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Frightening fiction
October 25, 2012 6:25 AM   Subscribe

Scary stories for Halloween Guardian books writers select their favourite seasonal chillers
posted by fearfulsymmetry (54 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember reading the Robert Shearman one in an edition of Best New Horror. Very disturbing. (Also, he wrote the first Dalek episode of New Who.)
posted by Kitteh at 6:43 AM on October 25, 2012


I read "Scary Stories to tell in the Dark" as a kid. The stories were your normal boilerplate spooky stuff. The illustrations, though. Oh god. I still see some of those spooky illustrations in my mind. They completely transformed the stories from scary-but-fun into existential pre-teen horror.
posted by notsnot at 6:46 AM on October 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


My mother had to tell my school's library to stop lending me Scary Stories because I would sneak read it late at night and stay up crying. That book scared me so badly but I couldn't stop reading it.
posted by MaritaCov at 6:54 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


The illustrations, though. Oh god. I still see some of those spooky illustrations in my mind. They completely transformed the stories from scary-but-fun into existential pre-teen horror.

A friend of mine contacted Stephen Gammell a few years ago wanting to include him in an art exhibition that centered around childhood horror. He declined, and said something about those illustrations coming from a very dark place at a dark time in his life that he no longer identified with. I thought that was interesting, and helped explain those images of just abject terror. Those things are TWISTED and horrifying.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:58 AM on October 25, 2012 [7 favorites]


The new publishings don't have Gammell's art. How is the latest generation of kids supposed to get as traumatized as we were?
posted by griphus at 6:59 AM on October 25, 2012


What a Thought, by Shirley Jackson.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:03 AM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


I loved "Harold" the story of a vengeful scarecrow who comes to life and eventually flays one of the two abusive farmers who created him.

Upon listening to the story again, I realize that this is basically the other direction that Brokeback Mountain could have gone.
posted by jph at 7:14 AM on October 25, 2012


Alfred Hitchcock's "Monster Museum" still lives somewhere in my brain. "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" creeped me out as a kid. Who let me HAVE those books? (Hey, younger me, who found them at a library sale: Thanks! I guess.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:15 AM on October 25, 2012


I was hoping that the above linked to the actual stories. Anyone have any good sources for online scary stories?
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:23 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah, I see there a few in thread already.....awesome
posted by lakersfan1222 at 7:24 AM on October 25, 2012


God I have this real problem with scary stories. When it's daylight, I love them; I just can't get enough of them. I fill work days reading /r/nosleep. Then I get home, and I actually can't sleep, and I vow that I'm never, ever going to do that again. Then I finally get to sleep, wake up, and immediately start reading them again.

The worst was this thread which appeared a couple days before I went back home and stayed in a "Bed and Breakfast" with my parents while we visited extended family. Turns out "Bed and Breakfast" was a euphemism for "creepy old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere." Who knew.

I think I got like four hours of sleep that whole weekend.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:26 AM on October 25, 2012


A friend of mine contacted Stephen Gammell a few years ago wanting to include him in an art exhibition that centered around childhood horror. He declined, and said something about those illustrations coming from a very dark place at a dark time in his life that he no longer identified with. I thought that was interesting, and helped explain those images of just abject terror. Those things are TWISTED and horrifying.

You know, there's a story in that.
posted by Artw at 7:29 AM on October 25, 2012


Just another vote for the illustrations in Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark(and the sequel - More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) being pure nightmare fuel. Some of the illustrations freaked me out enough that I wouldn't even read the associated story - Harold, for example, as mentioned above.

