The Best Horror of the Year – Volume 9

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Nesters – Siobhan Carroll The Oestridae – Robert Levy The Process Is a Process All Its Own – Peter Straub The Bad Hour – Christopher Golden Red Rabbit – Steve Rasnic Tem It’s All the Same Road in the End – Brian Hodge Fury – DB Waters Grave Goods – Gemma Files Between Dry Ribs – Gregory Norman Bossert The Days of Our Lives – Adam L. G. Nevill The House of Wonders – C.E. Ward The Numbers – Christopher Burns Bright Crown of Joy – Livia Llewellyn The Beautiful Thing We Will Become – Kristi DeMeester Wish You Were Here – Nadia Bulkin Ragman – Rebecca Lloyd What’s Out There? – Gary McMahon No Matter Which Way We Turned – Brian Evenson The Castellmarch Man – Ray Cluley The Ice Beneath Us – Steve Duffy On These Blackened Shores of Time – Brian Hodge

Edited by Ellen Datlow

Night Shade Books 2017

When I real-time review this anthology, my comments will appear in the thought stream below…

24 thoughts on “The Best Horror of the Year – Volume 9

  1. NESTERS by SIOBHAN CARROLL

    “The dust-lung had him.”

    IMG_3478

    “If he was trying to frighten Pa with that flapping paper, he didn’t know nothing.”

    It’s as if the flapping pages I imagine this book possessing, turning, at its start, to dust – dust dunes or sand dunes with a Colour out of Space at its heart. As I follow Sally, the young daughter and sister, entering more a Heart of Darkness where family links become a corroded gestalt…

    “Don’t try to solve all the problems at once, Pa always said. Break them up. Deal with each one in order.”

    Each grain of dust, a sort of Southern Gothic Blood Kin as Link, with a Howser, where the living off the land for these Nesters is one of fighting dust not Tem’s kudzu. Where animal stomachs and vegetable turnips equally have dust within.

    A stoic miracle, though. As we follow Sally into a hyper-nightmarishly evoked battle that this story gives us to share, almost, almost, as hope…

    “Sally remembered the color from the old days,

  2. I have already reviewed the next story and this is what I wrote about it in its previous context…

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    THE OESTRIDAE by Robert Levy

    “And just when I think I’ve finally run out of hope, one last drip of it leaks out to ruin everything.”

    Another haunting and well-written story, one that is in tune with the oestrogen-transfer of the previous story, a vaguely feminine version of Dorian Gray or Jekyll-Hyde, this time telling of a brother (trainee surgeon) and sister in a Pennsylvanian family house among the trees and mountains, still looking for their missing mother, when someone turns up calling herself an aunt, their mother’s sister. Here the Oestridae or botflies (the latter word strangely and tellingly like a computer virus to my mind) represent an objective-correlative within the increasingly disturbing process towards – as well as against – a leaching or burrowing identity.

  3. THE PROCESS IS A PROCESS ALL ITS OWN by PETER STRAUB

    “Tilly Hayward was one of those men in possession of two lives. Either he was a dark, disturbing criminal sociopath who wore a more conventional person around him like a perfectly fitted suit of clothing, or he was a conventional person who within himself concealed a being like a wild animal.”

    “—turns out, words are blue collar guys.”
    Significant that a killing blade cuts into “blue broadcloth shirt” much later in this text. Not many of us would notice that.
    This is an amazing work of fiction straight from the function as well as dysfunction fiction room (where I shall now put it.). It is essential reading for those who enjoy either experimental fiction or the conservative horror genre – or both, as this eminently is.
    IMG_3494It also reminds me of William H Gass’s work, where Trump is on every old page of the written past (as he is, as an synaesthesic serialist, in this STRAUB, somehow) and Gass’s ON BEING BLUE, a sensory listing of words and their Siobhan Carroll duststorm of meanings, colours, smells, with a heart of darkness as well as, paradoxically, of colour and fragrance. I finished my review of that very GASS yesterday!
    This Straub starts with the smell of words, a Gass of words, and I cannot do justice how this is accomplished, conjured as bubbles as well as, inferentially, as dustmotes of meaning. And leads to a madness of stalking that reminds me of the Consul stalking drinks in UNDER THE VOLCANO that I also just finished reviewing!
    And the inverse hawling or dreamcatching of the gestalt at the end of this substantive work, where body parts are placed this way and that on the cobblestones.
    Horrific and disturbing, with no redemption – as UNDER THE VOLCANO or in the shadow of Trump Tower.

    “At the you know. During the. Maybe. If not then, what a pity, never.”

  4. THE BAD HOUR by CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN

    “Maybe it’s one demon or maybe it’s a bunch of little ones, like parasites, but it gets stronger.”

