As part of my latest anthology project, The Five Senses of Horror, I scoured through Everestian mountains of short story volumes (anthologies, magazines, collections, etc.), searching for the right mix of fiction voices and techniques that interacted strongly with at least one of the five human senses.
So herein, I wanted to share a "Short List," if you will, that I compiled of some suggested short stories during the last 75 years.
A BRIEF READING LIST OF MODERN FICTION SHORT STORIES WITH RELATION TO THE SENSES (1940–2015)
EREIN I’VE LISTED A BRIEF selection of recent works within the last seventy-five years (1940–2015) that have a distinct association with one or more of the human senses.
By no means were these stories selected on a basis of them being “better” than any other story, but rather that by their whole, the below reading list helps to push the boundaries of scope and diversity in exploring this subject.
The primary criteria I used in making selections included:
· Work must be a story of short fiction, approximately 8,000 words or less (i.e. no novelettes, novellas, or longer).
· Work must include some speculative, supernatural, or horror element.
· Work must first have been published within the last 75 years, between 1940 through 2015 (*all stories sought during 2016).
· Work must be available in the English language (whether by original language printing or through translation).
· Authors cannot be listed more than once.
Whether sights of sparkling refraction, sounds of chirruping frogs, or smells of flowering pear trees, the human senses have consequential impact on storytelling, and the following are some examples of merit:
The Sense of Touch
1948: “The October Game” by Ray Bradbury (Weird Tales, May: Weird Tales); A frenzied husband enacts a plot of revenge against his wife—whom he levels all woes and wishes to hurt in ways worse than murder—by playing a simple children’s game.
1978: “Heading Home” by Ramsey Campbell (Whispers #11-12, October: Stuart David Schiff); A dastardly scientist is determined to wreck vengeance against his adulterous wife and the butcher who’s brutally dismembered him . . . if only he can put himself back together. *
1981: “On the Uses of Torture” by Piers Anthony (The Berkley Showcase: Vol. 3, an anthology: Berkley Books); A sadistic prison warden is appointed ambassador to an alien civilization that measures worth by pain endurance; the warden is prepared to prove his resolution.
1986: “The Skins You Love to Touch” by Janet Fox (Shadows 9, an anthology: Doubleday); Two wealthy antique shoppers discover an off-road country store where the proprietor crafts his own unique furniture.
1990: “Soft” by Darrell Schweitzer (Weird Tales, Spring: David Terminus); After a monumental argument, Richard lies in bed next to his wife while contemplating divorce. He tries to remember just one “perfect” moment with her, and if only he could mold her . . . *
1997: “Autopsy Room Four” by Stephen King (Robert Bloch’s Psychos, an anthology: Cemetery Dance Publications); An otherwise healthy man awakens temporarily paralyzed on an autopsy table. He must somehow signal the mortician he’s still alive before the dissection begins.
2000: “Dead Like Me” by Adam-Troy Castro (A Desperate, Decaying Darkness, a collection: Wildside Press); Instructions for the hapless survivor of a zombie plague on how to mimic the undead and otherwise “fit in” with them so as not to be discovered as living foodstuff.
2013: “Feel the Noise” by Lisa Morton (Shivers VII, an anthology: Cemetery Dance Publications); A disabled veteran suffering from “systemic synesthesia” must translate rewired senses—tastes that have become smells, sounds turned to touches—while trying to find a murdering ex-superior. *
The Sense of Hearing
1945: “The Music-Box from Hell” by Emil Petaja (Weird Tales, May: Weird Tales); A scheming nephew arranges for the death of his wealthy aunt by way of a cursed music-box.
1959: “Eminent Domain” by Cecil Dawkins (Charm, October: Street & Smith Publications); An elderly woman who cannot hear is swindled by a man she takes for the devil.
1984: “Sound Is Second Sight” by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (Triumph of the Night: Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, a collection: Silver Salamander Press); A lonely farmer first finds companionship in a barking dog, then in a wife with a beautiful voice. The wife and dog die, but their voices can return.
1991: “Sounds” by Kathryn Ptacek (Masques IV, an anthology: Maclay & Associates); A woman with hyper-sensitivity to sound bemoans every noise in life. *
1999: “Burden” by Michael Marano (www.gothic.net, March: Gothic.net); A gay man is haunted by the ghosts of friends and lovers who died from AIDS, as he tries fleeing his past and the terrible burden of remembering them.
2003: “Sounds Like” by Mike O’ Driscoll (Gathering the Bones: Thirty-Four Original Stories from the World’s Masters of Horror, an anthology: Voyager/ HarperCollins (Australia); Larry Pearce has exceptional hearing, which helps him excel at a job listening in on customer service phone calls. His hearing, however, seems to keep sharpening, or is it the stress which makes every noise unbearable?
2010: “Malleus, Incus, Stapes” by Sarah Totton (Fantasy Magazine, December: Prime Books); A boy discovers a trunk containing relics from his dead father, including an object that allows him to listen to the past as heard through his father’s ear. *
2015: “In the Cave of the Delicate Singers” by Lucy Taylor (www.tor.com, July: Tor); A woman gifted with synesthesia—the ability to feel sound waves—uses her endowment to embark on a rescue mission of cavers who have gone missing in an underground system that is rumored to drive people mad. *
The Sense of Taste
1945: “Taste” by Roald Dahl (Ladies Home Journal, March: Meredith Corp.); A willful stockbroker bets his connoisseur-dinner companion that he cannot name the locale of a certain wine’s vintage by taste alone. The companion accepts that bet, and by blustering, each begins to increase the stakes.
