Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things May 10, 2013 - 1:54pm

So have you ever read anything that actually kept you up at night or produced a real biological terror in you?

I have not. I would like to, but after having read Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and so forth, I really have yet to find anyone who actually writes a story that terrifies me.

Which isn't to say that I don't love these authors and the horror genre in general. I'm just trying to figure out if books (or short stories) are actually capable of giving most people nightmares, and I'm just the odd duck, or if I'm just missing out on the truly terrifying stories out there.

Gordon B. White's picture
Gordon B. White from Seattle (for now) May 11, 2013 - 3:29pm

I know what your mean, in that a lot of horror stories are sort of spooky or suirm inducing, but not really terrifying.

That being said, I've read some recently that I particularly enjoyed.I was really creeped out by Adam Golaski's story "The Animator's House" (it's in his collection 'Worse than Myself.')  It's got two parts (one in the middle, one at the end) that gave me the willies.  Actually, a lot of the stories in that collection are really spooky, although they're really best enjoyed one at a time instead of all at once.

I also really like "Bedtime Stories for Yasmin" by Robert Shearman, which I first read in Shadows & Tall Trees issue 3 or 4.  That one's available on his blog at and I think its in his most recent book.

Good luck with finding some scary!

Linda's picture
Linda from Sweden is reading Fearful Symmetries May 12, 2013 - 1:04am

Good topic.

I can't think of a book that has scared me through and through. Not since I was a child anyway. Lunar Park did creep me out quite a bit the first time I read it, and the first half of Del Toro's The Strain.

wavedomer's picture
wavedomer from Boise is reading Rum Punch May 13, 2013 - 7:26am

It's been a bit, but I remember some non-fiction books keeping me up at night. Helter Skelter was one. The Night Stalker was another. I'm sure it's because it actually happened and there are still guys like Manson and Ramirez out there.

In terms of fiction, I remember being scared by It and by The Alienist. But that was years and years ago too.

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On May 13, 2013 - 10:57am

I remember a couple of King's stories got under my skin in my late teens, but nothing's bugged me or kept me up. Not like the movie Seven did or anything like that. Like you, I think I'm waiting for that literary experience.

SConley's picture
SConley from Texas is reading Coin Locker Babies May 13, 2013 - 2:26pm

You guys should read The Hot Zone.

drea's picture
drea from Rural Alberta, Canada is reading between the lines May 13, 2013 - 2:40pm

Anyone on here have access to the story Chris Carter wrote that made Utah pee his pants and sleep with the light on for a month? I want to read it. 

sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres May 13, 2013 - 3:00pm

is that the Nova Parade story, Drea? I'm not familiar with Utah's pants and their wetness...

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts May 13, 2013 - 4:16pm

Stories scare the piss out of me all the time. I get nauseas with prose in a way that flashy slasher flicks never really achieves.

Every time I've read Joe Lansdale's "The Night They Missed the Horror Show" I get nightmares for the rest of the week. That and the old anthology MIDNIGHT GRAFFITTI are ones I distinctly remember being really haunted by in the last couple years. I guess Joe Hill's HEART-SHAPED BOX too, but that was more waves of terror/sadistic pleasure followed by writerly jealousy/rage at the most effective passages of ghost happenings.

drea's picture
drea from Rural Alberta, Canada is reading between the lines May 13, 2013 - 5:37pm

I haven't read it Sean, so I don't know! I'm going to message Chris and Utah. Utah said it was the scariest EVER. 

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On May 13, 2013 - 7:10pm

Now that there's been some build-up, we must find that Chris Carter story!

TomMartinArt's picture
TomMartinArt from Amherst, MA May 13, 2013 - 7:17pm

A good number of Stephen King's short stories have frightened me. In particular, THE BOOGEYMAN was a really intense one. Very uncomfortable, and weighed down with mounting terror and regret. The ending upsets me greatly, every time, which is probably why I'll regularly plan to reread it and then chicken out.