    …in the same way as do our era’s motes and myriads make the man or woman… or father or mother. An era many of us call the bad hour, in the hope this hour, like other hours to date, is finite within its span.
    A text of those who have come back from fighting in Iraq, and now, like that place, even here at home on an American border there begins to be erected concrete blocks (as the beginning of a longer wall?) and fundaments of each human face hiding another face that makes its suicide an embattled murder.
    Seen through the seeming omniscience of a woman hiding an even deeper withheld omniscience, this story, of mutant friendly fire, was simply plain and horrific, but it saves its last disguise as the best disguise. Or worst.

  5. RED RABBIT by STEVE RASNIC TEM

    “You can learn to live with crazy, but you can’t touch it.”

    A perfect gem is a perfect Tem.
    Old Matt and his senile-demented wife Clara, and each day a new redly flensed and flayed rabbit is left in their grounds, one she always think is the same rabbit, whilst he knows that they are different rabbits subjected to the same predator.
    Until the final rabbit, so flayed and flensed it is “in the border between dark and light”. On the brink of wonderland, I infer. Where shadows swim in shadows. Attuned more to Lewis, not Siobhan, Carroll?

  6. IT’S ALL THE SAME ROAD IN THE END by BRIAN HODGE

    “Sometimes there wasn’t even enough town to land on the map.”

    This is a long rambling but structured journey of classic horror Lovecraftian-tending, page-turning, with a Colour out of Space in Siobhan Carroll’s DUST BOWL, but now an area of America, that is either your bag to travel with or it’s not. A town like that in Golden’s Hour. Take a camera, stare at photographs, hold them properly to see what is pictured, and do not depend on digital but analog, even though you are now a Cloud Architect for IT. Whichever you choose, and my moods will differ from day to day, there are treasured moments of anxiety and poignant regret here in this work and retrocausality, and a cutting off of yourself, a self that should keep alongside the horror instead of returning to, say, your dying mother. Horror as we read it is better than being in a home where you have that disease from the Tem story, that mental kudzu, where you have enough mind left to recognise you will soon be like the other demented ones. Better a Lovecraftian effigy as bedmate than THAT. Gilead, too, is mentioned here, as nod to TED Klein. Enemy the monotony of the DustBowl trying to absorb you. One Grandad with Black Lung, that Lung from the Siobhan. But the other Granddad is the Songcatcher, as I am a Dreamcatcher? Old enough to be a Granddad. Next to this story I shall stay. Or at least part of me shall. Must get rid of my car first. Not a series of life’s motels, but a central one. Twanging my gutbucket. This my slowburn reaction. Lies are sometimes better than truths. Just one of those scabs.

    “And whatever rotted out here would rot alone.”

  7. I have already reviewed the next story and this is what I wrote about it in its previous context…

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    FURY
    Copy numbered 102/200
    The story itself from page 5 to 15
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    “But as he watched the red scratches darken and bleed, he simply smiled –”
    This story, as its own intended discrete work of fashioning you the reader inside it even against your will, standing alone as a powerful force of a fury from the buildings or crime scenes the narrated protagonist investigates as part of his job, ‘connecting’ him to them, flattening out our real three-dimensional world of objects inside them, people, too. There is of course more to it than that, as you will find out, without my need to spoil it for you first.
    The work also connects with the connection of Alice to her own new house by a cord against her own Wyl.

  8. I have already reviewed the next story and this is what I wrote about it in its previous context…

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    Grave Goods by Gemma Files

    “Put the pieces back together, fit them against each other chip by chip and line by line, and they start to sing.”

    In the same way as I make stories sing, I hope.
    But this story, for once, defeated me on a first reading (all my real-time reviews are based on first readings) but it defeated me in a good way. I understood none of it or I understood MORE than it meant. Nothing in between. A number of women on an archaeological dig, couched in a stunning literary style that seems to have been engrained in the very ground where they dug. An obstreperous group, debating the ethics — of preserving the bones where they lay or taking them back to the lab for further dismantlement — surrounding the sanctity of human beings or of less (or more?) than human beings that they dug up. Skeletal structures as that very debating point, even to the extent of one of the so-called woman archaeologists found to have a questionable anatomy herself – or himself?
    I was entranced by the scientific terminology, while floundering somewhere in a no-man’s-land sense of Lovecraftian horror as a cross between, from earlier in this book, Wagner’s dug stench-hole and Gavin’s creature with breasts and a comically small, stubby penis.

    “these people were barely binocular—”

  9. BETWEEN DRY RIBS by GREGORY NORMAN BOSSERT

    “I am sure I look native to their eyes, a slow local in this slow local bar that is far too busy for my peace of mind.”

