Two of these story collections were recommended by Eric Smith of BookRiot as creepy collections perfect for Halloween. To me, though, Halloween is about more than just the fear factor. Like Bruce Coville,* I associate Halloween with magic. With transformation. In these three books, many of the stories are about humans transformed into something other (or, in some cases, something other transformed to human), whether via sealskin or vampire bite or enchanted flower or faerie magic or the laugh of a Cockatoucan, or even Death. And in Gaiman and Coville’s collections, the stories are matched with excellent illustrations; I especially like the eerie photo-manipulated half-human beings in the latter.
My favorite stories:
Neil Gaiman, ed. Unnatural Creatures. New York: Harper, 2013.
- “Ozioma the Wicked,” by Nnedi Okorafor. Everyone in Ozioma’s village considers her an evil witch because she can speak with snakes. And then one day, a venom-spitting cobra slithers from the sky into the villagers’ meeting tree, and guess who they want to save them.
- “The Compleat Werewolf,” by Anthony Boucher. Wolfe Wolf is getting very drunk to cope with a rejected marriage proposal when he’s approached by a magician named Ozymandias, who claims that Wolf is actually a werewolf. What starts with an enjoyable lesson in shape-shifting ends up getting Wolf entangled with Nazi spies.
- “The Smile on the Face,” by Nalo Hopkinson. Gilla swallows a cherry pit on the way to a party, and something fierce begins to take root inside her. I liked the body-positive message in the story, but didn’t like the negativity against gay people – one character calls another a “faggot,” and the other’s response is basically, “It takes one to know one.”
Holly Black. The Poison Eaters and Other Stories. Easthampton, MA: Big Mouth House, 2010.
- “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.” For fifty-one days, Matilda has been keeping herself drunk to keep the virus at bay, a virus that would turn her into a monster. Only, to save a friend, she may have to give in after all.
- “The Dog King.” In the land of Arn, the wolves are dangerously clever. They empty whole towns every winter, and yet the king of the town of Dunbardain keeps a wolf companion, along with a strange boy with mysterious origins.
- “The Coat of Stars.” I like this one because it incorporates the fairy tale motif of trying three times to wake your beloved from a powerful/enchanted sleep. And I like how Black incorporates gay and bisexual characters into this, as well as two other stories. I can’t say much else without spoiling.
Bruce Coville, ed. Half-Human. New York: Scholastic, 2001.
- “Linnea,” by D.J. Malcolm. A creature half-shark, half-man transforms Linnea into a mermaid and claims her as his own. But Linnea fights back, even though doing so could get not only herself, but also her father, killed.
- “Water’s Edge,” by Janni Lee Simner. When Laura visits her grandparents’ house on Long Island, she discovers something in the attic that her grandfather has been keeping from her grandmother for years. Something magical that Laura is tempted to use for herself.
- “Elder Brother,” by Tamora Pierce. Because of a wizard’s spell half a world away, an apple tree transforms into a human, something it finds extremely difficult to deal with. Other humans treat him as a threat, until he meets a fellow wanderer who shows him kindness.
* He expresses this in his introduction to Bruce Coville’s Book of Magic.