Number 1 bestselling writer Stephen King introduces and presents six gripping and chilling stories in this captivating anthology!
I am a sucker for a new Stephen King book, and when I received an email to preorder an upcoming anthology that was filled with six stories picked out by the horror master himself, I didn’t hesitate. Let me first say that I love anthologies—whether they are in book form or horror movie form. This anthology is on the shorter side and didn’t take long at all to finish, making it a perfect read for a rainy day or a cozy evening in.
Six Scary Stories was born out of a short story competition that was to promote Stephen King’s publication, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. The prompt for the stories featured the following lines that King had written in the introduction to The Bazaar:
There’s something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience. It can be invigorating, sometimes even shocking, like a waltz with a stranger you will never see again, or a kiss in the dark, or a beautiful curio for sale at a street bazaar.
After all of the entries were whittled down to the best six, Mr. King was tasked with picking the ultimate winner. However, he had trouble finding a favorite—they were all great. He eventually settled on Elodie Harper’s “Wild Swimming” as the number one pick, but he felt the others deserved to be published, as well. At his request, it was decided to publish all six of the finalists in one book, and Six Scary Stories is the result.
Each story has a small bio and a bit of praise for Mr. King at the beginning. They are quick reads, coming in at 4,000 words or less. Hodder called for stories that were original, gripping, and chilling, and each one held true to this request, resulting in six fresh and unique stories.
Elodie Harper starts us off with “Wild Swimming.” Her beautiful and haunting imagery stuck with me, and the format for this story—told through a series of emails—added to the tension. An adventurous young woman has decided to stay in Vaiduoklis as she waits to join up with a friend on her travels. Being a wild swimmer, she is determined to explore the local reservoir, even after her landlord delivers a set of creepy warnings.
I tried to explain about wild swimming, that the whole point is to pick open water that most people don’t swim in, that I’m fully qualified and experienced, but she cut me off with what looked like a rude hand gesture.
“No swim,” she said. “Shows disrespect. Dangerous.”
Then she walked off which was … helpful. So I don’t know if it’s just the idea of a twenty-something cavorting in a bikini that outrages her, or if there’s anything about the reservoir I should know.
This one ended up as my favorite, too.
Next up is “Eau-De-Eric” by Manuela Saragosa. This is a twisted tale of a widowed mother and her daughter that has named her newest teddy bear after her deceased father. Seems like a sweet gesture, doesn’t it? But it’s not, really.
“But Daddy didn’t have black eyes, sweetie,” Kathy said as she tucked Ellie into bed. “His eyes were blue.”
Ellie rubbed Eric’s stitched nose against her own as she snuggled under the duvet. “I know, but he smells like Daddy,” she said.
This tale spirals into an unexpected conclusion that had me needing to shake it off before I continued.
The third story is “The Spots” by Paul Bassett Davies. This one is written a little differently than the others, in my opinion. It follows a man who is tasked with counting the spots on a leopard, but it goes much deeper than that. A horrifying ending brings it to a close.
“The Unpicking” by Michael Button is up next. This story is a dark spin on kids’ toys coming to life while the owners sleep. Full of stark visuals and great atmosphere, I just had to know what would happen next.
Stuart Johnstone’s “La Mort De L’Amant” follows. It has a unique style to it, and in the bio preceding the story, Johnstone explains that the idea for the story came from a debate with his creative writing lecturer about the subject of clichés. He has taken these clichés and spun a tale around them. It’s entertaining and a bit of a mystery.
“The Bear Trap” by Neil Hudson is the last story in the book—and a fitting one to end with, I think. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, we follow twelve-year-old Calvin as he holds his own in this scary, new environment.
Just hours after he’d departed the soot had begun to fall from the sky, thick and terrifying. The ash had hammered down so furiously that when Calvin summoned the courage to peer outside, looking out on the front yard had been like staring through static on a TV that’d lost reception. Calvin had been plenty relieved when the ash had ceased raining down six weeks later. Seeing the world outside like that had put a fright in him so bad he’d pretty much stayed in the basement the whole time, eating beans straight out of the can with a loaded BB gun set across his lap.
It brought to mind how King uses children put in terrible situations as his own subjects sometimes.
This was a fun and, at times, creepy read. Like anthologies often do, it gives us a chance to read things from otherwise unknown authors, exposing us to potential new favorites. Each of the authors included here have showcased their own talents and proven that they are indeed to be watched. Considering today is Halloween, I recommend this selection as a good, spooky read as we ring in the ghosts and goblins of All Hallow’s Eve.
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Amber Keller is a writer who delves into dark, speculative fiction, particularly horror and suspense/thrillers. You can find her work on her Amazon Author Page and she also features many short stories on Diary of a Writer. A member of the Horror Writers Association, she contributes to many websites and eMagazines and you can follow her on Twitter @akeller9.