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Entries in each section are in alphabetical order.This page is for Nightmare Fuel Literature examples that do not have their own Works page. Examples from Works already on TV Tropes should go on the existing Nightmare Fuel pages indexed above.
Dutch children's writer Thea Beckman was really famous for her historically realistic novels. Triumph of Scorched Earth was set during the Hundred Years War and contained a really vivid description of the Black Death arriving in the POV character's hometown. Wiping out half the town population. Including all family members of the protagonist. With descriptions of how the bodies got carted out of town and buried in lime.
Orson Scott Card used to be real good at this. His collection Maps in a Mirror opens with "Eumenides in the Fourth Floor Lavatory" and doesn't stop there.
The Cancer Cowboy Rides. The story of Buddy Carson, a man who can spread fast-acting cancer at a touch, with some particularly gruesome descriptions of the dying: in the first chapter, we see the aftermath of him infecting a family, with the one survivor left as a dying, incoherent mess of tumours. At one point later in the story, Carson kills the town doctor by pouring a living tumour into his ear, leaving him in an even worse state.
Mr Pettinger's Daemon. Given that it's a story about a demon imprisoned under a church, horror is par for the course. However, the truly nightmarish bit occurs early in the story, when the narrator describes an incident during his years as a chaplain in World War I: four British deserters are found in No-Man's Land, living on the bodies of dead soldiers. Just before they are shot, one of them says, "I have eaten the Word made flesh. Now God is in me, and I am God. He tasted good. He tasted of blood."
The Charlie Parker Series from the same author isn't short on nightmare fuel either, from murderers arranging his victims to looks like sketches from Gray's Anatomy and deranged preachers making books from human skin to ancient Lovecraftian horrors demanding human sacrifices from small American towns.
Gary Crew wrote an illustrated book called "The Watertower". Two boys go up to a watertower for a swim, but Boy A forgets a towel and goes back to get it. While he is gone, Boy B is, is stalked and attacked by... something. You never see the "monster" and the book abruptly ends is not good for people with, well, imaginations.
Strange Objects, also by Gary Crew. Especially scary is the final chapter of Wouter Loos's journal, in which the delirious Wouter not only gives a particularly ghoulish account of Jan Pelgrom's supernatural crimes, but also describes the deterioration of his own body:
I rest my head on the earth and place a mirror between my face and the sea. This is not myself. This is another's face. Flies hover at the gaping mouth. Open sores thicken the lips. Vile matter seeps from the hollow eyes. This is a stranger's face. Should I touch it, flesh falls.
Another Gary Crew book, illustrated by a beginning Shaun Tan: The Viewer. A curious young boy finds, in a garbage dump, an old-fashioned viewfinder. He tries out each of the three discs one by one and finds them beautiful and realistic representations of human history, but further viewings drive him mad. His mother eventually finds the viewfinder on the floor of his bedroom, but no sign of the boy. Like The Watertower, the illustrations are full of subtle details that get creepier and creepier with every reread.
Hollow, inch-long thorns sprouted from the base of every leaf. The coxswain screamed as though he would never stop. The burgeoning vines crept over him like a blanket drawn up to cover a sleeping infant. A seaman with a knife lurched forward to help. A tendril lifted toward him. The seaman turned and ran. The screaming did, of course, stop.
The Nothing Equation by the same author. This guy had issues. Kudos for the perfect final line, though.
There's a short story by Anthony Horowitz (of Alex Rider fame) called "Harriet's Horrible Dream". Harriet is a spoilt little brat whose family goes bankrupt and she's sold to a restaurant. Not to be a waitress, oh no. The restaurant is called the Sawney Bean, and yes, she is going to be cooked and eaten. Since it's a children's short story, it's All Just a Dream, except it isn't. She wakes up...on the kitchen counter. Sweet dreams, kids!
Horowitz later wrote a Spiritual Sequel called "SheBay" where a couple run out of money and auction off their daughter online. A four-way bidding war ensues between the owners of the Sawney Bean; a mad scientist who wants to dissect her; a coven of Satanists looking for a human sacrifice; and a seemingly kind old couple in charge of an orphanage. They win the bidding and throw the girl to the "orphans", who are all orphaned tiger cubs.
Possibly the most horrifying thing about this story is the reason given for why people would decide to eat at the Sawney Bean; they're rich people who have tried everything else, and they want to try something different. You expect to find completely evil characters in books, but the thought that completely ordinary people are becoming cannibals just because they can is disturbing on a whole other level.
M. R. James. His most famous short story is "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad", about a professor who accidentally awakens a...something, leading to his bedsheets coming to life and trying to throw him out the window. No sleep after that.
Catherine Jinks writes many books that qualify, notably, Living Hell, which involves a crew on a spaceship that can never return to Earth stuck in the ship when it turns into a huge living thing and starts trying to kill them with flesh-eating acid.
Franz Kafka. Just pick any book by him and dive in. Special mention to The Trial, from which the term "Kafkaesque" is derived, where a person is accused of a crime nobody tells him about, found guilty, and executed, all without any real possibility of defense.
Michael Marshall Smith (and his more mainstream thriller alter-ego Michael Marshall) has done some wondrous turns in this regard. Take Spares, for example. This concept has been pilfered unsuccessfully since by the movie The Island, but he introduced the concept of a genetic twin being cloned at birth, kept in a dimly-lit tunnel in the middle of nowhere, and being used for harvesting spare parts without anesthetic, should the real-world twin become horrifically injured.
Joyce Carol Oates's Thanksgiving. In it, a girl and her father go out to do the grocery shopping for the sick mother, in preparation for Thanksgiving. They take a wrong turn and find themselves in the parking lot of a strange, dilapidated grocery store. All of the customers in there are sad and defeated-looking, all of the employees are ominous, and all of the food is described as being rotted or spoiled. The message is to look for good things among the bad, but there's a lot of flat out terrifying here.
The short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been" is about an escaped killer who tries to convince a girl who is home alone to come out of her house and go with him. In the end, the girl opens the door and steps outside. The end.
German author Gudrun Pausewang. Most (in)famous example: Die letzten Kinder von Schewenborn ("The Last Kids of Schewenborn"), about the life of an ordinary German family during and after global thermonuclear war. Including excessive descriptions of radiation sickness, mutilated people, lots of children dying, a baby born eyeless and armless, the mother of the family going mad and forcing the family to return to Frankfurt which she believes wasn't destroyed, and also the description of the helplessness of the people. She also wrote books about a nuclear power plant going Chernobyl in Germany, the poorness of people in third world, another right-wing populist taking power in Germany, and a biography of young Adolf Hitler. Some of these books even got prizes for literature.
In one of her autobigraphical stories, she once wrote about how she was confronted with Nightmare Fuel herself for the first time. Long story short, she had a literature teacher who was extremely good... and a Nazi. So the teacher once told them a story about a Jewish doctor raping and killing preteen girls, as seen by one girl that could escape. She admits that to this day, whenever she hears about child abuse, she imagines the culprit just like in that story, with exaggerated Jewish traits. "Our beloved teacher, what have you done to us?" indeed.
Frank Peretti is not often acknowledged by the mainstream, mostly because he writes Christian-oriented books, but he has some absolutely terrifying moments in some of his books. There is a fight scene in The Oath where a protagonist ends up gouging out a man's eye with her fingers and it's described as feeling like a grape under her hand. The entire conclusion to The Door in the Dragon's Throat has kept more than a few people up at night, as well.
The black goo that seeps out of people's chests in The Oath. Beware seemingly harmless bruises.
Peretti dips hard into the Adult Fear in The Visitation, considering it deals with why bad things happen to good people and people who do monstrous things in the name of God. Included: a woman dying from logs falling off a truck, a false Messiah taking sexual advantage of a barely legal teenage girl, and a man nailing his teenage son to a fence to punish him for teenage rebellion.
Beatrix Potter's The Tale of the Roly-Poly Pudding involves Tom Kitten getting trapped behind the walls of his own house and being caught by a pair of rats, who proceed to tie him up with string and roll him into a kitten-roly-poly. Terrifying, even though the rats were a quarter of Tom's size.
Another story was about a bunch of squirrels asking an owl for permission to gather nuts on his island and one particular squirrel continues to pester and pester the owl until the bird finally loses it, grabs the squirrel, and attempts to skin it. In the end, the squirrel gets away, but loses his tail.
For that matter, Peter Rabbit begins with the mother casually mentioning the father being put in a pie. Potter's original audience was well familiar with things like animals being put in pies - this was standard everyday stuff to them, as were absent fathers due to machinery accidents, war, etc.
(title needed) by Horacio Quiroga: A group of people that had been miming that they were building things in all the city parks of the world. One day, they stop building, and stop moving. Some of the gathered people walk into what turned out to be actual, though invisible machines; reddish-brown pulp comes out the other side. And people just keep walking into the invisible meat grinders. (This had been cited as "The Beheaded Chicken," but that is a different horror story about mentally disabled children and a girl who reminds them of the titular chicken.)
"The Feather Pillow": A dying woman who receives a down pillow from her husband. Sadly, after receiving the pillow the wife gets worse and worse, eventually not even leaving her bed, before finally dying one night. After her body is taken away, the husband notices the pillow is rather heavy. Upon inspection he discovers a large louse had been living inside of it and draining his wife of blood. Link here to read.
The Laughing Man by J. D. Salinger. The best part of it was that the story was being told to a bunch of Cub Scout-like kids.
"...the bandits, signally piqued, placed the little fellow's head in a carpenter's vise and gave the appropriate lever several turns to the right. The subject of this unique experience grew into manhood with a hairless, pecan-shaped head and a face that featured, instead of a mouth, an enormous oval cavity below the nose. The nose itself consisted of two flesh-sealed nostrils. In consequence, when the Laughing Man breathed, the hideous, mirthless gap below his nose dilated and contracted like some sort of monstrous vacuole. (The Chief demonstrated, rather than explained, the Laughing Man's respiration method.) Strangers fainted dead away at the sight of the Laughing Man's horrible face."
"Guts", in which the man's sister gets pregnant by unintentionally receiving his ejaculate by swimming in the pool he was masturbating in.
Neal Shusterman's stories frequently fall into this, as when the faces of the dead kids in Full Tilt start appearing in the scenery. His worst to date is Unwind, a Dystopia in which Offing the Offspring is legal and accepted if and only if said offspring's body parts are donated to others. There's a subplot about one fellow who took severe brain damage and got a donation from a dead kleptomanic—"DO IT! BEFORE HE CHANGES MY MIND!" And let's not get into the issue of Humphrey Dunfee. And if that's not bad enough for you, they're dismembered while fully conscious, although they are given anesthetic. Worse is the scene told from the perspective of the boy who's being unwound. Seeing what he sees until they take his eyes and going through his thought process until his brain is dismantled.
The tale of a kid who accidentally ended up with a suitcase full of alien clothing and knickknacks, and had to wear it until new stuff could be bought for him. Then he started turning into the alien.
The Works in Full Tilt.
The short story "Dawn Terminator" takes place in a future where the sun has grown so huge, so bright and hot, one day whatever town it rises over bursts into flames instantly and everything dies. The protagonist is an eleven-year-old girl who starts the story with her family in an airport, as population of several states try to board one plane, hoping it takes them somewhere safe. She and her parents manage to board, but she then has to watch faces of those left behind as they realize they're all going to die in a few hours and her mother tells her to remember their faces so she can draw them later. The plane touches down in Antarctica, where the group is hopeful, saying that this time of year, sun won't rise for six months... But the girl knows they're all going to die soon anyway. And this is in a book aimed at children.
A short story he wrote for an anthology focusing on fear (phobias, specifically) features a kid who's never felt fear in his life and even enjoys inflicting it on others as he has an uncanny ability to tell what they're afraid of. He then goes to a special school for kids suffering from phobias, which seems odd. Then little things start to change; his roommate, who's afraid of bugs, is able to go into the garden while the main character begins avoiding it. A girl he met who was afraid of knives is seen eating steak while the main character stops eating foods that require knives. It's soon revealed that every kid he touches is cured of their phobia... at the cost of him getting that phobia. What's more, it's also revealed that the principal was given guardianship of him, meaning there's nothing he can do but keep curing kids.
The Wolf of Winter by Paula Volsky. It starts with the protagonist brought into a prison which is worse than a KZ. At least the Nazis didn't force their victims to eat the killed other prisoners.
Speaking of Ms. Volsky, "Illusion" is an amazing book. Kind of the French and Russian Revolutions combined with magic, told from the point of view of royalty. Her description of torture and execution devices chills me to the bone. Particularly the one where you're strapped to a table and made to think that your bones are coming to life, crawling out of your body and eating you.
Connie Willis has a short story called "All My Darling Daughters". The least horrifying thing, out of the many horrifying things about it, is probably the helpless small, ferret-y creatures, genetically engineered to let people simulate the experience of raping a small child (with an emphasis on the screaming). The male characters all have one, and call them things like "Daughter Ann".
That's far from the most disturbing thing Willis wrote. "A Letter from the Clearys": It's told from the point of a teenage girl living in a small coastal town. It's unseasonably cold, her elderly neighbor is going a bit dotty, and there are other hints of oddness. At the very end, it's revealed that A nuclear war has already happened. Nuclear winter is setting in, and the radiation clouds are migrating. The weather is already getting colder, dust is falling from the sky, and particularly susceptible people (like the elderly neighbor) are starting to get radiation sickness. But people keep going about life as normal because really, at this point, there's nothing else they can do...
The protagonist in "The Sidon in the Mirror" either is compelled by unconscious urges to kill another character who has been blinded, or at the very least vividly feels her pain. In fact, every story in Fire Watch is disturbing.
"I Only Came to Use the Phone": an actress gets stranded in the middle of the road, so she comes to a nearby mental institution. There, she is mistaken as an escaped patient, and treated as one. By the time her husband finally finds her, he is convinced that she really became insane, and she eventually loses her sanity for real.
"The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow": A couple goes on honeymoon to Paris. The woman pricks her ring finger and keeps bleeding, so her husband carries her to an hospital, and goes to stay on a nearby hotel to wait instead of the one they had a reservation until the day the doctors said she would be released. When he manages to finally get back to the hospital, he discovers that his wife died after bleeding out while he was out, everybody tried to find him without success, and her body is already buried in their homeland. It's creepy because it could happen, even in this cellphone era.
"Light Is Like Water": two young boys, after being assured by the author in a literary workshop that "Light is like tap water, on that you switch on and it comes out", discover how to make light to work exactly like water by breaking lightbulbs, which they do when their parents are out. The kids even get a boat for them, which they use to navigate around the house. Then they drown along with their friends during a sleepover where they ere demonstrating this. If you want to know how a short story can evolve from a whimsical premise to the Adult Fear of your kids dying while you were distracted, search no more.
0.4 by Mike Lancaster. Never mind the creepy fusing people, the really creepy bit is when we find out that everyone has just been upgraded to the next form of humanity, and those who missed out will be invisible to the 2.0 humans forever. It gets even worse when we find out that it has happened before. Neanderthals could still be around, watching us, but we can't see them.
Also, that bit where the girl eagerly turns herself into one of the 2.0, when it still seems like they're pod people.
After by Francine Prose. A school gains a new crisis counselor after a shooting incident, who strictly enforces the zero tolerance policies, gets students expelled over minor issues and has them sent to a program called "Operation Turnaround." Operation Turnaround, is later revealed to be a detention camp for students and teachers, and it is implied that anyone who attempts resistance is killed. And the school where the shooting took place is mysteriously completely cleared out by the end.
All Tomorrows by Nemo Ramjet. The artist's unsettling but very good art doesn't help any...
All You Can Eat by Shane McKenzie is about a Chinese buffet that serves food so delicious that anyone who eats even a little becomes addicted to it. People spend literally all their money to eat there, growing fatter and fatter. When not eating the special food their hunger is so painful that they eat all the food they can find, then their pets, then people.
Even the parts with nothing to do with the fatsos are horrifying. One protagonist, Juan, comes to Texas illegally, crammed into a filthy truck with countless other immigrants. It reeks from all the waste on the floor, the driver is willing to kill them if they can't pay, and a woman is raped near the back and no one tries to stop it. The other protagonist, Lola, has nightmares about being molested by her monstrous father.
The novel The Amnesia Clinic features a teenaged Unreliable Narrator. This renders things that might otherwise be cute and quirky very squicky and disturbing. For example, the sad but still slightly whimsical history of Blithe Spirit Sally Lightfoot, with her finger bitten off by the eponymous turtle taken as a sign that she was well and truly over her ex-husband. When Anti tells it, they have a budding romance. but when you realize that Anti is just making this shit up, and that she's really an emotionally distant victim of spousal abuse, it's creepy. Similarly, the Incan mummy princess, Fabian's uncle's fake shrunken head, and Fabian's nightmarish metaphors for catching his father having sex with the house maid.
Being compulsory reading in Polish schools, Antek, a novella by the Polish author Bolesław Prus, traumatized a lot of teenagers with the part where a little peasant girl goes down with fever, so her mom - going by the advice of the local elderly "wise woman" - puts her into a flaming oven for a period of "three Hail Marys", hoping to burn out the fever. The consequences are predictable.