Bekanator's picture
Bekanator from Kamloops, British Columbia is reading Ugly Girls by Lindsay Hunter May 13, 2013 - 8:58pm

Chris Lewis Carter's "Kill Screen". It is in Nova Parade, along with some other great tales by many other LitReactor writers.

"Kill Screen" is scary in the perfect kind of way. I wouldn't say that it's shit your pants scary, but it definitely does get to you. I read it late at night when my husband was working a graveyard shift, so I was by myself. Afterward I had a bath while listening to Louis C.K.'s Hilarious show to try to wind down and go to sleep, but I still couldn't shake the story from my head.

Utah's picture
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry May 14, 2013 - 5:59am

"Kill Screen" is scary in the perfect kind of way. I wouldn't say that it's shit your pants scary,

Liar.  Admit it.  You shit your pants too.

sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres May 14, 2013 - 7:51am

Okay, yeah, it IS the story I was guessing. That one is pretty good. 

If I may be so bold, he has a book of short stories out called An Overly Pleasant Apocalypse that I read a bit ago that is really good. Check it out HERE on Amazon, it's only $0.99 for your Kindle, and well worth more than that.

That fella's a pretty good writer. I bet if they had a writing contest-type tournament on LitReactor, he'd go pretty far. 

sean of the dead's picture
sean of the dead from Madisonville, KY is reading Peckerwood, by Jed Ayres May 14, 2013 - 7:48am

Also, as far as keeping it in the family, there were some good horror stories in the Scare Us Challenge right here on the Lit.

Hit the random button and see what it brings up. I promise there is some quality work in there.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer May 14, 2013 - 8:39am

I don't know if it was so much scary as disturbing, but The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum really impacted me. Like you, I've never really been scared by a book, although I really love the horror genre.


If you are looking for good stories within the genre, in general, I highly recommend the American Fantastic Tales collection, volume one and two, editted by Peter Straub, or The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories, editted by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer. Both pretty much cover the entire history of horror fiction.

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder May 14, 2013 - 12:36pm

It's nice to see this thread pick up a bit of steam.

Finally found something worth adding to the conversation, a posting on The Atlantic's Web site:

Cormac McCarthy's The Road May Have the Scariest Passage in All of Literature.

The bulk of the article is part of an interview, interviewee author Benjamin Percy, who provides his take as to what constitutes scariness in literature, with primary focus on a passage that particularly terrified him in McCarthy's The Road

My belief is that scares in literature are often wholly different in effect and affect from the more common scare tactics employed in modern horror films. It's really, really tough to experience that jump out of your skin scare so commonly found in the movies. Probably the 'scariest' fiction I've recently read is Chuck's short story about the kid at the bottom of the swimming pool. I have to say, it's the first and only stuff of his I've read, and it disturbed me so much I'm honestly not inclined to read more. I've never had a more visceral, nausea-inducing gross-out reaction as I did reading that piece. It's the closest reaction to a true scare as I've had in years.

But that's gore, and it's not quite the same. 

The Road is similar. The images within are as searing, though not so on the body as Chuck's, and marginally diluted by the longer story. 

I think it's simply the emotional callous we develop as we grow older. Doesn't that sound grim? The more we experience the less we're surprised by, whether we're talking about scares in books or plot twists in The Sixth Sense. Kind of depressing. At least, that's how it feels for me.

avery of the dead's picture
avery of the dead from Kentucky is reading Cipher Sisters May 14, 2013 - 12:43pm

Great point, Michael.

A book isn't going to make me scream like a movie can, because nothing is going to jump out at me fromt he book.  Probably.  And if it does I have a whole different issue.

What makes a book scary is its ability to disturb you.  At least that's what I think.  And now that it's mentioned, The Road did disturb me very much.  As have a few Peter Straub short stories. 

Michael.Eric.Snyder's picture
Michael.Eric.Snyder May 14, 2013 - 2:06pm

Thanks Avery. BTW, I read a lot of Peter Straub as a teenager. Loved his Koko trilogy (at least, that's the name of one of the books). He creeped me out more than average when I was a teenager. 

