The best thing to pair with spring—when the sun actually swings up into the sky and bakes the dirt and scorches the asphalt, and sundresses are pulled out of the back of closets and dusted off—is horror stories.
The best kind of horror stories make you suspicious of your neighbor, of your sister and strangers.
The best kind of horror stories assure you with quiet confidence that there is a monster in the woods, and it will find you, and it will hollow you out from the inside to make space for its young while it whispers promises of strength and healing if you submit.
The best kind of horror stories make you wonder if perhaps the monster doesn’t live in the woods, but if it’s moved into the house beside the woods.
The best kind of horror stories make you wonder how many times you can be lucky before your luck runs out and the wolf catches you.
Emily Carroll, who has been published in numerous anthologies including Dark Horse’s Creepy #9, has come out with her own anthology, Through the Woods.
In Through the Woods are five of her beautifully crafted stories sandwiched between “An Introduction” and an “In Conclusion,” which are short stories in their own right and a comment on the five stories between them, one of which is the infamous “His Face All Red.”
“His Face All Red” is something I could read a hundred times—I’m sure I have by now—and still not be able to confidently declare the true events of the story.
Through the Woods is very congruous with Carroll’s other work in writing and art. These stories will leave you unsure of yourself. And trees. And your surroundings. And of all the silly and paranoid feelings that something is watching you. Especially if you’re near the woods.
“His Face All Red” is also on her website, Emily Carroll Art & Comics, but the other four stories are not.
Some of my favorite stories of hers are only online, like “Out of Skin,” while others are only in Through the Woods, like “The Nesting Place.”
One of the truly brilliant things about Emily Carroll is that many of the stories on her website can only be online, and if they were put to print they’d really lose something.
Her stories “Margot’s Room” and “The Three Snake Leaves,” even “Graveyard of the Lizard Queen,” have got to be on a screen or else they would turn into different stories, which shows just how well she understands how the medium affects storytelling.
Through the Woods is a beautiful book to have, with so much art on every single page that depicts trees with leaves that look like a lady’s hands; bright colors; dark woods; loose teeth; and dark, straining eyes.
There’s definitely a blanket trigger warning for body horror for all of her work, though, personally, that is something that makes her work so dangerously intriguing and nightmarish.
Her artistic style is so distinct that I hardly need to know her name to identify her work.
When I saw Through the Woods on the shelf, I immediately knew it was her.
The cover is a tiny blue figure fleeing in the snow from a cottage whose chimney smoke forms a wolf’s head in the sky, and trees frame the entire thing with hand-like branches reaching threateningly for her name.
And in Through the Woods I found fuel for nightmares, an old favorite and new ones, like “The Nesting Place” and “My Friend Janna.”
It’s an anthology of murder, horror and magic, of stealing bodies and finding bodies. Perhaps most spectacularly, Carroll dedicated such a book to her parents.