Horror fiction can be a lot of things: disturbing, unnerving, unsettling, upsetting, disquieting. I am of the (somewhat controversial) opinion that not all horror books have to be scary to be effective—in fact, I often find that "scary" is merely scraping the surface of what the genre can be.
And yet. Sometimes, you just crave a book that will terrify you. A book that will get under your skin, make you afraid to turn the lights off when you go to bed. When it comes to horror movies, I'm an easy target. You can pretty much show me any slightly off kilter image and I'm rushing to turn the lights on and jumping at every little noise in my house. But books? Being genuinely scared while reading is much, much rarer. And—like I said, this doesn't say anything about the quality of horror books I'm reading. I'm just saying, provoking genuine fear via the written page is a much, much harder thing to do.
But Come Closer by Sara Gran is one of those rare horror books—and it has even made the viral rounds on TikTok's #horrorbooktok hashtag. As Bret Easton Ellis says, “What begins as a sly fable about frustrated desire evolves into a genuinely scary novel about possession and insanity. Hypnotic.”
With this creepy little horror novella, the less you know—the better. Just know, you're not going to be able to put it down. And it's also going to haunt you long after you do. But don't take my word for it—here's an excerpt. Once you're hooked, buy a copy for yourself. Just make sure you keep the lights on. And don't pay attention to the tapping on the other side of the wall.
Read an excerpt from Come Closer below and then purchase the book!
WHAT WE THINK is impossible happens all the time.
Like the time Ed let himself into the apartment and then lost his keys, somewhere in the house, and never found them again. Like the Halloween morning where I opened a cabinet of dishes, all stacked in perfect order, and the stack of plates on the highest shelf came toppling down, one by one, to bounce off my shoulders and shatter on the floor. Or when my friend Marlene picked up the phone to call her grandmother and someone was already on the line; one of her cousins, calling to tell her her grandmother had died that morning. We could devote our lives to making sense of the odd, the inexplicable, the coincidental, but most of us don’t. And neither did I.
SOON AFTER the tapping began, Ed and I started to fight. We didn’t fight all the time, we didn’t change all at once. It was just a little bickering at first, I thought it was just a phase. I didn’t know it was a part of a pattern, because I didn’t know there was a pattern to see. I didn’t know that it would escalate. If I had to pinpoint when the phase began— the phase that turned out not to be a phase at all but the start of a steady decline—I would say Valentine’s Day of that year.
Related: Marriage, Madness, and Murder Collide in Final Vows
Our plan that Valentine’s Day was to avoid the crowded restaurants and have a romantic night at home. I got off work first so I was in charge of dinner. Ed, due home at sevenish, was supposed to bring flowers and wine. By seven, I had cooked dinner—veal marsala and broccoli rabe —set the table, and had a store-bought chocolate soufflé in the oven. But then Ed called at 7:15 from the office and said he would be at least another hour or two. Some numbers had to be checked and rechecked and they couldn’t wait until tomorrow. I watched the news on television, and then a few sitcoms. I ate a bag of pretzels watching a hospital drama. At eleven the news came on again. Not much had changed.
Well into the nighttime talk shows, Ed came strolling in the door with no flowers and no wine.
“Hi hon,” he said, and walked across the loft to the sofa. He leaned in to give me a kiss. I pulled my head back. How dare he, I heard myself think.
“You’re late,” I said. He’s always late, I thought. The tapping in the apartment was especially loud that night.
“I know, I’m sorry,” he said with an exaggerated hound dog face. “Apology accepted?”
“No,” I said. “Apology not fucking accepted.”
“Oh honey, I—”
“It’s VALENTINE’S DAY!” I yelled. “Where the fuck have you been?”
“I called!” he yelled back. He walked into the bedroom to change into blue flannel pajamas and then yelled from there. “You knew I would be late!”
“You called four hours ago!”
Tap-tap. Tap-tap. Tap-tap. I was furious now. Nothing could make this okay.
“I’m sorry about dinner,” he called, still in the bedroom.
