‘Night They Missed the Horror Show’ by Joe R Lansdale

I’ve saved the best for last.

But, but…

‘Raymond Carver,’ you whimper. 

‘Flannery O’Connor,’ you protest. 

‘Hemingway!’ You shoot yourself in the fucking head, you bloody idiot.

Screw them. This is the real deal. Lansdale – whose name has become more familiar recently thanks to some film and TV adaptations of his work – was criminally ignored for a long time. He has written a series of scathingly funny crime novels – The ‘Hap and Leonard’ books – and is a fierce writer of short stories in several genres. None fiercer than ‘Night They Missed the Horror Show’, which Lansdale his own self subtitled ‘a story that doesn’t flinch’. 

‘Night’ epitomises what horror fiction can do. It is bleak, savage and slices your eye like Bunuel’s razor. It grabs you like Isadora Duncan’s scarf and doesn’t let go through the bleakest of endings. None of the characters are likeable. Everything in it is awful. It liberally employs the n-word (in an entirely necessary way). And you won’t be able to lift your gaze from the page until it’s done. 

This is horror without the supernatural. The monsters here are of this world, and they are more dangerous now than the period in which the story is set or when Lansdale wrote it. 

It is unforgettable. It shows what short stories can do.

I wish I had written anything half as powerful.

First published in Silver Scream, edited by David J Schow, Dark Harvest, 1988, and collected in Lansdale’s By Bizarre Hands, Mark V Ziesing, 1989