The sign of a really good horror story is, for me, in my eyes.
I recently read Call of Cthulhu, and despite Lovecraft’s pervasive racism (which has no excuse as I’ve heard scholars explain that Lovecraft was considered racism even by the standards of his own day), was spellbound by it. Seriously. I wasn’t afraid of the dark, but once I’d finished it, my eyes wouldn’t close.
In my opinion a good horror story should include aspects that shock the reader into wide-eyed silence. The prose must be very stark. A gross description doesn’t work for me in this way – if you’re aiming to make your reader disgusted, then maybe it’s appropriate. Lyndsey Davis’ depiction of Roman mine slavery in The Silver Pigs was disgusting and horrible, making me afraid to raise my eyes from the books and see the suffering men and their gangrenous wounds lying near death’s door. But it didn’t conjure up the sheer terror of what lurked beneath the ocean. I used to be terrified of squid – their big eyes more than their tentacles – and as a result couldn’t bear to go to aquariums or snorkelling. But Cthulhu evokes more than just disgust. The monstrosity of what Lovecraft’s protagonists discover is literally stunning. It froze my eyes in their sockets as if I’d come face to face with Cthulhu itself.
So to this particular story on the /r/fantasywriters subreddit, a hangout for creative writers of all fantastic subgenres, from Tolkien to Stephenie Meyer and all points in between. Sojourner is a story in the same mould. Although there is some legitimate criticism from other contributors to the subreddit, the way I read is to absorb the prose, so minor textual issues don’t make much difference to me as a reader unless they are as jarring as the number of typos in some of the Magic: The Gathering books published for the original Ravnica line back in the mid-00s. A lot of stories on the sub-r are very evocative of atmosphere and setting, or character. This piece concentrates on the creeping absorption of a human soul by what looks to be a slow, lingering death.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.