Great fiction never simply reinforces what we already know, and a good scary story, by the same token, goes beyond a mere exploitation of those fears with which we have become familiar. Old, dilapidated houses, primordial forests, dark alleys, and cramped, creaking elevators may provide familiar settings, but a good scary story does more than remind us of the everyday dangers inherent to these uncomfortable places. What we find in truly terrifying fiction is not only the possibility of violence or even annihilation, but a confrontation with a world that is utterly different than we perceive it to be. To fear not just a set of negative outcomes, but the utter dissolution of reality, is the challenge and triumph of every great scary story. While most of us have at some point in our lives feared the death of a loved one, rarely do we stop to consider the ramifications of our departed returning home a half-feral and decaying corpse, but this awful scenario is precisely what Nathan Ballingrud forces us to consider in his horrifying and heartbreaking story, “The Good Husband.” Many people suffer from a natural revulsion to cockroaches, but those who have read “Mimic” by Donald Wollheim have found themselves pondering in disgust the possibility that their strange and mysterious neighbor might be an unidentified species of man-sized bug with an apartment full of fertilized eggs.
The devices and methods by which fiction can terrify its readers are as broad and twisted as the imaginations of the authors who dream them up. Scary stories can come in all shapes and sizes, from surrealistic fever dreams like Franz Kafka’s “A Country Doctor” to contemporary, enigmatic ghost stories such as Kelly Link’s “I Can See Right Through You,” from vicious retellings of classic fairytales in the style of Angela Carter’s “The Werewolf” to eerie examinations of social decay reminiscent of Thomas Ligotti’s “The Town Manager.” Equally effective are the slowly plodding, but deeply unsettling “Phantoms” by Steven Millhauser, the science-fictional body horror of Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild,” Joyce Carol Oates’s demented and confessional “The Doll-Master,” and Brian Evenson’s “Grottor,” an outright nightmare that dives straight into the belly of terror.
As readers we strive for control, willfully suspend our disbelief knowing we need do nothing more than shut the book to safety, but a great scary story eradicates our one and only escape route, forces us to turn the page even when we are filled with dread at what we might find there, leaves us burdened with new and unwelcome knowledge long after the tale has ended. Why anyone would seek such an experience is for each reader to decide for herself. We just know we want more of it.
Burrow Press Review is looking for the four scariest short stories we can find to be published every Tuesday in the month of October, 2016. We are seeking dark fiction that shatters the illusions of safety to which we cling. Send us work that bursts through the comfortable boundary of the page and leaves the reader disarmed, destabilized, and trembling with dread.
We are firm believers that scares are best delivered through compelling prose and a masterful command of language. While we are fans of horror, we do not feel that fear is the sole property of this genre, so we’ll leave it to you to decide if your work is horror, dark fantasy, weird fiction, or anything else you want to call it. If it’s terrifying, send it our way.