As we head into December, one thing is becoming clear: Winter is coming. This ever-popular slogan from Game of Thrones plays off of one of humankind’s most primal fears—the dread of these cold, dark months with their long nights and desolate landscapes. Throughout human history, the coming of winter heralded many physical dangers, from getting caught out in freezing temperatures to running out of food. But winter also brings out a less tangible terror, and the cold season has captured the imaginations of a number of horror writers. This week, I’d like to share with you a few of my favorite short stories to read curled up in bed while the snow swirls outside:
“Timber” by John Galsworthy
I first encountered this tale in an audiobook collection of short horror, and it was one of the few stories to truly leave me with chills. John Galsworthy was an accomplished novelist and playwright in early-twentieth-century England, but this was the first of his works I’ve read. The story tells of a rich man who decides to go on one last winter stroll through the woods that he is about to sell for timber. After initially enjoying the walk, he begins to realize that he has become lost in his own woods. As the man wanders through the snowy forest, the reader is carried along with him from the feeling of slight concern that he may be late for dinner to the gnawing dread that he’ll never make it back home again. This is one those tales that builds a slowly rising sense of anxiety, so brace yourself. And the twist of irony at the end will make you cringe. You can read the story for yourself here.
“The Festival” by H. P. Lovecraft
Who doesn’t love a nice Christmas story? Especially the kind that will make you lock your doors and hide under the covers. This short story is one of the earliest tales from Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, and it reads much like many of the others I’ve come across from that collection. An unnamed man travels to a small port town in Massachusetts, returning to the home of his ancestors for the first time. There he witnesses a strange Yuletide ritual, and the horrid sights along with the secrets he learns about his family swiftly drive him insane and land him in Arkham. I hope that you all fare better at your family reunions this year. You can find the full text of the story online at the H. P. Lovecraft website.
“Skin and Bone” by Tim Lebbon
I just read this story in The Doll Collection, one of Ellen Datlow’s many anthologies, this one featuring doll-based horror. Lebbon tells of two thrill-seeking friends who decide to adventure together in the Antarctic, but things begin to go wrong when one of them spots two uncanny figures buried in the snow. The horror elements in the story are vague, and—for that very reason—unsettling. What exactly are these creatures, described by the narrator as being “mannequin-like”? Basic survival becomes secondary as the protagonist flounders in the snow, torn between wanting to know and not wanting to know…
What are you reading this winter season? Do you have any short stories for me to add to my list? Let me know in the comments!