Thanks to the folks at Night Shade Books, we’ve got a series of guest posts featuring the authors of The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 7. Each gives us a glimpse into the how and why of each story. Enjoy!
About The Best Horror of the Year Vol. 7:
A sin-eater plies the tools of her dangerous trade; a jealous husband takes his rival on a hunting trip; a student torments one of his teachers; a cheap grafter is selling artifacts form hell; something is haunting the departure lounge of an airport . . .
The Best Horror of the Year showcases the previous year’s best offerings in short fiction horror. This edition includes award-winning and critically acclaimed authors Laird Barron, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nathan Ballingrud, Genevieve Valentine, and more.
For over three decades, award-winning editor and anthologist Ellen Datlow has had her finger on the pulse of the latest and most terrifying in horror writing. Night Shade Books is proud to present the seventh volume in this annual series, a new collection of stories to keep you up at night.
See the anthology’s table of contents for the awesome lineup!
On to the posts!
Carole Johnstone’s fiction has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, published by ChiZine, PS Publishing, Night Shade Books, TTA Press, and Apex Book Company among many others. In 2014, she won the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story. Her work has been reprinted in various Best Of anthologies, including a previous Best Horror of the Year and Salt Publishing’s Best British Fantasy series.
Her 2014 novella, “Cold Turkey,” was published by TTA Press. She is presently at work on her second novel, while seeking fame and fortune with the first – but just can’t seem to kick the short story habit.
“Departures,” inspired by a not inconsiderable hatred of airport departure lounges (and was, in fact, begun in one), was originally published in her debut short story collection, The Bright Day is Done.
More information on the author can be found at carolejohnstone.com
I hate airports almost as much as I hate tube trains; more specifically, I hate departure lounges. Even more specifically, I hate domestic departure lounges. They’re cattle markets. Flights land and then take off again with mindboggling speed; arrivals often have to battle their way past impatient queues determined to take their place before they’ve even managed to leave. No quarter is given to late arrivals or the confused. They’re soulless, noisy, pitiless, desperate places, and when I’m forced to be in one I’d rather be almost anywhere else.
As well as making me tense, nervous, bored, and frustrated, airports also make me very, very stupid. I’m forever going the wrong way; making an art out of looking guiltily shifty; panicking about losing my passport and boarding card, despite rarely losing anything that I’m not hanging onto for dear life wherever I go; wearing as many metal things as possible, so that I beep enough to deserve literal exposure in the dreaded body scanner; stressing about my plastic bag being the wrong size or whether or not lip balm is a bloody liquid; making ill-considered jokes about a party I went to last week while a biosensor checks my hand luggage. And really panicking about being late – about Missing The Flight!!! – to the extent that I’m always far too early.
On one such occasion, I was in Stansted airport waiting for a flight to Edinburgh. I’d just come through security, and as usual, I got caught up in the mass hysteria of Missing The Flight!!! (these come in waves, I’ve found, but whenever there is a sudden, noticeable shift of people in one direction, you can be sure that a wave is about to begin). I blindly followed this exodus, of course, and ended up at the departure gates’ lounge – you guessed it, far too early for my flight. I sat down anyway – seats in domestic departures are like gold dust – and it was only when everyone around me started stampeding towards the Belfast flight gate that I realised I’d been sitting at the wrong gate anyway. Again.
I waited until the flight had boarded before getting up and nonchalantly wandering back towards the right gate, pretending that I wasn’t a moron. It was quite late at night, and the Edinburgh flight must have been the last of the day, because I suddenly realised that the place was nearly deserted. A deserted domestic departure lounge is almost as intimidating as a packed full one. It was incredibly creepy. The shops were mostly shuttered; the gate corridors yawned empty, opening onto nothing but empty space (really creepy); the flashing, beeping puggies were my only companions, and I marvelled at the contrast – the weirdness of it. That lull didn’t last long – a few minutes at most – and then the place started filling up again, making me wonder whether I’d imagined the whole thing completely. So I wrote a story about it. And I started writing it while sitting at that correct gate, feeling vaguely smug while all around me panicked waves rolled and crashed and went the wrong way.
