There are tons of listicles during this delightfully creepy time of year recommending gothic or horror-related short stories of yore. However, I would like to share some of the creepier short fiction that has been out more recently.
- Carmen Machado’s masterpiece (I promise I do not use this word lightly), “The Husband Stitch” in Granta Magazine takes all of the fairy tales, urban myths, and scary stories you may have read to yourself under the covers with a flashlight and spins those beauties on their mythical, sexist heads. Seriously, one of the best short stories I have read in a long, long time. Run to read this 28-minute read (thanks, Granta, for the time estimate)! And, after reading, if you wished Machado’s prose could be shot for the screen, have no fear (or revel in it, if that is your thing). Her 2017 collection of short stories Her Body and Other Parties has just been optioned by FX as a horror TV series. No date yet on when the show will run, but if you enjoy “The Husband Stitch,” read Her Body and Other Stories while we all wait in anticipation.
- George Saunders’ “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” in The New Yorker haunts you long after reading—not for gore, cheap tricks, or a typical plot. No, “The Semplica-Girl Diaries” skirts the line of speculative fiction, horror, and science-fiction within this 30- to 40-minute read (my guesstimate). This darkly funny, epistolary piece will make readers contemplate what we consume at someone else’s expense.
- Mary Gaitskill’s “The Other Place” considers what happens when sociopathy is inherited, acknowledged, and encouraged (within ‘boundaries’) by a father to his increasingly violent 13-year-old son (Douglas). All the trappings of violent culture are on full display – guns, rape, murder fantasies, and death obsessions. The mother Marla seems quick to discount her husband and son’s violence as a passing fancy, much like her party-girl days. Nothing could be further from her “boys will be boys” rationalization.
- Stephen King’s “Laurie,” is a 32-page short story King released for free on his website earlier this year to promote his novel The Outsider. Whether you consider King the Edgar Allan Poe of our time or a horror-genre hack, King explores the monotony of retired life in Florida and a widower’s newfound grief. An unexpected gift of a mutt puppy from the widower’s concerned older sister propels the story forward.
- SmokeLong Quarterly is one of the best flash fiction online journals around, and while their aim is to publish literary pieces 1,000 words or less, there are also some delightfully spooky short-shorts you can read in 5-10 minutes max. It will be easy, though, to savor and study these well-packed punches’ concision and grace a lot longer. Justin Lawrence Daugherty’s “The Dead Are Not Hungry” focuses less on the undead and more on the one left living (a beekeeper, no less) within the specter of his zombie daughter. Eileen Merriman’s “Prismatic” challenges, amuses, and, yes, horrifies readers with an associative, fragmented form that mimics the narrator’s development as a child. Merriman captures the gruesome rivalry between sisters Molly and Audrey and the price both pay for revenge.
- Coffin Bell is a relatively new online journal dedicated to “dark literature.” The four back issues explore all matter of the macabre, from monsters to the immortals. Megan Pillow Davis’ flash fiction, “The Woman in the Refrigerator,” looks at what it takes to be believed, especially by her prepubescent protagonist Nell, in a small town where nothing bad ever really happens (to the men). Plenty of dark flash fiction, short stories, creative nonfiction, essays, poetry, and short criticism to peruse for what is left of October and the rest of winter.