I went through a phase where I would read any scary story I could get my hands on. I think the one that ever bothered me most was from a different book, but I can't remember the title. The plot was basically that there was a house where shadows came alive and killed the occupants, but apparently only if they were generated by candlelight because the deaths only ever occurred on stormy nights when the power got knocked out. The same book had another story about a boy who was abusive to his ant farm, and eventually the ants dug out their tunnels to spell HATE and took revenge on the boy. Any bells ringing out there?
posted by owtytrof at 7:33 AM on October 25, 2012


The Willows, mentioned in the Lovecraft piece, is IMHO much better than almost any Lovecraft. Well recommended.
posted by Artw at 7:36 AM on October 25, 2012 [6 favorites]


Does anyone remember a story, it was in a paperback YA horror story anthology, about a kid that ends up being turned into a flower and eaten (possibly not eaten, but definitely turned into a flower.)
posted by griphus at 8:19 AM on October 25, 2012


owytrtrof, I KNOW THAT BOOK. Nightmares forever. I'm going to try to find it.
posted by athenasbanquet at 8:19 AM on October 25, 2012


'A Little Place Off The Edgeware Road' by Graham Greene.
posted by Kit W at 8:27 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


owtytrof, I think remember this book. Did it have a furry black fanged creature and a green sky on the cover?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 8:28 AM on October 25, 2012


Damn those Gammell illustrations are terrific!
posted by Mister_A at 8:32 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Robert Aickman's "Ringing the Changes" got under my skin and stayed there.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:55 AM on October 25, 2012


Oh! Oh! I am like 90% sure this is it! Super Scary Stories for Sleepovers! OMG! NIGHTMARES FOR EVERYONE!!!
posted by athenasbanquet at 9:07 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure athenasbanquet nailed it. I definitely recognize the cover of that one.
posted by owtytrof at 9:15 AM on October 25, 2012


Found this gem in Mister_A's link:

Extremely Frightening Pictures! ... also some stories

That's about the long and the short of it.
posted by owtytrof at 9:18 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a whole series of them, all of which are now on request from the library.
posted by athenasbanquet at 9:21 AM on October 25, 2012


For a long time I wanted to make an FPP here about Robert Aickman, but it would be an exercise in frustration -- his work remains almost entirely out of print and quite expensive (some editions go for $100+ prices), and what is available is very haphazard -- a few stories, here and there. Many libraries have none of his work at all, and he is apparently sufficiently obscure that even the pirates haven't gone to the trouble. (I've seriously considered doing the scanning my interlibrary loaned copies of his work to make a private anthology of his best, just so my friends will understand what the hell I'm going on about.)

This matters because Aickman is AMAZING. I'm deeply devoted to weird, disturbing, mysterious stories, and he is just astonishingly good. In public life, he seems (if I may say so) almost a parody of an Englishman of a certain class and generation: involved in epic struggles over the control and direction of the Inland Waterways Association, the would-be tyrant of the Delius Society (trying to write the constitution so he could expel troublemakers interfering with the appreciation of the composer), a sometime theater critic with a thousand-page philosophical manifesto tucked in a desk drawer and a "brooding but clubbable" presence. In the evenings, though, Aickman wrote his "strange stories" -- 48 in all -- and there is nothing else quite like them.

They aren't just jump-scary (though many have their moments!) but rather dispatches from a subtly but deeply off world, one whose off-ness feels like it's starting to bleed across the fictional transom into ours. What makes this possible -- what makes it really work -- is his tone and style, every inch the cool and phlegmatic, emotionally distant, slightly melancholy British style of taking everything in stride. (It's like the perfect mirror image of Lovecraft's amped-up herniating-thesaurus mode -- which I also love, of course, but in a very different way.) If there's a classic form to an Aickman story, it's the unsympathetic first-person account that stiff-upper-lip people give of their own lives -- closely observed details of people, often a little adrift, in 1960s austerity Britain -- who at some point brush up against an utterly strange and disturbing logic at large in the world. Things are never ever spelled out, but ambiguities and nightmarish setpieces gesture towards a monstrous order or process that we will never understand. And somehow the pieces fit together: the world, our world, with the quiet horror of personal tragedy, isolation, sexual dysfunction, the failure to find what we love, the loss of courage, the prospect of our death, all the facts which his characters face, is thrown into sharp relief by these equally inexplicable, far more sudden and terrible events. So you put down his stories but they stay with you, unsettled, because they touch on nothing less than the abyss of being an ordinary person.

