Frequency – A Short Cosmic Horror Story – by Tritone

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Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories
Alaska Triangle Airplane Flying into a Storm art

“Come on… Come on!” The scent of electric smoke wafted up from the soldering iron on the circuit board as Larry hastily laid down bead after bead connecting the new resistor to the board. He knew if he did not get the power connected back to the ham radio that the signal would be lost forever and the passengers of the Cessna likely would be as well–at least they would be lost to him. He squinted through his thick coke bottle glasses and at five-foot-six his face just peaked over the magnifier on his father’s workbench as he worked the soldering iron. “Yes! There we go…”

 At seventeen-years-old, Larry was dually obsessed with his ham radio and science fiction; despite his mother’s desperate plea for him to find a girlfriend and go out on dates, his preferred mistress was science and his deep desire to discover something heretofore unknown. His father, an electrical engineer, was indifferent to the struggle and disappointment his wife was enduring and instead encouraged his boy to follow his passions.

As a result of his passion-turned-obsession, the garage looked as if it were a Radio Shack fire sale. Wires of all gauges were organized according to size on the walls, circuit boards were haphazardly stacked on the workbench, and there were drawers of neatly organized resistors, capacitors, inductors, transformers, diodes, and transistors were all within the arm’s reach. The noticeable hum of the fluorescent lights kicked on and it was a sound that had grown comforting to Larry–this was his space and in his opinion, there was nothing else like it in the world. Unlike the precarious hallways of his high school, where letter-jacket jocks regularly singled him out for hazing, he was in control in this space. In this place, anything was possible.

The world of technology in 1982 was mostly limited to pre-made kits and their assembly was predetermined by fine-tuned direction manuals–these had never been in Larry’s wheelhouse. In truth, Larry’s pride-and-joy was his ham radio and he spent countless late nights scanning the airwaves for signals, for proof that he could show-off to his friends. Just like his father, he had no love for athletics, he inherited his passion for electronics and radio signals through the bond he had formed with his dad. Due to his father’s pursuits, they had a homemade dedicated high-frequency radio and antenna mounted on his roof that could reach as far north as Alaska given the right weather conditions.

Through countless hours of connecting to other Alaskan radio operators, Larry had acquired a deep knowledge of the wild country–it had quickly become one of his favorite locations to scan. Sometimes he was unfortunate enough to overhear the desperate calls from people far out in the bush begging for loved ones to return home after a death in the family, but aside from those depressing transmissions, he would listen to plane operators as they crossed the most dangerous passes in the unforgiving terrain. Quite often, as Larry learned, bush pilots would go down in the wilderness. The weather could change in the blink of an eye as the wind whipped off of the glaciers at breakneck speeds.

Alaska map including the Alaska Triangle

The wall next to the small desk where the radio sat boasted a large map of Alaska where Larry had pinned all of the locations he had isolated from coordinates of the pilots he had overheard through his transmissions. Over the past year, Larry had learned of what pilots and local Alaskans would refer to as the “Alaskan Triangle,” much like its Bermudan counterpart, it was an area where an inordinate amount of disappearances took place. More than one dinner chat had ended with his mother sighing in exhaustion over the topic, then excusing herself as Larry continued to elaborate on the impact of negative energy fields. His father, still listening intently, would be captivated as Larry shared stories of the pilots he had overheard before they would simply go dark. Larry’s father insisted that it was likely air conditions that had changed and interfered with the signal, but Larry stubbornly continued to compile his little red pins on the map of planes that he believed had disappeared–at least that’s what he could gather in the communications and from the other radio operators who had far more experience with these things.

This time things felt different–it was around seven o’clock in the evening when he had started scanning the channels according to his usual evening routine. This transmission was coming from a twin Cessna, having left Anchorage and was en route to Juneau. That’s just on the outer edge of the triangle, he thought to himself, but other than that initial gut reaction the transmissions sounded fairly standard despite some moderate to mildly unfavorable conditions. Larry assumed for an Alaska Bush pilot that was something along the lines of light snow, winds, and possibly some icing of the instrument panels–he overheard the pilot announce that things were going to be VFR until further notice and they had only been in the air for about a half-hour.

“Approximately one hour till touch down–,” Larry heard the pilot buzz in over the radio, but what came next always made his stomach churn, “six souls on board.” 

The weather took a sudden turn for the worse, the pilot signaled he would be making an emergency landing at the short airstrip in the port town of Whittier, in an attempt to wait out the storm. The pilot must have not released the PTT, because Larry could overhear the pilot being verbally accosted by one of his passengers, it sounded something like–are you crazy? I need to be in Juneau now, campaign deals don’t wait for the weather! The pilot didn’t seem to pay much mind to what Larry had dubbed “the angry politician,” or the other passengers who seemed to also be pressuring him to get them back into the air. With, what Larry assumed was, upstanding ethics, the pilot continued to note the change of flight plans over the radio. Larry could feel his brow scrunch together–he felt an almost sympathetic annoyance for the pilot, for his having to deal with such nasty attitudes.

Larry may have been slightly envious about the pilot’s ability to fly–something he had always been oddly fascinated with, despite his proclivity for tracking plane crashes–what it must be like to be in control of a metal bird defying gravity in the most astounding way. Fifteen minutes after landing the plane, the pilot’s voice buzzed back over the air. From what Larry could make out from between the crackling of the white noise and the pilot’s voice, it seemed as if he was modifying their route further inland in hopes of avoiding the storm when they headed back up. I guess that guy won the argument–he sounded like a dick, he thought to himself.

