BP Gregory's Top 5 Halloween Reads 2023
To help you get in the spooky mood for Halloween, here are five of the best creepy stories I've read this year ...
5. The Shipwreck Of The Cerberus, Joe Koch“
He decides he'll move however he can; rolling or scuttling or steaming as he changes form like condensation; he has to get out from under the saturating cloud before it takes his brain."
Rex is onboard to steal an oracular brazen head which is simultaneously a historical homage to a great man, trinket, and possibly a sentient artifact of great power. The ship's alien cult leader has other ideas.
Kicking us off with something to shake away the torpor Koch doesn't mess about when it comes to sexy body horror, the nauseating interdimensionality of space, and especially the ever-melting borders of identity. The Shipwreck Of The Cerberus is for fans of bizarro horror/scifi who like to be challenged, and I was SO ready for something different when I picked up this delicious little gem.
4. We Watch, Steve Stred
“A few months later, his father was gone, and it hurt him that he'd never be able to share with his dad his own, authentic self.”
Stred continues his dive into human nature with this coming of age story of two young gay men in a violently religious small town who encounter a mysterious figure in the woods. A classically fast, brutal story grounded by vibrant characters which brings it home with a very satisfying ending.
3. Walls And Floors And Bricks And Stone, Georgia Cook, in Found: An Anthology of Found Footage Horror Stories, Ed. Andrew Cull and Gabino Iglesias
“I extracted three house bricks from the stomach cavity of Mrs Wilson this morning. No scar tissue, no external cuts, no feasible explanation for how they arrived there, save for crime scene contamination.”
Haunted houses are the best genre but what if the haunting was the house, inhabiting the human body instead of the other way around.
Found is a collection of extremely top shelf found footage themed horror stories, all of which I enjoyed. Even so I had no trouble picking Walls And Floors And Bricks And Stone as my standout favourite. Framed as a series of communications between authorities investigating the mysterious deaths of a family who had just moved into their newly built home, the story is a masterpiece of tight thrilling storytelling, the type that makes you look around the room uneasily.
2. Our Wives Under The Sea, Julia Armfield
“I sit where I am and don't look at her. She is wearing a tank top that shows the strange silvered places in her underarms and around the base of her neck and I no longer feel much compelled to comment on this. I find that if I squint at the television hard enough, it's easier to think about things other than how much I miss my wife.”
Miri's wife has finally returned from her submarine mission; however the woman who has come back is distant, changing in ways neither can quite grasp.
Our Wives Under The Sea is melancholy horror as slow as drowning, as a partner and everything you were together dissolves away between your fingers. It is also a loving meditation on what brings people together in the first place. This is an extremely human and accessible story that will appeal to all kinds of readers, while still bringing the eeriness that we are all here for.
1. Is There Human Kindness Still In The World?, Michael Wehunt in The Inconsolables, illustrated by Trevor Henderson
“But the next night she was back on the road, crossing rest areas off her list. She bought pepper spray and a modest folding knife. The last summer heat drained away. The nights grew crisper, and she came to learn the pale face in the South Carolina trees had not been an illusion, or a bag caught on a branch. A revenant or creature or angel or - her word for it would shift - was waiting for her, roaming the interstates as she was.”
After unexpectedly losing her fiance just as their life was beginning Jessie comes to haunt the liminal spaces of highway rest stops, drawn irresistibly to the vestiges of him despite the danger of unknown men. Men she gradually comes to punish for daring to interrupt her search.
As a collection The Inconsolables needs to be digested slowly to absorb each emotional gut punch. Of all the stories, Is There Human Kindness Still In The World? was the one that left me staring vacantly into space processing psychic damage, and not to be weird or anything but actual drops of blood appeared on my face.
It's a tale of grief for what might have been, and the grotesque impositions and violence created as people move by each other in the world. I know that sounds like a bummer but it's a beautiful experience as well, and definitely made this story my number one Halloween read.
Those are my top five for this year! I hope I've convinced you to read some of them (or ALL of them) and Happy Halloween!
BP Gregory is the author of five novels including frozen horror Flora & Jim, about a father following the apocalypse who will do anything to keep his daughter alive; and fiery outback horror The Town, about a mysterious burned town and the people who vanish seeking it.