark fiction genres. I decided to feature five for the purposes of this blog, and cut a lengthy list down by focusing on how significant an impact each had. Did they, for example, leave an impression: one unsettling image in my mind that lingered long after reading - or provide that high impact finale?
As ever, I’m certain others have their own ideas, and I would love to read them. But here, in time for Halloween, and in no particular order, are a few to savour.
King's tale of truck gone bad in small town America is one that has stuck with me since reading it in my early twenties.
With a story told from the point of view of a young man observing his uncle's slow progression from eccentric preoccupation with the wreck outside his home to dark obsession, there is powerful imagery here that stayed with me long after reading. As time goes on, the nephew glimpses the mysterious potential of the Cresswell as it descends on his reclusive relative, and the story moves towards an inevitable climax.
The final scene sees him dwelling on an object collected in gruesome circumstances that provides proof of the grim outcome of events as he understands them. And yet, for me, there remains one key unanswered question among all of this: Whatever did happen, in the end, to that malevolent truck?
(John Ajvide Lindqvist, A Book of Horrors, 2011)
You know you can expect a treat when a writer signs off by stating such was the emotional toll taken on him by writing a story that it was "a relief when it was over". As is the case here as Lindqvist takes us on a grim journey to uncover the murderous antics of a man following the death of his wife.
At the outset we find the protagonist, a recent widower himself, encouraged by his son's seemingly harmless attempts to learn the piano at the expense of filling his time playing computer games. However, it is not long before he unwittingly begins to draw back the shutters on the horrendous past of their new home as his practice sees him repeat a series of notes that begin to obsess his father. A vague sense of terror rises in him as he is forced to listen to the tune. But what can it mean - and who or what is behind it?
Although it is troubling to watch the pair succumb to the sinister forces at work, they do at least provide the opportunity to bring them closer together following their shared tragedy. But the relief is short lived as Lindqvist leaves us reflecting on so much more than a run-of-the-mill ghost story as the true nature of the events that occurred in the house before their arrival are revealed, before delivering a shocking, unexpected climax.
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I imagine Matheson had great fun concocting this brief account of an explosive encounter that sees ancient witchcraft come up against the machinery of modern warfare.
The witches are introduced as an innocent group of young girls, playful and preoccupied by frivolous adolescent concerns - yet there is nothing innocuous about the destructive power we soon discover is at their disposal.
And yet what is perhaps more impressive is Matheson's ability to merge a dash of humour with the carnage after the knockout blow is delivered on the battlefield.
And then there is the situation this young boy finds himself in before the fateful encounter: a fishing trip at a lake, reward for carrying out his chores. But it is accompanied by a warning from his father not to venture beyond a certain point in the woods.
nothing innocuous about the destructive power at their disposal
However, that King, in his afterword to the story, should play down its impact, documenting his early impressions of it as a "rather humdrum folktale" was even more unexpected.
The recipient of the soothing music is not a child at all, and dwells, hidden, at the bottom of a dirty bath inside a run-down London squat. But just what is this being - and what risk does it pose to the outside world? The answers are as unsettling as any horror fan could wish for as a desperate young woman, Hanna, escapes one wretched situation only to be confronted by another as she and her flatmates attempt to placate "Charlie".
It culminates in drastic measures as one of the girls takes matters into her own hands in order to halt what she believes to be its vile, dangerous (and long range) influence. But Hanna's outlook has begun to change by the time she discovers something else is lurking in that bath tub...
The website will be updated as each one is published - so pop by again soon to take a look!