Stephen King’s last short-story collection came out a year ago. If past behavior predicts future performance then it could be as long as eight years before we get another one.
Before anyone (like me) starts to despair, we’ve got a little something to tide us over while we wait. Part of the promotion for Stephen King’s book The Bazaar of Bad Dreams was a competition where UK authors would submit short horror stories, with King himself choosing the best one. King ended up being so impressed with the finalists that he recommended having all of them published together in one collection. Six Scary Stories is the result.
Entrants to the competition were given free rein on what horror topics to choose, and the only inspiration they were given was a quote from King’s introduction to Bazaar: “There’s something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience. It can be invigorating, sometimes even shocking, like a waltz with a stranger you will never see again, or a kiss in the dark.”
So basically, the shorter the better, especially if it packs a punch. The six writers produced stories that were more or less powerful, but definitely short. So short that it’s tough to write a review without giving away the ending. The briefest possible synopsis follows.
Elodie Harper writes a Lovecraft-inspired tale of a drowned village and choosing the worst possible body of water to explore in the contest winner, “Wild Swimming”. It’s in epistolary format; that’s where the story is told through newspaper articles or journal entries or – in this case – emails. I’ve always thought that makes for a wonderfully claustrophobic feeling of danger closing in while you’re desperately trying to get someone to answer their flipping mail.
“Eau-De-Eric” is Manuela Saragosa’s story of a single mother and her young daughter’s unhealthy obsession with her teddy-bear. Having someone stalk you from beyond the grave is a scary concept, but I think what’s more terrifying is the real-life phenomenon of just how good an abuser can be at hiding what they’re doing from everyone except the person they’re abusing.
Paul Bassett Davies quoted in his intro one of his favorite lines from Stephen King’s On Writing: “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.” In his story “Spots” the main character is assigned an impossible task by a despot who’s convinced he’s the wisest and most benevolent ruler in the world, even though he doesn’t understand science, economics, medicine, or how to make sane decisions.
The end of the week found me facing the Leader in his private box at the People’s Skating Rink, which was closed to the public in winter as a precaution against syphilis, which the Leader had proved to be spread by shivering.
Michael Button’s favorite Stephen King story is “The Mangler”, so it’s no shock that his story “The Unpicking” features inanimate objects coming to life. Which would be scary enough if they were bent on taking over the world, but in this case they have an even more horrible motivation: they’re bored.
I haven’t been able to decide what I think of Stuart Johnstone’s entry, “La Mort De L’Amant”. There’s all sorts of things that can push people to the edge, and the main character here has found himself pushed to two different edges. I can certainly see how something tedious and tiring can make someone snap, but the story ends before we really find out what led up to the story’s beginning, or what happens next.
The final story in the collection is Neil Hudson’s “The Bear Trap”, and it’s also my favorite. It’s not subtle, and you’ll be able to figure out the reveal fairly soon; the biggest hint is in the title. It’s satisfying in a very simple way though, and I had to laugh at how matter-of-fact and resilient the 12-year-old main character is about the whole thing.