5 Books That Are Legit Nightmare Fuel
While we at the Riot are taking this lovely summer week off to rest (translation: read by the pool/ocean/on our couches), we’re re-running some of our favorite posts from the last several months. Enjoy our highlight reel, and we’ll be back with new stuff on Wednesday, July 8th.
This post originally ran May 19, 2015.
As a longtime horror fan, I’ve developed ovaries of steel when it comes to ghosts, murderers, and psychotic clowns, but every now and then a story will punch through my defenses. These are all books that have given me “turn on the lights mother” nightmares, ones so unsettling they’ve taken a full 20 minutes of looking at Chris Pratt GIFs to dispel.
The Troop by Nick Cutter
Scouts, a trip to a deserted island, and a stranger with a secret. Whatever you think those ingredients add up to, trust me, it’s much, much worse. Some scenes in this book are so repulsive Dr. Oz could sell them as a diet aid. Think Stephen King meets Lord Of The Flies, then throw in a biological weapon. This is a horror that, like an episode of Naked And Afraid, relies on the cruelty of nature and humanity for its kicks rather than scattered female body parts.
Nightmare level: Waterproof mattress protector.
The House Of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
As hipster as horror gets, but this hefty tome is in my top three books of all time. It starts as a simple enough mystery: tattooist Johnny Truant finds documents telling the story of a mysterious film, but soon he becomes more than just a reader. Here, stories hide within stories and the haunted house theme is twisted into something far more disturbing than creaking floors and ghosts. The book is a winding journey through footnotes and supporting documents and as the pace of the action increases, the page layouts become increasingly bizarre, changing the way you physically interact with the book.
Nightmare level: Stealing your nephew’s nightlight.
North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud
Sometimes horror is most effective when delivered in short sharp slaps right to the brainstem, and this debut collection does just that. Each of the nine stories is such a punch to the gut that you need a breather and a sweet tea before moving on to the next. “The Good Husband” tackles the dark aftermath of a suicide attempt and “S.S.” mixes white supremacy with a sick mother for a tale that will scuttle around your brain for days. “You Go Where It Takes You” was the story that gave me the night terrors and made my skin feel a size too small.
Nightmare level: Insomnia for three days.
The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston
Beware hypochondriacs: This is a messy investigation of Ebola and you’ll be swabbing every inch of yourself in hand sanitizer before you make it through the first three chapters. It’s sensational science, the kind that would make any real infectious disease specialist throw serious shade, but also the kind that makes for a really uncomfortable read. I’m prepared to let a few dissolving internal organs slide for what Stephen King called “one of the most horrifying things” he’d ever read.
Nightmare level: Valium. All the valium.
The Treatment by Mo Hayder
Mo Hayder is the dark empress of modern crime with a gothic sensibility. This novel features her crumpled detective Jack Caffery, a child abduction, and an urban legend about a troll. What makes the scenes of criminal depravity all the more effective is the way they’re punctuated by bleak little passages of police procedure and cold forensic detail. It’s the second in her Caffrey series (the first is Birdman) but you’ll be too worried about the troll in the trees and the effects of dehydration on the human body to care.
Nightmare level: Sleeping with a screwdriver under the pillow.