So that's the high-minded part, and it's true, but good God they're scary too. I don't want to say anything else, and give nothing away, but here's some of my favorite stories if you'd like a place to start with Aickman this October: "The Inner Room" and "The School Friend" are masterpieces both, and closely related. "The Swords" and "Marriage" follow eroticism into an utterly disturbing place. "The Same Dog," "The Hospice," "The Cicerones," "The Next Glade," "Into the Wood," "The Fetch," "My Poor Friend," and "Ravissante" are all brilliant instances. And, for two are that just scary as hell, "Ringing the Changes" and the awesomely alarming, escalating "The Trains." (The Wikipedia page has a good bibliography as to which stories are in which collections.)

Don't read anything else about Aickman, especially not the few brief critical essays around, which give away most everything about the best stories, often to make explanatory points which kind of miss the mark. (As he put it in an epigraph to one of his books: "In the end, it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.") Track the stories down -- it's worth it, and you'll regret it in exactly the way we all love, late at night.
posted by finnb at 9:26 AM on October 25, 2012 [19 favorites]


I'm pretty hit or miss with horror fiction. It's something that I would like to enjoy, but I get disappointed with the lack of scares or, more often, crappy prose and structure.

The best spooky thing I read in the past couple years was a science fiction novel, Richard Paul Russo's Ship of Fools/Unto Leviathan. It's a very thoughtful and unnerving book. And Ramsey Campbell is always good.

The most disappointing book I've read was House of Leaves. There's a book that needed an editor who was extremely liberal with their slaps.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 9:31 AM on October 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


The most disappointing book I've read was House of Leaves

I'm actually in the middle of reading that for the first time right now. I'm enjoying it, but I actually enjoyed the letters from Truant's mother appendix so much I'm having trouble getting back into the meat of the book.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:37 AM on October 25, 2012


Yeah, House of Leaves is like Rush: people either love 'em or hate them. I've not met many people who have a middle-ground opinion about HoL. Perhaps that's a feature of its ambition.

This matters because Aickman is AMAZING. Thanks for the reference, finnb. I'm going to order some now.

EDIT: 78 bucks for a paperback? I don't think so.
posted by One Hand Slowclapping at 10:13 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm probably middle-of-the-road on House of Leaves. I think it's a failure for a number of reasons, but I appreciate the idea and some of the execution.

Whereas Rush can GTFO.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:17 AM on October 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Pistols at dusk, shakes.

(Mom will drive me over after she picks me up from D&D but we may need to go to the supermarket first.)
posted by griphus at 10:19 AM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


[Editing for typos only folks, we don't really do the ETA thing here.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:24 AM on October 25, 2012


I am literally at this very moment listening to Rush with a dog-eared, multi-bookmarked copy of House of Leaves on the top of my stack of current reading. (I have the Rush turned up really loud to try to drown out the memories of the nightmares Gammell's illustrations used to give me.)
posted by rhiannonstone at 10:24 AM on October 25, 2012


I basically spent 1998-2002 listening to Rush, 2002-2007 making fun of people who listened to Rush, 2007-2012 ignoring Rush, and now I've just passed go, collected $200 a copy of Chronicles and listen to it occasionally. Especially when friends are around because every single time it's the same process of pause -> squint -> look of recognition -> "dude, did you just put on Rush?"
posted by griphus at 10:26 AM on October 25, 2012


TBH I probably wouldn't even recognize Rush if you put it on, griph. But once you informed me, I'd totally do the eyebrows thing at you.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:33 AM on October 25, 2012


finnb, a bit of good news for you, I think: I had a look on Amazon UK and it looks like they have some Aickman in print - Cold Hand In Mine, The Wine-Dark Sea and The Unsettled Dust. (Also available on Kindle, if you're in the UK.) They're published by Faber Finds, which calls itself 'an imprint whose aim is to restore to print a wealth of lost classics and authors of distinction.'

