The What's Hot Hall of Fame
Kristi Demeester's Stag
'It was possible my father might come home, might open the door on his daughter caught up in the fire of salvation, of temptation, but he had never taken me hunting, never let me see the bared, warm heart of an animal, and so this was his fault. He had led me to an altar and forced me to kneel.'
Carol-Ann was supposed to be "saved" as a child. But with a clear eye for hypocrisy, she has found her own God. This story brims with Demeester's trademark fire and devotion and blood, where female characters become violent eruptions of glory and devastation.
Laird Barron's The Men From Porlock
'Darkness lay stone heavy as men roused, drawn from inner night by the tidal pull of blood, the weight of bones sagging outward through their flesh. Floorboards groaned beneath the men who shuffled and stamped like dray horses in the gloom of the bunkhouse.'
Miller and his fellows venture from their isolated logging came, and stumble upon something terrible lurking in the trees. As inevitably paced as an axe sinking into bleeding wood, this story showcases Barron's tremendous literary talent.
Adam Nevill's Mother's Milk
Helen Marshall's In the Year of Omens
Livia Llewellyn's Horses
'This evening, soon as I'm in the garden the grass catches my eyes and holds my stare. It grows in my dreams. Sometimes in the middle of the night I imagine I've woken up face-down, and that I'm pushing my nose and mouth into the lawn's soft pelt, sucking the sugary blades.'
Boarding with a strange family has led our protagonist down a slippery pastoral slope. Nevill excels at bringing strangeness to the bubbling surface of what you thought was the everyday, there's no situation he can't make you dread.
'"WE HAVE LIFTOFF," Hewitt shouts over the last of the klaxons, and a low, long rush of air thunders through the complex as Black Beauty's engines reach full speed: she lifts. Kingston clutches her stomach, bites her tongue. The heartbeat of some ancient god of war drills into them like jackhammers, wave after quaking wave setting their bones to ring like funeral bells.'
Kingston and her fellows crew a second-strike missile silo in the last days before the end of the world, and those that come after. Llewellyn's prose crackles with dark realism, skinning alive a world with no sugar-coating but plenty of stark beauty.
'When Hector found her-(they were dating, of course Hector would only date someone as pretty and wise as Yasmine, Leah thought)-the skin had split at her elbows and chin, peeled back like fragile paper to reveal something bony and iridescent like the inside of an oyster shell.'
You see your sign, something precious and unexpected that is just for you; and then you are gone. Except for Leah, on the cusp of adulthood and the cusp of understanding and the cusp of belonging, suspended forever, waiting in inchoate longing. Like a haruspex Marshall taps directly into the heart of dark emotion without shame or judgment, and spreads it out in the light.
Kelly Link's Stone Animals
Brian Evenson's No Matter Which Way We Turned
TE Grau's Return of the Prodigy
The new house comes complete with an array of stone rabbits on the lawn who watch, patient and serene as their lives fall apart. The best thing about this story is that without reading closely it's hard to put your finger of what's so creepy as reality comes apart like taffy, why your skin wants to crawl away and hide.
'When Carleton was three months old, Henry had realised that they'd misunderstood something. Babies weren't babies-they were land mines; bear traps; wasp nests. They were a noise, which was sometimes not even a noise, but merely listening for a noise; they were a damp, chalky smell; they were the heaving, jerky, sticky manifestation of not-sleep. Once Henry had stood and watched Carlton in his crib, sleeping peacefully. He had not done what he wanted to do.'
Gary is finally taking Gladys on the tropical honeymoon she's always dreamed of. Grau's humorously brutal honesty as to this mature-aged relationship translates into fearful vulnerability as the island gradually unveils its true nature.
'He spit something thick and unnatural and looked around, trying to get his bearings. The streets were deserted, but he felt eyes on him, hundreds of them, and not all of them in pairs, peering out through grotesque pineapples from deep in the dark places away from the isolated circles of light and the neon glow of the storefronts.''
This shortest of the short stories which appeared on peopleholding.com May 17, 2016 is one of the most genuinely unsettling things I have ever had the pleasure to read.
'He wants to say, I am tired of these horns and all that they mean. Not brilliant, but certainly not the sentiment of a complete fool. The problems lie in articulation and enunciation. No matter how sweetly worded or wise the Minotaur's ideas may be, when he puts them to tongue, terrible things happen.'
'A gun that shows up in the Nether Hour either won't work, will work forever without needing to be reloaded but fire hunks of stiff cartilage and super-sonic semen, will fire bullets that fly at about thirty miles an hour making wasp noises and hunting people down, will do nothing but yell "BANG!" in a high-pitched voice just loud enough to wake people up, or will maybe just yank the guy who pulls the trigger through the grip and spit him in a bloody, nine-millimeter-wide spray out the barrel.'
'"You know it," she said, "the black-hole thing, right? In space? Big dark butthole," and she laughed, showing those tiny teeth, fox teeth, not white and not ivory yellow either like most people's, almost bluish as if with some undreamed-of decay beneath them. Nakota would rot differently from other people; she would be the first to admit it.'
Having survived into present day, the Minotaur languishes in a trailer park and fills his days working as a chef. This story is a mournful but also hopeful meditation on modern isolation and the transitory nature of belonging.
Royden Poole is the worst Hindu, the worst magical detective, and without a doubt the worst magical Hindu midget detective in he history of ever. Encompasses the ludicrous and horrific with ease; very much recommended for readers who like rich lore and worldbuilding.
Character-based masterpiece of a troubled couple who discover and experiment with a mysterious hole that appears in their building. Slavish devotion, cultish influence, and inexorable degeneration lead to the only possible conclusion.
David Wong's John Dies at the End
'"No, you think this is cool, I can see it in your eyes. It's not cool. We do not have this thing under control. Let me tell you a story. When I was little we had our sewer line back up. toilet overflowing and all that. so they had to come and root it out, and what they pulled out of the sewer line was a woodchuck. There was a break in the pipe somewhere, two joints that had pulled apart, and this thing had gotten in. Okay? I mean to a woodchuck, this had to be the adventure of a lifetime. Hidden tunnel, seeming to go on for miles. So he's crawling and exploring and waiting to see the hidden treasure at the end. And then he gets drowned. In our poo."'
Steven Sherrill's The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break
Kathe Koja's The Cipher
Clinton J Boomer's The Hole Behind Midnight
Trapped in the dead end town of Undisclosed, John and Dave stumble into the horror and mystery of the sauce, a drug that allows you to see other dimensions and may or may not be alive. This book is hilarious and terrifying by equal measures, with a strong dose of empathy for the struggles of being human.
The Magnus Archives
Statements of terrifying encounters held at a mysterious paranormal research institute.
The White Vault
Sent to a remote arctic outpost and pinned down by a blizzard, a repair team struggles with isolation and an unfolding and terrifying mystery under the ice.
Moonbase Theta Out
Short but incredibly poignant narrative of the staged and increasingly stressful shut down of a lunar research and mining operation. I am all on board for Project Growbear.
Alice Isn't Dead
In a meditation on America and humanity, a truckdriver roams the country looking for the vanished wife she thought was dead.
Within the Wires
Season 1 specifically floated my boat. A dystopian world told through the unlikely medium of relaxation tapes.
'No matter which way we turned the girl, she didn't have a face. There was hair in front and hair in the back-only saying which was the front and which was the back was impossible.'