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

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

Into the Night: August 2021's Best Horror Short Fiction and Poetry - 677

The spooky season is here. Not now, when I’m writing this, but I can smell the bone dust on the wind and I know the shadows are becoming engorged with darkness. Luckily for me, because of this column, I am forever in the spooky season. Horror writers and readers can relate. We never really take down our skeletons and cobwebs. They are not decorations but everyday necessities.

That’s all to say that I’m excited for the fall and darkness and decay. Hopefully, the stories in this installment of Into the Night will get the demons and ghosts rattling in your ribcage like they have mine. This month, Into the Night features stories from khōréō, Fantasy Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, and more.

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tragedy of the sugarcane ghost‘ by Desirée Winns (khōréō)

In khōréō’s August issue, Desirée Winns shows readers what rotten vengeance looks like on the inside, how its victims call for mercy. More importantly, “tragedy of the sugarcane ghost” examines love, weighs it, and turns what begins as a righteous story into a heartbreaking one. But if you reread it, you’ll see that the heartache and pain were there from the beginning. The spirit of a murdered lover comes back to seek revenge on the person who killed him and stole his beloved by possessing the body of the murderer’s son. All seems just and right… until it isn’t. Winns also writes one of the best possession narratives that I’ve come across in a long time, which is why “tragedy of the sugarcane ghost” is one of my favorite stories out of this month’s batch. 

The Reality of Ghosts‘ by Yilin Wang (Fantasy Magazine)

Too often, people forget that ghosts are someone’s ancestors. They are seen as supernatural, sometimes scary, sometimes comical specters. Even I fall prey to it every once in a while. It’s easy to forget the past and how it lurks, haunting the present and somehow foreshadowing the future. And that’s what caught me about Yilin Wang’s poem “The Reality of Ghosts” in Issue 70 of Fantasy Magazine. The dark unreal is placed precisely where it belongs, right up alongside the real. Wang uses the face and actual reality of ghosts to remind readers we, all of us, are haunted, touched by ghosts. 

Swamp Lesson‘ by Jack Bedell (Not Deer Magazine)

There’s something about a short, direct poem. When it comes to horror poetry, it’s pretty effective. Jack Bedell’s “Swamp Lesson” is an excellent example of this. In five lines, Bedell captures that creeping feeling of being watched, tracked, hunted. For me, I get hooked on the last line. Many things alert you before they strike. But that’s the added layer of scare for me. Yes, in the wild, the animals stalking you won’t make themselves known until they’re ready to attack, kill. If you’ve traversed through a swamp or a thick marshland, you know you’re being hunted. The noises aren’t to be feared. In fact, the noises are comforting. But you have to worry when, like Bedell points out, the noises stop.

Wolf in Her Teeth‘ by Issy M Flynn (Not Deer Magazine)

Another piece from Not Deer Magazine is Issy M Flynn’s “Wolf in Her Teeth,” a dark Red Riding Hood retelling in micro fiction form. With some wonderfully gruesome imagery (including the titular image), Flynn casts Red Riding Hood into a different light, where she is witch, murderer, and huntress. A wolf talking to its cub gives them the warning to steer clear of the wolf-clad girl bent on avenging the death of her grandmother. Red is all anger and grief and stalking butcher. It’s a flash piece that I wish was longer. I want more of the creepy imagery and brutal Red, but that’s the bittersweetness of micro horror fiction. 

Goldfish‘ by Shyla Jones (SmokeLong Quarterly)

Like Flynn’s “Wolf in Her Teeth,” Shyla Jones’ “Goldfish” overflows with dark imagery. There’s gore, sometimes visceral, but there are also snapshots of a time spent growing and hating together. It’s hard for me to describe what exactly “Goldfish” is about because it’s one of those works that seems so pieced together from personal experiences and mythos that any summary I dare give will come up short. There are goldfish, but the story isn’t sweet–it reads like a poem gone off the rails. There are traces of love, but it’s not healthy, and yet it’s not all about the bad. The only thing I feel like I can say with confidence is I was spooked, and I was touched. 

After the Tower Falls, Death Gives Advice‘ by Ali Trotta (Uncanny Magazine)

One of my favorite horror poems of August was Ali Trotta’s “After the Tower Falls, Death Gives Advice” in Uncanny Magazine’s Issue 41. A lot of my love for this poem comes down to its sharp, short lines and instructive form. I want to say, ‘yes, I will take my past, my soul, my heart and do whatever you ask.’ There exists, too, haunting imagery that makes it so easy to get tied up in each stanza. The way Trotta’s poem pulls the reader down, almost daring or pressuring them to read the next line, the next stanza—as Winns does in her remarkable “tragedy of the sugarcane ghost”—is why I found myself returning to the poem again and again throughout the month. 

I hope you found a new magazine, writer, or story to satiate your horror hunger. Also, if you have a favorite publication that puts out excellent horror poetry or fiction, please tell me about it by leaving a comment on this article or dropping me a line. The same goes for writers and editors of publications. I would love to connect and read the horror stories and poems you’re publishing. 

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