Some people leave a mark on you. Plain and simple.
They come into your life, seemingly out of nowhere, although deep down inside, you want to believe that it’s fate that has brought you together.
They can be your soul mate, your future spouse, eyed from across a crowded room to the dull, melancholic chords of a violin. They can be the record producer who just happened to hear you swing while waiting at their table, and wants to hear more.
Or they can be an author, that unknown entity whose acquaintance you made only through reading their words.
Neil Gaiman happens to be one of those authors.
When you hear the name, one of the first things that pop off in your head is the graphic novel series Sandman, and if you’re a little more in tune with television, you’d have noticed his name associated with American Gods – based on the book with the same name.
People see him as the mythological writer who brings an entirely new world of fantasy in their lives. However, those who really know him, know that he’s got one hell of a dark side that sends chills up and down your spine.
Today, we share five of the most terrifying Neil Gaiman stories ever.
Okay, sure. You might be scolding us for putting what is generally regarded as a young reader’s book in this list. But don’t let that fool you. Coraline, to this day, is hailed as one of the scariest works Gaiman ever released, and we can see why.
Coraline is the story of a little girl – you guessed it, name’s Coraline – who moves into a new house with her workaholic parents. In the process of exploring her new surroundings, our brave protagonist finds a door which, at first, opens onto nothing but bricks.
However, as the story progresses, we see that the magical door leads to something a lot darker, and a lot scarier, than we could have ever presumed. And when it comes to trying to get home, Gaiman is a master at making our hearts race.
Winning a Hugo Award, a Bram Stoker Award and a Nebula Award is no small feat for a short book, or novella for the more academic of us. This doesn’t take away from how deeply disturbing a story Coraline is.
Folded into the themes of ‘family is important’ and ‘never judge a book by its cover’, we are subjected to an array of horrific imagery and childhood nostalgia that makes us wonder if maybe there really was a monster in our closet all those years ago.
Not to forget, sometimes Gaiman really knows how to make you stop just to catch your breath.
2. Click-Clack the Rattlebag
Ever wonder where those noises you hear in the dark come from. Well, Gaiman has a bunch of theories, and he lays one of them out in splendor with this short story from the collection Trigger Warnings.
Click-Clack the Rattlebag is the story of a young man babysitting his girlfriend’s younger brother until she comes home with their takeout meal. The young man agrees to take the boy up to his room in the attic – if that’s not foreshadowing, we don’t know what is – and tell him a story before he sleeps.
However, the boy doesn’t want our protagonist to tell a scary story, because the child’s fearful of the click-clacks and the rattlebags.
This story really shows you how mood can be developed completely by a story’s setting. The house is spookier than the story of the click-clacks itself. Long corridors, faulty electricity, and creaks that sound every few seconds, are just some of the things that set the mood for this short.
That, along with a twist that is worthy of an O. Henry short, leaves you completely speechless by the time you’re done.
Speechless and more than horrified.
3. Other People
“Time is fluid here,” said the demon.
Come on, how could a starter like that not immediately draw you in?
Other People is a short story from the anthology Fragile Things, and it’s such a beautifully short piece, you can probably get through it in five minutes. However, the lasting effects of it will stay with you for quite a while after.
This story is about a man who has obviously found his way to hell, where he’s slowly and meticulously tortured by a demon. First physically, then emotionally, and finally psychologically, until you find yourself wanting the torture to stop. But it doesn’t stop, for thousands of years, until finally…well, we’ll let you read the rest.
The beauty of Other People lies in its simplicity. Everything about it is almost ‘hellishly’ organized, no pun intended. You can feel the torture, the protagonist’s agony, and cringe as if the pain and suffering being dealt to him was your own.
And by the time it’s over, by the time our protagonist comes to his final realization, so do you.
And it’s just as horrifying.
4. October in the Chair
Okay, we’ll admit it. A story that starts off with the months of the year as real people around a campfire telling stories…not really scary. However, we learn a little more as we read through this beautiful short from Fragile Things. First, the month-siblings take turns sitting in a chair and telling the ‘story of the hour’, if you will. And when this story starts, it’s October who’s sitting in the chair.
And as we all know, October is one month that is infamous for its horrors.
So, good ol’ October tells his story, and we’re immediately drawn into the world of a young boy named Runt. Ridiculed and bullied by everyone, including his brothers, Runt decides to run away and live a life of freedom on his own.
Of course, being a child with little to no experience of the big bad world, things don’t go all too well for him. From meeting a ghost to feeling conflicted about walking into a house that reeks of evil, Runt takes you along his small, short-lived adventure and leaves you horrified.
Gaiman again brings out the big guns. His imagery puts his readers directly in the story, and chills them to your core. No to mention the evil that seems to surround Runt, and the nagging feeling that somehow, you know this is definitely not going to end well.
The story also brings up some serious questions for debate, and if you’re lucky, you’ll never really know the answers to.
Oh, and when October is done with his story, he consoles a brooding November, who is worried that his stories are too dark to be enjoyed.
Let’s just be thankful that Gaiman never wrote that one.
5. Hansel and Gretel
We all know the Grimm Brothers’ tale, and we all remember the first time we heard it. The idea of your own father abandoning you in the forest, a witch fattening you up to be eaten, and of course, an evil stepmother. It’s an old tale that, to this day, still makes your skin crawl when you really give it the right amount of thought and imagination.
Gaiman takes this one a little further. His tale is spun with enough darkness to make you really cringe, and resurface those childhood fears you had tried to keep bottled up in the recesses of your mind. Not only does he throw the doors wide open to reveal the hidden horrors of the tale, but he also invites you inside for a front row seat to the show.
The book, illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti, is a treat for every horror aficionado out there. Add the final touch of a complete lack of color, and you’re immediately thrown into a darkness that will seem overwhelming.
What makes this book even more interesting are Gaiman’s views on exposing children to fear and darkness. And we quote:
“I think if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids—and in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back. Tell them you can win. Because you can, but you have to know that.”
The Horror Beneath the Surface
Neil Gaiman has always been a big fan of the horror genre, and has contributed to it in many ways through his various works. Of course, some of the most hardcore horror readers might find him on the tamer side of the spectrum, but there is no denying the pure talent the man has to leave you with a lingering feeling of dread after reading some of his work.
And this is a man who gave his daughter a Stephen King book when she showed even the smallest hint of affection for horror – at the age of eleven.
Needless to say, he fits well in the darkness around him.