October is here, which means pumpkin-spice lattes, warm sweaters, and nonstop horror. No, not the horrors of a dystopian election and global pandemic—well, not just those. But a month to read and celebrate horror fiction, the stories that tingle your spine, chill your bones, and curdle your blood.
This month our new anthology, Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Tales of Horror, is being published. The book collects over forty new horror stories from established masters and emerging voices, including Samantha Hunt, Brian Evenson, Jac Jemc, Stephen Graham Jones, Kevin Brockmeier, and Rion Amilcar Scott. Each story is under fifteen hundred words, meaning you’ll get a quick scare in only a few pages. Our goal with the anthology was to celebrate and subvert the genre of horror fiction. The stories inside span everything from werewolves and serial killers to the horrors of dating apps, racism, wealth inequality, and online radicalization.
Because Tiny Nightmares includes so many talented authors, we didn’t think it was fair to pick only a handful of their books to highlight in this list. (Though we encourage you to check out all of their wonderful works!) Instead, we wanted to provide some suggestions of great Halloween reads from around the world that you may not have read yet.
There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, translated by Keith Gessen and Anna Summers
Petrushevskaya is one of Russia’s great living authors and her specialty is fairy tales and fables. But as the title of this implies, these aren’t tales of happily-ever-afters and whimsical talking animals. They’re “scary fairy tales” (as the book’s subtitle puts it), filled with macabre images and haunting happenings. They’re so dark, in fact, that Petrushevskaya’s work was blacklisted in Russia in the 1970s. Luckily, we can read them now. Like Tiny Nightmares, these are quick bites of horror. If you’ve ever wished the Brothers Grimm were even grimmer, check out this collection.
Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi, translated by Jonathan Wright
We love a surprising retelling of a classic story—you’ll find some in Tiny Nightmares—and there’s no more classic horror story than Frankenstein. Saadawi takes the corpse (pun intended) of Mary Shelley’s tale and reanimates it by setting it in the wreckage of US-occupied Iraq, where a scavenger named Hadi has stitched together body parts from murdered civilians. It’s a brilliant retelling, as well as a poignant political allegory.
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa, translated by Stephen Snyder
Ogawa recently got much deserved accolades for her haunting dystopian novel The Memory Police, which was translated into English from the Japanese in 2019. That book could easily appear on this list, but an even more appropriate book might be her stunning story collection Revenge. Revenge—subtitled “eleven dark tales”—doesn’t contain many supernatural horrors or fanged monsters. It is instead more focused on the darkness lurking behind our seemingly normal relations and interactions. The stories, which are interconnected in surprising ways, span from the somber to the shocking, but each is permeated with a beautifully eerie atmosphere.
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck
Amatka, by the Swedish author Karin Tidbeck, isn’t a traditional horror novel—but it is an immensly spooky one. The novel takes place in a strange, Kafkaesque colony called Amatka where a dystopian government imposes bizarre rules on the colony’s inhabitants. It may not have actual ghosts, but Amatka will haunt you.
White Is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
Speaking of hauntings, what’s a scary book list without a haunted house novel? The British Nigerian author Helen Oyeyemi is famous for her fairy tale retellings (Gingerbread; Boy, Snow, Bird; Mr. Fox), but in her third novel, White Is for Witching, she melds her fabulist leanings with Gothic horror.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
If a haunted mansion is what you’re after, what’s better than one nestled in the 1950s Mexican countryside? Mexican Canadian author Moreno-Gracia, whose vampire novel Certain Dark Things would also fit in perfectly on this list, weaves a true gothic tale of a woman who, summoned by a cousin who thinks she’s being poisoned by her husband, has to navigate a world infinitely more creepy than she anticipated—and steeped in the rot of racial, class, and labor inequity.
Human Acts by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith
Is this horror? We don’t know what is more horrifying than governments that slaughter their people. Han Kang’s follows the South Korean 1980 Gwangju Uprising, in which university students and locals protesting martial law were beaten, raped, and murdered by government troops. Approximately two thousand people died in the initial uprising and its aftermath. Like The Vegetarian, Han Kang’s Man Booker Prize-winning 2015 novel, Human Acts takes up the horror of the body, it’s troublesome corporealness, in life and death. A harrowing read.
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan MacDowell
Shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize, Fever Dream is as mind-altering as it sounds. The slim novel, clocking in at under two hundred pages, drops the reader immediately into the uneasy feverscape of its protagonist Amanda, a woman vacationing in the countryside, as she converses from her sickbed with a child not her own. There is a poisoned well, the threat of worms, a child whose spirit may be cleaved in two, and other horrors woven in, but there are no easy answers, and the reader is left with a truly immersive and unsettling experience.
The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien
Can a nightmare be hilarious? That seems to be the question animating Flann O’Brien’s fantastic and phantasmagoric second novel about a murderer with a wooden leg who finds himself trapped in a twisted version of the Irish countryside as he tries to track down his stolen money. The novel was so strange when it was written (1939–1940) that O’Brien failed to find a publisher for it. Luckily for us, it was published posthumously, and is now considered a postmodern classic.
The Children by Carolina Sanín, translated by Nick Caistor
Set in Colombia, Sanin’s short novel and her first translated into English, is in the creepy child genre, but is much more than that. Laura Romero is approached at the supermarket by a strange woman, and later an unaccompanied boy, ghost-like, shows up at her door. What follows is a haze of bureaucratic horror, a hunt for the child’s identity, with dreamlike visions caused in part by a wash of painkillers meant to blot out the real-world horrors of Colombia’s past.
And to close out this wonderful list, we just had to include Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Tales of Horror, edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto and out now from Catapult! – Ed.
Tiny Nightmares: Very Short Tales of Horror edited by Lincoln Michel and Nadxieli Nieto
In this playful, inventive collection, leading literary and horror writers spin chilling tales in only a few pages. Each slim, fast-moving story brings to life the kind of monsters readers love to fear, from brokenhearted vampires to Uber-taking serial killers and mind-reading witches. But what also makes Tiny Nightmares so bloodcurdling―and unforgettable―are the real-world horrors that writers such as Samantha Hunt, Brian Evenson, Jac Jemc, Stephen Graham Jones, Lilliam Rivera, Kevin Brockmeier, and Rion Amilcar Scott weave into their fictions, exploring how global warming, racism, social media addiction, and homelessness are just as frightening as, say, a vampire’s fangs sinking into your neck. Our advice? Read with the hall light on and the bedroom door open just a crack.