Background: Published in 1999, this unsettling novella quickly gained critical acclaim, winning the British Fantasy Award in 2000 for Best Short Fiction and reprinted in Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror: Volume 13 and The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 11.
The idea came about because Andy Fairclough, who ran the Masters of Terror website, asked Lebbon to write a novella for the launch title of his publishing endeavor. But Lebbon claims that the story “seemed to come out of nowhere.” The novella is also slated to become a movie directed by Stephen Susco (The Grudge).
What it’s about: We meet a band of post-apocalyptic survivors holed up in a mansion in the middle of nowhere. The creepy thing about this apocalypse is that we don’t really know any of the details: is it still occurring? Is everyone else dead? We’re isolated and snowbound with our group who is itching for a scrap of news to tell them what’s going on in the world they escaped.
They can’t get to the nearest town because the snow is so thick and fierce that they would freeze to death if they tried. But try they do, only to discover that there are deadly, half-seen things in the snow. They find one of their fellows ripped apart into scattered gory pieces, and some of them claim to see white animals in the snow.
The narrator does not see animals, but he does see strange, impossible shapes that blend in with the backdrop and only move in the corner of his eye. And when these creatures decide to come for them, there is little hope of survival.
Why it will keep you up at night: What kept this story in my mind after reading it was the uncertainty and the landscape. Imagine being utterly surrounded by a desolate sea of snow with no escape, and your eyes start playing tricks on you… or do they? Are there really things in the snow? And how frustrated and terrified would you be if you couldn’t ever really see them but could only make out the movement from the corner of your eye? Add to this unsettling psychological dread the fear of a bloody and gruesome death and the isolation of the mansion, and you have yourself a captivating novella that you won’t want to put down.