Hocking’s Seven Scarce Shudders
by John C. Hocking
More short stories of the supernatural that chill to the bone.
My original list of seven shuddersome short stories from last month highlighted some of the best supernatural work I’ve read, but I limited myself to tales that could be found with minimal effort and expense. This list is not so merciful. Here are seven superlative horror yarns that deliver distilled spectral fear but might not be easy to locate and make your own.
A.A. Attanasio- The Star-Pools (New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by Ramsey Campbell, Arkham House, 1980)
Well written mythos yarn builds from thoughtful beginnings to a truly outrageous climax. One of the few yarns in the Lovecraftian sub-genre that not only takes the reader to the very edge of cosmic apocalypse but delivers horror in proportion.
Robert Bloch- Enoch (The Early Fears, Fedogan & Bremer, 1994)
Unforgettable first-person tale of a man’s lunatic conviction that a predatory imp lives on his skull, making him do things he shouldn’t. But what if it’s something more than a psychotic delusion?
Robert Barbour Johnson- Far Below (Far Below and Other Horrors, edited by Robert Weinberg Starmont House, 2003)
A classic from ‘Weird Tales’ in the form of a monologue delivered by a longtime worker in the lower depths of the New York City subway system. Immersive, grotesque, and Lovecraftian in its sober, gradual unveiling of otherworldly horror.
T.E.D. Klein- Nadelman’s God (Dark Gods, Bantam, 1986)
Darkly brilliant tale featuring a middle-aged protagonist whose youthful and unsophisticated dabbling in the fringes of the occult seem to be having some strange, delayed and utterly unforeseen results. One of the finest supernatural stories I’ve ever read.
Michael Shea- I, Said the Fly (I, Said the Fly, Silver Salamander Press, 1993)
One expects polished and distinctive work from Shea, but this strange, melancholy novella about a collection of friends slowly realizing humanity is being subjugated by forces alien and unknowable is unique. Virtually anything I’ve read by this criminally neglected author is worth multiple re-readings.
Karl Edward Wagner- Where the Summer Ends (In a Lonely Place, Warner, 1983)
Well known for his sword and sorcery fiction, Wagner’s most celebrated horror yarn has to be Sticks. As good as that story is the author produced a chain of extraordinary supernatural tales that seem unjustly cast in its shadow. Where the Summer Ends has an escalating sense of eeriness and uses skillfully understated foreshadowing to help deliver extra impact at the climax.
H. Russell Wakefield- Red Lodge (The Best Ghost Stories of H. Russell Wakefield, Academy Chicago, 1982)
Classic haunted house tale provides fine chills and a number of scenes all but guaranteed to burn themselves into the reader’s mind. Ghostly events are displayed in several imaginative and disturbing ways, sometimes pieced together by the reader, who interprets events often misunderstood by the poor characters. Many authors of ghost stories have been lauded as being worthy of comparison to M.R. James, but it seems to me that only a meager handful of them actually merit that honor. Wakefield’s work belongs on the same shelf as the master.