a collection of thirteen short horror stories
An ephemeral collection of wonders, terrors, and experiments in low-key horror — small slivers of darkness written over thirteen months, from October 2015 to October 2016. The collection has been described as quietly creepy, and plays with legends and fairytales, amid ghost stories and cautionary tales.
The town of Briarghast pays close attention to the observances of All Hallows' Eve. For a century or more they’ve lit the lanterns without fail as the sun descends. When Aisling asks her grandmother why they never let the candles burn low, why someone must always keep the night’s watch until dawn, her grandmother tells her it’s to ensure that only their loved ones find their way home on All Hallows' Eve. It’s Aisling’s turn this year to keep the watch, but when Aisling falls asleep and the candle burns out, she soon learns why her family tradition is so very important when something comes to her door in the dead of night.
She waits in the wheat fields as the days grow shorter. Some people have seen her near the time of the harvest: a figure crowned in sheaves. Golden cornsilk hair. Eyes the colour of warm honey. She is the reason the farm folk leave corn dollies near the fields. She is the reason why on so many mornings the hewn stalks are soaked with dark brown stains, so much that the ground becomes sodden with it. They bring the blood out for her… until one night when the fields are fallow, and the pigs aren’t enough to feed the village through the winter. That season there is no blood, but the Lady comes to the field, and the Lady comes to collect even if there is none to give.
Gerald trapped, collected, and mounted the first fifty-nine species in his collection under the tutelage of his grandfather. They were not the best specimens, but he kept them displayed because they signified a lifelong love that not even his wife, Marjorie, could rival in their fifty-six years of marriage. Gerald was a lepidopterist, and his collecting continued even as his mind and body began to deteriorate. When Gerald began hearing voices, the doctor gave him a prescription. When Gerald wrote the name “Susan” accidentally on one of his taxonomy cards, he scratched it out. When Gerald lay dying, he wondered to himself what it all meant — until, unshackled from his earthly trappings, Gerald finally understood…
His summer holidays in Greece with his grandparents weren’t unusual, just boring. Sun-soaked days and warm nights in the small town of Aegina are uneventful for Soghrum: mostly, he and Papou visit with neighbours and friends, eating Yaya’s cooking and listening to stories about the old times. There’s something unusual lurking in the small town of Aegina, however; something that clings to the shadows and hides in the bushes, waiting at windows when the dusk falls for the children sleeping in their beds, unaware. It’s a lesson Soghrum learns one night, when his grandfather gives him his first set of worry beads.
“We serve the King of Eight Legged Things,” is what Tibermay’s grandfather always told her. He’d tug her ears and send her on her way with an acorn of honey to leave as a tithe at the tree at the heart of the forest. Rumour has it, the spoils are taken by the squirrels anyway. Tibermay looks at the old cobwebs in the trees and makes a decision: she will not tithe for the King. The King is dead, she thinks, and no one should live in fear of a legend. Tibermay is not afraid, not until the King comes for his tithe when she least expects it.
"The change is coming." It's a mantra that's been repeated as long as Elliot can remember, but the closer he gets to his 13th birthday, the worse it gets. His sisters, his grandma, his cousins -- they've all been acting suspicious; talking about him when he's not in the room, whispering secrets. Worse, no one will tell Elliot what exactly "The Change" is. All Elliot knows is that it's bad: his voice is cracking, his arms feel too long for his body, and his chin looks like a slice of pepperoni pizza. Hours before midnight, Elliot waits for The Change to come, and with it, the worst possible scenario yet...
Everyone knew the stories about the wood: passed between each successive class of students to matriculate through Barrow High — they said there was a tree standing at the exact centre whose boughs were weighted by the numerous sneakers draped over its branches. The senior dare had been the same for generations: Find the tree, then get the hell out. Corinth never meant to take the dare, but when Penn gets a little too handsy at the homecoming bonfire, Corinth escapes into the wood despite the warnings. The tree has another name, however, a name that no one can pronounce anymore — but in the thickest part of Barrow’s wood, the tree has been waiting for Corinth to find it.
When I visited Yaga’s apartment, I didn’t really believe in magic — and definitely not the really black stuff — but I did know one thing: you could totally put a price on revenge, and I was ready to pay with my life savings if it meant never having to endure another week of those bitches posting stuff to my Facebook wall where mom could see it. I thought the old lady would scare them, you know? I thought maybe six months' worth of allowance would cover it. I’ve never been more wrong.
It's always been Louis and his horn: when they shut off the electricity, when the cable got cut, when they kicked him out of the projects and he had to sleep in one of the tombs in the cemetery adjacent. The instrument is his lifeline; his heartbeat a metronome that sets the rhythm to every sad jazz tune he's ever memorized; his one companion when his luck runs out and he's thrown from a bar, unable to pay his tab, his horn sailing after him and crashing into the street. That's when Louis meets the man for the first time: a gentleman who picks him up and brushes him off, and offers him the only thing he's ever wanted... for a price.
The dead are permitted to return between sundown to nightfall every fifteen years on the anniversary of their death. It’s a brief window of time, and a long drive, but Mara knows a few things about her mother: she’d never let Mara live it down if she didn’t make it back to her childhood home in time to welcome her home. It’s the very least Mara could do — even though she doesn’t want to; even though she doesn’t really have the time. Worse, Mara doesn’t want to deal with a potential poltergeist, let alone her husband’s protests. But the ghost of Mara’s mother has a secret, and she’s been waiting fifteen years to confess.
I am I. Not a god, but a man as any other: born of flesh and blood, age marked against the bones like the rings that count the years of a tree when you saw into its trunk. I am older than any coastal redwood, and I no longer stand tall. I am I, and I have had many names and borne many secrets, but the worst of those are always weighed to be carried in the pockets as stones as one walks into a river. I am I. But who I once was is the story worth telling: And she was the river I drowned in.
Marlow left the bayou after Daisy died. They blamed him, of course: she drowned after all. It was an accident, he insisted at the time -- but Marlow only tried to escape her memory and not the crime. In the wake of Katrina's receding flood waters, the cemeteries have been submerged, and the bodies left to float downriver. When Marlow gets a call from Jake, he returns home to search for Daisy's remains, but the heart has a stronger pull than the tide, and some loves can endure any storm...
When Nicolas inherits the apartment in Spitalfields, he expects that the purge will take a week, at best: he’ll clear it out for sale and forget it ever existed. The place is ancient; an archive that seems to peer into 18th century London through its dusty rooms and trapped shadows. It seems to him that it was abandoned and forgotten, left behind by its owners as though they planned to return later. There are strange things, though: doors that won’t open to any key in his collection, a certain quality of trapped light, and the unsettled whispers that escape him at every turn…
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