Six Scary Stories

Six Scary Stories

Selected and Introduced by Stephen King

About Stephen King

No. 1 bestselling author Stephen King is an acclaimed master of novels and short stories. His collection The Bazaar of Bad Dreams received excellent reviews, with his story ‘Obits’ winning the Edgar Award for Best Short Story:

‘King can sketch a full-blooded character in just a few pen strokes. This gift comes to the fore in his short stories, where every syllable counts’

Sunday Telegraph

‘Short stories have a famous place in the King oeuvre, with the likes of The Body and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption finding second lives on the big screen as Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption . . . Like all the greats, though, his ability to grip the reader’s mind, body and soul with his prose makes it all look easy’

USA Today

King won an O. Henry Award, he was recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters and in 2015 he won America’s National Medal of Arts. He is the author of more than fifty books, all of them international bestsellers, including Misery, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft and End of Watch. He lives with his wife, novelist Tabitha King, in Maine and Florida.

Introduction to SIX SCARY STORIES

By Stephen King

I enjoy working with my British publisher, partly because the folks at Hodder have always been friendly and helpful, perhaps more because they have always published my books with joie de vivre and enthusiasm. They’re also promotional wizards (for the current book, they have invented an amusing little grid-game, sort of like Battleship, where participants can win prizes for picking the right square). So when my editor, Philippa Pride, said Hodder wanted to have a short story competition to promote The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, I agreed to pick a winner. Entrants were encouraged to write something scary, based on a few lines I wrote in the introduction to 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.’ A quick, unsettling encounter, in other words.

I’ll admit that I had my reservations. I have judged similar competitions in the past, and found the quality of the entries to be . . . erm, shall we say lacking. It usually came down to picking the best of a bad lot. Still, the way this competition was set up made my part of the job look pretty easy. The avalanche of entries (over 800, as it turned out), would be winnowed down to twenty. These would be further winnowed to a short list of just six stories by a panel of judges that included redoubtable Ms Pride, Kate Lyall-Grant of Severn House Publishers, and Claire Armistead, the Books Editor at the Guardian. I felt that with such seasoned veterans separating the sheep from the goats, I would be able to select at least one story that wasn’t too embarrassing.

I wasn’t the only one with doubts. In her piece for the Guardian, Ms Armistead wrote, ‘I have to admit that the prospect of ploughing through dozens of wannabe Carries and second-rate Shinings seemed like the roundabout route to Misery.’(This, dear reader, is known as British humour.) But she went on to say, ‘It turned out to be a far more interesting task than I had expected, demonstrating that there are plenty of talented storytellers out there.’

Absolutely spot-on, Ms Armistead, and good on you. I was stunned – and absolutely delighted – to discover that all six of the stories sent on for my consideration were very good, indeed. In some cases the prose was a bit more felicitous than in others, but each and every one of them had an original slant, and in each and every one there was that icy frisson of fear, that quick stab of the literary ice-pick that we look for in tales of horror, terror, and the supernatural. Also – this is important, because scary stories are extremely delicate – each of the writers had internalised the most important rule when it comes to inducing unease: Never tell too much. The monster is always scarier when it is still under the child’s bed; the intruder is more frightening when he (or it) is still a shadow on the wall, or a breathing presence behind the door.

After a lot of brow-furrowed cogitation and a great deal of shuffling the order of the stories around, I picked a winner (the extraordinarily atmospheric ‘Wild Swimming’, by Elodie Harper). That might have been the end, but I was unsatisfied, because the other five were all terrific, and of publishable quality. I suggested that it would be a treat for the writers – not to mention a gift for potential readers – if these stories could be published together. Phil Pride agreed, along with my friend Rich Chizmar at Cemetery Dance, and the slim but powerful volume (or Ebook) you hold in your hands is the result.

I could elucidate the charms of each individual story (part of me longs to do just that, because in my heart, I’m just another fanboy), but that would be unfair to you, Constant Reader, and even more unfair to the stories that follow. It would be violating the Prime Directive; it would be telling too much. When frightening stories work – when they actually raise our heart-rate and the short hairs of the backs of our necks – they do so because each one harbours a small, malignant secret. Each of the half-dozen stories that follow harbours such a secret, and you must discover them on your own. I’ll have no part in spoiling the experience.

In closing, I want to repeat how extraordinary it was to find not just two or three of the final submissions were good, but all of them. I’m not sure what’s up with you Brits, but if it’s something in the water, my advice is keep drinking it.

All okay, then? I hope so, because this is where I let go of your hand and send you off with your six not entirely trustworthy guides. Enjoy the trip.

Stephen King

June 5, 2016

Elodie Harper

ELODIE HARPER

Elodie has been making her living from storytelling for the last ten years in TV and radio current affairs. She is currently a reporter and presenter for ITV Anglia in the East of England. It’s a part of the country she particularly loves, not least because it has its own drowned village – the medieval town of Dunwich off the Suffolk coast.

Before working as a journalist Elodie graduated from Oxford University with a first class degree in English and spent a couple of years employed as an actress. This included filming the ITV drama Jekyll and Hyde in Lithuania, where this story is set. She never went diving in any Lithuanian reservoirs, but has been wild swimming in the Lake District. Though unlike her heroine Chrissie, she found the sense of endless depth beneath her feet a bit too spooky.

Elodie is married with a young son. Her debut novel The Binding Song, a gothic thriller set in a Norfolk prison, will be published by Hodder’s Mulholland Books in 2017.

ELODIE ON STEPHEN KING

‘I love so many of his books. His work has shown me the importance of the story – and how the supernatural can be used in different ways. The Shining is an exceptional novel, not only terrifying but also unique for the way Stephen King uses the supernatural to give the reader an insight into alcoholism. Jack is such a tragic figure, somebody the reader really likes, and what happens to him is not just frightening but heartbreaking. Night Shift is my favourite collection of stories by any writer. Each one is a self-contained world – a joy to read.’

WILD SWIMMING

From: porpoise1swimit@gmail.com

To: barflysuse@gmail.com

Date: 29 May 2015, 20:03

Dude!

Can you believe this place has Wi-Fi! Finally back in contact . . . How are you?

I’m in Vaiduoklis, this tiny little place next to a massive reservoir, a couple of hours’ train ride from Vilnius. The capital was very pretty, in a John Lewis, biscuit tin kind of way, all cobbled streets, pastel colours and gilded spires. Great market selling just about EVERYTHING amber you can think of – not just necklaces and jewellery etc., but cutlery, key rings, doorstops (!) the lot. Only downer was somebody in the crowd nicked my phone, hence the lack of messages, sorry. It’s insured so can get another, but going a bit crazy not being able to chat to anyone.

Anyway, Felix has been delayed by a few days (problem with the new flat he says, but I think problem with his new boyfriend is more likely . . .) so I decided to explore a bit on my own. Not much point to a wild swimming trip with no swimming! We’re due to go to Lake Lusai, so I thought it would be good t ...