To celebrate the release of her debut novel ‘The Rust Maidens’, Gwendolyn Kiste shares her body horror inspirations.

Having previously featured back in May 2018 in an insightful interview, I’m thrilled to welcome Gwendolyn Kiste back to Kendall Reviews. To celebrate the release of her brilliant debut novel The Rust Maidens, Gwendolyn shares her inspirational body horror shorts.

Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

Top Ten Body Horror Stories

by Gwendolyn Kiste

As writers, we all have themes we keep turning over in our minds, exploring again and again from different angles. Metamorphosis is one of mine. I love to examine how each of us changes, and also how we stay the same but perhaps no longer feel the same. That might be part of the reason that I love body horror so much. It taps into something very primal within us—our own constantly changing nature—and explores the horrors therein.

So in that vein, here’s a roundup of the body horror short stories that inspired me growing up as well as the ones that are inspiring me now. Each and every one of these tales have left their horrifying mark on me in one way or the other. I’m betting they might just do the same for you.

The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka

Among the humdingers of all body horror stories, “The Metamorphosis” is a tale so open to interpretation from readers that even the specifics of the transformation have been debated. Gregor might be a cockroach, but according to others, he’s probably more like a beetle. Whatever critter he’s become, his body is not his own, and his family isn’t very supportive of what’s happened to him as they never try to get him help or do anything on his behalf other than hide him away in shame. For me, “The Metamorphosis” is about how all of us can become lost in the rigmarole of our lives, transforming into someone we no longer recognize. Or heck, maybe it’s just a simple story about a guy who becomes a cockroach. Or a beetle. Whichever you prefer.

Like Feather, Like Bone” by Kristi DeMeester

Birds, body horror, and psychological devastation: honestly, what more can someone want in a horror story? “Like Feather, Like Bone” is the first of two flash pieces on this list, proving that a lengthy word count isn’t what makes a good body horror story. In just a few pages, readers meet a mourning mother who learns how to deal with loss in a most horrifying avian way. It’s a disturbing and beautiful piece but one that’s also filled with hope. This story was first published several years back in the soon-to-be-shuttered Shimmer (RIP, shimmery badgers), but “Like Feather, Like Bone” can also be found in DeMeester’s debut collection, Everything that’s Underneath. Wherever you manage to find it, just be sure to read it. It’s well worth your time.

The Un-Bride, or No Gods and Marxists” by Anya Martin

The ultimate weird fiction love letter to classic horror cinema, this breathtaking novelette follows a fictionalized account of the life of Elsa Lanchester, the actress who famously played the Bride of Frankenstein in James Whale’s 1935 classic film. But if the Frankenstein theme isn’t enough body horror for you, there’s also an experiment using the brain of Karl Marx’s daughter, during which things, of course, go awry (how could they not?). A highly original tale, it’s not the usual approach to body horror, and that only makes me love it so much more.

The Company of Wolves” by Angela Carter

I discovered this story in college, and reading it for the first time felt like a revelation. As an author, if I can trace my own love for reimagined fairy tales to somewhere, it would be this story. But while it’s certainly a fairy tale, it’s also undeniably a work of body horror. The ingenious way that Carter combines the werewolf transformation with a theme of coming of age still astounds me every time I read it. Plus, with bones rattling under the bed and wolves howling into the night, the horror elements are there at every turn. A perfect tale for a cold lonesome evening.

Heirloom” by Brooke Warra

This story already got love on this site earlier this year on Christa Carmen’s list, and I’ve sung the praises of this one many times before (probably to the point that the author is tired of hearing me talk about it), but it still bears repeating: “Heirloom” is a brutally beautiful work of horror. This is a tale of conjoined twins who can never get away from each other, even after they’ve been physically separated. Add a recurring and deeply unsettling floral motif throughout, and you’ve got one weird and powerful body horror tale. Especially if you have a sibling—but even if you don’t—this story will stick with you long after the gorgeous and terrifying finale.

Live Through This” by Nadia Bulkin

This is a bit of a twist on the usual body horror story in that it’s a literal body that’s causing the horror. More specifically, the corpse of a teenage girl won’t stop reappearing around town. What follows is a devastating examination of small-town secrets, the lies society tells itself, and how girls are so often left to bear the steepest costs. Truth be told, I admired this story so much that I was really hoping to see “Live Through This” win the Shirley Jackson Award in the short fiction category this year. At any rate, it’s an irrefutable winner in my opinion, and a story that’s an absolute must-read for body horror fans.

A Case of the Stubborns” by Robert Bloch

There are certain stories that I just can’t resist revisiting every few years. Robert Bloch’s hilariously creepy “A Case of the Stubborns” is one of those tales. Grandpa is so tenacious that even death can’t keep him from coming down to the breakfast table in the morning. As he continues to rot, his family does their best to convince him he’s dead, to no avail. “A Case of the Stubborns” is funny, it’s eerie, and it’s a perfect example of a horror short story done right. For extra bonus fun, check out the Tales from the Darkside episode, which is an awesome adaptation of the original story.