The contents are

Cold Hand In Mine:

The Swords
The Real Road to the Church
Niemandswasser
Pages from a Young Girl's Journal
The Hospice
The Same Dog
Meeting Mr Millar
The Clock Watcher


The Wine-Dark Sea:

The Wine-Dark Sea
The Trains
Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen
Growing Boys
The Fetch
The Inner Room
Never Visit Venice
Into the Wood


The Unsettled Dust:

The Unsettled Dust
The Houses of the Russians
No Stronger Than a Flower
The Cicerones
The Next Glade
Ravissante
Bind Your Hair
The Stains


...So, you have sold me and I want one. Which should I start with?
posted by Kit W at 10:33 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


(You know what -- One Hand Slowclapping and others? -- writing that post was so frustrating, to yet again be like "This is awesome but none for you" (that two-vol reprint of the collected Aickman stories from 2001? Currently OOP and going for $400 and above on eBay. For real). I'm going to do something about it. MeMail me for details.)

(Oh, and recently I wrote a proposal for the NYRB to bring out an Aickman collection. It would be a perfect companion piece with their reissue of The Haunted Looking-Glass.)
posted by finnb at 10:40 AM on October 25, 2012


Oooh, should have previewed. If you're in the UK, I'd recommend starting with The Wine-Dark Sea (hey, also affordably available on Kindle in the US!). And then, if I might suggest, read the stories in the following order: "The Inner Room," "The Trains," "Into the Wood," "Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen," and "The Fetch." The others work (in my opinion) maybe a little less well but are still deeply off-putting. Then, if you like that, Cold Hand In Mine. Now if only we could get a reasonably priced reissue with "The School Friend" ...
posted by finnb at 10:47 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


finnb, check your MeMail.
posted by athenasbanquet at 10:50 AM on October 25, 2012


Thank you, finnb; got it on my Kindle! Ha ha!
posted by Kit W at 10:52 AM on October 25, 2012


I almost want there to be different edits available for House of Leaves: one version with just the Navidson Story, one version with Zampano's commentary and the Navidson Story, one version with just the stuff about Johnnie Truant and his mother, etc. I frequently recommend House of Leaves to people, but often with the disclaimer that it's the bits about the house and Navidsons that I'm really recommending. It's a lot of books in one, and while that's part of its appeal, that makes it difficult to love in its entirety. I'll keep recommending it though, because it's the one book whose creepiness and terror have stayed with me.
posted by yasaman at 11:30 AM on October 25, 2012


Probably my all-time favorite book of ghost stories is Roald Dahl's Book of Ghost Stories. As you might expect, the ones about children are the scariest.
posted by ostro at 11:40 AM on October 25, 2012


I just found House of Leaves less than the sum of its parts, and boy did it have a lot of parts, to the point of stuntiness.

I'm less grumpy on the subject now people have stopped going on about it all the time though- that was really what was irritating.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


...The worst was this thread which appeared a couple days before I went back home and stayed in a "Bed and Breakfast" with my parents while we visited extended family. Turns out "Bed and Breakfast" was a euphemism for "creepy old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere." Who knew.

I think I got like four hours of sleep that whole weekend.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:26 AM on October 25



Heh. I had something similar happen some years ago.

My father had to be placed into a nursing home, and his farmhouse had to be sold. The farmhouse was built in the early 1900s; my great-aunt had passed away there, and the house had passed to my parents. Mom had died a couple of years before, and when Dad was diagnosed with dementia, it fell to me to clear out the house.

I lived a couple of hours away, and had been making weekly trips to the farm to pack up stuff. The farm was in a rural area, set far back from the main at the end of a gravel access road used by a railroad company. We had neighbors fairly close, but because of trees and acreage, they *felt* much father away than they actually *were*.

Incidentally, an old family graveyard was about three quarters of a mile away. This becomes important later.

