Horror & Dark Fantasy



The H Word


The H Word: Body Horror—What’s Really Under Your Skin?

Years ago, while studying Buddhism in college, I came across the Tibetan practice of sky burial, where the corpse is chopped into pieces and left out in the open for the vultures. Monks gather around the remains to meditate upon death, aided by the grisly reality of a human body reduced to it essential components. I found this fascinating. Still do. Bravo to those stalwart monks watching the vultures dip their red beaks into the human goulash. Whether it’s a spectacle I’d want to witness myself, though, is another matter.


The H Word: Dementia and the Writer

My eighty-five-year-old mother, who has been living in a board and care facility since August 2017, recently told me a remarkable anecdote: when I was eleven, there was a big story in the news about a missing thirteen-year-old girl. One day, Mom and Dad spotted the missing child on the street and brought her home, where she stayed with us for a few days until the authorities arranged to get her back to her family. What gave this story its real punch ending was my mother’s discovery that another one of the residents at the board and care was that little girl, all these years later.


The H Word: The Things that Walk Behind the Rows

Two years ago I moved to a rural town of 8,000 people, twenty miles from the border between Kansas and Missouri. It’s the kind of place most people only pass by on the way to someplace else. Unless you live here, the most you’ll ever see of it is the truck stop by the freeway, where you might stop to fill up your gas tank and take a leak. It’s the last outpost of civilization you’ll see for a while. Twenty minutes or so outside of town, there’s a long stretch of highway where cell phones don’t work. We drive it often, and I still haven’t quite accepted the concept of this dead zone.


The H Word: Reviewing Horror

To me, horror is about fear. It’s about feeling. Which I think is why a lot of readers and reviewers shy away from looking at stories that are labeled as horror. Because fear is intense, and intensely personal, so what one person finds frightening another person will likely find . . . boring. And if a reviewer decides to judge horror stories solely on how well the stories scare them personally, they’ll likely find a lot of horror to be unsuccessful. But to me there’s so much more to horror than just the ability to make us afraid.


The H Word: Supernatural Horror in a Secular World

Last summer at NecronomiCon Providence, I moderated a panel called “Faithful Frighteners,” in which we discussed whether or not it’s harder for an atheist to be frightened by a story in which the horror depends on the trappings of a religious worldview. Faith is by definition the suspension of disbelief, so it struck me as related when at the same convention, renowned anthologist Ellen Datlow commented that she finds supernatural horror more effective in short stories than in novels because it’s harder to sustain that suspension of disbelief for an entire novel.


The H Word: W Is for Witch

Growing up, I never remember fearing witches. Instead, I feared the men who burned them. As a strange, bullied child who always took magic for granted, I tacitly assumed if witch-hunts ever started again, I wouldn’t be safe. Somebody would quickly recognize me as “wrong” and tie me to the nearest pyre. Witch hunts were the stuff real nightmares were made of. Men would yank you from your bed in the night and lock you up in a dark cell. Your chance of a fair trial was non-existent. And they did this ostensibly for the good of your neighbors and your family.


The H Word: Someone Changed the Bones in Our Homes

I may be agnostic now, but I was raised in the Catholic Church. A childhood that was haunted by the smell of burnt candle wax and images of torture as objects of reverie. It was here that I was told about the most terrifying thing my young child mind would ever experience: what the church called transubstantiation. This idea that something can appear the same and be changed on the spiritual level. That this piece of wafer was actually parts of a corpse. That this glass of wine was really blood. An idea that terrified me to the bone.


The H Word: Food for Thought

I haven’t eaten meat since I was eleven. I was the only vegetarian in my school, in a little farming town where the largest employer was the local slaughterhouse. It wasn’t an easy decision to swim against that overwhelming social current, but it’s one from which I have never since retreated. Looking back, I see a willful child stretching for individuality and control over her life, but I think that even then I understood what I do now: that on a fundamental level, what we choose to eat defines us.


The H Word: What Comes at the End

I am seven and my fingers are streaked with dark earth. With my right hand, I am using a spoon to cut an earthworm into smaller and smaller bits and wondering what it would feel like to be taken apart. I am in our tiny backyard, behind the tinier rental house that could get away with not being called a house at all, and I am digging a hole with a spoon from our silverware drawer. It is one of four spoons, and my mother has given it to me. There are no toy spades, no toy buckets. We are poor, and so I dig my hole with a spoon and pluck worms from their hiding places.


The H Word: Ghosts in a Void

Why ghosts? My primary interest as a writer is to ask and keep asking what it means to be human in a world indifferent to humanity. To my mind, a ghost, proceeding as it does immediately and directly from the individual after death, expresses many of our most intimate concerns—fear of mortality, loss of identity, loss of agency—while retaining at least a vague semblance of what was once physically, entirely human. A ghost is not a bizarre transformation initiated by an outside force. It may be seen, instead, as a last attempt at holding onto life and selfhood.