A Cure for Ghosts” by Eden Royce

No body horror list would be complete without at least one possession story, and Eden Royce’s “A Cure for Ghosts” is without a doubt one of the best. It’s a beautifully written work that only becomes more unnerving the longer you ponder it. Set in modern day at a plantation that’s now a museum, a tour guide deals with an angry father whose daughter has become possessed by a ghost on the property. The tour guide’s matter-of-fact—and at times, horrifyingly humorous—advice belies a chilling tale of how young women are expected to pay an unspeakable price for their mistakes. Like Brooke Warra’s “Heirloom,” this is another story I recommend to horror fans any time that I can, so just in case you haven’t read it yet, head on over to Fireside Fiction ASAP. It’s absolutely unforgettable.

Skeleton” by Ray Bradbury

Originally published in Weird Tales and also as part of The October Country, my very favorite Bradbury collection, “Skeleton” is a tale of how grotesquely awry one hypochondriac’s desperate quest for an ideal body can go. However, as much as I adore Bradbury’s fiction, that’s not where I first came across this one. Instead, it was as an episode of The Ray Bradbury Theater starring Eugene Levy. That might not sound particularly frightening, but the final image of the episode was so disturbing to my four-year-old self that I literally cried for days. Then I did my best to block the whole experience from my impressionable mind, including where I’d first seen it. Fast forward to years later, when I finally got my hands on The October Country, and I realized at last where the story had come from. Well played, Bradbury. Well played.

Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley

Sometimes, when I’m discussing my favorite works of body horror, I almost forget to mention Shelley’s magnum opus. Not because it’s not worthy of the distinction obviously or because it’s not body horror (it is). Instead, Frankenstein has become so ubiquitous in our culture that it’s nearly hiding in plain sight. Whether it’s fantasy, science fiction, or horror, the genre wouldn’t be the same without Shelley’s contribution. The ultimate tome on loss, otherness, and displacement in a world that doesn’t want you, it’s an overwhelmingly bleak tale, but one that has influenced all of us as writers and readers, even if perhaps at times we take it for granted. And truly, what says body horror more than reassembling a creature from cadavers?

So those are my favorite body horror stories. Please find me on social media, and tell me your favorites! I’m always looking for more great horror to add to the reading pile!

Gwendolyn Kiste is the author of the Bram Stoker Award-nominated collection, And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, the dark fantasy novella, Pretty Marys All in a Row, and her debut horror novel, The Rust Maidens. Her short fiction has appeared in Nightmare Magazine, Shimmer, Black Static, Daily Science Fiction, Interzone, and LampLight, among other publications. A native of Ohio, she resides on an abandoned horse farm outside of Pittsburgh with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts.

You can find out more about Gwendolyn by visiting her official website www.gwendolynkiste.com

Follow Gwendolyn on Twitter @GwendolynKiste

Something’s happening to the girls on Denton Street.

It’s the summer of 1980 in Cleveland, Ohio, and Phoebe Shaw and her best friend Jacqueline have just graduated high school, only to confront an ugly, uncertain future. Across the city, abandoned factories populate the skyline; meanwhile at the shore, one strong spark, and the Cuyahoga River might catch fire. But none of that compares to what’s happening in their own west side neighborhood. The girls Phoebe and Jacqueline have grown up with are changing. It starts with footprints of dark water on the sidewalk. Then, one by one, the girls’ bodies wither away, their fingernails turning to broken glass, and their bones exposed like corroded metal beneath their flesh.

As rumors spread about the grotesque transformations, soon everyone from nosy tourists to clinic doctors and government men start arriving on Denton Street, eager to catch sight of “the Rust Maidens” in metamorphosis. But even with all the onlookers, nobody can explain what’s happening or why—except perhaps the Rust Maidens themselves. Whispering in secret, they know more than they’re telling, and Phoebe realizes her former friends are quietly preparing for something that will tear their neighborhood apart.

Alternating between past and present, Phoebe struggles to unravel the mystery of the Rust Maidens—and her own unwitting role in the transformations—before she loses everything she’s held dear: her home, her best friend, and even perhaps her own body.

You can buy The Rust Maidens from Amazon UK & Amazon US

A murdered movie star reaches out to an unlikely fan. An orchard is bewitched with poison apples and would-be princesses. A pair of outcasts fail a questionnaire that measures who in their neighborhood will vanish next. Two sisters keep a grotesque secret hidden in a Victorian bathtub. A dearly departed best friend carries a grudge from beyond the grave.

In her debut collection, Gwendolyn Kiste delves into the gathering darkness where beauty embraces the monstrous, and where even the most tranquil worlds are not to be trusted. From fairy tale kingdoms and desolate carnivals, to wedding ceremonies and summer camps that aren’t as joyful as they seem, these fourteen tales of horror and dark fantasy explore death, rebirth, and illusion all through the eyes of those on the outside—the forgotten, the forsaken, the Other, none of whom will stay in the dark any longer

You can buy And Her Smile Will Untether The Universe from Amazon UK & Amazon US

Mary, Mary…

Always hitchhiking the same lonely highway, she calls herself Rhee, but everyone else knows her as Resurrection Mary. And when she’s transported home each night to the same decrepit, nowhere mansion, she’s always got her sisters.

Call her name three times, and Bloody Mary appears. In the poisoned garden, Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary. Downstairs, Mary Mack, forever building her own coffin. And brooding with her horse skull, the restless Mari Lwyd.

They are the Marys, embodiments of urban legend and what goes bump in the night, every child’s nightmare. But as the walls between their realities start to crack, the shadows threaten oblivion.

To save herself and her sisters, Rhee must unravel who the Marys are before the darkness claims them.

You can buy Pretty Marys All In A Row from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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