COME CLOSER, FRIEND.
LET ME TELL YOU A STORY.
Heard the one about the Airbnb that eats your dreams, or the iron-crowned king who preys on his own bloodline from the air, still smoldering centuries after being burnt alive? How about the cloudy antique bottle you can wish your excess rage inside, or that crooked alley down which something waits to replace your disappointing child with a far more pleasant facsimile? We all know the truth, especially in times like these—in an anxiety-ridden, sleepless world such as ours, it’s only ever our very worst dreams that come true.
Here streets empty out and people pull themselves apart like amoebas, breeding murderous doppelgangers from their own flesh; houses haunt, ideas possess and a cold and alien moon stares down, whispering that it’s time to spawn. New myths rise and ancient evils descend. From the seemingly mundane terrors of a city just like yours to all the most dark and distant places of a truly terrible universe, nothing is as it seems…not even that dimly-recalled cinematic memory you’ve been chasing all these years, the one you think might be just something you stumbled upon while flipping through channels after midnight. The one that still disturbs you enough to raise a cold sweat all over your body, whenever you try to will its details clear.
Hot on the heels of her This Is Horror Award-winning short story collection Spectral Evidence, critically horror author Gemma Files compiles fifteen more of her most startling recent nightmares—a creepily seductive downward spiral of dark poetry and existential dread, entirely suitable to the slow apocalypse going on all around us. So take your mind off your troubles and send it somewhere the rules still operate, if only to punish those who violate them.
Table of Contents
This is How It Goes
The Puppet Motel
Always After Three
Thin Cold Hands
The Church in the Mountains
Distant Dark Places
About the Author
Praise for Gemma Files
“This electrifying collection of 15 horror shorts from Files seeks out the hidden pockets of terror in everyday life… Files’s monsters peer out from the periphery of reality, creating a sense of lurking horror and existential dread.”
–Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
“…guaranteed to please every variety of horror fan… One standout in Files’ writing is her incredible diversity, both in character and style; it is refreshing to read about the different types of people and relationships represented…”
“Fifteen recent (the earliest appears to have been published in 2017) stories by Canadian writer Gemma Files combine to make a terrifically terrifying collection… Dreams are always nightmares, residences provide discomfort, offspring are no delight, encounters with the eldritch are common, families are invariably dysfunctional, relationships tend toward the doomed, and even the electrical grid is a thing to fear… a must-read for horror aficionados who delight in dread.”
–Paula Guran, LOCUS MAGAZINE
“There was Shirley Jackson, there is Stephen King and now there is Gemma Files.”
“No one is better than Gemma Files at locating intersections between consciousness and subliminal stimuli. Her most memorable characters exist in a vaguely discernible state of anxiety, not quite unhappy but conjuring strange maladies and sorrows, until they become aware of something undeniably weird in the atmosphere.
“What makes her stories hum with urgency and vibrant energy is the way her characters embrace and are transformed by these invisible currents. Above all, she suggests, what is truly human in all of us can’t be fully apprehended logically or strategically. To become one’s true self, for good or for bad, requires the courage to fall headfirst into the blood and fire of the unknown.
“No wonder Files is so highly regarded by the finest talents in weird and horror fiction today. Every story she produces is a must-read for anyone seeking intellectually stimulating fiction with great heart, and stunningly original imagery in the service of fascinating ideas. You won’t forget these tales of wonder when you close the book. They will linger in your imagination, yielding ever more enticing associations, for a long time to come. Highly recommended.”
– S.P. Miskowski, author of I Wish I Was Like You
“Gemma Files’s stories are always so smart and humane, and overwhelm the reader with a true sense of wonder, awe, and horror. She is, simply put, one of the most powerful and unique voices in weird fiction today.”
—Paul Tremblay, author of The Cabin at the End of the World
“When we speak of the best in contemporary horror and weird fiction, we must speak of Gemma Files.”
—Laird Barron, author of Worse Angels
“Gemma Files has one of the great dark imaginations in fiction—visionary, transgressive, and totally original.”
—Jeff VanderMeer, author of the Southern Reach trilogy
“Nobody in a Gemma Files story puts a hand on a doorknob and opens the door they shouldn’t—these folks are already in the other side. And that’s to my taste.”
—Paula Guran, senior editor for Prime Books
“Horror, the way Gemma Files writes it—wielding her words and her images deftly as a straight razor, slicing so surely that the reader isn’t even aware that the protective skin of his imagination has opened into two neatly divided flaps, [with] a few seconds of red grace before the pain comes and the screaming begins.”
—Michael Rowe, author of Enter Night: A Novel
“Boldly, brazenly, Gemma Files pushes her hands deep into the red and seeping unconscious places and finds the bits of treasure worth pulling back out into the light.”
—Caitlín R. Kiernan, author of Houses Under the Sea
“Files’ prose is terse and muscular yet highly poetic. Her stories are equally full of pain and humanity, injustice and solace. And they enter your brain like a spike between the eyes.”
—Dale L. Sproule, Rue Morgue Magazine
“Gemma Files writes dirty, which in her deft hands is a good thing. At her best, she combines an intense, internalized narrative perspective with moments of jaw-dropping horror, perversion, or sexiness, and frequently all three in the one image or scene.”
—Mike O’Driscoll, The Fix
“Her work may leave you breathless. It could awaken realms within. At times you may sit stunned, wondering at the richness of writing, reconnecting to the reasons you have always loved to read.”
—Nancy Kilpatrick, author of Thrones of Blood
“Traditionally, those horror protagonists who catch sight even briefly of the naked malevolence of the world tend to die, go mad, or forget what they have seen. But Files offers a fourth alternative: meaningful survival, accepting responsibility for those around you, getting on with your chosen work. You might think of it as optimistic nihilism. This renewed sense of what horror fiction can do will resonate deeply for readers who find themselves overwhelmed by the increasingly prominent and disturbing images of the real world.”
—Helen Marshall, Los Angeles Review of Books