- Third Person Limited
- First Person
- Theme: Fear of the Unknown
- Theme: Growing Up
- Theme: Grief & Loss
- Unreliable Narrator
- Character Voice
- Short Stories
With twenty-one tales of horror, varying from psychopathic killers (The Process is a Process all its Own by Peter Straub), to isolated towns that want to be left the hell alone (The Bad Hour by Christopher Golden), to a creepy arcade amusement machine (The House of Wonders by C. E. Ward) there is something for most horror fans.
As with all anthologies, there were some stories in The Best Horror of the Year Volume Nine that I enjoyed more than others, but even those that didn’t jive with my horror preferences were still brilliantly written and a joy to read. The theme of the unknown was a strong element in a lot the stories in this anthology (and is prevalent in horror in general) and I have managed to whittle the stories down to my personal top three from the anthology.
Nesters by Siobhan Carroll
A strange event has caused the land around the Mackay’s farm, and a large part of the U.S.A. to become dust filled and barren, where the rain rarely falls and survival is the best they can hope for. All except the Dubort’s place, where the land is green and lush, and the fruits grow abnormally large. The kids call it the Devil’s Garden. But Mr. Dubort has gone missing, and two government officials show up to try and get to the bottom of where he is, but Sally Mackay’s Pa is distinctly cagey, along with all the other farmers in the area.
The story is told through Sally Mackay’s point of view and is a great example of character voice done well using the third person limited perspective. Sally’s is the cynical voice of a child who has been forced to grow up fast and is resigned to taking on the role she has been dealt in life. She is trying to get to grips with the world she lives in and in many ways she copes better than the adults she is surrounded by, perhaps because they are fixated on the world they have lost.
While the adults find solace in religion—Sally’s Pa never misses a service on Sundays—Sally is cynical of what she is told here too. Her musings and ideas are almost adult in their own way:
“The service was one of the usual ones, about the end times and how the dusters were the Nesters’ fault for ignoring the Lord’s will. Inwardly Sally was having none of it. it was a pretty poor God who visited misery on folk for drinking too much and taking his name in vain now and then.”
Throughout the story there is a sense of bleak, resigned dread that builds steadily. It gathers like the dust in the story and finds its way into the nooks and crannies of your subconscious as you read.
Fury by D. B. Waters
A crime scene investigator is called to the scene of a very unusual domestic disturbance. He finds himself drawn, like a magnet, to the bizarre happenings within the house.
Fury is an interesting take on the haunted house story and is a good example of the unreliable narrator character done well. The story is written in third person limited from the point of view of the crime scene investigator. As the story moves forward, it becomes difficult to know whether what the main character sees is actually happening, whether or not he is imagining these things, or—perhaps worse—is the house itself conjuring up these images for him. There are points where his perception of time seems to warp, which echoes what is happening in the house itself.
On These Blackened Shores of Time by Brian Hodge
A father watches his son fall into a sinkhole that opened in the middle of their street. When the authorities give up on their search in the mine shafts running beneath the street, the family take it upon themselves to try to find his body, believing they might somehow find him alive.
The first person narrative, written from the perspective of the father, gives us an intimate view into the grief and helplessness the father feels when his son disappears into the hole in the road. It also heightens the horror when the father discovers what is in the dark deep beneath the street, towards the end of the story.
Fear of the Unknown
A common theme of these three short stories is the fear of the unknown. Horror fiction often relies heavily on this innate fear, but what is it about the unknown that is so terrifying?
It is linked, in part, to our fear of the dark. It represents our inability to distinguish friend from foe. Our brains form patterns based on our past experiences, and we use this to go about our daily lives. When we encounter something unknown, our brain goes into overdrive trying to make it fit to the frameworks we have already established. When we can’t find a pattern, or can’t compare it to something else we have already experienced, it is only natural that this would elicit a fear response.
A study at Toronto University found that our fear of the dark elicits a lingering, foreboding fear, rather than a full-blown panic, which is precisely the sort of response our ancestors would have needed to keep them on edge and alert so they could be ready to run from or fight against a predator. And it is also this lingering response that authors of great horror fiction play with when they write about the unknown. Their work leaves us with a sense of foreboding and unease and it plays on our innate survival instincts.
The Best Horror of the Year Volume Nine gives us plenty of amazing examples of how to create a lingering fear of the unknown when we write horror fiction, with lots of different characters, voices, and narrative structures thrown in as well. The stories themselves are brilliantly written and there is something for all horror fans in this anthology.
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts. Let me know in the comments below, or find me over on Instagram.