Since May 2021, I’ve written a monthly column, which means I’ve read and reviewed over 40 horror short stories and poems. And while all of them were great and touched me in some way, there are a few that have ended up hanging around in my head and bones a little longer than the rest.
So with 2021 over and done, in this edition, instead of the usual seven or so horror pieces, I’ll be looking back on my favorites out of the bunch. Don’t expect these stories to go in any particular order or be ranked best to bestest. All these stories and poems are great works of horror.
If you came across any great horror pieces this year that weren’t featured in any of my Into the Night columns this year, please drop them in the comments! I’d love to give them a read.
‘Drip‘ by Shreya Vikram (Uncharted Magazine)
Content warning: murder and abuse
Appearing in November’s installment of Into the Night, Shreya Vikram’s ‘Drip’ from Uncharted Magazine was an instant haunt for me. In an abusive and run-down home with an ancestral faucet, a young man goes mad listening to the steady drip that no one else seems to hear. Vikram builds a stellar character and voice throughout the piece, making it hard to turn away even as the story becomes more and more unhinged. And it starts right at the beginning: the reader is pulled into this spiraling voice, and by the end, every awful thing the character does seems almost appropriate.
‘Judge Dee and the Poisoner of Montmartre‘ by Lavie Tidhar (Tor.com)
While not as scary or horrifying as Vikram’s ‘Drip,’ Lavie Tidhar’s ‘Judge Dee and the Poisoner of Montmartre’ from Tor.com still haunts my mind rent-free. I first wrote about the short story in September’s installment, and it was my introduction to Tidhar’s vampire judge comedic horror series. ‘Judge Dee and the Poisoner of Montmartre’ follows Judge Dee, a vampire judge, and his human assistant, Jonathan, solving a case of a vampire slain during a lavish undead party. Tidhar worked wonders, making sure new readers were caught up on the series and could follow the humorous, sometimes disgusting antics of the two.
‘The Family in the Adit’ by A.T. Greenblatt (Nightmare Magazine)
‘Family in the Adit’ by A.T. Greenblatt from Nightmare Magazine first appeared in the April installment of Into the Night. I remember very clearly when I heard Greenblatt’s story for the first time over my car’s speakers while listening to Nightmare Magazine’s podcast. At one point—I won’t say where—I pulled over, so I could lean back and just listen to the creepy and darkly satisfying story. ‘Family in the Adit’ is an escape story set a mine, an adit, to be exact, with people-turned-creatures at a dinner party. As the story builds, moving from course to course, a bigger story unfolds.
‘When Driving Past Skyscrapers’ by Mark Henderson (Rune Bear)
Content warning: suicide
I’m a huge fan of horror poetry. It can do some deep, dark things, like conjure lore. Mark Henderson’s poem in Rune Bear, ‘When Driving Past Skyscrapers,’ did this for me. It reminded me of my childhood ritual of hiding my head to keep spirits from entering whenever I passed by the many graveyards near my childhood home. The two-stanza poem about ghosts and the hauntings in glass from skyscraper deaths and suicides first appeared in June’s installment. The haunting creepiness of the poem crept up on me—much in the same way the spirits in the poem creep up on their victims.
‘The Child Feast of Harridan Sack‘ by Kaitlyn Zivanovich (PseudoPod)
Content warning: kidnapping, pedophilia, and grooming
Kaitlyn Zivanovich’s ‘The Child Feast of Harridan Sack’ is an excellent example of emotional horror that blends the scary world of fairytales with real life. When listening to or reading the piece, I feel its rhythm in the way I feel a poem’s rhythm. Using a fairytale of a witch who steals children as a framing device, ‘The Child Feast of Harridan Sack’ follows a mother as she searches for her daughter, kidnapped by a pedophile. I first reviewed Zivanovich’s story from PseudoPod for July’s issue. Since then, it’s been a go-to recommendation for anyone looking for an unformulaic horror story with good emotional beats, threads, and a unique structure.
‘The Reality of Ghosts‘ by Yilin Wang (Fantasy Magazine)
Yilin Wang’s poem ‘The Reality of Ghosts’ in Issue 70 of Fantasy Magazine first appeared in August’s installment of Into the Night. Wang uses the fact and actual reality of ghosts to remind readers: we, all of us, are haunted and touched by spirits. For me, ‘The Reality of Ghosts’ balances its content with its theme perfectly, giving the reader both the fantastic and the real. The poem helped me keep the knowledge—reality—of ghosts at the forefront of my mind every day. Ghosts are here, with you and me and everyone else around us. And not all spirits are left behind by the dead.
‘Litany in the Heart of Exorcism‘ by Sarah Pauling (Flash Fiction Online)
Sarah Pauling’s flash short story ‘Litany in the Heart of Exorcism’ was October’s demon in my bones from Flash Fiction Online. Set during an exorcism, ‘Litany in the Heart of Exorcism’ takes a surprising perspective much different than the classic possession story. Instead of hearing the pleas for salvation from the victim, Pauling gives us a taste of what it’s like to want damnation, demonic companionship. ‘Litany in the Heart of Exorcism’ works with the theme that sometimes the darkness is the only place left to go. And when it is, is salvation the thing we need? From whom? Pauling’s flash story left a lot of the right questions in my mind.
‘Unbaby’ by Marni Appleton (Banshee Press)
Marni Appleton’s ‘Unbaby,’ featured in May’s column, follows a character—you—as you cast a spell to create a baby to win back your husband’s attention and love after he’s moved you to the middle of nowhere while he goes off to work. ‘Unbaby’ appeared in May’s installment, so like ‘Family in the Adit,’ it’s been hanging around in my head for a while. And by it, I mean the unbaby, the creature the main character creates from wanting so much of all the wrong things.
As always, 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! Just send me an email.
2 thoughts on “Into the Night: The Best Horror Short Fiction and Poetry of 2021”
Am so late to this literary party. Thank you for the recommendations. So great to see you show up in my email. Best treat of 2022.
No one’s ever late to great stories. Thanks for reading!