    This seems aptly for me to range from the hot bar room of ‘Under The Volcano’ (that I real-time reviewed in the last few days here) a bar room where the heat simulaccentuated the sculpted ice appendage potentially to be dunked into the endless drunken drinks, FROM THAT to the real ice of Finland where the ice is subsuming us and the core now is hotness instead, hotness in the form of an intense sauna. There, the female protagonist Chloe is in Sapphic contact with another female, and the graphically described flayed and flensed male in even greater sacrificial contrast as part of their sensuality – as if a snow-white fountaining blood-red in oblique interface with the red-flensed ‘white rabbit’ in Tem earlier in this book? Tem: “in the border between dark and light”, here the border between hot and cold.
    A theme and variations upon a wonderland pitching hot against cold, in a moment of gratuitous passion.

    I am still suffering delays and mind-interference in my book reviewing.

  10. I have already reviewed the next story and this is what I wrote about it in its previous context…

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    THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES by Adam LG Nevill

    “So many ways to see everything. One skin and then another skin. It had made me squirm and squirt.”

    You may think this inwardly Nevill story is the Theatre of the Absurd and the Theatre of Cruelty trying to outdo each other, or a misdirected package of literature in itself, but knowing it takes place in a seaside resort similar to the one where I live makes it seem quite believable, judging by my own experience over many years, even the eating of ‘child-size vanilla ice-creams.’ Or vanevilla?
    It tells of a wedding held in a charity shop, and a man and woman relationship of attrition together as a result of this misdirected package, a story that seems more in keeping with bodily excess and manual relief as forms of concocted revenge against complete strangers and even stranger Movements of people each tantamount to a hobbyist diaspora within a ritual re-enactment of a church painting.

  11. THE HOUSE OF WONDERS by C.E. WARD

    “…a seaside town on the East Coast—the place isn’t important so I won’t mention it.”

    I have lived in such an English East Coast place for over two decades now. And such vaguebooking by this accomplished and stylish story inspires me to be equally vaguebooking in my review of this refreshingly different ambiance to some of the other tales so far in this book, a relatively comfortable story told between two gentlemen smoking, comfortable but about some ghastly events! The ambiance of the seaside place is wonderfully evoked, as is its House of Wonders with exhibits of believable ancient seaside amusement arcade machines and tableaux of gory history. I loved the way this ambiance eats into the told-about vaguebook being written ABOUT that very ambiance and then into that very book’s author’s own real life – and then into even deeper real history itself (or vice versa?)

  12. I have already reviewed the next story and this is what I wrote about it in its previous context…

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    nullimmortalis June 21, 2016 at 2:08 pm
    THE NUMBERS by Christopher Burns

    Numbered 23 of 200, and signed.

    “…but the mist is clearing and the rising sun is the colour of a communion wafer.”

    Please note the date of this real-time review, this dreamcatcher of fiction, as if it has itself dreamcaught the spirit of this short cathartic or angry period in British political history. As if it is a sudden storm out of nothing, having begun like an episode of The Archers, with motivations as nonchalant nuances, the nagging weight of past misuderstandings or mistakes as two brothers meet unexpectedly at the whim of one of them, alongside the catalyst of the other one’s wife. Self-pity of the whimsical brother…
    And if I tell you any more, it will spoil this effectively described story of unscryable intention and poetic phrase – and spoil any shock it might or might not hold for you especially after what recently happened on the streets of Britain in recent days and whether the brother’s tontine prize is to remain or leave…

  13. BRIGHT CROWN OF JOY by LIVIA LLEWELLYN

    “….disappearing into the pale sunless mists that have muted day and lightened night. These are the birds of the world now. And they are stupendous. They are beautiful.”

    A mind-blowing variegated on-line diary fractured narrative of After, Before, After After, Memory AND the real-time of the readers reading this variegated text as we gestalt (dreamcatch) it to make sense of it, equally as mankind itself seems to be physically gestalted (dreamcaught) alongside us, a lump of togetherness to transcend our planet’s own changes? To assist the female narrative voice and the gestalting of mankind like a complex Jungian raft, there is even a “DreamCatcher App” mentioned in this fragmented text.
    Some wonderful meaty descriptions of visionary power. Beautiful and evanescent, too. And children with a form of puberty that becomes, I sense, a sort of blend of hope beyond Earth’s end and of a meaty merging physically into something, I fear, like Azathoth once at the centre of that Earth? I hope it is the former hope, not the latter merging. We would need an on-line After After After to find out which it is. Endless hawling.

    “…and endless and, and. And.”