So it was Halloween weekend. I drove down on Saturday morning, and picked up my mentally disabled older brother, who's helping me with the clean out. He was excited because he'd been invited to a Halloween party starting that afternoon. We went to the farmhouse, took a couple of loads to Goodwill, did some cleaning downstairs. I took him to his party at four pm, and the host chirpily informed me that the party would wrap up between eight and nine that night. I headed back to the farmhouse and sailed into things.

We still had the satellite tv service, so I decided to see what's on. Turned out that AMC-TV was showing the original Night of the Living Dead movie. I'd never seen it, and sat down to enjoy it.

About forty-five minutes in, I suddenly realized the following things in rapid succession:

1) It was now pitch black outside.
2) I was in an old farmhouse, not unlike the one depicted in the film, all by myself.
3) There was a graveyard, filled with my ancestors, not a mile away
4) For the life of me, I could not recall the names of the neighbors up the road, or how far away they were.

I then had what the French call "a bad fifteen minutes" when the phone rang. My brother, needing to be picked up.

We still had beds in Dad's old house, and we slept there that night. Well, my brother slept. I lay awake most of the night, listening to him breathe in the other bedroom and praying for daylight.

One of my podcast listeners told me later that I had accidentally performed Stephen King's test for how scary a work is. I guess in one of his books, King had recommended that you

1) Read the book (or, in my case, see the movie) by yourself,
2) in an remote location, such as an isolated farmhouse,
3) and then go to bed

If you can't sleep, it was genuinely frightening piece of work.

I'm here to report that Romero's Night of the Living Dead passed the test.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:22 PM on October 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Speaking of scary stories, Bill Ponzini's "Peekaboo" gets me every. damn. time.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:19 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


For a long time I wanted to make an FPP here about Robert Aickman, but it would be an exercise in frustration...

I hear ya! It took me years to figure out a way.
posted by Iridic at 1:38 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Best disturbing compilations: Black Water and Black Water 2, edited by Alberto Manguel.

How uncanny?... why, there's no reviews for 'Black Water 2' on Amazon.com? How odd. Here's my review: "It's perfect, and it's frvckin scarry! Arhhh!"

(uh, probably not widely released in the USA, cause they was scared! (& other distribution issues, etc)).
posted by ovvl at 5:22 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I hear ya! It took me years to figure out a way.

Wow, THANK YOU!

And thank you finnb for bringing the author to my attention!
posted by triggerfinger at 5:38 PM on October 25, 2012


I'm really tired today and being sort of half asleep tonight I scrolled right past the Robert Aickman post without even seeing it. So glad I found it through this thread. :)
posted by triggerfinger at 5:43 PM on October 25, 2012


Sneaky scary Water Off a Black Dog's Back by the phenomenal Kelly Link.
posted by nathancaswell at 8:33 PM on October 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


In the vein of scary stories, Neil Gaiman is continuing to promote All Hallows Read, and this year he is collaborating with Audible to release a free short scary audio story. It's an exclusive deal with Audible, who agreed to donate a dollar per download, going to DonorsChoose for US downloads and BookTrust for UK downloads. I'm sure it will leak out in the days to come for those who can't access Audible.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:38 PM on October 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


If anyone here has not yet read The Enigma of Amigara Fault they should do that right now. It's all online. DO NOT DO THIS if you are planning on sleeping in the next 2 hours.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 1:37 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Nice catch, fearfulsymmetry. Looking forward to what that column grows into.
posted by doctornemo at 9:12 AM on October 26, 2012


Amigara is by Junji Ito, who is great at doing irrational compulsion as creeping horror. (I bailed out of his Uzumaki, but I should finish it at some point.)
posted by postcommunism at 9:28 AM on October 26, 2012


Those of you reading the other scary fiction thread, apologies for the repetition, but Aickman's worth it.

Short film version of my favourite of his short stories, The Cicerones. Written by Jeremy Dyson (League of Gentlemen) and starring Mark Gatiss (LoG, Sherlock, Dr Who, er, everything).
posted by reynir at 2:53 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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