Into the Night: April 2021’s Best Horror Short Fiction and Poetry

Into the Night: April 2021’s Best Horror Short Fiction and Poetry

Into the Night: April 2021's Best Horror Short Fiction and Poetry - 139

Welcome to Into the Night, Tor Nightfire’s new monthly horror short fiction and poetry review and roundup. The aim here is to bring horror readers a wide selection of authors, publications, and stories to read every month–like a subscription box, but for scary fiction and poetry. Most of the stories will be from online publications where you can read them for free or by purchasing an issue online.

But I don’t want to limit the horror. I want to reach it. Spread myself out into its corners and find it in unlikely places. There’re a lot of horror publications out there and I want to read them all, to know them like a monster beneath my bed. To that end, if you have favorite publications that put out great horror poetry or fiction, tell me about them by leaving a comment below or dropping me a line

For our inaugural month, April 2021, we have stories across a wide range of theme and subgenre from publications like Strange Horizons, The Dark, and Mermaids Monthly. So follow me into the night, and I promise I won’t lead you astray. 

blank text

‘The Family in the Adit’ by A.T. Greenblatt (Nightmare Magazine)

What drew me into Greenblatt’s Nightmare Magazine horror story was the slow subtle build of wonderfully-used micro-tension that runs throughout. This is an escape story set in the darkness of a mine with people-turned-creatures at a dinner party for the absolutely damned. The reader isn’t sure who to root for: the Wife or the dinner guest? Or who to pity: the children, or everyone corralled into the dark by the Taskmaster? As the story builds, moving from dinner course to dinner course—some poisoned, some not—a whole world and a larger story unfold. It’s not just about the dinner party, the guest, or the family in the adit. Greenblatt’s story touches on themes of abuse, slavery, and survival, all while crafting a world on the character level. That just makes my writer and reader brain hmm in satisfaction. 

‘Hello’ by Ai Jiang (The Dark)

Whenever I come across a new writer whose work resonates within me, connecting shadowed parts, I tend to go on a bit of a hunt. I want to know their work, their words, and their methods. That’s what ‘Hello’ did to me. Jiang’s short story in The Dark follows a creature named Hello who roves from place to place, picking and stripping those who try desperately to ignore it until it meets someone who does not run. I have a soft spot for misunderstood monsters. And Hello felt like that, wandered through the world like that—alone, unheard, and hungry. Hungry with an emotion that shines through as Jiang describes how Hello hates the shiny screens in people’s hands, in the way the Child with the Blurred Face changes and grows. After a story like Greenblatt’s, that pulls the reader along with its swordplay dialogue, ‘Hello’’s lack of responsive dialogue—dialogue that moves back and forth, answering and deepening—shows the horror of silence, of letting words go unspoken, unheard. 

‘Gaslighting’ by Stephanie Kelly (96th of October)

In keeping with the theme of loneliness awoken by Jiang’s ‘Hello,’ ‘Gaslighting’ by Stephanie Kelly builds on the unspoken bond between ghosts, monsters, and people who feel separate. Living in her comfortable apartment, Maureen begins to notice things out of place, until she feels herself slipping away from the quiet sanity she’s cultivated living alone. I’ve lived alone, or close to it, on and off for the past few years. I remember the feeling of finding things where they should not be, of wondering… and then talking myself out of a haunting. Kelly plays on that fear of the comfort and danger of solitude and pushes the fear further by introducing themes of abuse and stalking. When authors leave their mysteries unanswered, the way Kelly does here, it adds a layer of horror to the story. The story continues well after the final note, ringing in your head.

Content warnings on this story for gaslighting, stalking, and minor self-harm.

‘Dispatch from a Ruin in Mitla, the Town of Souls’ by Morgan L. Ventura (Strange Horizons)

Ventura’s recent poem in Strange Horizons cuts the horror of settler colonialism down to its bones and blood. Through six sections, Ventura’s poem embodies Mitla, personifying the location and speaking to those who pillage, document, and attempt to excavate it. The overall theme centers around colonialism and the insidious ways it seeps in, including the erasure of language, of land, of people, of deities. What makes a horror poem? Is it the same set of elements that make a horror story? The beats, the frights, the characters? I don’t have an answer for you. But as a queer Black woman, I know of the horrors represented in ‘Dispatch from a Ruin in Mitla, the Town of Souls’ and give a round of finger snaps to Ventura for putting it to the page with a note of hope at the end. 

‘It Rises From Between My Bones’ by Donna J.W. Munro (PseudoPod)

In Munro’s recent story on PseudoPod, the unnamed main character is diagnosed with cancer, but finds that there’s something else feasting on her body. I love horror that makes my heart ache. Instead of focusing on what’s so scary about monsters, ghost, and the dark, it reminds us that the horror is right here in our bodies, in our minds. It reminds us that horror doesn’t just exist on the page or on the screen, but lives with us every day. It’s the doctor’s visit we keep putting off. The wheeze in our lungs. It is the unthinkable, living beneath our skin. Munro’s ‘It Rises From Between My Bones’ is that type of body horror. Parts of the story made me sad, made me want to reach out to family and friends, make sure they know I love them. I think this had to do with the bond and care shown in the main relationship throughout the story. It was done so delicately and real that I couldn’t help but feel that sad ache that comes from within.

‘How to Eat a Mermaid’ by K. Garcia Ley (Mermaids Monthly)

Mermaid horror usually isn’t my thing, but Ley’s poetic and beautiful prose won me over. And I guess I, too, was curious about how you eat a mermaid. But Ley’s story isn’t that type of horror story–the type that gives you instructions. Instead, it shows you the love of sisters and the eviscerating power of hunger. Two sisters in a starving seaside town go out to hunt mermaids together for food. The act is as brutal as you’d think. Hunger is often like that. Need is often like that: brutal beyond comprehension. I also felt a personal connection to this story that had less to do with the familial cannibalism and more to do with the act of teaching a younger sibling. In passing down these lessons from one to another, we conjure the past and feast on memories that could easily be forgotten.  

I hope you were able to find a few reads to take with you into the night. Next month, I’ll be back with more horror stories and poems. I’m open to recommendations, so please don’t hesitate to drop a comment about a magazine or publication that features some of your favorite horror fiction or poetry. 

Join Us by the Fire...

Join Us by the Fire...

3 thoughts on “Into the Night: April 2021’s Best Horror Short Fiction and Poetry

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *