As a book product, the latest edition of The Best Horror of the Year severely disappoints: the volume is rife with typographical and formatting errors. But this glaring lack of proofreading by Night Shade Books can be forgiven, thanks to the supreme quality of the anthology’s contents. Editor Ellen Datlow has selected a highly impressive collection of horror stories, written by both genre veterans and promising newcomers alike.
In honor of tonight’s New Year’s Eve ball drop, here is another type of countdown: my choice of the ten best pieces in Volume XIV.
10. “The God Bag” by Christopher Golden
At the outset, the horrors here are of the most realistic, relatable kind: the difficulty of dealing with a parent’s dementia and failing health. But then Golden takes matters to another, uncanny level, via the titular pouch filled with paper scraps of inscribed “prayers.”
9. “Three Sisters Bog” by Eóin Murphy
In this wonderfully descriptive tale, a father and son’s attempt to retrieve their runaway Labrador leads them into the land and lair of a trio of sinister siblings. These weird sisters might be the most unnerving witches ever encountered outside of Shakespearean tragedy.
8. “Chit Chit” by Steve Toase
This crime noir/folk horror mash-up (involving a heist that aims to gain possession of buried horse skulls) reads like a literary version of the film Kill List. Toase (justly represented twice within the anthology’s table of contents) once again proves himself to be a preeminent writer of short-form horror.
7. “Shuck” by G.V. Anderson
A moped-crash survivor is h(a)unted by Black Shuck, the canine death-harbinger of British legend. No mere knockoff of Final Destination, though, Anderson’s story features a climactic twist concerned with more than just dire comeuppance.
6. “The King of Stones” by Simon Stranzas
Folk horror at its finest: nature’s seemingly tranquil beauty is belied by the performance of savage rites in an isolated orchard. This story easily garners the award for Most Harrowing Repurposing of a Peach Pit.
5. “Redwater” by Simon Bestwick
This relentlessly entertaining monster vehicle makes the Rita‘s venture into the Black Lagoon seem as innocuous as a Disneyworld ride by comparison. Bestwick’s narrative presents a captivating setting (the post-apocalyptic Floodland, which includes a partially submerged churchyard) stocked with unique humanoid creatures from the deep.
4. “Jack-in-the-Box” by Robin Furth
Blackthorn House is a remote English estate harboring plenty of Gothic secrets, but the skeletons are hardly confined to the closets. Brimming with arresting visuals, Furth’s tale would make for an excellent adaptation as a future episode of Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities.
3. “Caker’s Man” by Matthew Holness
Reminiscent of the work of Ramsey Campbell, Holness’s story (in which a single mom and her children are terrorized by a strange neighbor) creates an atmosphere of almost unbearable dread as the creepy details steadily accrete. Safe to say, after reading this frightfest, I will never look at a birthday cake the same way again.
2. “Tiptoe” by Laird Barron
An odd father seems more predatorial than paternal, as Barron proves that he doesn’t have to invoke the Lovecraftian cosmos in order to unsettle his readers. Commissioned for the tribute anthology When Things Get Dark, this sneaky-scary story perfectly captures Shirley Jackson’s American Gothic sensibility.
1. “Shards” by Ian Rogers
The hoary cabin-in-the-woods subgenre proves to be alive and well in this inspired riff on The Evil Dead. Rogers splashes horror across the page in gonzo style, but it’s the traumatic aftermath of the protagonists’ discovery of a cursed gramophone that haunts the most. The most wildly enjoyable horror story I have read in many a year.