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

Welcome to Into the Night, Tor Nightfire’s new monthly horror short fiction and poetry review and roundup. This is the second entry in the series, reviewing original published horror pieces from May 2021. If you’re interested in reading last month’s reviews, head right over here. My main objective with this series is to provide horror readers a wide selection of authors, publications, and stories to read every month–like a subscription box, but for dark fiction and poetry. 

If you have a favorite publication that puts out excellent horror poetry or fiction, tell me about it by leaving a comment on this article, or drop me a line. The same goes for writers and editors of publications. I want to read all the dark things, which may be a wish I learn to regret. But now, in the dark early morning, I want to hear the stories that haunt me past the page, the screen. 

This month, we have stories and poems ranging in themes and subgenres from publications like Fantasy Magazine, The Sun, and more. I will say that, for some reason, death was on my mind, so it appears as a common theme in the stories and poems below.


‘Spam From The Dead’ by James Davis May (The Sun)

The idea that maybe, just maybe, when we die, we’ll exist in some ghostly form on the internet, carrying on in an ethereal digital form, is both comforting and horrifying. Both emotions are starkly pitted against each other in James Davis May’s poem in the May issue of The Sun. ‘Spam From The Dead’ is a narrative poem written in a striking form about a person receiving emails from a recently deceased loved one. They know they shouldn’t open these emails, but the hope that they’ll allow them to connect again with someone that has passed is still tempting. There’s a hint of danger in opening up messages from the dead. Yes, you’ll be able to reunite with the person you’ve lost, but at what costs? The poem ends with the deceased person’s final message, leaving the poem with a hopeful yet dark air. 


‘Self-Portrait as Wolf’ by Louisa Muniz (Fantasy Magazine)

Another poem that got me really excited (because that’s what good horror does to me—it excites and ignites me) was Louisa Muniz’s poem ‘Self-Portrait as Wolf’ in Fantasy Magazine. It captures the dark and haunting feeling associated with monsters, beasts, and the things we both yearn for and fear. When I first read the poem, it sounded like a spell, instructions for how to become something else. Then I read it again and again and again, finding and feeling different meanings within its spaces and atmospheric line breaks. Who is the wolf? Is it me, you, or the author? Whoever it is is hunting for something that feels lost in the past, in the places they left behind. 


‘Bony Bonnie Dead Horse’ by Shane Halbach (Cast of Wonders)

Very few stories can be both creepy and cute, but Shane Halbach’s flash fiction story in Cast of Wonders is just that. A little girl, Aaliyah, wishes she could have a horse in the city apartment building where she lives, but her mom won’t allow it. Then one night, she calls for a horse, for a friend that she needs more than anything, and a skeletal equine emerges from the darkness. I’m always apprehensive when white authors tell stories from the perspective of Black characters, but the voices and themes here didn’t feel unreal or like caricatures, which is frequently a problem for me. And the ending note of hope toward another girl like Aaliyah, who needs a dead thing to give her strength, touched me deeply. 


‘Playthings’ by Samantha Frye (Nightlight)

I’m a forever stan of the innocent little girl reversal. Give me a character who appears sweet, naïve, and vulnerable, then show me how much control she has over the fear of those who wish to do her harm. Samantha Frye’s flash fiction story in NIGHTLIGHT gives me all that in an excellent small package. That’s what I like about flash horror: it’s concentrated. A little girl with hints of magic is placed in bed by her mother with a warning of what to do if the monsters come. In Frye’s story, the horror concentration focuses on the darkness, the voice, and the building moving toward an ending that leaves the reader retreating like the monsters in Laura’s room. 


‘Head On’ by Blake Kimzey (SmokeLong Quarterly)

Emotional science fiction horror is the best way I’d describe Blake Kimzey’s flash fiction story ‘Head On’ in the recent SmokeLong Quarterly weekly publication. The horror here is quiet, grotesque, and yet hauntingly beautiful in that way of all belief in dead things. But the emotional weight and themes of belief in Kimzey’s story are so loud. In this short piece, a parent digs in the wreckage of the town they left after returning in the wake of their daughter’s death in a car crash. There, they find their daughter, waiting to be carried away to a place where they can both be free. This is where the science fiction element comes in. Together, the living and dead find space among the stars. 


‘Unbaby’ by Marni Appleton (Banshee Press)

Wowza. This second-person horror story of want and need gripped me and would not let go. At the end, I went right back to the beginning to skim the lines and learn the words—you know, see what I missed and fall in love again with how the story grows to its conclusion. Marni Appleton’s ‘Unbaby’ follows a character–you–as you try and win back the love and attention of your husband, who has moved you to the middle of nowhere while he goes off to work. You find a book of dark magic that shows you how to make a baby to force him to stay, to make sure you’re never alone again. But while you light your candles and chant your words, do you ever stop to wonder what type of creature comes from such dark hunger? ‘Unbaby’ is a creepy story that I felt in my gut. 


If you were able to find a story, author, or publication here to help fuel your dark nights, consider subscribing or buying an issue from them. Your support as a reader helps bring more horror stories like these into the light. And drop a comment and tell me about a recent horror story or publication you found. I’d love to check it out. 



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