Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Fiction

Where It Lives

Outside was too big. Eric felt like an ant crawling on the surface of a volleyball, as if the big white cotton dome of the sky was surrounded by giant faces peering down at him and sniggering. He wished it was raining; heʼd have an umbrella then, at least. Tilly was waiting at the bus stop already. Her hair needed cutting. “Hi,” she said, eyeing him warily. He hadnʼt been at school for a week.

Fiction

Under Cover Of Night

Long past midnight, Carl Weston sat in a ditch in the Sonoran Desert with his finger on the trigger of his M-16, waiting for something to happen. Growing up, he’d always played army, dreamed about traveling around the world and taking on the bad guys — the black hats who ran dictatorships, invaded neighboring countries, or tried exterminating whole subsets of the human race. That was what soldiering was all about. Taking care of business. Carrying the big stick and dishing out justice.

Fiction

The Cork Won’t Stay

Hand in hand, your family and some friends stand in a circle around your father. Ten seconds have passed since his last breath, and you’re counting, wondering if it was his last breath or his last breath. Your eyes lock on his face, and you try to remember when he last opened his eyes and looked around. Days, at least. The memory blooms in your head, something like a flower or a drop of ink expanding in water.

Fiction

Replacements

Walking through gray north London to the tube station, feeling guilty that he hadn’t let Jenny drive him to work and yet relieved to have escaped another pointless argument, Stuart Holder glanced down at a pavement covered in a leaf-fall of fast-food cartons and white paper bags, and saw, amid the dog turds, beer cans, and dead cigarettes, something horrible.

Fiction

Wolves and Witches and Bears

The hike hadn’t been Ella’s idea. Of course it hadn’t; nothing about this holiday was. It was Nick who’d chosen the destination, Nick who’d chosen the hotel. It was Nick who wanted to go walking, though the day was hot, the sun already furious. At least, she thought as she pulled on the new hiking boots he’d insisted she buy, it would be cooler under the trees. This part of Croatia was thick with them, the trunks tight-packed, keeping out the light.

Fiction

The Music of the Dark Time

The fear took him by the throat with the first chord. It was the violins and their high, piercing wail that caught him unaware, making the terror vibrate within him as the strings vibrated to their horsehair prod. Tortured, he thought. The bow tortured the strings to make them howl so. The music grew in intensity and volume, and he knew he would have to leave before he *could not* leave, before the soaring, searing music immobilized him like a fly in amber.

Fiction

Snow

They took shelter outside of Boulder, in a cookie-cutter subdivision that had seen better days. Five or six floor plans, Dave Kerans figured, brick facades and tan siding, crumbling streets and blank cul-de-sacs, no place you’d want to live. By then, Felicia had passed out from the pain, and the snow beyond the windshield of Lanyan’s black Yukon had thickened into an impenetrable white blur.

Fiction

The Changeling

She peered through the window at the slumbering cherub. Pale skin and black lashes. A nightlight shone against the red drapes, and tinted the walls bloody. It was warm inside that nursery, she imagined. Snug, like the house where she’d once lived. But that was a long time ago. She did not remember her name anymore, or the person she’d once been. Only the job, the houses she visited each night. The faces of the children she stole.

Fiction

The Cellar Dweller

Buildings were built, in the beginning, everyone knows, to hold the dead down. Every cellar floor was built over the ceiling of something else. Now cellars are used for all sorts of purposes. Roots. Paint cans. Pantries. Workshops. Other. There’s a rhyme someone invented for children. It’s chanted in nurseries in the Banisher’s town. The nurseries are upholstered in chintz, and the walls are padded, as though they’re asylums and the babies inmates.

Fiction

Raphael

By the time we were twelve, the four of us were already ghosts, invisible in the back of our homerooms, at the cafeteria, at the pep-rallies where the girls all wore spirit ribbons the boys were supposed to buy. There was Alex in his cousin’s handed-down clothes — his cousin in the sixth grade with us — Rodge, who insisted that d was actually in his name; Melanie, hiding behind the hair her mother wouldn’t let her cut; and me with my laminated list of allergies and the inhaler my mother had written my phone number on in black marker.