  14. THE BEAUTIFUL THING WE WILL BECOME by KRISTI DEMEESTER

    “…every one was blank, all of that white space waiting to devour the fingers hovering over it, and I shoved the notebook under my bed.”

    Possible spoilers.
    A very powerful narration of a schoolgirl seen evocatively through a schoolgirl’s naive but still knowing eyes about her friend Katrina, with Katrina’s father becoming the sort of Azathoth I saw, joining together children, in the previous Llewellyn story (DeMeester: “A thing that had no beginning and no end, our bodies indistinguishable from the other”), here joining scissored flesh with flesh into a living surrogate doll so as to obviate child abuse. Bad to avoid worse bad? The narrator girl unloved by her own father tellingly helps the process along.
    I somehow wished this story had been left blank. But then I thought that any blank page could never have something bad on it worse than what I actually imagined to be on it. Especially when skimmed or skinned and reconstituted as this story. Too late. Once read, never to be unread until life’s final blankness. The beautiful thing we will become.

  15. WISH YOU WERE HERE by NADIA BULKIN

    “Gatot, who ran the travel agency from a tiny office in Kuta, said that he had never before seen so many fever-dreaming grief tourists as were sleep-walking through Bali today.”

    A wildly mind-zooming imaginarium as a sort of coach tour, but not as I remember such holidays where my fellow passengers were mostly taking photos, sleeping or boring me with their small talk. Protected by the windows of the vehicle.
    Here they are mulched and short-circuited into the dangers of the land itself, our world today of terrors. Reminding me of that Azathoth (or Trump?) in the previous two stories, now a proper ‘spirit-monster eco-system’ called the jelangkung, where ghost stories that the tourists amuse each other with become realler and more horrific than horror stories in horror anthologies. (Horror anthologies used to be like protected coach tours themselves until now!)

    “So now the woman knows that she’s being chased by a kuntilanak. That’s the name of the ghost. Everyone here knows what it is. She’s the ghost of a woman who died in childbirth and is searching for babies and blood in the afterlife.”

    [ Even a reference to the fate of the 27 left after the great demon Brexit sweeps through those parts of Europe I used to have coach tours of –
    “I have an idea for a scary story,” said Josh, “How about if you talk about what’s going to happen to this country once it splits into twenty-seven pieces?” ]

  16. RAGMAN by REBECCA LLOYD

    “—toby jugs, tea sets, porcelain ballerinas, and all manner of china dogs and horses, and early over-eager souvenirs from creepy seaside towns.”

    “…there’s nothing wrong with being sensitive.”
    “There is when you think a dead leaf is a mouse, or a piece of tangled thread is a spider,…”

    The “peculiar charges” of things, old toys, bric à brac, mirrors, war residuals, etc. the fermenting of an old rag and bone yard where these things are held and hopefully sold, even today with the help of photographs of its wares via a website. Here such a place reaches the apotheosis of not only CE Ward’s seaside arcades, and jellyfish seas, but also a whole panoply of imaginary companions such as the accretive Ragman and things that lurk in old mirrors, plus this book’s Azathoth effect of agglomerated Gestalt. A strange-story dark perfection, seen through the eyes of a young woman, the yardkeeper’s daughter, here to help, assess his supposedly growing old age dementia, hoping to return him to his wife and her mother, here also to stay over in the yard, to buff mirrors, to watch for the rare customer as well as for an increasing Gestalt of traditional horror distilled by Ragman in skewered union with the horror from the mirror. And her thoughts pursued by a hunting pike. And seeing a mouth like a nightjar’s beak. But that’s only scratching a surface. This is a classic of the highest rank of horror fiction. Nothing more to say.
    Other than to say that it now feels like me with my own agglomeration of years of hawling bric à brac and I wonder if my own son and daughter (and wife) thank me or curse me, as I sense this man (equally with son, daughter and wife) does, too – with a similar madness to mine. Also like searching for Hodge’s Songcatcher through a further level of the generations…

    “I won’t sell this place Katie. It’s like the inside of my own head.”

  17. I have already reviewed the next story and this is what I wrote about it in its previous context…

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    WHAT’S OUT THERE? by Gary McMahon

    “He can’t bear to see her face, not unless it is real. A photo isn’t enough;”

    The uncertainty of ‘Uncertainties’ is also the uncertainty of not knowing how dangerously scary any of its stories is going to be, so if I say this story is VERY scary, that might be a spoiler. So, I’ll say it is a pussy-cat of a story. Well, it is that, too. One with a cat-flap and something or someone outside beyond that cat-flap once the cat has struggled in through it. And I can’t lie. It is a plainly-spoken tale of a man who works as a building surveyor, with a cat that used to belong to his deceased wife, and remembering other past events concerning animals – and now meeting someone again he used to know, the chance woman vet he now needs, all of which you expect to cohere into a sane meaningful denouement with a message to impart. If I now say ‘cohere’ is not the right word at all to describe your relationship with the ending, that may be a lie, as the cohesion here is making you regroup in face of the challenge of this story, almost a fast sudden adhesion as cohesion with the ending, as you struggle through a cat-flap of revelation to get at a meaning you know is simply there … unless it hasn’t already got your own meaning first as its own.

  18. NO MATTER WHICH WAY WE TURNED by BRIAN EVENSON

    This haunting abruptness of a faceless girl is Katie’s reflection just now in the Lloyd story and a symbol of this whole book tantalising itself. With a lodge as a blend of a chosen group and an aboded structure and a verb to position something within. Beckett reflecting Lovecraft and vice versa. Just to name two.

  19. I have already reviewed the next story and this is what I wrote about it in its previous context…

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    THE CASTELLMARCH MAN by Ray Cluley

    “Anyone could look happy if they buried their secrets deep enough.”

    A genuinely compelling and intriguing theme and variations on the custom or game of geo-caching and a relationship on the edge, like the relationship in the Leslie story. Not quite a coat on the car’s passenger seat (see the car accident, too, in Mauro ), “not quite a tractor”, not quite the rainy Wales whence I myself have my roots, on the breaking edge of things yet again. Who ever regrets a Google-cache? A bespoke sat-nav or gps? An equine voyeur? And you’re becoming the voyeur as this pattern or gestalt of clues and caches make you the tobacco roller not your own self. This is insidiously frightening. Love the pub donkey joke, the pet Welsh phrases, fridge magnets, and knotted ropes into snakes, the whole italicised tour of tourist traps, indeed everything about this journey if not its destination, nay! Its destination, too. Its palimpsest of the present and the past.

    “Every nook and cranny of Britain held a secret, it seemed.”

  20. I have already reviewed the next story and this is what I wrote about it in its previous context…

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    THE ICE BENEATH US by Steve Duffy

    “He’s determined to haul it on out like the biggest goddamnedest fish that was ever pulled out of an ice-hole on Bent Iron,…”

    This is a good, well-characterised, genius-localised, old-fashioned, Tem-synergous Tale of Terror…
    About two ‘old farts’ not exactly in love with each other’s company, but necessarily steeped in seasoned friendship, as they return to their fishing cabin, with all manner of hooks and lures, after, the last time when they were, experiencing a bloodily, stenchily cataclysmic meeting (now recounted in italics) with an intrusive native Indian and that native’s conjurings of a capital letter for the word ‘crow’ and somehow summoning, too, I guess, the “no-see-ums” of 9/11…?

  21. ON THESE BLACKENED SHORES by BRIAN HODGE

    “All we cared about was the wrecker big enough to handle a semi-truck, and the spooled cable it fed into the hole, and the man in coveralls riding the giant hook down, like a child standing on a swing.”

    A striking opening when seeing your son’s car vanish into a sinkhole outside your house and you could do nothing about it. The later family fretting themes on the uncertainties of his still being alive in this bottomless chasm; skiers, unlike earthers, like him always travelled downhill for safety after an accident or avalanche.
    Katee, your daughter, your son’s twin sister, is the equivalent of Katie in the Lloyd story, trying to think positive between Dad and Brother, and Mother…Ragman and our internal Miners alike.
    The situation and the history of the mine involved with this sinkhole fits in neatly with my hawling theme and with Azathoth sitting at the centre of the Earth. The longueurs and infodumps and scab-political history dumps are all forgiven because I hawled out an essential RIGHTNESS in this otherwise plainspoken workmanlike novelette as part of the context of this book. (I cannot speak for the rightness in its original book incarnation of context before being published here.)

    “There can’t be any worse feeling of failure than to reveal to your children how fallible you really are. No superhero to my son. Now, to my daughter, ineffectual before bureaucracy, and trying to use logic to get her to accept the unthinkable.”

    “Now her sketchbooks gathered dust. We’d all gone down that hole, and one way or another, had to find our way out.”

    “The uncertainties surrounding Tecumseh #24 began with the cause of the calamity.”

    From Siobhan Dust to Hodge Hawling, this anthology reaches its own “giant hook” within. Then Evenson-lodges in some part of your Azathoth soul that you did not know existed till now as a core of Uncertainties. Catching the song as well as the dream.
    And the calamity that needs healing after such hawling, the calamity that is our world today.
    Many great stories, especially the Straub, the DeMeester and the Lloyd.

    end

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