It is October and therefore officially autumn—that season of pumpkin-flavored everything, haunted houses, mists, and mellow fruitfulness. This also means that it is time for slasher movie marathons, the new season of Stranger Things, and a borderline unhealthy indulgence in all the horror novels, both old and new.
One such new horror novel is Strange Weather by Joe Hill. Actually four short horror novels (aka novellas) in one large container anthology, Hill’s stories are dedicedly reminiscent of his father’s—that is, Stephen King’s—early writing…which got me in the mood for other, shorter tales of terror collected in a larger novel format.
Inspired by Hill’s new book, here is a list of anthology horror to read this October.
Strange Weather by Joe Hill. The inspiration for this list, Hill’s anthology collects four stories: “Snapshot” is the tale of a young outsider misfit from Cupertino who notices that his neighbor’s dementia may have other causes when he stumbles across a man with a polaroid camera with horrifying supernatural powers. “Loaded” is a slick novella about gun violence, mental illness, and racial profiling—a horrific and timely tale of terror. “Aloft” tells the story of a man who skydives into a nightmare, stuck on a cloud thousands of miles above ground. And my personal favorite, “Rain” follows the end of the world as we know it when nails start falling from the sky, destroying the humans caught in the furious deluge. While there isn’t a clear unifying theme or container story for each of these novellas, each on their own share a sense of creeping dread, elevated by Hill’s voice and knack for emotional timing.
Four Past Midnight by Stephen King. If I had to pick a single favorite collection of King novellas, Four Past Midnight would be high on the list—and of all of his books, this is the one that Hill’s Strange Weather reminds me the most of. This collection, published in 1990, comprises two of my favorite King stories: “The Langoliers” and “The Sun Dog.” In “The Langoliers”, a group of passengers on a flight to Boston fly through a rip in space time and discover that there are no people—the majority of the people on the plane disappear completely, and when they land something is not right. In “The Sun Dog”, most analogous to Hill’s “Snapshot”, a polaroid camera develops pictures of a meancing dog that comes closer and closer to the picture taker with every shot. I devoured these stories as a kid, and they are still as thrilling and engrossing today, so many years later.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. This is the single scariest, eeriest horror graphic novel I’ve read in years—what makes it more terrifying is that it’s written for young adults. Written and illustrated by Emily Carroll, Through the Woods is different, interconnected nightmarish tales in the darkest, cruelest parts of the forest. There’s a bride in a manor, hacked to pieces but haunting the halls; there’s a wolf, who only needs to find its prey once; there’s a sister visiting her brother and his wife—who is not at all what she seems. Punctuated by Carroll’s restrained lettering and artwork, with vivid reds and deep blacks, Through the Woods is not something I’d recommend reading late at night all alone.
The Convergence of Fairy Tales by Octavia Cade. Five familiar fairy tales are interwoven into a single narratie in Octavia Cade’s subversive, horrific reimagining. Sleeping Beauty awakens with a pulse between her legs and a monstrosity of a child wailing for food—from there, the princess becomes a queen, a witch, and a devouring lover full of rage and destruction against those who have betrayed her. These are not your childhood fairytales.
The Small Hand and Dolly by Susan Hill. You want to shave a good few years off your life? Try reading this book, collecting two of Hill’s novellas, right before bed time. “The Small Hand” follows an antique book collector, who stumbles across a derelict home and feels the small chill of a ghostly hand slip into his—pulling him towards death. “Dolly” is a nasty story about two very different children who grow up to become very different adults—but both under the same curse, and an evil that maliciously bides its time. Susan Hill is the master of atmospheric horror—both of these novellas build to horrific and abrupt endings, that are somehow perfect and inevitable.
Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror by Christopher Priestly. I love a good collection of short horror stories for children. Often times, I find these to be the most terrifying stories of them all—and Priestly’s Tales of Terror are no exception. These are delicious gothic short stories, each involving an object and the tale of the unlucky child whose path crossed said object—from a gilded frame granting wishes, to the story of a witch in the woods. There’s a framing story, too, as a young boy listens dutifully to his Uncle Montague—with a particularly satisfying payoff at book’s end.
So there you have it—a few different collections of short horror fiction to devour this Halloween season. What short horror collections are your favorites?