Recently my phone, attuned to my horror-browsing interests, alerted me to the online article “11 Creepy Lines From Horror Books That Are Honestly Terrifying.” It’s hard to argue against Emma Flynn’s choices for “the spookiest sentences in literature,” but her exercise did get me thinking about what fictional lines I would cite. After perusing my bookshelves, I fixed upon a dozen disturbing utterances:
There is no delight the equal of dread.
–Clive Barker, “Dread”
He went forward, chivvied by unseen devils who whispered obscenities in his ear and caressed him with pincers and stinging tendrils, who dripped acid on the back of his neck and laughed as he screamed and thrashed in the amniotic soup, the quaking entrails.
–Laird Barron, “The Broadsword”
Deep down in the subterranean fissures of his body, the minute, unbelievable noises; little smackings and twistings and little dry chippings and grindings and nuzzling sounds–like a tiny hungry mouse down in the red-blooded dimness, gnawing ever so earnestly and expertly at what might have been, but was not, a submerged timber…
–Ray Bradbury, “The Skeleton”
One of us lifted something from [the pillow], and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.
–William Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily”
we will ride at nightfall we will ride to the hole i am dead you will die anyone who gets too close will be infected with the death on you us we are infected together we will be in the death hole together and the grave dirt will fall in on top of us lalala the dead pull the living down if anyone tries to help you i us we will pull them down and step on them and no one climbs out because the hole is too deep and the dirt falls too fast and everyone who hears your voice will know it is true jude is dead and i am dead and you will die you will hear my voice and we will ride together on the night road to the place the final place where the wind cries for you for us we will walk to the edge of the hole we will fall in holding each other we will fall sing for us sing at our at your grave sing lalala
–Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box
“God God,” Eleanor said, flinging herself out of bed and across the room to stand shuddering in a corner, “God God–whose hand was I holding?”
–Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House
She lay peaceful in the silence waiting for him knowing that he would not lie to her, wondering if he’d read her now in the days and weeks to come, feeling that probably would for how could he not be curious to give the work a try after this, thinking this as suddenly glass shattered glass was everywhere, she felt it spray across her breasts and stomach, her face and hair and felt hands close hard over her wrists and pull her roughly across the broken windowpane raking her backbone, the broken shards of glass cutting deep and then she was out in the cool night air exactly as it should be, exactly as she’d written, and the end of her night began.
–Jack Ketchum, “The Work”
It’s probably wrong to believe that there can be any limit to the horror which the human mind can experience. On the contrary, it seems that some exponential effect begins to obtain as deeper and deeper darkness falls–as little as one may like to admit it, human experience tends, in a good many ways, to support the idea that when the nightmare grows black enough, horror spawns horror, one coincidental evil begets other, often more deliberate evils, until finally blackness seems to cover everything.
—Stephen King, Pet Sematary
She looked at them watching her and knife in hand screamed at them, What have you done to his eyes?”
–Ira Levin, Rosemary’s Baby
Nor did it belong to any other world that could be named, unless it was to that realm which is suggested to us by an autumn night when fields lay ragged in moonlight and some wild spirit has entered into things, a great aberration sprouting forth from a chasm of moist and fertile shadows, a hollow-eyed howling malignity rising to present itself to the cold emptiness of space and the pale gaze of the moon.
–Thomas Ligotti, “The Shadow at the Bottom of the World”
Everyone listened, and everyone was listening still when It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway into the tainted outside air of that poison city of madness.
–H.P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold–then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.
–Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”