He absentmindedly scanned the other channels, but there was nothing else coming in at all. From his experience in listening in on these fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants pilots, that meant that no one else was crazy enough to fly tonight. That meant conditions in Alaska tonight must have been especially abhorrent, there weren’t many times where the most experienced bush pilots doubted their ability to keep their birds in the air. Regardless of whether or not this particular pilot had the moxie to brave the skies, this plane was going up–and they were about to fly directly into the sea of red pins on Larry’s map.

“Larry!” he heard his mother summon him, “it’s time for dinner!” He hunched a bit deeper over his workbench and pressed his headset harder against his ears, unsure of whether he would be able to eat, knowing exactly where this pilot and his persistent passengers were headed. Through the buzzing white-noise and whirls, he heard his mother’s high pitched call once again–no, I have to know–but when he heard her use his middle name, he knew that she would just get louder and angrier until he appeased her and god-help-him if he were to make her come get him herself. He’d be lucky to be back on his ham radio again for a month. Ok, ok, I’ll just eat fast and get back here to try to get back on track with this Cessna.

Larry plowed through his hungry man TV dinner, a Wednesday night special at the Donahue’s house, with barely a word. His father, pensive and deep in thought, barely noticed. His mother tried to make some small talk asking about school, friends, and of course hinting about girls. Larry placated her with the general, everything is fine, so he could get back to his radio. He dumped the remnants in the trash and tossed his used fork sloppily into the kitchen sink before he took off back to his sanctuary.

Once back in the garage he turned off the fluorescent lights, sat down at the desk with the warm glow of the radio and small table lamp then donned his white pioneer headphones and stretched the spiral cord to connect the ¼ inch jack to the silver radio. He felt like an astronaut ready for takeoff as his chest grew tight with excitement. Is this plane still up? He felt trepidation as he hunched over the radio and began to scan the range he had first found the plane in. Nothing. Just static. He switched over to 1145, a frequency that several other operators in Alaska frequented.

“This is Larryhue–come in–over.” Again, there was nothing but static, “Larryhue–radio check–come in–over.”

The frequency crackled, more white-noise, there was radio silence until, “Affirmative. Read you loud and clear,” A familiar feminine voice buzzed in through the frequency. “Sharon145 here–how are you tonight? Over.” Larry’s heart quickened, there weren’t many female radio operators and in his teenage daydream, he imagined her in that split second to be a young, beautiful redhead who admired intelligence over height. She sounded about his age, or at least she did in his fantasy image of her.

“Did you catch that Cessna out of ANC about an hour ago? Over.”

“Affirmative. I can’t believe they went back up,” the radio crackled with her concerned tone, “I got a ping as they headed west, but they’ve been silent for about fifteen minutes now. I’ve been checking the other frequencies since–there’s not another pilot in those skies, weather is too choppy. Over.”

Larry was torn between continuing the back-and-forth with Sharon145–something he was all too fond of–and trying to chase the signal that he had caught from the Cessna. His curiosity over the mystery Cessna weighed heavily on him and trumped his desire to talk to what-he-imagined-was his dream girl. “Uhh–thanks Sharon, I’m going to change frequencies to see if I can catch the Cessna again. Stand by. Over.”

“Wilco–Over that,” Sharon’s voice disappeared when Larry quickly turned the dial to scan for any signal from the Cessna. White-noise. Static. Silence. Larry huffed and continued to scan.

“MAYDAY! MAYDAY–This is White Cessna NOVEMBER-357-GOLF, VFR no longer viable–I repeat, zero visibility and high winds–RADIO CHECK–DO YOU READ ME? OVER.” This sudden break in the static knocked the wind out of Larry, he could feel his palms break out in a sweat. “MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Left-engine faulty after mid-air collision–”

WHAT WAS THAT?” Larry thought he heard the angry politician scream in the background.

“–IS ANYONE RECEIVING?” The urgency of the pilot’s voice scared him, he was unsure of what to do, he had never been in this situation. “Flying blind–heading South-Southeast approximately fifty miles out of IEM. Requesting heading for emergency landing. Over.”

A deafening silence followed the pilot’s urgent pleas for help and then he heard the pilot repeat his message, the desperation overrode his professionalism. Larry sat there, his thumb hovering over the PTT, unsure if he should respond, get his dad, or wait to hear if there was an official response by flight control. He froze, his jaw slacked, and his vision blurred–he heard the third and fourth round of the message, each time the passengers could be overheard panicking in the background.

“Cessna NOVEMBER-357-GOLF–” Larry heard himself respond before he realized his mouth was even moving, “this is–uh–ham radio operator Larryhue. Go ahead. Over.” Suddenly Larry felt as if he had never used a radio before in his life–what the hell am I doing? What am I supposed to say to this guy? I can’t help him!

“Larryhue, we need to prepare for an emergency landing–need a heading,” the pilot seemed to have relaxed if only slightly, but Larry was in full panic, he couldn’t possibly be the only one listening in–he waited a moment, hoping beyond hope that flight control would take over the transmission. “Radio check! Larryhue–there’s s-s-something outside of our plane, we need help, do you read me? Over.”

“W-what’s your bearing? Over,” he was just a kid, but he remembered hearing that over the radio, or maybe it was in a movie. Either way, it felt like it was the right question to ask.

“No bearing, VFR until we hit a whiteout, I believe we’re headed South-Southeast, but wind is knocking us off course.”

“I think I see–,” Larry heard another passenger’s voice interject over the static of the transmitter, but instead of the sound of utter fear, it was one of awe, “what is that swirling mass of light–is that the aurora? Is the sky clearing up?”

blank

“No, Senator Boggs–that’s impossible,” Larry heard the pilot respond to the interruption, he hadn’t let go of the PTT. A blood-curdling screech echoed over the static into Larry’s ears, and then a sickening crunch of metal, “what the fu–”

Larry stumbled back off of his stool, ripped his headphones off, and in the process pulled them out of the auxiliary jack completely. All he could hear now was a crackle from the radio, then what sounded like a faint plea for help.

“Crap, I am losing the signal,” he said out loud. “Think Larry… Think.” Then he got the idea to modify the radio. He quickly unplugged the radio, unscrewed the casing, and brought the board over to the workbench. He plugged in the soldering iron and began removing the resistor. He figured if he could amplify the power by adjusting resistance maybe he could catch the signal and at least find out where they were going to crash to send help. Larry expertly swapped the resistors, skipped re-attaching the case, and plugged the radio back in. 

The radio lit back up, the light only slightly stronger than before. “Cessna are you there, this is Larryhue, over.” Silence. Then a crackle. Then the ear-piercing shriek again.

“Help, we need help” cried out a terrified voice. The sound of wind rushing into the cabin made it evident that the pressurized cabin had been breached. “The pilot.. The pilot is dead. Something smashed through into the cabin and took off one of the wings! We’re going down, please help!” The passenger sobbed, horrified, and hysterical.

“I’m going to call for help” Larry replied.

Then a calmer voice came over the radio that stopped Larry from getting up “We’ve stopped descending, I can’t explain it, we’re just level–we’re–we’re surrounded by light in what looks like a swirling mass of color.”

“I think we are in the eye of the storm…” Then another loud crash, louder than before… Beeping… Screaming and a tremendous crash as if they hit another plane. Static. 

“Cessna are you there, Cessna say again.” Nothing. Radio silence and white-noise again. Five minutes passed by and there was still nothing, no transmission. There was just, nothing. Larry sat there, unblinking, and finally realized he needed his father, but he couldn’t move. “DAD! HURRY… PLEASE!” He could barely choke out the words to explain what had happened when his father arrived, they sat there in silence and listened. Larry was grateful that his father believed him, he had heard what he had heard–it was real. He knew it was real.

After a short while, Larry’s father told him to stay on the frequency while he called the authorities to report the transmission, but when his father returned the frequency was still eerily quiet aside from the normal ever-present static. After a few more hours, Larry sighed, his hands had finally stopped shaking and he stood from his stool. He picked up a red pin from the small bowl near his map and placed the pin with resignation in the location in which he believed the plane had gone down. When he stepped back and looked at the broader spectrum of his placed pins within the confines of the Alaskan triangle, it looked like it completed a symbol and it was almost familiar.

Over the next week, Larry scanned the papers for any news of a crashed plane–he even went so far as to call the Alaskan Aviation board, multiple times, but they had no new reports of missing planes. Then it hit him–the pilot had mentioned the name of that angry politician, what was his name? Baggs–something like that. Larry was resolved to find out and the next morning he called the operator, who knew his voice by that point. When Larry retold his story to the annoyed operator, he got a verbal lashing. “What do you think this is, kid? Some kind of joke? I’ve got a job to do here!”

“No–please, I know this sounds crazy, but I heard a name–Senator Baggs, or Boggs, or–”

The operator cut him off, laughing almost maniacally. “Ok kid–I’m done with you pulling my leg, so unless you’ve got a time machine, then this has been fun.” CLICK. The line went dead.

Time machine? Larry was thoroughly confused, but he proceeded back to the library to go through the newspaper archives again, but this time he could narrow it down to Senator Boggs. Or was it Baggs? It took a few hours, but he found it. A headline about the mysterious disappearance of Senator Boggs. His airplane, a White Cessna, had gone missing in Alaska en route to Juneau from the port town of Whittier, but it was the date that made his mouth go dry. October 16, 1972. The plane was never found, but the Senator and the other five souls lost that day had long been assumed dead. It was impossible, but maybe it was just because his eyes were tired after three hours of searching–he rubbed his eyes and checked the date again, 1972. Ten years ago to the date, he had been hearing a decade-old signal.

Of course, when he told his father everything he had found, his father just shook his head, “that’s just not possible Larry. You must have misheard him,” and after that Larry gave up hope convincing his father about what he had heard. Maybe Sharon145 would believe him, after all, they had discussed the Alaskan Triangle more than once before and had passed some harmless conspiracy theories back and forth. It could be a vortex to a parallel universe, or an energy field that could displace time. Larry sat down on his stool in the garage and fired up the radio, but since he hadn’t touched it in the last week, it was still tuned in to the channel from the Senator’s plane.

“MAYDAY! MAYDAY–This is White Cessna NOVEMBER-357-GOLF, VFR no longer viable–I repeat, zero visibility and high winds–RADIO CHECK–DO YOU READ ME? OVER.” There was a brief static-riddled pause. “MAYDAY! MAYDAY! Left-engine faulty after mid-air collision–”

WHAT WAS THAT?” Larry heard the words echoing back to him again and his heart sank indeterminably, through his stomach, through his feet, through the floor–he clicked the radio off. He thought of the passengers in that plane, a ghost signal that echoed over and over again throughout time and space. An infinite loop of living in terror and he simply couldn’t bear listening to it again.

Larry unplugged the radio, set it on one of the less cluttered shelves. He walked to the door that led back to the house, turned to look over his shoulder–the once comforting hum of the fluorescent lighting now made him feel as if his stomach was in a vice. Larry flicked the switch off, then closed the door behind him.


This story is based on the The Alaska Triangle and one its most famous unsolved disappearances – Senator Boggs Plane.

Investigating the Origins of the Necronomicon

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

You’ve come across an ancient book, not just some dust-covered antique that you found at your local bookstore; no, this was gifted to you with the confidence that you would heed the warning on the attached note and stash the book in a lock-box far away from prying eyes that may fall upon the archaic and mysterious pages of this increasingly enticing tome. Its pages call out to you, begging you to gaze upon them and to unleash the horrors that reside within. What would you do? Well, if you’ve seen any horror movie ever, you’d know that the ancient and creepy compendium of nightmares you’re holding is, in fact, what you can single-handedly bring about the apocalypse with–however, just like every horror movie you’ve ever seen, you’re probably going to open that damn book.

Stop it, Pandora. Don’t you dare open that goddamn book.

Necronomicon Prop
Photography by Staffan Vilcans

You opened the book, didn’t you? This is why we can’t have nice things.

Don’t worry, you’re not the first one. That’s part of what makes movies like Evil Dead (1981) so much fun, the horny group of teenagers fall victim to curiosity and another one–or three, or four–bite the collective dust. The curiosity may be unbearable but when it comes to the Necronomicon, a mythical book of demonic power, you should probably leave well enough alone.

What exactly is the Necronomicon?

Depending on where you know the Necronomicon from there may be different lore attached, but legend tells us that the original Necronomicon was written by the mad Arabian poet Abdul Alhazred. After spending a decade roaming the ruined cities of Babylon and Memphis he completed his tome before he descended further into madness and by A.D. 738 was devoured by an invisible monster according to Lovecraft. The actual name Necronomicon is, according to Lovecraft translated to, “the book of the customs (or laws) of the dead,” but other translations include, “the book of dead names.”

It is said that his manuscript was translated into Greek by scholars in the 10th century then burned in the middle ages, which only a few copies were said to survive; which of course allows us all to enjoy the delightfully awful antics that follow the contents being read aloud. Despite being a product of H.P. Lovecraft’s strange and mystifying imagination, it was inspired by real historic texts such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It has been said in certain sources that Lovecraft confessed the original idea for the Necronomicon came to him in a dream and he first showcased his idea in the short story The Hound (1924).

What’s Actually in the Book?

In the first appearance of the Necronomicon, it is referred to in passing as two grave robbers steal a jade amulet, which was, “the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” While Lovecraft may not have been happy with The Hound, it along with The Nameless City (1921) began the universe that would become the center of the Cthulhu mythos.

What else is really in the book though? From what Lovecraft divulges within his stories, Alhazred spoke mostly of the Old Ones and it makes sense that a book like the Necronomicon could only exist in a universe where ancient, god-like beings would bring their wrath by those who sought to wake them. In fact, the book was even said to contain the very passages that would wake the Old Ones and inspire madness just from viewing its pages. In Dunwich Horror, Lovecraft gives us a quite lengthy excerpt from the Necronomicon, speaking specifically about Yog-Sothoth. A much more popular creature, Cthulhu, is also mentioned as a monster who lies at the bottom of the ocean.

In fact, many fans tend to think about the Necronomicon as a sort of bible for Lovecraft’s pantheon of the immensely powerful extraterrestrial beings. The book appears within eighteen of his own stories, more often than any other real or fictional ancient tome that he was known to reference. Later on, with the adaptations of other authors, the book gained more of a reputation as a book of spells and rituals, but Lovecraft’s original intention for the book lay mostly in mythology and origin stories for the creatures that were the foundation of his universe.

Within the context of horror Lovecraft’s portrayal of the history of our world, in the times before man, as a universe controlled by beings so terrifying that just reading about them had to potential to drive a person completely insane. This was the birth of cosmic horror, as many of the stories Lovecraft developed ended with at least one of the characters descending into the depths of madness after flipping through the Necronomicon because these creatures were so beyond human comprehension that even thinking about them could be mentally devastating. It would be interesting to see how Lovecraft might feel to know that eighty-two years later there would actually be people convinced that his Necronomicon was an authentic and evil book of spells.

Is the Necronomicon Real?

The short answer is no, the Necronomicon is a purely fictional book that was brought to life through the creative genius of H.P. Lovecraft. To be fair though, Lovecraft did a pretty great job creating a comprehensive universe with its own history, deities, and forbidden lore, which added the element of cosmic horror to his tales. While in reality, the Necronomicon doesn’t exist, there are more than half a dozen books with the same title that you can find at bookstores–these books are all works inspired by, or containing Lovecraft’s book.

The practice of developing such a rich background in fictional literature would inspire other writers to do the same; renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien would follow suit when he brought Middle Earth to life. Lovecraft’s immersive method caught fire with other writers, such as August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith, who regularly had exchanges with him and even expanded upon the universe by using the Necronomicon and all of the related Chtulhu mythos in their own work. Lovecraft also included his peer’s creations in his own tales as well, as an example, Smith came up with the idea of The Book of Eibon, which was mentioned within his own body of work. Lovecraft even included Robert Bloch’s De Vermis Mysteriis, a book which was said to have the power to summon demons from alternate dimensions, in his stories The Haunter of the Dark and The Shadow Out of Time.

As an avid letter-writer, Lovecraft quite frequently mentioned the Necronomicon in his correspondences to his colleagues where he suggested that his inspiration was also derived from Gothic writing; Gothic writing often made use of the idea of ancient texts and forbidden literature. There was a tendency among authors of the time to do their best to blur the lines between fiction and reality. An author that Lovecraft quite openly admired, Edgard Allan Poe, would go to extremes in an attempt to convince his audience that his stories were true–he even published his 1844 story The Balloon-Hoax as a legitimate article in the New York’s The Sun. As can be seen, by radio performances likeWar of the Worlds by H.G. Wells in 1938, as well as found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project (1999), the V/H/S series, and the [REC], it is something that modern horror culture still strives to do.

Puzzle Box’s Best of Cosmic Horror Comics

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Best Of Featured Horror Books

The Cosmic horror genre is dark and expansive, incorporating many genres and shading their darkest parts in a way that completely transforms the story. That transformation is typically as electrifying as it is effective. Do you enjoy existential dread, space and time being twisted, and exploring the darkest potential the universe has to offer? What started as classic Lovecraftian imagination has become a thriving genre across multiple formats. Here at Puzzle Box, we love all things horror, and as fall turns to winter, we’re looking to take a deep dive into all supernatural horror and it’s subgenres.

Today’s list is a Best of Cosmic Horror comics and graphic novels. We’re looking at stories that exist between the extraterrestrial and the horrors of a silent void. Cosmic horror has worked in a lot of media, to the Dead Space games, the Alien movie franchise, and one incredibly twisted episode of Black Mirror. The comics below make interstellar travel sound like asking for trouble, and for good reason. 

Nameless by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham

Nameless horror comic cover

Nameless, an occult hustler, is hired by billionaire “futurists” to stop the end of the world. Nameless and his crew are sent to an asteroid hurtling towards Earth. What they find on the asteroid, Xibalba, is much more threatening to human life and is all that remains from a cosmic war involving a lost planet and interdimensional gods. It suffices to say, Nameless and his squad are out of their league. Available on Horror Hub here.

Southern Cross by Becky Cloonan and Andy Belager

Souther cross horror comic cover

Alex Braith, a petty thief, is tracing the steps of her sister who has gone missing on Jupiter’s moon, Titan. Her search takes her aboard the Southern Cross, where she finds more questions than answers. Mysterious things start to happen onboard, and Alex uncovers a link to the ship’s Gravity Drive. Unfortunately for her, that link isn’t very friendy. Available on Horror Hub here.

Sentient by Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta

Sentient horror comic cover

From the author of Gideon Falls comes a cosmic horror with a familiar but entrancing premise: all the adults are dead. After the U.S.S. Montgomery is attacked, all the adults onboard are killed. Only their children are alive after the attack, but they aren’t alone. The ship’s A.I., Valerie, is intact and she takes the children’s safety in her… “hands?” But as the ship enters the Black Zone, a space where Valerie  is unable to radio their old home or their new one, keeping this improvised family together proves to be a tall task. Available on Horror Hub here.

Void by Herik Hanna and Sean Phillips

Void horror comic cover

Sci-Fi can be used to highlight societal issues and injustices, and Void’s issue of choice is a parable for mass incarceration. Goliath 01, a prison ship stewarded by a mad warden, floats through space full of dead inmates and one solitary survivor. John, our lone protagonist, struggles to stay alive long enough to find an escape from this drifting death trap, but the shadow of warden Colonel Mercer threatens to send another inmate to their grave. Available on Horror Hub here.

Caliban by Garth Ennis and Facundo Percio

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Paranoia and claustrophobia combine in an unending feedback cycle on board the mining ship, Caliban. A crew expecting a run-of-the-mill mining mission is in for a rude awakening from the beings lurking in deep space. The crew is picked off slowly and suddenly, as the crew of the Caliban confronts an enemy they can hardly understand. Available on Horror Hub here.

Aliens by Dark Horse Comics

Aliens horror comic cover

The Aliens franchise isn’t limited to just movies. The comics have been published since 1988, and what began as stories that continued from the first two Aliens movies, has become a fully-fledged anthology of the Aliens universe, full of the dreaded Xenomorphs, with prequels and side stories as well. With several omnibuses full of work from a variety of authors and artists, the Aliens franchise has plenty of moods for all horror fans.

That’s a wrap on our Best of Cosmic Horror list. Isolation and dread are pretty common threads throughout these series, but interdimensional and extraterrestrial beings still represent. Did we miss any space monsters? Any wormholes or black holes to oblivion that need mentioning? Let us know in the comments below and stay tuned for more Best Of’s from Puzzle Box!

What more cosmic horror? The best cosmic horror movies are here and we have also explored the best cosmic horror books as well. Want to dig in deeper well we have the history and original stories below.

The Best Cosmic Horror Books

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

One thing that is evident when you look for and inevitably read books, is that are a lot of authors that have been influenced by H.P. Lovecraft. Some take influence by crediting his creations, some crediting his name–others his style, short story form that truly resonate within the genre. Others still have found their own path within the genre, by taking the essence of cosmic horror and making it their own. Finding something genuinely original can oft be an exercise in futility, due to the very nature of this sort of horror, but when that originality is found it is truly like discovering gold. Here are Puzzle Box Horror’s best of cosmic horror book recommendations.

The best of Old-school Cosmic Horror books

What sets old-school cosmic horror apart from the newer literature within the genre, is pretty much what sets old classic literature apart from newer literature in any genre–language, surrounding culture, and societal advantage. It goes deeper than that of course, but what is important when getting acquainted with any form of literature is understanding the time within which it was created.

The Willows (1907)

The Willows book cover (1907) by Algernon Blackwood

While not exactly a book, The Willows by Algernon Blackwood, is technically the first cosmic horror novella that began to establish the cosmic horror genre. It was originally published among a series of other stories in 1907, as a part of his collection The Listener and Other Stories. It’s a great example of early modern horror and despite not receiving the credit it was due, was very much connected within the literary tradition of “weird fiction,” a genre later realized as cosmic horror.

The Willows is a story that invites fear of the unknown, there is a sense of agitation, fear, exhaustion, and eternal trepidation that does not leave the characters or the readers, because there is never a relief from the situation at hand. Available on Amazon here.

And, apart quite from the elements, the willows connected themselves subtly with my malaise, attacking the mind insidiously somehow by reason of their vast numbers, and contriving in some way or other to represent to the imagination a new and mighty power, a power, moreover, not altogether friendly to us.

Excerpt from The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

Listen to Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows below through HorrorBabble.

The Man Who Found Out (1912)

Another shorter existential horror story, Algernon Blackwood’s The Man Who Found Out really just begs the question about personal religious beliefs–what is the ultimate question and answer when it comes to a higher power, particularly that of “God?” Do we really know anything with any certainty? Or is belief and faith what matters most when seeking a higher truth? These unanswered questions are what make this one of the best cosmic horror books out there. Available on Amazon here.

LibriVox has given us Blackwood’s The Man Who Found Out through audiobook and it’s worth checking out.

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (1927)

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories book cover (1927)

It seems that the most successful additions to the cosmic horror genre are generally shorter stories; short stories are benefitted in this particular genre due to the fact that they limit the amount of information that can be conveyed within the confines of the short story’s maximum of ten thousand words.

All of the stories that appear within this particular anthology are by H.P. Lovecraft and are, of course, part of the public domain, so we have included a list of the stories with external links to the stories themselves. Those interested in reading some of the most well-known cosmic horror pieces can find them below. The entire anthology is available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

Shadows of Carcosa (2014)

Shadows of Carcosa book cover (2014)

Yeah, we know that this book came out in 2014–but that doesn’t discount the fact that it is actually full of old-school cosmic horror, because it’s actually an anthology from some of the best horror writers that literary culture has ever had to offer. These stories span almost an entire century, which illustrates how many authors can be credited for their contributions to cosmic or existential horror.

Luckily for readers who haven’t been well-enough introduced to cosmic horror by now, all of these stories are also within the public domain; we hope that these stories from Shadows of Carcosa (2014) give readers a full picture of what cosmic horror is truly about. The collection is available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

The best of Modern Cosmic Horror Books

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe (1985)

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe book cover (1985)

Thomas Ligotti’s debut short horror story collection Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe possibly made his career–he’s often spoken of in the same manner as authors such as Poe and Lovecraft, and has been referred to as “horror incarnate.” Ligotti never seems to have to try to make his stories work, they take on settings that immediately put the reader into a mood where horror is inescapable without being presumptuous or predictable.

Ligotti’s style is singular and everything he has put into this particular anthology is wholly worth the time to read. Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

Songs of a Dead Dreamer
  • Dreams for Sleepwalkers
    • The Frolic
    • Les Fleurs
    • Alice’s Last Adventure
    • Dream of a Manikin
    • The Nyctalops Trilogy:
      • The Chymist
      • Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes
      • Eye of the Lynx
    • Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story
  • Dreams for Insomniacs
    • The Christmas Eves for Aunt Elise
    • The Lost Art of Twilight
    • The Troubles of Dr. Thoss
    • Masquerade of a Dead Sword: A Tragedie
    • Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech
    • Professor Nobody’s Little Lectures on Supernatural Horror
  • Dreams for the Dead
    • Dr. Locrian’s Asylum
    • The Sect of the Idiot
    • The Greater Festival of Masks
    • The Music of the Moon
    • The Journal of J.P. Drapeau
    • Vastarien
Grimscribe
  • The Voice of the Damned
    • The Last Feast of Harlequin
    • The Spectacles in the Drawer
    • Flowers of the Abyss
    • Nethescurial
  • The Voice of the Demon
    • The Night School
    • The Glamour
  • The Voice of the Child
    • The Library of Byzantium
    • Miss Plarr
  • The Voice of Our Name
    • The Shadow at the Bottom of the World
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories book cover(2007)

Laird Barron’s first short story collection The Imago Sequence and Other Stories set a precedent for the rest of his career; what could be expected from him in his other works really was set up with this collection. The fact that it received the Shirley Jackson Award for best collection was not even the most wondrous part of this particular body of work–Barron has an ability to create an image within the reader’s mind that is unlike any other author. He has been compared to the likes of Stephen King, but with the advantage of making his details count for more than just words towards an ultimate goal. Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

  • Old Virginia (2003)
  • Shiva, Open Your Eye (2001)
  • Procession of the Black Sloth (2007)
  • Bulldozer (2004)
  • Proboscis (2005)
  • Hallucigenia (2006)
  • Parallax (2005)
  • The Royal Zoo Is Closed (2006)
  • The Imago Sequence (2005)

White is For Witching (2009)

White is For Witching book cover (2005)

Helen Oyeyemi’s White is For Witching reads almost like a journal, which has always given the reader less of a feeling that they’re getting the full picture. Why look at the forest when you can see the trees more clearly? In truth, focusing on the details from a personal perspective often leaves much more to the imagination and that is a huge part of weird fiction and cosmic horror.

When you don’t know what is going on outside of the perspective of the narrator, it leaves you with a sense of emptiness–what is happening beyond their ideal truth? Available on Amazon here.

Cthulhu’s Reign (2010)

Cthulhu's Reign book cover(2010)

Another anthology designed to pay tribute to the father of cosmic horror, this collection of short stories gives a more complete image of what would happen once the old ones have taken over the world as we know it–when humans are no longer the dominant force on the Earth and when we can no longer rely on what we have become accustomed to.

What kind of horror would we endure when the old ones take over the world? What would we be able to expect from an uncaring force of nature and could we really hate the force that overwhelms society as we know it when it is not maliciously ending our world, or would it simply be something that we fear beyond anything else? Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

  • The Walker in the Cemetery (2010) by Ian Watson
  • Sanctuary (2010) by Don Webb
  • Her Acres of Pastoral Playground (2010) by Mike Allen
  • Spherical Trigonometry (2010) by Ken Asamatsu
  • What Brings the Void (2010) by Will Murray
  • The New Pauline Corpus (2010) by Matt Cardin
  • Ghost Dancing (2010) by Darrell Schweitzer
  • This is How the World Ends (2010) by John R. Fultz
  • The Shallows (2010) by John Langan
  • Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names (2010) by Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
  • The Seals of New R’lyeh (2010) by Gregory Frost
  • The Holocaust of Ecstasy (2010) by Brian Stableford
  • Vastation (2010) by Laird Barron
  • Nothing Personal (2010) by Richard A. Lupoff
  • Remnants (2010) by Fred Chappell

The Croning (2012)

The Croning book cover(2012)

The Croning can be considered, without a doubt, the debut cosmic horror novel by Laird Barron–unlike his collection of short stories, The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, this is a full-length novel within the genre of cosmic horror.

We see cults, dark magic, and a plethora of other themes that are common fixtures of the genre and we can’t look away–we highly recommend this particular literary spectacle, it’s a novel that without which, this list would be incomplete. Available on Amazon here.

Dreams From the Witch House book cover(2016)

Dreams From the Witch House (2016)

This particular anthology, Dreams From the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, while honoring the origins of the genre is something different and singular. This anthology of short stories contains, as can be derived from the title, stories of cosmic horror that were written by female authors in the genre. Available on Amazon here.

What Stories Appear Within This Anthology?

  • Shadows of the Evening (1998) by Joyce Carol Oates
  • The Genesis Mausoleum (2015) by Colleen Douglas
  • The Woman in the Hill (2015) by Tamsyn Muir
  • The Face of Jarry (2015) by Cat Hellisen
  • Our Lady of Arsia Mons (2012) by Caitlín R. Kiernan
  • The Body Electric (2015) by Lucy Brady
  • The Child and the Night Gaunts (2015) by Marly Youmans
  • All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts (2015) by Sonya Taaffe
  • Every Hole in the Earth We Will Claim As Our Own (2015) by Gemma Files
  • But Only Because I Love You (2015) by Molly Tanzer
  • Cthulhu’s Mother (2015) by Kelda Crich
  • All Gods Great and Small (2015) by Karen Heuler
  • Dearest Daddy (2015) by Lois H. Gresh
  • Eye of the Beholder (2015) by Nancy Kilpatrick
  • Down at the Bottom of Everything (2015) by E.R. Knightsbridge
  • Spore (2015) by Amanda Downum
  • Pippa’s Crayons (2015) by Christine Morgan
  • The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward (2012) by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette
  • From the Cold Dark Sea (2015) by Storm Constantine
  • Mnemeros (2015) by R.A. Kaelin

The Ballad of Black Tom (2016)

The Ballad of Black Tom Book cover (2016)

Victor LaValle grew up reading the horror stories that came from the life of H.P. Lovecraft, but it wasn’t until much later in his life that LaValle realized the excessive amounts of racism and agoraphobia that was present in Lovecraft’s body of work. As an African-American man, he used this eye-opening moment in his life to respond in kind, from one writer to another, by reinventing Lovecraft’s short story The Horror at Red Hook from the perspective of a black man.

LaValle’s re-imagining of this story was invigorating, riveting, and a triumph of creative responses to unacceptable biases–he succeeded in showing that Lovecraft’s work would have been even better had it not been rife with bigotry and bias for those who were not like Lovecraft. Available on Amazon here.

It’s important to understand that while we here at Puzzle Box Horror greatly appreciate the body of work that Lovecraft added to the horror genre, we recognize his biases and do not endorse them or agree with them. We were more than ecstatic when we found that there were actually literary responses to these particular issues and hope that such responses continue to appear within the literary community. Read the original story, by Lovecraft, that this novella was based off of, The Horror of Red Hook, then read Victor LaValle’s The Ballad of Black Tom.

Lovecraft Country book cover(2016)

Lovecraft Country (2016)

Following The Ballad of Black Tom, the novel Lovecraft Country also addresses the topic of racism within the context of Lovecraftian horror–this particular book has been adapted to screen recently and will soon be seen on HBO as a series–we certainly hope it will be as good as it looks, because the prospect of this one making it to infamy on screen makes us incredibly excited. The novel is available on Amazon here.

From executive producer Jordan Peele, we believe that this production will be worth every minute of time it takes to watch!

The Fisherman (2016)

The Fisherman book cover (2016)

Another from our list of best cosmic horror boos is The Fisherman. Described as a captivating read from beginning to end, John Langan’s The Fisherman gives us a dark, mysterious, fictional assertion of horror and cosmic fantasy. It follows the story of two widowers through their quiet and powerful story of loss and grief, by acknowledging the melancholy situation and the fact that things are never the same after the loss of a loved one. A definite addition to any cosmic horror novel list and one of the best out there. Available on Amazon here.

It would be a lie to say the time passes quickly. It never does, when you want it to.

What the Hell Did I Just Read (2017)

What the Hell Did I Just Read? book cover (2017)

The third installment in the trilogy that started with John Dies at the End (2007), was followed with This Book is Full of Spiders (2012) and finally What the Hell Did I Just Read (2017). This book is largely hinged upon the narrative–we live in a world where we largely base our opinions on the story that the narrator presents, but what happens when the narrator isn’t exactly the most trustworthy of sources? Does it change how we view the story? Do we realize before it’s too late that our entire perception has been incorrect? Available on Amazon here.

The true weird tale has something more than a secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains. An atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; a hint of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space.

H. P. Lovecraft

We’re curious to know what you thought about these best of cosmic horror books, novellas, and anthologies. Have you read anything that’s not listed here that fits the cosmic horror genre? We’re interested in reading it too, so leave us a comment and let us know!

Don’t feel like reading about cosmic horror? No problem, check out our list of recommended cosmic horror movies too.

The History of Cosmic Horror

Categories
Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

Don’t explain, because the unexplainable is the most frightening thing there is.

H.P. Lovecraft

What Exactly is Cosmic Horror?

Cosmic Horror movies and books are on the rise in the horror community lately—a refreshing turn away from the slashers and gore of the late seventies, early eighties, most of the nineties, and the last two decades. The Cosmic Horror genre is about more than just the copious amounts of senseless violence—it’s beyond its own monsters and dangers—it’s about testing the limits of your own humanity. How connected are you to the world around you? How frightened are you about the dangers of the unknown? When your perception of reality is suddenly pulled out from under you, you begin to experience overwhelming trepidation, anxiety, and an unanticipated creeping loss of sanity.

In stories with a central theme of Cosmic Horror, more often than not, have protagonists that are forced to face things that go well beyond the normal realm of comprehension, which leads to the idea that authors of the genre try to stand behind, “don’t try and over-explain what’s happening, rather let them stew in existential dread.” While this genre of horror contains plenty of gore and violence, it angles more on the supernatural, paranormal, and psychological sides of fear—so there is no reaction of disgust, but rather pure, unadulterated terror.

So, in the simplest terms possible, cosmic horror is a sub-genre of science fiction where horror is derived from the insignificance of our own existence within an often dispassionate universe … easy peasy, right? While Lovecraft is credited as the creator of cosmic (or Lovecraftian) horror, that doesn’t mean that he was necessarily the first person to write within this genre—he was simply the first person to dedicate his fictional writing solely to the genre which now bears his name. To this day Lovecraft remains the most famous writer of the cosmic horror genre, although the genre continues to expand with the works of writers around the world.

Where Did Cosmic Horror Come From Anyway?

A View Of the Cosmos
A View of the Cosmos
Photography by NASA

Now that we know what the genre of cosmic horror is all about, where exactly did this genre come from? As far as literary history has shown, cosmic horror began with one man—Howard Phillips Lovecraft. He is officially credited with being the father of the cosmic horror genre—but was he the first author to write in the genre, or was he simply the first author to be credited for it? Truth be told, Algernon Blackwood, an author out of England was officially the first one to write within the cosmic horror genre, but this subgenre of horror had not technically been established yet. His stories The Willows and The Man Who Found Out have historically been classified as general horror, gothic fiction, and fantasy fiction.

To understand certain types of horror, one must first understand where horror and the subsequent emotion of fear comes from. As has been mentioned many-a-times before, as said by Lovecraft himself, “the oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” This means that this particular subgenre capitalizes on this reaction to uncertainty (in its simplest form), the bread and butter of cosmic horror, and the inability to tell what is coming and when. This quote represents the spectrum of Lovecraft’s range of fiction—it’s elegant, yet somehow a pathetic representation of what can truly represent the genre as a whole. In no uncertain terms, Lovecraft and other authors of the genre make it increasingly clear that there are multiple ways in which the futility and insignificance of human beings can be frightening. If there is nothing meaningful connection to the purpose of human beings, then are we truly anything more than a plaything for celestial beings?

It’s truly an unsettling thought to acknowledge this nihilistic idea of the modern age—that we base our relevance on the time in which we live, but discount the ancient wisdom and forces that came before us. During the earliest days of cosmic horror, Lovecraft took exceptional influences from the plethora of pagan religions all throughout the world. He took particular influence from the most ancient of these pagan religions and cultures—this is in no small part, due to the fact that Lovecraft was quite reverent to paganism and quite openly rejected mainstream Christianity. Keep in mind, Lovecraft lived in a time and place where having beliefs, or favorable leanings towards paganism was highly taboo—where today it is quite a bit more commonplace. Cosmic horror, however, despite being more widespread isn’t an easy genre to write—not to mention capture on film—well at all.

When Lovecraft first began to write stories that exhibited his creations, he displayed a truth that is often disregarded in the course of our daily lives—that we don’t consider the idea that there is something unknown and completely unrelatable to anything we have ever experienced before in our years of life on this earth. We don’t consider that we might be in a world where we don’t recognize the god(s) that deserve idolization, that there may be a natural way of being that we are unaware of, that there may be some type of fate of the world that we haven’t considered as a possibility. This was something that Lovecraft and his predecessors might not have considered, but it is definitely a possibility that should be considered, even if it is completely alien to what we’re used to.

Dig into more cosmic horror by reading and watching our best of cosmic horror books, comics, and movies lists.