It’s that spooky time of year when ghoulies and ghosties are everywhere you look, so I thought it might be fun to see which books and stories memorably freaked out the Hub bloggers. Below are some of the stories that stuck with us because of the sheer terror they evoked when we read them. Some of them are straight up horror, some of them purely psychological, but all of them memorable! While Stephen King naturally gets mentioned a lot, it’s Lois Duncan’s Stranger with My Face and Daniel Kraus’ 2012 Odyssey Award winner, Rotters, that got the most mentions. Many thanks to the Hub Bloggers who shared their scares! Read them this Halloween if you dare!
I read Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry for a course, and while I loved it, I also made my husband take out the trash for a few weeks afterward in case of zombie attack (because, of course, zombies can get you in the backyard when it’s dark, but they can’t make their way into a lighted house!). I also remember that Roald Dahl’s The Witches freaked me out quite a bit as a kid.
The first one is 172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad. I finished it late at night all alone in my apartment. I was certain that – spoiler warning! – my space doppelganger was going to come around the corner and kill me! I had to watch a full half hour of cat videos online before I could fall asleep.
The Adult/YA crossover is more deeply unsettling than scary. It’s the scene in Lev Grossman’s The Magicians where the villain, the Beast, shows up in the classroom with his face obscured by a branch, and wreaks havoc. There’s something about the fact that you can’t see his face that has always creeped me out. Similarly, this has made me hate Rene Magritte’s Son of Man painting.
This was many years ago, but when I read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, I started trembling in fear. I was afraid to turn my head lest I glimpse something unnatural on the walls of my parents’ living room. I remember the terror better than I remember the actual story.
The first book I remember being terrified by was Stranger with My Face by Lois Duncan. Also, The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci.
I read Daniel Kraus’ Rotters and thought it was disturbing and brilliant, but not scare-the-pants-off-you scary. So when I got my hands on his book Scowler, I figured I could handle it. While I was sitting on the couch reading THAT SCENE (if you’ve read Scowler, you know what I am talking about), my boyfriend walked into the room. I was so absorbed in the story that I didn’t register his presence at all.
“Are you alright?” he asked me, startling me back into the present moment.
“Yeah, why?” I asked.
“You had The Stephen King Face on while you were reading.”
Although I had never heard that phrase, I knew exactly what he meant, and I laughed a little, grateful for a moment of levity in an otherwise harrowing evening of reading.
“Yes, I’m OK, thanks. This is Stephen King level horrific.”
He nodded and wandered off. I dove back into the book, unable to keep away from it, no matter how frightening.
Stranger with my Face– Lois Duncan. Something about the impersonation aspect of this title really spooked me. Written long before the release of the terrifying movie â€œSingle White Female,â€ it seems even scarier somehow to be impersonated when you are a teenager.
Harvest Home– Thomas Tryon. Pure terror. Tryon expertly depicts an insulated farming community which seems so peaceful then the slow realization builds that there is dark danger there.
Salem’s Lot– Stephen King. The most frightened I have ever been reading a book. I was simultaneously afraid to read on, and too terrified to stop. There is one scene near the end where the main character is slowly going up a flight of stairs to open a bedroom door. The reader knows what it is that roomâ€¦ and the suspense is palpable.
Possessed– Kate Cann. Atmospheric terrorâ€”young Rayne has always lived in urban poverty (also pretty terrifying) and the juxtaposition between that and her new home on a sprawling haunted moor is fantastically chilling.
Last year I read Long Lankin by Lindsay Barraclough and it quickly became my go-to recommendation for anyone looking for a good scare! It’s a classically spooky horror story with a well-imagined setting, atmospheric writing, and a very good helping of old-fashioned, slow-building but insidious creepiness! I’m very glad I read that last one hundred pages or so in my Washington DC apartment, far away from dark forests, crumbling manors, dank marshes, and dilapidated church yards! Even so, my heart was racing as I read the frightening climax and I may or may not have slept with a light on that night!
The book that scared me the most recently is Rotters by Daniel Kraus. It wasn’t so much that it was about grave-digging and unearthing corpses in various degrees of decomposition, although that did make me feel a bit queasy. It was the description of rat kings. I hate rats! The image of dozens of rats connected to each other by their tails gives me nightmares. I’d first read about the folklore of the Rat King in Robert Sullivan’s nonfiction book Rats: Observations on the History and Habitat of the City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants when it was nominated for Best Books for Young Adults in 2005 and it has haunted me ever since.
And finally, my own freak out stories- Stephen King’s short story â€œYou Know They Got a Hell of a Bandâ€ (about a town where rock legends go after they die, and no one who ends up there is ever allowed to leave) in Nightmares and Dreamscapes literally scared me so much I slept with the light on for weeks after I read it lest Elivs Presley come after me. Something about the psychological terror of being trapped really got to me! When I was a kid the book Christina’s Ghost by Betty Ren Wright scared me half to death- even today when I see the cover of that book I feel chills, remembering the terror of the last few scenes. And I made the rookie mistake of reading Kendare Blake’s Girl of Nightmares after dark even though I knew what to expect after Anna Dressed in Blood, which gave me a couple of sleepless nightsâ€¦okay, a few sleepless nights!
-Carla Land, currently reading Nightmares by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller