Horror Vignettes and Thirteen: 13 Scary Stories from 13 Horror Masters

’90s teen horror featured well-known authors like Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine, as well as popular series such as Stine’s “Streets of Fear” and Diane Hoh’s “Hall of Nightmares.” Interestingly, the ’90s teen horror genre was primarily focused on full-length novels, with only a few series and standalone novels, and very few short stories. Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” series (1981-1991) and J.B. Stamper’s “Midnight Stories” series (1977-1991) were collections of short stories that likely appealed to younger readers of ’90s teen horror, but they were not part of the larger trend. Christopher Peck published two collections of short stories, “Scary Stories” (1996) and “Scary Stories 2” (1997), although they didn’t achieve mainstream success. In terms of teen horror short fiction in the ’90s, “Thirteen: 13 Horror Stories from 13 Horror Masters,” edited by T. Pines, stands out as almost unique.

Published by Scholastic, “Thirteen” includes several familiar horror authors such as D.E. Athkins, A. Bates, Caroline B. Cooney, Carol Ellis, Diane Hoh, Lael Litke, and Sinclair Smith. It also features stars of ’90s horror films Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. Additionally, the collection introduces authors who may be less familiar to readers but whose voices are consistent with the larger tradition, including Jay Bennett, J.B. Stamper, Ellen Emerson White, and Patri Summer Windsor. “Thirteen” not only showcases a range of authors but also highlights different horror traditions within the ’90s teen subgenre. It encompasses traditional elements like ghouls, ghosts, vampires, and revenge-driven plots, as well as real-life horrors and haunting eco-horror tales. Some stories are dark and nihilistic, while others emphasize the redemptive power of kindness and love. However, all thirteen stories revolve around teenage protagonists exploring and surviving their fears in a complex world.

Telling a story through a short story format differs significantly from writing a novel. Short stories have limited space for world-building, character development, twists, diversions, and gripping narratives. Every detail carries weight and significance. This compression and intensity often creates a uniquely overwhelming tone or emotion in each short story, leaving a lasting impact on readers long after they finish reading. This was evident when I revisited “Thirteen” after many decades. I couldn’t recall the narrative details of any individual story, but some stories like Windsor’s “The Taste of Death” intrigued me with their initial words. The emotional memory evoked by these stories lingered over the years rather than a clear recollection of specific plot points. These condensed stand-alone horror stories in “Thirteen” are short yet impactful, drawing upon and reflecting larger horror traditions within the unique landscape of ’90s teen horror.

Some stories in the collection blur the line between real-life horror and supernatural elements, where characters must fear both external monsters and the darkness within themselves. Christopher Pike’s two-part novella, “Collect Call,” concludes the series. It contains various supernatural horrors, including a supposedly cursed song on a cassette tape, ghostly voices, and answering machine messages from beyond the grave. However, the story’s young heroines, Janice and Caroline, also contribute to the horrors. Both girls are fascinated by the mysterious Bobby Walker, who is connected to the cursed mixtape. After a party, Janice, despite being intoxicated, agrees to drive Caroline home. Tragically, they end up driving off a cliff, resulting in Caroline’s death. In an attempt to cover up the truth, Janice manipulates the wreckage to make it appear as if Caroline was driving. However, when the car explodes and catches fire, it becomes apparent that Caroline is still alive but severely burned. Her agonizing screams eventually stop. When Janice returns home, she finds a message from Caroline on the answering machine, asking for a ride. Returning to the scene of the accident, Janice discovers that she was the one who died, while Caroline survived. The story takes a horrifying turn as Caroline goes on a date with Bobby Walker, who reveals himself to be a disturbed individual. He takes Caroline to the cemetery, where they dig up Janice’s grave, only to find Caroline’s remains inside. With Janice’s ghostly voice and the first verse of “Silent Night” playing in the background, Caroline escapes while secretly recording the cursed song on the mixtape, diluting its dark power.

The collection features other short stories that blur the line between real-life horror and supernatural elements, portraying characters who must confront their personal demons alongside external monsters.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *