We’ve all experienced it. A sudden tingly feeling on the back of your neck. A persistent itch you can’t scratch away. Tiny red spots like pinpricks that appear on your skin overnight. You get a surge of adrenaline that makes you want to rip your clothes off. You frantically shake out your hair and brush your hands down your arms and legs. You find nothing—not a bug, not an errant clothing tag, not a stray hair. No foreign body has attached itself to yours. This time. But you can’t shake the feeling that whatever caused this disturbance is still there, lurking just beneath the surface of your skin.
From indie horror publisher Hear Us Scream Press comes a new anthology that will make you profoundly uncomfortable in the best way. CRAWLING, edited by Hear Us Scream’s founder and co-editor-in-chief Cat Benstead, is a collection of thirteen short stories about parasitic invasion, infestation, and mutation. Each entry varies greatly in terms of subject, tone, style, and interpretation of the theme, but they all have one thing in common: they are all incredibly written. The authors featured in CRAWLING took the submission call’s prompt and sprinted with it, giving us the gift of horrifyingly visceral tales in which they hold nothing back.
CRAWLING starts off strong with “The Alligator Handbag” by A.R.C Mitra. From there, the stories remain consistently bizarre, unsettling, thought-provoking, and straight-up terrifying. After “The Alligator Handbag,” we get the sick pleasure of reading “Pool Party Baby Scorpion” by Kourtnea Hogan; “Antisymbiosis” by Danny Shaw; “Peeling Back, Right Down to the Bone” by Elou Carrol; “Shapeshifter” by A.E. Santana; “Ring a Ding Ding” by Katharine Pollock; “Hard Plastic, Soft Flesh” by Elecia Page; “Familiar Faces” by Tinamarie Cox; “Cherry on Top” by Samantha Arthurs; “Treacle, Fish, Earth” by E.J. Bramble; “Wormbound” by Caroline Barnard-Smith; “Belly Up” by Chloe Spencer; and, closing on a particularly shriek-worthy note, “Always Check Where You’re About to Piss” by August Blaine Centauri.
The synopsis is as follows:
“Burrow deep within the pages as parasites creep under the skin, their grotesque presence haunting your every thought. Prepare to witness grotesque metamorphoses that distort the human form, blurring the lines between flesh and monstrosity. This anthology dares to push the boundaries of the body horror genre, immersing you in a world of dread and dreadfulness, delivering an unparalleled reading experience that will linger in your nightmares.”
They promised a book that will linger in your nightmares, and damn, did they deliver. I thought I was prepared. I thought I would be getting some fun stories to read before bed. I was not prepared for the way CRAWLING would actually make my skin crawl. I wasn’t ready for the way that some of these stories made me—literally— physically recoil on the couch, muttering a litany of “No, no, oh god, please no.”
I should note here that the publisher and authors were kind enough to include content warnings before each entry. Pay attention to them; they are there for a reason.
This anthology made me squirm, cringe, and dig my nails into my skin, and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. If you’re a fan of body horror, meticulously crafted prose, and solid queer and trans representation, I highly and enthusiastically recommend picking up a copy of CRAWLING.
I can’t wait to reread it. For now, though, I need to take another shower…I’m feeling rather itchy…