1981: “Dante’s Bistro” by Carolyn L. Bird (The 22nd Pan Book of Horror Stories, an anthology: Pan Books); The celebrated chef and restaurateur, Gothric O’Hooligan-Dante, must continually push the boundaries of exotic dishes he serves or suffer among elitists the ignominy of irrelevance.
1984: “A Matter of Taste” by Parke Godwin (Shadows 7, an anthology: Doubleday); A rarefied gourmand laments the failings of his dating life, for he can find no match to his self-professed highest standards of taste, until he meets Pristine Solent . . .
1990: “His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood” by Poppy Z. Brite (Borderlands 1, an anthology: Maclay & Associates); Two young men who know no taboos grow bored with all life has to offer, even when grave robbing from forbidden tombs. *
1998: “Cassilago’s Wife” by Sarah Singleton (Interzone, #137, November: David Pringle); A lonely traveler finds hospitality at the home of an herbalist and his much younger wife. *
2009: “A Delicate Architecture” by Catherynne M. Valente (Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales, an anthology: Viking); The daughter of the best confectioner in the land grows up well-loved in a world of sweets, only to discover the reason she is so loved, in this reimagining of a famous folktale.
2012: “Sweet Subtleties” by Lisa L. Hannett (Clarkesworld, #75, December: Wyrm Publishing); Una Belle is French confectioner Javier’s greatest creation, a culinary fantasy to be dined upon by whatever the audience wishes her to be, although she finds the hardest tastes to satisfy are those of disappointed family. *
2015: “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong (Nightmare Magazine, October: Nightmare Magazine); A vampire who feeds on the manifestations of bad thoughts struggles with dating, an overbearing mother, and a cruel love-interest who is too much like herself.
The Sense of Sight
1949: “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” by Fritz Leiber (The Girl with the Hungry Eyes, and Other Stories, an anthology: Avon Publishing Co.); A mysterious girl finds sensational fame as a billboard model; she is secretive, never smiles, and her images show a strange hunger in her eyes . . .
1953: “The Living Eyes” by Justin Dowling (Weird Tales, May: Weird Tales); A teenage boy is horrified to learn his widowed father plans to marry a wealthy older woman who is partly-paralyzed, cruel, and has bulging, veined eyes that seemingly are alive in their own way.
1969: “The Movie People” by Robert Bloch (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October: Mercury Press, Inc.); A filmgoer befriends a romantic bit-extra actor who’s found a sort of immortality by hiding in the background crowds of movie scenes.
1983: “The Beholder” by Richard Christian Matheson (Whispers IV, an anthology: Doubleday); A woman inspired to create a painting has found her favorite gallery mysteriously taken over by a new owner who provides her with uncommon paints for her art. *
2009: “In the Porches of My Ears” by Norman Prentiss (Postscripts #18 (This is the Summer of Love), May: PS Publishing); In a story within a story, a man relates his experiences listening to a woman describe the sights of a movie to her blind husband. *
2012: “Some Pictures in an Album” by Gary McMahon (Chiral Mad, an anthology: Written Backwards); A visual exploration of seventeen Polaroid photos taken by a man’s father and arranged in a photograph album leads the man to understand a horrific secret about himself.
2013: “The Marginals” by Steve Duffy (The Moment of Panic, a collection: PS Publishing); Howard begins a new job, sitting in a hidden trailer and carefully logging each person he should see passing by. Except whenever he glances away, more people have appeared . . . or disappeared.
2015: “The Impression of Craig Shee” by David McGroarty (Sensorama, an anthology: Eibonvale Press); A psychologist visits the Scottish isle where her mother once lived in order to study a peculiar painting she made, famous for the disquieting effect it has on peoples’ perceptions. *
The Sense of Smell
1946: “Whiffs of the Sea” by Sir Andrew Caldecott (Not Exactly Ghosts, a collection: Edward Arnold); A wealthy gentleman tells of an ominous painting he once purchased that smelled of the sea and the accompanying nightmares it brought.
1966: “I Mnemagoghi” (English: “The Mnemogogues”) by Primo Levi (Storie Naturali, a collection: Einaudi); A scholarly doctor collects in small vials the scents of his memories.
1971: “The Smell of Death” by Dennis Etchison (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, October: Mercury Press, Inc.); The owner of a roadside diner with a dark past shares a car ride with a reporter searching for an ex-soldier who escaped a NASA experiment after murdering the rest of his team.
1988: “The Odor of Violets” by John Farris (Scare Tactics, a collection: Tor Horror); A struggling author comes across the unpublished novel he was meant to write, accompanied by a strange fragrance of violets. *
1996: “I Am Not My Smell” by Elizabeth Massie (Shadow Dreams, a collection: Silver Salamander Press); A disabled homeless woman who has given up hope against her own repugnance finds a final purpose in life by sacrificing for another.
2007: “Shem-el-Nessim: An Inspiration in Perfume” by Chris Bell (Zahir, #13, Summer: Zahir Publishing); A wealthy 1920s Londoner becomes obsessed with an Oriental-scented fragrance, and pursues to Cairo the mysterious pale woman who wears it. *
2012: “The Scent” by John F.D. Taff (Little Deaths, a collection: Books of the Dead Press); A man walks to work through his aged, declining neighborhood and confronts a luring, unknown scent. *
2013: “Jasmine and Opium” by Rebecca L. Brown (Eulogies II: Tales From the Cellar, an anthology: Horror World Press); A sociopath driven by exceptional aromatic perception follows a woman he desires.
* Story included in the anthology, The Five Senses of Horror
** Buy Here and Now for more! The Five Senses of Horror