It scared me. Thinner got me. Salem's Lot. Reading the initial Flowers in the Attic trilogy as a 13 year old blew my mind in a very disturbing way. 

Poe got me a little freaked out.

So did Mary Higgins Clark. Her early stuff I read as a young teen, too: Where are the Children, something about a Cradle, something about a Stranger. They all scared me. 

Early Dean Koontz, although not so much I can remember the titles.

Basically, much that scared me was crap I wouldn't read today for money, but crap I'd be happy to write if I got paid doing it. Now is that the height of hypocrisy or what? 

A few years ago I decided to read Barker's Books of Blood. They were okay, but not a hair was raised, not a nail bitten, no goose bumped (or pimpled, depending on where you live, although we all know goosebumps is more correct because of the Stein series, admit it!). 

Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things May 14, 2013 - 3:59pm

The problem, I think, is one of control.

In a book, you can go as quickly or slowly as you'd like. If there is a tense moment, there is nothing stopping you from rereading the paragraph to eliminate ambiguity, or to take a moment to absorb what you're reading and become familiar with the environment. You might even skim the bit that is building up tension.

Movies don't really offer this option. You're pushed through exactly as fast as the director intends for you to experience the story. There is no real time for absorption or becoming familiar with the environment. You don't have a chance to skim over anything. You're simply dragged through the story, whether you're ready or not.

Which I think, ultimately, and perhaps unfortunately, will always give the movie an advantage in horror. The less control you have over a situation, the more frightening it will be.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer May 15, 2013 - 11:53am

There were parts of The Road that were incredibly disturbing and scary. Great book.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb May 15, 2013 - 1:43pm

I'll risk some honesty here: the most scared I've ever been by printed word has been by stories I wrote myself. I doubt any of them would have scared anyone else, but what I sometimes get is 'Fuck, did I really just imagine that and then choose to put it on paper?' I've heard lots of authors say 'write about things that upset you,' so sometimes I go for writing about ideas that just make me shiver. When I read someone else's work I sometimes think they went for the same thing but the sensation it gives me isn't quite fear or horror. It's only when I do it myself that I get any real horror out of it; the kinds of stories that I put in a box somewhere and don't give to anyone who knows me.

Bob Pastorella's picture
Bob Pastorella from Groves, Texas is reading murder books trying to stay hip, I'm thinking of you, and you're out there so Say your prayers, Say your prayers, Say your prayers May 15, 2013 - 8:07pm

What I like to find is a literary 'jump scene'. You know, that part of a good movie when it's quiet and the sound and lighting all focus tight in one quick glance of something unexpected jumping out at you. I want to find that in a written scene. It works in film because everything is coming together in one laser beam pinpoint of fear. Without the sound, or music swell, the quick movement in the film wouldn't work at all. The best example I've ever read was in Silence of The Lambs, when Lector escapes. Even when I saw the film in the theater, still knowing exactly what was going to happen, I still jumped when it did happen, playing out in my mind exactly as I read it. I jumped a little when I read it as well, because Thomas Harris knew he had us by the balls in that scene, and could lead down the path by the nose, all the while hiding what we feared the most by simple misdirection. 

Most horror stories don't really scare me. Creep me out...sure, but scare, really scare, nope, not happening. Still searching for it though. 

Strange Photon's picture
Strange Photon from Fort Wayne, IN is reading Laurie Anderson lyrics May 17, 2013 - 7:05am

The Painted Bird

The Wasp Factory

The Other might be wrong on the title)

I don't scare. It just doesn't happen from movies or books. From reading these, however, I can tell you that most people would find them scary/disturbing/unsettling. There's one more that my woman read - non-fiction - about an unidentified little boy whose body was found stuffed in a box, but for the life of me, I can't remember the title. When she gets home, I'll ask her and edit the title into this post.