Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Fiction

Mr. Try Again

Six-year-old Violet Wellington was the only child to come out of the swamp. The boys were gone forever. She sat on the side of a muddied dirt road, digging her nails raw against the gravel; her jeans and pink t-shirt were damp but clean. She had a scrape over her left eyebrow and her hair smelled of mildew. Unharmed, otherwise. Dogs and professionals and volunteers spent days trying to find the other bodies. Violet couldn’t help. She wouldn’t draw pictures, she wouldn’t answer questions, she wouldn’t be cajoled with sugar.

Fiction

Sabbatical in the Ohio Methlands

Not really zombies. Not like in the movies, anyway. To begin with, they’re alive. And they don’t eat their victims. They’ll rape you, rob you, murder you, sure, but not eat you. The rest of it’s the same, though. They lurch around looking dead. They smell dead. Boils, abscesses, old infected injuries; they all do their part in approximating putrefaction. Sometimes a murmuring haze of flies will surround their eyes and mouths. They look like skeletons in leather sheets. Their knee joints have a bigger circumference than their thighs.

Fiction

Seven Steps to Beauty for a Girl Named Avarice

She’s born in a pine-wood cottage, birches tangled over its roof, snow burying the log pile. When she’s still young, her father disappears in a war of musket-shot and horses screaming into the gunpowder dark. Her mother scrapes a living by stealing flowers from the gardens of the fine half-timbered houses round the fountain and hocking them in the market. Mornings, the girl accompanies her mother, the armfuls of pilfered calla lilies leaving pollen-smears on her skin. Afternoons, the girl returns to the cottage to sweep the front step with a crooked willow-broom.

Fiction

Exposure

The timer clicked, a cicada in the dark. Lifting the tongs off their rest, he swirled the paper gently; watching, judging. Good to go by the rules, better to work by instinct. Finally judging it complete, he lifted the sheet out of its bath, placing it in another shallow tub and turning the water on, cold, over it. The music played, one CD after another, continuous shuffle so that he never knew what would come up next: Melissa Etheridge, Vivaldi, the exotic noises of a rain forest.

Fiction

Six Hangings in the Land of Unkillable Women

Mill—a charmer and a rake of no respectable talent whatever—insinuated himself into the home of the widow Annie Holcomb and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Alice. But Mrs. Holcomb turned him out, once she realized he’d been gallanting Alice as much as her. Mill spent the next four nights chanting obscene tirades under her window and left a dead rat in the mail slot on the fifth. Night patrols chased him off park benches; friends robbed him. Sleepless and humiliated, he broke into the house and strangled Mrs. Holcomb with her tin necklace, and when it snapped, with a pajama cord.

Fiction

Different Angels

In the swelling, oppressive heat of a Georgia midday, Jolie came home. She choked on the red clay dust clouds billowing from beneath the wheels of the old Chevy that dropped her off a half-mile past the end of the paved road. They had picked her up walking on the Calhoun Falls highway headed out of town. Jolie could see the concerned faces of the snot-nosed kids with whom she’d shared the back seat pressing against the window, until the car dipped down a hill and out of sight. Her fingers were slick on the strap of the overnight-sized suitcase she carried, and she let it slip to the ground.

Fiction

The Owner’s Guide to Home Repair, Page 238: What to Do About Water Odor

Turn the crystal knob on your kitchen faucet and shut off the water. Step back. Wave the air in front of you, cough, snort, pinch your nose, do whatever you must to clear the repulsive smell clogging your nostrils as if you’ve just inhaled rotten meat. Think of the dead crab you found when you were ten years old, its body washed to shore in Rhode Island, and you brought it home and kept it all summmer long in an empty pickle jar on your dresser, even as the crab’s shell turned a sick, dark grey and erupted with crawling pink worms that scavenged the flesh, until one day in August when you opened the jar.

Fiction

The Family

The family’s house was a rambling white-frame farmhouse set on a hill. It had attics and dormers and porches. To her it seemed like there were twenty, forty, even fifty children in the family, but the actual count was thirteen. Like a family of rabbits in a warren on the hill, instead of underneath it. Not all the children lived at home; a few were off at university or had jobs in the city, but there were still enough to make the house feel perpetually in chaos.

Fiction

A Head in a Box, or, Implications of Consciousness after Decapitation

This is not about the movie. The movie that launched her career, where she played the pretty wife of a headstrong cop. Pretty, blonde, smart, convincing. Unhappy. The dutiful wife, killed, dismembered, beheaded. Just like the only other woman in the film, the fatal object of sin manifest. How ironic was it that The Actress first made such a strong cinematic impression with her portrayal of a character whose severed head does indeed end up in a packing crate in the middle of a field so that The Actor—her boyfriend at the time—can have a crisis of conscience?

Fiction

Poppi’s Monster

Poppi had hurt her bad this time, worse than usual. She’d known it would be bad as soon as he’d walked in the door. It was after ten p.m., he was late and her baby-sitter Heather from down the street had left at seven. She was sprawled in front of the blaring TV, working on an Aladdin coloring book she’d bought last year with lunch money she had secretly saved. She hadn’t seen the movie, of course, but she liked to look at the bright printed scenes on the cover and the line drawings inside and pretend that she had.