In honor of the scary, disturbing, creepy, and horror-related content we’re featuring this month we asked some of our favorite editors in the field to name their favorite scary story. Our own scary story contest closes on Wednesday, so be sure to submit while you can. For inspiration, here’s what seven editors consider to be truly scary.
Rob Spillman, Tin House: The Shining by Stephen King
At the beginning of my seventeenth summer a car blitzed through a yield sign on a rural, upstate New York road and hit my car head on while we were both going 60 mph. I walked away from the flaming cars, barely scathed, but with a concussion. I had just finished my first dismal year of college (another, longer story) and with the insurance-bought replacement car drove from Baltimore to Aspen to find work. Back then there was a down season between winter and summer, when businesses boarded up for the dreary spring. When they opened back up I was there, begging for work. I rented a cheap, dreary room in a rundown ski lodge. Most days it was in the 40s and raining, icy at night, and my friends who came out for the summer music festival were yet to arrive. When I wasn’t shuffling around looking for work, I read THE SHINING. Reading about a spooky off-season Colorado hotel while inside of a spooky off-season hotel while still mentally fuzzy from flying through a car window at 60mph was the single most terrifying reading experience I have ever had. “Redrum” still gives me chills.
John Joseph Adams, Lightspeed: “Guts” by Chuck Palahniuk
“Guts” is one of those stories that if you dig it, you probably really, really dig it, and once you start reading it, you’re not going to stop. I often say that I don’t believe in horror as a genre—that I see it as only a descriptor you can apply to other genres—i.e., a horrific fantasy, or a horrific science fiction story, or a story of psychological horror—but does not exist independently as a genre unto itself. But reading a story like “Guts” makes me rethink that idea. It’s utterly compelling and COMPLETELY FUCKING HORRIFYING (sorry, you just kind of have to swear when talking about it), and reading it is such a visceral experience that I find myself actually tense and cringing as I read it—even when re-reading it, knowing how it ends! (And once you know how it ends, you’ll NEVER FORGET HOW IT ENDS.) If I can find and publish something like “Guts”—something that effects the reader on such a visceral level, something that is so indelibly memorable, then I feel I’ll have done my job as editor.
Gabriel Blackwell; The Collagist: “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I first read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” in eighth grade; it was assigned reading. I’m sure we talked about the idea of the unreliable narrator—whether the whole thing was “real” or in the narrator’s head—and if I’m being honest, that’s what I remember best about the story (if you’ve read it, it’s probably what you remember best about it, too). But to find a story scary requires a certain amount of credulity, and I’d rather take the narrator at her word anyway: “Most women do not creep by daylight.” That seems sane, doesn’t it? (Then again, if you’re seeing these women creeping all around you, maybe not so much?) If we trust the narrator, what we have is sort of like The Ring, only with details taken from Daniel Paul Schreber’s account of schizophrenia, Memoirs of My Nervous Illness. If that’s what’s inside your head, I guess that’s scary, too.