Orrin Grey is a writer, editor, amateur film scholar, and monster expert who was born on the night before Halloween. He’s the author of Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings and Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts, as well as the co-editor of Fungi, an anthology of weird fungus-themed stories. You can find him online at orringrey.com.
“Persistence of Vision” was originally published in Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.
I’m not actually as enamored with post-apocalyptic tales as a lot of my peers, so when I was asked by my frequent editor and sometime-collaborator Silvia Moreno-Garcia to be an honorary Canadian for Fractured: Tales of the Canadian Post-Apocalypse, I had to cast around a bit for something that would snag my interest and keep it, and I settled on the idea of a ghost apocalypse, ghosts being more my speed than zombies. I got the inspiration for “Persistence of Vision” from the J-horror film Kairo and its American remake Pulse, as well as the great Terry Dowling, who introduced me to the idea of red rooms in his story “The Daemon-Street Ghost Trap.”
The title comes from a theory attempting to explain why a series of still images shown in rapid succession appears to move. It has always sounded so much like a description of ghostly phenomena to me that it’s been languishing in my notebook as a possible story title for years, until I finally found the story that matched up with it. Like the unnamed narrator in “Persistence of Vision,” I watch a lot of movies and spend a lot of time writing and talking about them, and tend to speak in a language that’s made up mostly of movie references, so it was fun to get to write a story in something like that language.
Lucy Taylor is the author of seven novels, including the Stoker Award winning The Safety of Unknown Cities. Her most recent work includes the collection Fatal Journeys and the novelette chapbook A Respite for the Dead. Her story “In the Cave of the Delicate Singers” will appear in the June issue of Tor.com. An illustrated edition of The Safety of Unknown Cities will be published in fall 2015 by Overlook Connection Press.
Taylor lives in the high desert outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is at work on a collection of New Mexico-themed horror.
“Wingless Beasts” was originally published in the signed, limited edition of Taylor’s collection Fatal Journeys.
“Wingless Beasts” is as much a story about deserts as it is about the demons who lurk there and the deranged few who’re drawn to the emptiness and indifference to human life that mirrors their own inner landscape.
For several years, I traveled frequently between California and Utah, a route that took me through Baker, California, a bleak, dusty town that boasts the “World’s Tallest Thermometer”. This landmark stands proudly outside the Bun Boy Café and was erected to commemorate the day in 1913 when the Death Valley temperature reached 134 degrees.
I decided to write a story about this stretch of desert and began searching for news articles about travelers, ill-fated and poorly prepared, who died terrible deaths in Death Valley or in the Mojave. Cooking to death inside your own skin seems a particularly nasty demise, and Baker, in its heat-blasted isolation, looked like the kind of town that might attract dodgy denizens. I imagined a loner with a tow truck who roams the backroads looking for people in trouble–not to save them, but to make sure their trek into the desert comes to a wretched end. At the same time, I was musing about a demon exiled to an eternity in the desert, a deathless creature whose lust for a Berber girl cost him a limb and who enjoys pontificating about his journeys across the hellscapes of the planet.
It took me a couple of years to finish this story to my satisfaction, but every time I’d make that drive along I15, I’d consider the characters who eventually became Otis Hanks and Joe Fitch and wonder about the chance of meeting someone of their ilk, should the car break down or the GPS misdirect. I couldn’t help but think there must be demons and madmen who make their lair in the desert. The counter of the Bun Boy in Baker seemed as good a place as any to meet one.
Livia Llewellyn is a writer of horror, dark fantasy and erotica, whose fiction has appeared in ChiZine, Subterranean, Apex Magazine, Postscripts, Nightmare Magazine, as well as numerous anthologies. Her first collection, Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors, was published in 2011 by Lethe Press, and received two Shirley Jackson Award nominations, for Best Collection, and Best Novelette (for “Omphalos”). Her story “Furnace” received a 2013 SJA nomination for Best Short Fiction. Her second collection will be published by Word Horde Press in 2016. You can find her online at liviallewellyn.com.
