Today marks two years since The Dread Machine launched, and we’ve come a long way. Our community has exploded to over 400 members. We’re nearly done editing and formatting the stories for our upcoming anthology, Darkness Blooms.
Before we share our favorites, I want to explain our process a little. It’s not too complicated: Monica, Tim, and I make our own Top 10 lists, considering stories we originally published since our last anniversary. We rank our favorites in order (to the best of our abilities, because frankly, it’s impossible). Then, I check for overlaps in our Top 5 lists.
There is always overlap.
We don’t want to feature the same stories on this page, so we negotiate and determine who should get to feature which story.
All of that is to say: each of us loves every single one of these pieces. We’re very proud of the work all of our writers have done, and we’re so grateful that they allowed us to publish their work.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
Could we agree on the top five stories we’ve published in our second year? Of course not. (Our editorial process is more like a constant, real-life battle royale.) So instead, we’ve put together our personal favorites and shared our reasons for selecting them.
“Too many people hold the fuse to the world, and someone has finally lit it.”
Alamogordo by C.M. Fields: We accepted this story right after Putin launched his assault against the Ukrainian people. It’s a beautiful, important story about friendship, depression, and nuclear war.
“You press your palm to the bulkhead. There’s only vacuum between you and the ghost ship, so you tell yourself that it’s as good as having your hand against its hull. As good as being close. Nothing’s between you, so nothing separates you.“
Nothing Separates You by James Parenti: This story about two lovers separated during a salvage mission that goes horribly wrong broke my heart. I love everything about it.
“My body is a palimpsest, erased and written over. I update my mutable self, always hunting for new traits that better suit me.“
The Skin We’re In by Shelley Lavigne: Featuring an unforgettable narrator, a killer premise, and an unforgettable plot, this is one story I’m very proud to have published.
“A priest without a family is no priest at all.“
The Mountain’s Poison is Sweetness, Too by Aimee Ogden: In this unforgettable story, we see a glimpse of a far-future where our toxic waste requires a perpetual guardian.
“…we all got home all right, goggles and gloves and face shields back on like good little boys and girls, fake-ass grins, told our folks that yeah, the jog was good, yeah we stayed on the path, how much we missed exercise, all that. We’d gotten away with it, we figured, home free.“
Like An Itch You Scratch by Daria Lavelle: This story about teens sneaking out of quarantine to hotbox together makes you feel like you’re there with them, another clueless fifteen-year-old trying to experience just one moment of normalcy with your friends during a global crisis that has ensured none of you will ever see another normal day for the rest of your lives.
Betobeto Teketeke by JL Akagi: This story delivers on every promise it makes readers with its intimate, enthralling first line: “I’m going to tell you a story, but on one condition: it must be read out loud.” The dread only builds from there.
Blame by Warren Benedetto: This masterful, captivating story presents you with a mystery told via ephemera and documents from a fictional case file. You’ll enjoy glimpses into quotidian office life and IT problems as something goes very, very wrong off-screen.
The Norms from Up Here by Renan Bernardo: Set in a dystopian Brazil where you can’t get ahead in life if you don’t conform to the Norm and speak the language of the upper class Down There, this translated story about family and remembering your roots is one of my favorite pieces I’ve worked with at The Dread Machine. (Fun fact: the original Portuguese-language version of this story was a Finalist for both the 2020 Odisseia Award and the 2020 Argos Award!)
On This, Our Last Night at Station Six by Lora Gray: This poem’s title promises tragedy, and the opening lines ” ‘antigravity’ / you whisper and / instead of kissing / we scratch evidence / into our palms / ” subvert that expectation, giving readers instead glimpses of intimacy and pain. Artful line breaks and vivid imagery build tension and keep readers hooked.
Soft Eternity by Avra Margariti: The opening stanza of this poem yanks you into the story of a berserker who, tired of fighting, bestows her bearskin upon a selkie. This poem starts fierce, then turns vulnerable and tender, leaving readers with a twist of dread. Mythology and folklore are frequently a hard sell for us, but we loved the fresh taste of this poem.
What We Look For at The Night Market by Ai Jiang: Dreamy and numinous, filled with mystery, sadness, and regret, What We Look For at The Night Market is a haunting walk through the shadowy world of guilt and loss.
Punk’s Not Dead by Andrew Giffin: This story starts with a bang that just kept getting louder until it was a roar in my ears. The nonstop action and over-the-top characters made me cackle with delight at every explosive turn of events.
Cameras Up! Action On! by H.L. Fullerton: The rhythm of this piece is infectious, and the imagery is fantastic and surreal. It’s a fun one to read out loud. Almost slam poetry. I snap my fingers in applause.
Down to the River by William Jablonsky: A fresh folktale about innocence and experience, sin, lies, and the bloody truth. I love a story that makes me feel sorry for the devil.
A Lie, A Hope, A Piece, A Promise: From the Operative Record of Dr. Baba Yaga by Edith Lockwood: A story about Baba Yaga living in the modern world: working a job, going to therapy, and resisting the urge to eat human flesh. What’s not to love?