A short story called "The Assistant to Dr. Jacob" starts with a boy helping the title character prune his rosebushes. Then the policeman tells him that Dr. Jacob was a sociopath who kidnapped, tortured, and mutilated his victims in an attempt to make them "beautiful." He kept all of his "works" in his greenhouse. It is implied that the boy was there and saw everything, but he remembers the mutilated bodies as rosebushes. And one of the photos of the victims includes a picture of the narrator doing the same thing to another child. The absolute worst part? He brought home "roses" from Dr. Jacob to his mother.
A Bad Case of Stripes. This girl, for some reason, turns a rainbow color. Harmless, until this one part where she somehow turns into her room, and the bed is her mouth and the pictures are her eyes and she's still rainbow, and her parents are standing there and the doctors are befuddled. Not to mention the part where the girl turns into a giant pill.
The Beach Dogs by Andy Jennings. Although the title gives the impression that it's about cuddly puppies on a beach, it isn't. The general consensus is that there's something there to make everyone's skin crawl, whether it's the scene where a litter of puppies dies along with their mother in a fire or the scene where one of the puppies wanders into a walk-in freezer, gets shut in, and freezes to death slowly, or even just the fact that one of the dogs gets an infection her her eye which causes it to crust over, and another has a skin disease which made him so itchy that he scratched all his hair off. It also crosses majorly over into Tear Jerker territory.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. The scary part was the fact that it wasn't like most 'Dear Lord, this person is a psycho' lit because what came first was an understanding and sympathy with Ethel. Then, once you start relating to the character, she goes insane. And the more insane she got, the more you can relate.
Beowulf's Children by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes. Six words: Huge. Carnivorous. "Bees". With. Super Speed.
There's a short story called "A Birthday" by Esther M Friesner about a woman who leaves work early, seemingly to celebrate her daughter's birthday; its revealed that the girl is actually a horrific punishment for an old sin.
James Blish wrote a short novel called Black Easter, where a black magician releases all the demons of hell onto the Earth for a day mostly to see what would happen. The demons rampage all night, then the white magician present starts to banish them back to hell. It doesn't work. A greater devil explains that God is dead, and Hell has won the war. All remaining humans are now slaves of the demons, or worse...
The Bone Collector. Being boiled to death by hot vapor, rats gnawing on your legs, being buried alive. But nothing beats being unnable to move your body while your supposed-to-be doctor sticks a knife in the only part of it that's still sensitive.
Richard Matheson's "Born of Man and Woman". It gradually emerges that the narrator is some sort of horrid abomination of a spider-mutant with multiple limbs, wall-climbing and a burning saliva. Disgusted, his parents keep him chained up in the basement and beat him when he occasionally gets free and almost seen by guests. He becomes angry with them as he realizes what they're holding back, proceeds to crush his normal sister's cat, and claims that the next time his parents come in, he'll be ready with the acid saliva. The way it was written was just plain horrifying, a lot like Grendel but creepier.
The Braille Encyclopedia by Grant Morrison. A blind woman on vacation is seduced and corrupted to the point where she's taking in pleasure in only the most repugnant acts. The man tells her that she's finally ready to become a part of the Braille Encyclopedia. It involves tattooing every inch of her skin in Braille dots that describe gruesome sexual acts. By the time this is over, she has been driven mad by the pain, to the point where she no longer remembers anything about herself, not even her own name. Others have undergone the same process, and the result is not happy.
Robert Silverberg's "Caught in the Organ Draft" features an "organ draft", as in healthy people selected at random to be mandatory organ donors.
Cheating at Solitaire by Jane Haddam. Specifically, what the paparazzi do to Kendra Rhode.
Tanizaki Kenzaburo's "Children" ("Shonen") has four kids playing bondage games, with a strong master-slave tint, some dog-kissing, cutting each other with a knife, beating each other up and also having two of the boys holding wax candles on their foreheads as the wax drips over their eyes and face.
Richard Preston, best known for his non-fictional accounts of diseases like ebola, wrote a novel about a fictional bioterrorism threat called The Cobra Event. The disease in the story is spread like smallpox, but results in a rare neurological condition where the victims are compelled to eat their own flesh; some extreme examples ensue. The virus also starts out identical to a common cold. Besides that, the virus is genetically engineered from many other viruses, including Ebola and smallpox. People in real life can do the same kind of thing. Sweet dreams.
William Kotzwinkle's Doctor Rat. The whole human race went wacko all at once and started mass extermination of animals, followed by themselves. Interspersed with appalling allusions to the most inhumane animal experiments. Grafting the eggs of a female rat to different portions of a male rat, for example. And much of it narrated by a rat who's been experimented on so often, so cruelly and for so long that, in his twisted cynical little psyche, he genuinely believes that "death is freedom."
Rosalie Ham's The Dressmaker has a couple of instances of this trope: there is a gruesome description of one character cutting another's hamstrings and another character drowns in a silo full of black grain which sucks him under like quicksand when he jumps into it, thinking it was wheat, and the townsfolk can't get the body out, so it just moulders down at the bottom.
Dr Franklins Island by Ann Halam. The Nightmare Fuel is when you realize what Dr. Franklin is actually doing to the two girls - turning them into animal/human hybrids. A memorable part was when Miranda's breastbone actually breaks through her skin as it turns into a keel shape for her new bird body.
Duncton Wood by William Horwood. A book about moles, small burrowing animals. At the very worst, it can't be any worse than Watership Down, right? Not so when you find out what they're doing to Rebecca's babies. He is evil incarnate in mole form! Also watch out for Siabod.
The Stephen Baxter novel Evolution has gallons of nightmare fuel, but the most jarring of it comes near the end (taking place 500 million years hence, with the "Trees". These Trees are a giant mass of symbiotic organisms, in which the apelike descendants of people live in. It's already kind of creepy. It gets worse. The Tree itself is somewhat self-aware. In the opening of the story, it decides that the troop of posthumans cannot afford another child. When a mother puts her child in the leaves of the tree, it grows fibre all around the baby and actively tries to suffocate it.
Poppy Z. Brite's Exquisite Corpse. Their last victim sees them chewing on his intestines while he's just barely still alive.
Carrie Ryan's ''The Forest of Hands and Teeth. It's a zombie apocalypse novel set after humanity regains its footing. The survivors live in compounds surrounded by fences high enough and strong enough to keep the Unconsecrated out. The worst is the Unconsecrated baby.
In The Forge of the Titans, Titan-worshipers tend to gain their magical powers by feeding off the fear and pain of others, and therefore have got torture down to a horrifying art form. One scene clearly describes parents restrained and forced to watch as their young children are tortured to death, just before suffering the same fate themselves. One Titan's minion is described as a power junkie, reveling in the energy given off by the suffering to a near-orgasmic extent. The message seems to be that power can corrupt to the point where watching people undergo the most severe physical and psychological tortures possible turns you on.
The short story "Fortune's Always Hiding" by Irvine Welsh. Especially that the main characters kidnap a baby, cuts off its arms, and mails the baby's arms to its father and mother when they're done. Why? Because the doctor created Thalidomide, and one of the characters was missing her arms due to the birth defect it causes. Even for Irvine Welsh, that's Squick.
Future Man. Brave New World or Genetic Nightmare?, with an introduction by Isaac Asimov. This predicted such delights as futuristic battery chickens with no heads or beaks, being little more than lumps of flesh hooked up to nutrient and waste-disposal lines; humans modified for life in space (microgravity and vacuum) without spacesuits as well as underwater human beings.
"George Clooney's Moustache" by Rob Shearman, collected in Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical. It starts out as a Stockholm Syndrome tale of kidnap and rape, then goes From Bad to Worse.
Girlfriend in a Coma, by Douglas Coupland. The title character falls into a coma in her teens. Seventeen years later, she comes out of it, just in time for everyone in the world, with seven exceptions, to simply fall asleep and never wake up.
The Gone-Away World. The basic premise of it is that the governments of the world develop a bomb which strips the information from matter, theoretically erasing the matter from existence. But instead, the matter left becomes desperate for information, and becomes a physical manifestation of the thoughts of the animals and humans around it, frequently modifying the bodies of the creatures it affects, leaving hideous monstrosities, often incapable of surviving their horribly messed up bodies. Now that's all creepy enough, but think about how it would affect anyone with paranoia and appreciation for creepy-pasta. Just think about the results of that for a bit.
The picture book "Hair in Funny Places" is intended to reassure kids about to go through puberty. With pictures of a young girl's insides being taken over by grotesque furry monsters representing hormones.
Halfheads by Stuart Mac Bride. The title refers to a punishment for crime that involves removal of the lower jaw and a lobotomy-like procedure on the brain that leaves the person badly damaged. Halfheads are used for menial labor most of the time, but the antagonist of the book is a woman who came through the procedure with her mind still intact and naturally she wants revenge. She tortures one of the characters into helping her get jaw reconstruction, but the real NF is her flashback to the procedure itself, which she's conscious during. "We start by splitting the lower jaw..."
Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron". In a world where everyone is forced to be equal (via lead weights for the strong; incorrect, migraine-granting lenses for the perfect-sighted; disproportionate masks for the attractive), the strongest/brightest alpha male (after years of torture to keep him subdued) escapes and tries to inspire an uprising on national television. He's swiftly killed by a direct shotgun blast, and Harrison's parents—his father with a thought-scrambling ear radio, his mother too scatterbrained to remember anything—forget their own son's death almost immediately after it happens. Horrifying, indeed.
Heckedy Peg by Don and Audrey Wood is about a mother trying to save her seven children from being eaten by a witch. Said story had a bit of Fridge Horror starting with the witch taking the children (who were turned into food) into a room, and the mother trying to follow her in. The witch tells her she can't come in, because "her shoes are too dirty". So the mother takes off her shoes, and tries to walk in again, only to have the witch tell her that she still can't come in because "her socks are too dirty". So the mother takes off her socks, and tries to walk in again. The witch still doesn't let her in, telling her that "her feet are too dirty". So she pretends to cut off her feet, and tries to walk in again, this time succeeding; apparently, blood isn't "too dirty". This was a children's story book, read to children in kindergarten.
The picture of Heckedy Peg casting the transformation spell shows the children's souls reacting in shock as their bodies turn into food. It doesn't help that to create Mood Whiplash, this picture has the same composition as that of the picture on the previous page, albeit with a darker background and a less vibrant color scheme.
Also horrifying is, if you look closely at the spread page of Heckedy at the table, with the children as food laid out in a banquet before her, has already stuck her finger into and begun eating the pie, i.e. the oldest son.
Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins. The shadowy, demonic King of Goblins at the end of the book, described only as "too horrible to describe", and illustrated as a tall shadow with glowing red eye and Medusa-like hair. After he is defeated, we are given some nice little illustrations of his ghost tearing apart the synagogue. The other goblin characters are pretty creepy as well.
Toshi Maruki's Hiroshima no pika is a beautifully-illustrated picture book about — as you can guess from the title — the bombing of Hiroshima, as seen through the eyes of a six-year-old girl. It doesn't pull its punches.
The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy has a moment in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe when Zaphod, on the planet Frogstar World B, finds an old abandoned ship and goes in. Inside, he finds an android stewardess and follows her through a door. The passengers there do not take well to being awakened from an unplanned suspended animation. It's even worse when you realize that this happens once a year for roughly nine hundred years all because the ship was waiting for a shipment of lemon-soaked paper napkins.
John Saul's The Homing. Body Horror involving insects, ranging from a character who's eaten alive by a serial killer's collection of insects until only bloody bones are left to a girl who mutates into a queen bee of sorts with control over insect swarms. She gets her revenge, but the cycle of horror continues after her death.
Garth Nix wrote a short story called "The Hope Chest" that manages to cross the Magical Girl trope with 1984 and the first book of The Dark Tower. The main character is living in the Wild West With Mind ControlHitler!, and after everyone in the town slowly falls under his control, she opens the Hope Chest her mother left for her and finds a white, girly sheriff's outfit and some guns. She then falls into a trance and shoots everyone in the village when they try to stop her reaching the dictator's train, and kills her sister when she turns out to be his girlfriend. Then she shoots him, and as the story ends, the train is somehow travelling between worlds and anything resembling the life she used to have is in tatters.Mind Screw ahoy, and good luck sleeping.
The Hot Zone. Nonfiction book about an Ebola outbreak. Required school reading in some places. Based on the subject alone, it's Nausea Fuel.
In the Ernest Hemingway short story "Indian Camp," a boy, his doctor father and his uncle travel to the camp in question to help a pregnant Indian woman give birth safely. When the doctor looks up to tell the woman's quiet, prone husband of the result, he finds that the man has cut his own throat from ear to ear. It's not an extensive example compared to some of the others here, but this is where Hemingway's patented Beige Prose works along more disturbing lines. According to some, the uncle is the real father of the Indian woman's baby. Meaning the husband was Driven to Suicide.
Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen. Out of clothes experience? Check. Uncensored child nudity? Check. Being nearly baked alive? Check. Diving into a giant milk bottle? Check. If the childhood memories of this book don't still haunt you...
Everything having to do with Hudgie in Ironman, especially his father.
The Jungle: President Roosevelt actually read the book and sent two guys to check up on meatpacking factories to see how much of the book was accurate. Save for the "human lard" scene, he was told that the entire thing was accurate. You can resume vomiting now.
Little Stanislovas falls asleep in the factory, is locked in, and overnight is eaten alive by rats.
The ending of Kindred by Octavia Butler, in which Dana narrowly escapes Attempted Rape by her distant ancestor Rufus and teleports one last time back to the present. When she arrives back in the present, her arm is embedded in the wall. She tries to yank it out, with predictable and horrifying results. And there's the matter of having to explain to the doctor just how her entire forearm got ripped off.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. The book begins by taking place in a town where a virus has killed all the women, and now all the men project every single thought they have for everybody to hear, creating a horrendous "Noise" that is shown a couple times on a page as incredibly disorganized and horrifying as a good majority of the men are severely messed up by the deaths of their wives. It only gets worse when you find out it wasn't the virus that killed the women, but rather the men of the town out of jealousy and spite because the virus doesn't make the women project their thoughts.
The short science fiction story "Kyrie Eleison." A spaceship goes to study a black hole, accompanied by an Energy Being who is in telepathic contact with one of the crew—and it's heavily implied they're in love. The Energy Being gets too close to the black hole and is sucked into it. He dies relatively quickly, but because of time dilation his contact can hear him dying for years after.
Curt Gentry's The Last Days of the Late, Great State of California. In the last third of the book we find out why it's called The Last Days. A series of massive earthquakes tears through the state, told in the form of snippets of radio and TV interviews and announcements. Eventually the aftershocks come, and everything west of the San Andreas Fault slides into the ocean, including all of Los Angeles. Most of the San Francisco area is wiped off the map by the resulting colossal tsunami.
Les Chants de Maldoror, a French existentialist/surrealist work of prose poetry about a single madman and his hatred for everything but his own evil, can be rather disturbing at times.
The Lilies by Alison Prince is about a girl and her mother who rescued wilted flowers from rubbish bins and "planted" them in their garden. It was implied that the flowers talked to them and/or were some godlike beings. Not so scary, right? Well, a priest gets wind of this and, deciding that the girl and her mother are demonic, goes to kill them. There is one terrifying bit about the mother wanting to be buried with the flowers and about the girl lying down over where she planted some lilies so that the lilies will grow through her body.
A Living Soul by P. C. Jersild. "Ypsilon", the story's protagonist, is the disembodied brain of a former athlete who is tormented, experimented on and combined with other brains, all in an effort to create something that ends up being obsolete.
In Dave Duncan'sLord of the Fire Lands, a character gets to see how a country that has taken prisoners makes their land's obedient servants called Thralls. The prisoners of war/raiding are herded into a Magic Octagon, and spells are used to send their souls to the afterlife while they're still living bodies are left behind as Thralls. In the book, this is shown being done to a group of around forty children and adolescents.
"The Lottery": The reason behind the lottery. A wife and mother is killed simply because tradition says so. And it could just have easily been a child.
What's worse, one of her kids, who is about five or six years old, willingly participates in the stoning of his mother. And the woman dies while pleading that it isn't fair that she has to die.
One horrifying example is from Nick Reding's Methland, which is about meth. Roland Jarvis panics due to a hallucination, and dumps chemicals down the drain. This results in a fiery explosion that destroys the house. The description what happens to his flesh and body as it burns away is horrific. He was in so much pain that he begged the police that arrived to shoot him. The book ends with him still alive and still addicted to meth, still shooting up with no fingers or nose.
"M Is for the Many" by J. J. Russ is a story about the mother of a 4-year-old in a futuristic society where most people spend all their time in a "bag", viewing pleasurable entertainments and being drugged. Every couple is allowed to have exactly two children, and the main character is on her second; when children turn 5 they are taken from the mother and given their own bag. She doesn't want to lose her son, though, and a horrific chain of events ensue.
A short story, "Menagerie, a Child's Fable", from Charles R. Johnson's 1982 collection The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The owner of a pet shop died and no one came for the animals. It may have been some sort of political or religious allegory, but by end of it, the cat had raped the rabbit and gotten her pregnant, and the whole place ended up being set on fire when one of the monkeys got ahold of the owner's gun. And the responsible dog who was just trying to do his best? He gets shot.
Alan Dean Foster's Mid-Flinx. The main characters are on the run, ending up on Midworld. It is a planet of Everything Trying to Kill You, especially the plants. Among other plant-related horrors one is consumed by a plant, one is attacked by animals who continuously inject him with poison that liquidates him, one makes a wreath of flowers that spread tendrils through her body and burst out and flower, The Ruins style, one falls off the edge when he sticks his face into a luminous flower, and a couple suffocate by expanding hac spores. And there's plenty of non-plant examples as well.
Millions of Cats. In this charming children's picture book, an elderly couple wants to adopt a cat, so the husband goes out and finds a hill covered with "... hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats..." Unable to decide which one to take back, he leads the whole pack back home so his wife can choose one. She asks the kitties which of them is the prettiest, sparking a kitty holocaust as all the cats tear each other apart fighting over who it is. Out of all the trillions of cats, only one survived, because it didn't think it was pretty and hid while the rest killed each other. And this is supposed to be a happy ending?
The Missing Girl by Norma Fox Mazer. In a nutshell, the book is from the alternating points of view of five sisters and the disgusting old man that stalks them regularly. Slowly, the man takes preference to one of them, who he lures into his house. In addition those chapters are told in second person viewpoint—so that everything that happens up to and including her captivity and its aftermath is portrayed as if it is happening to the reader. The most horrible thing about the book is that the writer puts this pure relish in the man's pleasure at having the girl.
My Mom the Frog is about a boy who had a wart on his finger, which his mom kissed. His sister then told the boy that if you touch a wart, you'll turn into a frog. The boy's mom then mysteriously disappears, and a frog shows up. Everyone is sure the frog is the boy's mom. But at the end it turned out that the boy's mom was not really the frog, she had just gone to the store to get wart cream, and the frog was just some frog that got into the house.
The book version of The Mothman Prophecies. Allegedly being based on true events doesn't help. The rather lengthy section describing "breather" phone calls is not fun, especially if you've received any yourself.
Mr. Wolf's Pancakes is an illustrated children's book in which Mr. Wolf (The Big Bad Wolf) tries to make pancakes. He asks his neighbours (other fable staples, like the 3 Little Pigs and the Gingerbread Man, etc) to help with the various steps of making pancakes, but they all rudely refuse and he has to make them all by himself. Predictably, when the pancakes are made and Mr. Wolf is about to eat them, his neighbours arrive and demand he share them. You would expect the story to end with an Aesop about the rewards of being kind vs the consequences of being rude, or about how you shouldn't judge other people (as most children would consider the Big Bad Wolf to be a villain). Instead, it ends with Mr Wolf eating every single one of his neighbours as punishment for their rudeness.
Neuropath, by Scott Bakker. First, there are the horrible things Neil makes his mind-controlled victims do, sometimes on camera. Then there's The Argument itself, the idea that free will is an illusion, and that all humans are just neurological circuits deluded into believing in "morality" or the concept of a soul.
Timothy Findley's rewriting of the Noah's Ark story Not Wanted on the Voyage has many nightmare-inducing moments, but the worst is the bit where the prepubescent wife of one of Noah's sons is raped with a unicorn's horn while it is still attached to the unicorn.
"The October Game" is a short story which describes an insane man's jealousy of his own daughter as his wife arranges a Halloween get-together for his daughter and her friends. The kids go into the basement for a gross-out game where they supposedly pass around parts of a dead witch in total darkness. Slowly, the girl's mother realizes her daughter isn't there.
"Oh God, God, God ... don't turn on the lights."
Then... some idiot turned on the lights.
Olive and the Shadows by Jacqueline West. An evil wizard creates glasses which can bring pictures to life. They can also pull painted people and objects into the real world, but after a while they become "shadows" and are vulnerable to light, which burns and ultimately dissipates them. But, real people can be placed into pictures as well; they cannot get out without the glasses, and after a few hours become like the painted people themselves; if they are brought out now, they slowly become shadows and dissolve like those who were painted to begin with. And the wizard trapped dozens of people this way, including a child.
The short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin, about a Utopian city called Omelas where everything is perfect. Upon coming of age, every citizen is shown the reason why Omelas is perfect: a child is kept in dark closet covered in its own filth and living in constant abject misery. After being shown the child everyone is told that they can live with this secret for the rest of their lives and stay in Omelas, or they can leave and never return. Most choose to stay. The ones that leave simply walk out of the city gates and are never heard from again. This story is also a very effective Tear Jerker.
"Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity" by David Morrell. A man appreciates the art of a relatively obscure painter whose technique was to paint vaguely disturbing scenes that, upon closer examination, are painted entirely by mixing together tiny little screaming faces. The man discovers that the painter, who recently committed suicide, has property for sale and buys it. As he walks around the property he finds an eerie dell in the woods, where he finds something unpleasant, a writhing mass of what looks to be tiny bodies. While examining it closer, he feels something pierce his eye and he runs. Gradually he starts to see everything around him made up of tiny, screaming faces, until he goes mad.
The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiński. A tragical story about a child's ordeal in the East European countryside set during the Holocaust. During his dark journey from village to village, the boy is repeatedly shunned and brutalized by the Polish peasants. Several of his adoptive families beat him bloody, and one forces the eight-year-old boy to have sex with her. Among the most shocking scenes is when the peasants of one village brutally gang-rape the "village slut", who is later attacked by the wives of the rapists; they fill a glass bottle with feces, and kick it all the way up her vagina until it breaks. By the end, the boy has been so broken by his ordeal that he is unable to adjust to normal city life. Being Tortured Makes You Evil is a part of it, and he becomes almost psychopathic. His idea of fun becomes tampering with train tracks so the train falls off a cliffside, killing everyone on board.
Viole Falushe in The Palace of Love. He kidnapped a girl who he was in love with and created six copies of her through virgin birth, each exactly like her, in the hope that one will eventually love him. It doesn't help that in the end of the book, Gersen finds one of the copies, who asks him, "Are you The Man? The Man who is coming for me?" and tells him that one day The Man is coming for her, and she must love him. And then, the book implies elsewhere, he will kill her.
The description of how the virals in The Passage devour their victims is only made worse when you discover what happens to a person when they become a viral.
The Passion by Jeanette Winterson is set in a fictional Napoleonic war. There is a scene where Henri is describing how when a horse died from the cold sometimes soldiers would slit their bellies open and stick their feet in to stop them from freezing. One night the frost is so thick that the dead horse freezes over and when a solider wakes up his feet are trapped inside. Henri and the other soldiers are unable to free him so the just leave him behind, screaming.
Scott Westerfeld's Peeps: a book where every second chapter is a description of the most flesh-meltingly scary parasites he could find, apparently. Given that the main plot is about parasites?
The Pilo Family Circus. You manage to accidentally impress a gang of lunatics who are stalking you: now they want you to audition for a job in their gang and all you have to do to win is to make them laugh within 72 hours- no matter who gets hurt or killed in the process. Oh, and this gang is composed entirely of Clowns.
The original book of The Prestige was more horrifying than the Film of the Book, especially in the end. Angier has been alive for more than a century, living amongst the dead bodies of his duplicates, some of which are smiling. And then the generator turns off.
The Patricia Highsmith story "The Quest for the Blank Claveringi". You wouldn't think that giant snails would be that scary but when they're the size of a Buick, carnivorous and have the tenacity of a rottweiller you get scared really fast. Especially when you realize that, despite their speed, they've been rounding up the author like cattle.
In Gary Jennings'a historical novel Raptor, the main character Thorn and several others are hired by a Roman to rescue his pregnant wife and son from the Huns. They come up with a plan to sneak into the Hunnish camp... and it all goes bad. Thorn grabs the boy and runs, but looks back to see that the Roman's wife has had her throat cut, and in her death throes birthed a fetus and that the Roman himself has been captured by a Hun who attempts to rape him, but finding the Roman a bit too lively, the Hun cuts a hole in his belly and proceeds to rape the Roman through the hole.
Koji Suzuki's Rasen (Spiral), sequel to his more famous The Ring, where watching a cursed videotape will kill the viewer in a week. Beginning with Ando's autopsy of Ryuji (one of the two protagonists in Ring) we're shown how Sadako really kills her victims, including impregnating poor, innocent bystander Mai and discarding her torn corpse after a days-long gestation. If that wasn't bad enough, by the end it's revealed that Asakawa's Ring report has actually helped Sadako spread her curse through all forms of media, and, eventually, all of mankind will be replaced with clones of Sadako, capable of infinitely reproducing themselves.
The Rabbits, a book written by John Marsden and illustrated nightmarishly by Shaun Tan, is about colonization. It is told from the viewpoint of those being colonized, and refers to their oppressors as The Rabbits, and the protagonists appear to be something along the lines of Aboriginal wallabies living in Australia. The illustrations are very surreal◊. Everything in the book is told in simple terms so that you know exactly how screwed the original inhabitants are. The Rabbits take over the country and win.
The Ludovician from Stephen Hall's book The Raw Shark Texts. You wouldn't think of all the scary monsters out there that a shark would stand out as very scary, much less a conceptual shark made of words like the Ludovician. You'd be wrong. The Ludovician stalks along the waterways of human interaction, so it can eat a person's memories, and then their sense of self, leaving them empty shells. It's trying to do this to to the protagonist because he let it out in the first place in an ill-conceived plot to try and keep his dead girlfriend alive. Every time it shows up, things get really, really freaky.
Pat Barker's Regeneration, set in a mental hospital during World War I, is a nightmare to read. Aside from the grotesque physical symptoms displayed by the patients, the horrific experiences some patients relate to their Freudian psychoanalyst, and the torture other patients go through at the hands of their doctors, you get to sit back at the end and realize that even though the book is fictional, all of the worst parts are completely true.
In The Relic, the sequence where Margo Green ventures into the under-construction Superstition exhibit and is stalked (and nearly caught) by the Mbwun creature. The exhibit by itself consists of Nightmare Fuel (that's its theme), and she's there in the dark, being hunted by a monster. Unfortunately, the security guard who goes back in to investigate isn't so lucky, and his headless corpse is discovered hidden in the exhibit during its opening (mass panic ensues and it goes downhill from there)...
William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily". Read it here Seems alright until you get to the ending, and then think about it for a moment and see if you don't shudder.
Scott Smith's The Ruins particularly the point where Eric goes down the pit). There's also a point when a character is convinced that the vines are underneath his skin and he starts cutting himself open to get rid of it. And he's right. There's also the very end where it's all but explicitly stated that the whole ordeal is going to start again with the would-be-rescuers. Goddamn, that's one sadistic plant.
The titular creatures in George R. R. Martin's "Sandkings" build an image of their owner's face into their castles. By the end of the story, that's not the only way he's, ah, represented. And when they start growing...
Sangue Fresco. The title translated, "Fresh Blood", is a a warning. Children are kidnapped and kept in the Amazon Rainforest because some crazy man discovered their blood can cure fatal diseases. He feeds a child to a snake, which is described quite graphically. Some children who escape are hunted down by Cossaks, a troupe of hippies gets their skin burned off by napalm, the main female character dips her cat into the river to check for piranhas, and a priest rips out one of the bad guy's lungs with a cross, which is described with something along the lines of: "He jumped into the water and tried to swim, then noticed he didn't have lungs and died."
"The Screwfly Solution". Men find it scarier than women apparently. It's a story about how men are being driven by an unknown rage to kill women. Eventually this goes global. There's a scene where a woman's breast was used as a hunting trophy.
The most ghastly part was when a researcher realized he'd caught whatever it is, so he quarantined himself from his wife and just-entered-her-teens daughter. But he'd been out of the country for a year, and the girl noted in her diary that she didn't understand why he was staying away, and she was going to go see her daddy.
For some, the terror was that the violence was supposed to be a result of men's sexual urges being twisted — i.e. whoever the men would normally want to have sex with, they now wanted to kill instead. Think for a minute about what that implies about the guy killing his daughter. Ick.
The children's book Snorre Sel by Norwegian author Frithjof Sælen. It tells the tale of a vain little seal pup that ventures from his family in the arctic, on the behest of some nefarious wildlife. His father is eaten and he almost gets eaten. A lot of Nordic children were traumatised by the story. It also happens to have been written as an allegory on the evils of the Nazis that had just occupied Norway when the book was written. Nightmare Fuel isn't so strange.
Snow Day from the Spinetinglers series, another seeming copycat of the Goosebumps books, turns out to be very disturbing. A group of kids and their bus driver are caught in a snowstorm, and when their bus breaks down, they have to take shelter in a seemingly abandoned house in a nearby field. The house, called the "Muhlzae Maze Manor," is dark, empty, and built like a funhouse due to the fact that most of the doors don't lead anywhere. This is spliced with chapters where the kids suddenly lapse into very vivid dream worlds handcrafted to suit their individual desires. But one girl, Debi, keeps interrupting their dreams and makes them wake up every time. As people start to go missing, Debi takes it upon herself to figure out what is going on. This is where the story goes into And I Must Scream territory. Debi and the kids are still asleep, and are trapped in the house's walk-in freezer. They've been strapped into machines that harvest their blood but keep them alive in a comatose state. It turns out the bus driver is actually a time traveler from a Bad Future where humanity is dying out because they lack immunity to various diseases, and are using the kids to keep them alive. Debi is told she has been fighting them for decades and has actually aged into an old woman, because unlike her friends, she won't cooperate and accept her dreams. Eventually though, it seems like the kids are let go because they realize through Debi's resistance that what they're doing is wrong. Life goes on for Debi and her friends, until one day she has a horrible thought. What if her freedom is the dream she most wanted?
The book actually opens up with Debi dreaming that the world is ending. It's actually legitimately distressing when her teacher breaks down into tears when she's informed "The cat's in the cradle." The cat being a meteor called Cheshire that is hurtling down to Earth and will kill everyone. Even if it was just a dream, reading that kind of despair and hopelessness as the world ends in a kid's horror book is not something most people would be prepared for.
The Speed of the Dark by Alex Shearer. Get shrunk to a mere 1/8 of your size, trapped in a snowglobe, and perhaps never see civilization again.
Stranger in a Strange Land: Valentine Michael Smith has vast psychic abilities owing to his Martian upbringing. Among these is the ability to make any object, regardless of size or make-up, just "go away." This includes humans, and Smith spends most of the book with an odd mix of Blue and Orange Morality and Black and White Morality, meaning if he perceives a "wrongness" in you, you're just gone. Mike's bodycount, not that there are any bodies to count, gets up into the high hundreds.
The Tim Powers book The Stress of Her Regard. The vampire fetishists. The way the protagonist's wife is described as being crushed like she got rolled over by a millstone. The wife's twin's robot thing. The medical wards and the surgery theatres and so much more.
There's a children's book called Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, about a young donkey who accidentally turns himself into a rock with the titular magic pebble and spends several lonely months trapped in that form while his parents fret and despair over his disappearance. It's been very accurately described as "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream— for kids!"
The worst part? After he's been there for a LONG time, his parents just happen to pick that rock to have a picnic, and Sylvester desperately tries to call out to them, but can't. He only manages to get back to his normal form when his mother picks up the pebble by chance (or is unknowingly touching it, I forget which) and says something like, "Oh, I wish we could have Sylvester back!" If not for that incredibly lucky moment, he'd have been stuck as a rock forever.
That book is by William Steig, who was no stranger to giving children nightmares. For instance, The Amazing Bone is about a pig-child who encounters a very predatory, sinister fox; and a talking bone — inexplicable and weird, although a "good guy".
"Tailypo", originally found in a collection of children's horror/ghost stories. An old man who lives in a cabin in the woods with his dogs. He is out desperately hunting food and accidentally shoots off the tail of an unusual creature, who is rather fond of that tail. He then cooks and eats said tail, night falls and cue terror! Read it here: http://www.scaryforkids.com/tailypo/
Margo Lanagan's "Tender Morsels". The miscarriages are enough to make one put the book down and put your head between your legs.
"The Testament of Magdalen Blair." A woman forms a psychic bond with her husband, who later dies of kidney disease. So she, of all people who have ever lived, gets to learn whether there is life after death. The good news? There is. The bad news? It's horrific suffering as your body decomposes and the universe falls apart around you. You can read it here.
The science-fiction story "That Only a Mother," by Judith Merrill: a husband, whose job requires him to be away at the time of his child's birth. It also occasionally results in exposure to radiation. The results of the radiation were scary, but at first the titular mother saw her daughter as perfectly normal. Faced with her child's radiation-spawned disfigurement, she goes insane.
There's a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer. Has a Family-Unfriendly Violence moment where the kid shoots the nightmare monster.
Alan James Keogh's "They Live." It's a descent-into-madness story in which the main character has strange holes in his calf only to find that they're worm/maggot things inside, writhing around in there What makes it worse is that a similar thing is not unheard of in Real Life. It happens when flies lay eggs on any rash or cut on farm animals, and can happen to people too. It's not pretty. Two Words: Human Bot-Fly.
The Thinker, a collection of stories about a rather strange kid, including one where a bunch of demented dolls rip his limbs off and turn him into a broken doll, and another where he finds a lotion that makes people disappear. It can also make individual parts of them disappear, so when he pours it over his sisters head, her now-headless body runs around screaming. And there's one where he switches souls with his cat through a zipper in the cats fur and on his skin.
The Throne of Bone by Brian McNaughton. Definitely not for kids. One of the more safe for work stories involves a man whose fiancé is turned into a tree. Being a whittler himself, he attempts to liberate her:
"It began to go wrong from the start. The grain of the wood was erratic. I cut too deep, and sap flowed black in the moonlight. Not fluidly, as a human expression would evolve, but as a jolting succession of static images, Dendra's look changed from elation to horror. I had no way to stop her bleeding until I had freed a human body whose wounds I could bind, so I hacked more desperately, but I only cut her more."
A short story called "The Throwing Jacket" involves a painting, a jacket, and a tower. And a description of a man's face that is utterly demented. It's difficult to explain, but it definitely sends shivers up the spine.
Time Windows by Kathryn Reiss. A girl, Miranda, moves into a new house with her parents. In the attic, there is a dollhouse that is an exact replica of the house she's living in. When she looks through the windows of this dollhouse, she can see images showing the lives of the house's past occupants. This starts out as being pretty cool, but eventually takes a turn for the freaky when her mother begins to take on the depressed and sometimes violent personality of one of the house's past occupants, in the worst way possible. And then there's the dead body they find in a crawlspace.
Touching Spirit Bear. A bully named Cole has been fighting the law for all his life due to his abusive father and his mother who never helped him. He goes into isolation with a group called Circle Justice after he pounded another kid's face into the concrete. After burning down his shelter with all his supplies needed to survive out of anger, he attacks a bear because it wasn't afraid of him. Cole gets mauled and nearly killed. He sits there for three days before help arrives. During those three days, he eats bugs, grass, and, in very descriptive detail, a mouse. The bear returns multiple times, but only stares without blinking, like a damn statue, over Cole.
Vampires and Other Creatures of the Night. A description of a female Slavic vampire who was a floating head and intestines because of a horrific punishment where people were forced to hunch over in a tiny barrel, and one woman who was enduring this was startled when someone walked up behind her, so she jerked her knee into her chin with enough force to detach her head and pull out her intestines, and was resurrected as a vampire that drank the blood of babies. And people would protect themselves from her by putting thorns around their windows to tear up her delicate insides. The other thing about this book that was pure Nightmare Fuel was the cover; a vampire with hollow, burning solid-black eyes and blood dripping from fangs.
The penultimate chapter of Vernon God Little, in which he comes as close as he possibly could to be executed for a crime he didn't commit (the needle is in his arm). Oh, and the prison has become part of a reality TV show, so his fate is in the hands of the voting public, which is uncomfortably plausible.
Iain Banks's book The Wasp Factory features numerous nightmare-inducing scenes; mad brothers, burning dogs, three murders carried out calmly, callously and entirely undetected. The worst thing is what drive's Frank's brother mad in the first place...
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, a fantasy novel set in England, has a sequence in which the protagonists must escape from an underground trap by traversing the Earldelving, a winding, narrow undergound tunnel. The tunnel is so tiny that it will barely pass a Dwarf, or an (at most) early-adolescent human. The tunnel is hot, tight, and dark, and there is a truly nightmarish moment when the characters must pass through a flooded section that may or may not be short enough to avoid drowing. It's only a few pages long and it remains one of the most nightmarish sequences I've ever encountered in a work of fiction.
The White Tribunal, by Paula Volsky. The torture scenes, culminating in the boiling of the brothers in a huge vat of water. So that they'd be "cleansed". While the younger brother looked on.
* "The Willful Child" by The Brothers Grimm. It's about a little girl who refuses to listen to her elders. As a result, when she got sick, nobody helped her and she died. But when she died, the little girl's hand kept reaching up out of the grave. So the mother had to go down to the grave and beat the child's hand to get her to stop reaching up.
The Dale Brown novel Wings of Fire has terrifying descriptions of the effects of neutron bombings. Corpses everywhere, blood from ears and eyes and a radiation-aborted fetus, coming out through the mother's vagina.
The Yellow House by Amberlynne O'Shea. Just remember folks: leave your body at the door.
"The Yellow Pill: A famous psychologist has to counsel a fellow who shot five people in a supermarket. Said fellow insists he is right, and the ordinary surroundings are the illusion. He's right. The psychologist takes medication and snaps out of it, realizing he is on a spaceship, surrounded by dead aliens. When he tries to talk down the patient, the man gives a little speech about needing to accept what he's done, then walks out the airlock thinking he's leaving by the front door. Cue Explosive Decompression. Well, actually, it's even worse than that—the aforementioned trope is averted, and when the fellow's eye pops as he walks out the airlock, he's still alive and aware, convinced that he needs to just work through the "hallucination."
* Boot Camp by Morton Rhue. Parents send a 16 years old boy David into the titular boot camp, simply because he meets with the wrong girl. What unfolds there is pure horror. Imagine 1984with ''Teenagers'' and with the personal convinced that they are doing a good work by breaking the protagonist. Oh, and the whole thing is Based on a True Story - such camps actually exist in USA!
A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry is a wonderfully-written, thought-provoking, tear-jerking, intensely violent and frightening novel of the First World War. Gruesome battle scenes (people having arms and faces blown off, or being gassed) are placed up against scenes of happy banter between the soldiers - which makes it worse as you just know that these men are going to die at some point. Worst of all? It's about Irish soldiers in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. While an uprising takes place in Dublin that will eventually lead to the splitting of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and subsequently The Troubles. Making the soldier's efforts, fighting for a country that will eventually break away from them, seem utterly futile, at least to them. It's almost a relief when the main character dies at the end.
The short story "House Taken Over" (Casa tomada), by Argentinean writer Julio Cortázar (of Hopscotch fame). A couple of middle-age siblings (The narrator and his sister) live alone in their enormous house, an inheritance they're very devoted to care of. Then something takes over their house, first the unused rooms, later the small section they end confined to, forcing them to evict with only what they were wearing. Even if they escaped unscratched, we were never told what exactly took over their home. The way they resign themselves so easily to the invaders and, by the end, the narrator simply toss the key because, really, who on his senses would ever dare to go and rob a "taken" home, doesn't make things better. Some critics speculated this short story was a metaphor of Cortazar's feelings about his country, which if you know XX century Argentinian history it only adds to the uneasiness.
The short story "Pet Farm" by Roger Dee. Moths that Mind Rape humans into a feeling of euphoria, all's well with the world, and these here moths are the greatest thing ever. Before this euphoria wears off, the moths lay their eggs in the people, and the larvae eat their way out ichneumon style. There is nobody at all on this planet older than twenty-odd.
A Bad Day For Voodoo has some pretty graphic descriptions of Tyler losing his ear and it being bloody.
There was a series of books featuring Disney characters in modernized versions of the Aesop Fairytales (The Tortoise and the Hare, The Shoemaker's Elves, etc.). Anyway, they eventually got to "The Boy Who Cried Wolf" with Donald (in the role of the boy) going on a camping trip with Mickey; after dealing with Donald freaking out over harmless things all day, Mickey goes to bed and leaves the shaking and scared Donald to rough it out for the night since he won't get to sleep. Following the story that they're parodying, Donald fakes a wolf coming to make Mickey stay up with him so he won't be alone outside; both times fail and the wolf comes for real after that. There is a full page image that makes it look like the snarling, vicious, and possible mange ridden wolf is leaping right at the reader!
The children's horror anthology Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures was pure Nightmare Fuel to its readers, partly because of the incredible illustrations by Rod Ruth. One story, "The Patchwork Monkey," involves a horrifying monkey doll and what it does to a young girl's brother. it tries to MERGE with him and succeeds,and the last scene is her brother, wearing its red ribbon smile as he speaks to her in its voice. Picture of it is here. Almost every story in the book was as scary.
Every story in the Bizarro genre; although it's intended to be weird and freaky, some of this stuff really messes you up. Highlights include a man biting his friend's nose off in the middle of a conversation, an actor who plays dead bodies having his lungs removed in order to be more convincing, a teenager tranquilizing himself and cutting open his belly to pull out his intestines, a neo-Nazi selling drugs at a rave that cause the main characters to melt!, good old fashioned parasitic worms that eat the main character from the inside out, and perhaps most unsettling of all, a deaf kid who wakes up to find that his family, and likely the rest of the world, has been killed in a nuclear war, and doesn't realise it, ending up actually going to sleep outside in the 'snow'. All of this from one of the less freaky books in the genre, "Angel Dust Apocalypse".
Anne Bishop's Black Jewels books: Briarwood. "Briarwood is the pretty poison. There is no cure for Briarwood."
Joel Shepherd's first Cassandra Kresnov novel, Crossover, has a main character who is essentially a More Human Than Human android in a world where most androids are a little less sentient, a little more programmed. Before being rescued by the good guys, she is captured by bootleggers, has her skin peeled off, her limbs removed, and they've just started (electronically) hacking her mind apart when the police arrive.
Nick O'Donohoe's Crossroads trilogy has its moments. The death throes of a Wyrpupsavaged by a panicked chimera in Under the Healing Sign in particular.
In the "Forensic Mystery" novel by Alane Ferguson called Circle of Blood, there's a cliffhanger ending in which the protagonist receives several e-mails reading things like "I C U" and "come out and play I know you're there because I C U". She looks out her window and sees her ex-boyfriend, who turned out to be a sociopath and a murderer in a case she investigated in the previous book, standing there with a laptop and staring at her.
From Gregory Benford's Galactic Center novels there is the Mantis, a robotic being that experiments with human DNA. In probably the most horrific, Squick-heavy scene it creates an abominable human-rose hybrid and forces another human to mate with it.
The Guinness Book of World Records has some, no matter what edition. More specifically; some of the images, and some world record descriptions, can be pure Nightmare Fuel. Several examples include images of the most pierced person, the longest full body burn without oxygen, and the largest venomous spider.
Stuart McBride's Logan McRae series. There's the description of horrific crime scenes and often taking the persona of the messed up individual as one of the perspectives.
In one scene, the titular character and police officer Logan is fed human flesh.
The Many Faces of Van Helsing. The short story "Anna Lee", by Kathe Koja is told from the point of view of a minor character from Dracula, one of Lucy's maids. There's a tone to it, this dead-calm, defiant tone filtered through Victorian propriety— "Do you look at a lady's maid, sir?"— and by the end of it, she confesses that if she's not actually in league with the Count, she'd welcome him, because it couldn't possibly be worse than her life is now.
Other stories in the collection include a brothel full of little girl vampires in modern-day L.A., demonic vampire-spawn fetuses very nearly tearing their way out of a girl's stomach, and one particular character being systematically driven insane.
Młody Technik, a Polish magazine about technology, had once published a short story about a lake which was a dumping ground for all sorts of trash. Eventually, between having so much trash in the lake and an accidental nuclear explosion in the vicinity, the lake becomes animate, and proceeds to eat everything around it while growing bigger and bigger. The government tries to destroy it, but all attempts fail. Eventually, the surviving humans desperately escape Earth, while the bog proceeds to eat the entire planet. Then it eats the whole Solar System. Then it turns its attention to the Milky Way. The illustration that depicted an amorphous monster with terrifying teeth also added to the horror.
The Michael Vey series has Dr.J.C. Hatch. Here's an (abridged) list of his atrocities and why they qualify for this page: Killing Zeus' family and making him think he did it with his powers, held Tanner's brother hostage so he could use his powers to destroy airborne planes, tortured Jack and Wade, sent Michael to a secluded cell and had Nichelle torture him with her powers in order to mentally destroy him, and kidnapped both Taylor and Mrs. Vey, subjecting the latter to a vague abusive prison in Peru. Then there's his favorite punishment of his incompetent lackeys: sending them to the Bowl, where they get devoured by electric rats until all that's left of them is bones.
Torstyn's powers, which allows him to microwave his target's brain.
The "docudramas" from R. J. Rummel's Never Again series, written by one of the world's leading experts on crimes against humanity. The description of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge is particularly stomach-churning: the scene where young children are forced to execute their teacher for the crime of teaching them too much knowledge is absolutely horrifying.
The Other Side of Tomorrow: Original Science Fiction Stories About Young People of the Future, 1973. Dystopia for kids. Ethnic cleansing, totalitarian brainwashing, and the paranoid gem, "A Bowl of Biskies Makes a Growing Boy," about a boy who discovers a chemical that's in all the food.
A couple of stories in The Oxford Book of Scary Tales. In one of them, "Dare You", on one page there's a pretty accurate picture: the girl doing the dare looks apprehensive as she enters the cemetery. On the next page, there's a very warped picture of her screaming.
"Supermarket" summarizes almost every little kid's worst fear: getting left behind at the grocery store.
The story "Exit." To summarize, it's very depressing. Even the artwork is depressing. And it's the last story in the book, not counting the reprise of the poem at the beginning.
Some of the short stories in School Magazine are rather scary. In one story, set in a future where technology rules, the environment is obsolete and the earth is overpopulated to the point that we've concreted over the Amazon River. The story was about a family who get tickets to visit something called 'The Find'. When they finally visit it, one of the children sadly reflects that this was definitely going to be the last, there could never be another. The find? A tree. The last tree in existence. Which was implied to already be dead. Also doubles as a Tear Jerker.
Caro King's Seven Sorcerers series is choke full of Nightmare Fuel, which is understandable given that the magical creatures are all manifestations of either desire or fear. Just a few examples:
Boogeymen. Super-strong, super fast. Can breathe fire. Only visible by children. They take their pleasure in scaring some child for weeks, while adults, not seeing them, assume the child is simply imagining things. Then one night they use an Unperson spell, which destroys or changes any documents (including photos), so that all mentions of the child disappear, and also strip everybody else's memories of said child. Then they kidnap said child. and said child is usually brought to the House of Strood, when it is either Eaten Alive, or subjected to worse (see below). And in Shadow Spell, things get worse when a couple of them went on rampage in our world, killing hundreds of people (who cannot see them and thus are defenseless) each night...
Rabusmorte. A plant that is drawn to blood and can, depending on how it is used, either heal your wounds (both physical and mental), or eat you alive. On the other hand it can also protect you from other things wanting to eat you alive...
Ava Vespilio's ring, which contains the spirit of Ava Vespilio. Any human in the vicinity of the ring is subconsciously goaded into putting it on. Once this happens, your body is overtaken by the spirit: you retain most of your sences, but don't have any control of your body. The spirit also has control to your memories so it can lie to other people. Oh, and removing the ring doesn't immediately break the control. The whole thing can end in two ways: Vesplio decides he'd rather inhabit another body and manages to sklip a ring on their finger (in which case he usually kills you during transfer, often by forcing your body to destroy itself) or your body is killed by other means, after which the ring seeks a new victim via magic...
The Dark Being, which can drain anybody of his "life energy", turning them into an Empty Shell.
Harsh, a substance that slowly dissolves everything it comes in contact with. It is currently slowly consuming the Drift (magical world).
House of Strood features several, but the most important is the Destillation Machine, which is also a literal Nightmare Fuel. The victim (human or not) is injected with a potion that forces him to relive his worst nightmares in addition to unbearable pain in a process that takes hours. This, in turn, makes the victim susceptible to a magical draining, which slowly drains their "life essence" from them. The essence can be either transferred onto another being, creating a hybrid (say, human essence transferred to a troll creates a grimm, a creature with half of a troll's strength and half of a human's mind capacity, much more effective than either a troll or a human) or turned into liquid to be used later. It is used a couple times throughout the novels and is implied to have been used hundreds of times before
Also the Fairy Poison, which slowly dissolves its victims while subjecting them to extreme pain. And this is described as merciful compared to the distillation machine.
Ava Vespilio's ultimate fate. He was evil, but the implications of what will happen to him now...
There's a series of books called Short & Shivery. It's like Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, although it doesn't have notorious pictures. Anyway, in the third volume, Even More Short & Shivery, there's a story called "The New Mother". It was the basis for "The Drum" from More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but it ramps up the scariness by adding an And I Must Scream element at the end. At least in "The Drum" when the messed-up new mother shows up, the story ends then and there.
The Skeleton Creek series. It gets really crazy when Henry, Ryan Mc Cray's father's best friend was part of the crossbones, and was responsible for most of the deaths of the Crossbones. The videos also have disturbing things in them, and some have unexpected Jump Scares. Many of the videos throughout the books involve Old Joe Bush's Ghost and assorted scares.
One of the A Walk on the Darkside anthology novels had a story called "Parting Jane" by Mehitobel Wilson. In it, a little girl is slowly demolished and disassembled so her sick sister can get replacement parts, because her parents only love the sick girl. Describing how it goes won't have a possibility of disclosure. * shudder* They took her eye, man!
"Soft": A man angry with his wife after a breakup last night reaches out. And remolds her like Silly Putty.
"The Professor's Teddy Bear": A terrifying Mind Screw in which the professor's childhood teddy bear is revealed to be some sort of horrible monstrosity that whispers to him to do terrible things, and gives him the power to change people in disgusting, Body Horror ways.
"The Grab Bag": "Something had eaten her face!"
The Dark Court of the Wicked Lovely series has many terrifying characters and some of the things they do may not be that detailed, but are fairly obvious (rape, murder, cold-blooded torture, posing deaths to look like scenes from plays, etc.)