“Allochthon” was originally published in Letters to Lovecraft edited by Jesse Bullington.
My inspiration for “Allochthon” came out of the requirements of the invite for the Stone Skin Press anthology Letters to Lovecraft: the editor, Jesse Bullington, asked each of us to find a passage in H.P. Lovecraft’s essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, and write our story based on whether we agreed with or refuted the passage. In particular, this phrase—“qualities of wonder, strangeness, and shuddering”—inspired me to write a story in which the land itself was imbued with a vast and dark cosmic intelligence of its own, rather than simply being a place where horrors visited. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and the geography of Eastern Washington State is quite beautiful and strange—in particular, Beacon Rock, a massive monolith which was once thought to be the core of a +3 million year old Pliocene volcano. While that’s incorrect (it’s actually only about 50,000 years old), it was enough for me to come up with my own Lovecraftian theories as to what (and how old) the rock was, and write my story around its contact with and influence on living beings, including one very depressed and psychotic Depression-era company wife.
Kurt Dinan teaches high school English in Cincinnati where he lives with his wife and four children. His debut novel, The Water Tower 5, is scheduled for publication in April of 2016.
“Plink” was originally published in Far Voyager, PS 32/33 edited by Nick Gevers.
As a high school teacher, I have a lot of time to observe teenagers in their natural environment, or at least as natural as high school can be. I once witnessed two beefy teachers break up a fight, and there was a moment where the circle of students watching closed and I couldn’t see the teachers anymore. I suddenly had the frightening realization of just how outnumbered teachers are. In my school the students outnumber the teachers 20-1. Imagine if the right kid came long and mobilized the downtrodden and outcasts; major chaos and carnage would ensue. This idea was in my head when I started “Plink“, which I quickly focused on one student not trying to destroy a whole building, but just one teacher. I’ve had scary-smart students like Derrick before, and have always done my best to stay on their good side.
Rhoads Brazos has written stories across the entire spectrum of speculative fiction, from light fantasy to the most decrepit tales of horror to quirky sci-fi. His works can be found in Apex Magazine, Pantheon Magazine’s Gaia: Shadow and Breath Anthologies, vols. 1 & 2, Death’s Realm Anthology by Grey Matter Press, and a dozen other magazines and collections. He currently lives in Colorado with his wife and son.
“Tread Upon the Brittle Shell” was originally published in SQ Mag edition 14, May.
With “Tread Upon the Brittle Shell” I was aiming for an escalation into the cosmic. I wanted to reach a place where the drama of an average life faded into nothing, where big concerns became trifles before wisping away. There’s something deeply unsettling about the reduction of oneself, and much of horror plays on this aspect. Consider the tales where the hero becomes a moving target or fodder. Or even those tales of transformation, usually involuntary. The story becomes the struggle to regain what was, to reassert importance and the respect that the human creature demands. In the text of “Tread . . .” there’s a deliberately placed line, “I see you . . . a speck.” Aside from the curious double meaning (where the speck goes is telling), it sums up the cosmic world-view quite nicely.
To steer the plot, I dug into the protomyths. These are the shared mythologies common across distant cultures. Certain scenes keep being rewritten. Divinities appear again and again with new names and guises but similar purposes. My own piece started with the Australian/Aborignal mythos and gathered traits from other lands. I’d list them all, but that’s probably giving too much away. I tried for a solid sample across continents.
The common explanation for the protomythologies is that our ancestors shared their favorite tales with their neighbors. After a bit of artistic license and a few million campfire retellings, a new mythology would be born with a few recognizable traits. That’s all well and good, but what if the stories are more than shaped fables? What if our oldest tales are warnings? In today’s age, not many are taken seriously. I wanted to play with that possibility. Even the title of the piece itself when taken as a warning tells us to “Walk Lightly.”