“I TOLD YOU I WAS SORRY!”
“You’re always sorry!” I yelled back. “You and your FUCKING APOLOGIES!”
Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap—it reached a sort of crescendo and then stopped for the night.
Ed walked out of the bedroom and I walked in, slamming the door behind me. I lay in bed and in my mind reviewed every late night, every broken promise of my marriage. An hour later Ed came to bed and I pretended to be asleep.
THAT NIGHT I had an odd dream, which I remembered very clearly the next morning. A red ocean was rimmed with a shore of darker crimson sand. In the ocean a woman played in the waves. She was beautiful and had big dark eyes; her only flaw was her huge head of black hair, which was matted into dirty locks. I watched her from the shore. She walked out of the ocean and the red liquid rolled off her skin like mercury. Then we were lying next to each other on the sand. Her teeth were as pointy as fangs. I thought they were pretty.
“I like you,” she said. She reached over and twirled a lock of my hair around her fingers. I blushed and looked down at the red sand.
“Can I stay with you?” she asked. With my index finger I spelled out YES in the crimson sand. Next to that she wrote her name: NAAMAH.
She put her arms around me and we hugged like sisters. I loved her so much, I wanted us to be together always.
I WAS sure I had seen that woman before. She came in and out of my mind often the next few days, like a few notes of a song you just couldn’t reconnect to the whole. Especially her lips, I was sure I had seen them before. It was a few days later that the name came back to me. Ed and I were at the kitchen table with our morning coffee and toast, talking about his friends Alex and Sophia. We hadn’t exactly made up from the Valentine’s Day fight but we had let it go, silently decided that it had never happened. I was half listening to a story about Alex’s promotion, half thinking about what to wear that day, when her name flew back to me, unannounced.
“Pansy!” I called out. “I knew I knew her.”
PANSY HAD been an imaginary friend. I first thought of her when I was five or six. A mother substitute. I imagined her combing my hair, setting up for a tea party with me, tucking me into bed at night. My real mother had passed away when I was three—from a heart attack—and my father remarried very quickly, to a woman who had never wanted children. Noreen. Pansy wasn’t another little girl, she was what I thought of as a grown-up, but she was really a teenager. She was modeled loosely on Tracy Berkowitz, a glamorous eighteen year old who lived down the block. But unlike Tracy, Pansy was wise and soothing and cared about me. I was not so lonely as to be deranged, to think that Pansy was real. There was no psychic break, no supernatural mischief. I was absolutely aware that I was real and Pansy was imaginary.
Until, one day, she wasn’t. I was on my way home from school. The image that had loomed so large at six had, by the time I was nine, been relegated to a few minutes of attention before I went to sleep, where I imagined her kissing me good night. It was late spring, towards the end of the school year. The sun was bright and the hum of summer was already in the air, flies and crickets and the far-off sounds of Trans Ams and Camaros in town. I was walking home from school, down a block of neat white houses with patches of green lawn, each one almost identical to the next. I was walking slowly, not in a hurry to be home, or anywhere at all. The street was empty except for a woman at the end of the block, standing at the crossroads as if she was waiting for someone.
Without interest I noticed the woman on the corner. As I got closer she turned toward me and smiled. At first I thought she was Tracy Berkowitz. But no, I remembered, Tracy, unwed, had moved to the city months ago with her cop boyfriend. The move was a minor scandal on the block and there was no forgetting it.
The woman on the corner was looking right at me now.
She had a mess of black hair and a pink pretty smile. I remember her skin, perfectly bisque with a soft translucent glow, like an airbrushed photo from a magazine.
It was Pansy.
My heart beat like a hummingbird in my chest. I went into a kind of panic, thoughts falling on top of each other with no order. It couldn’t be her. But it was.
When I reached the corner she stepped in front of me, and I stopped. She bent down, leaning her hands on her thighs. The sun shone directly on her face, but she didn’t blink or squint. “Hi Amanda,” she said. Her voice had a clear, sweet tone like a violin. All my fears dissipated when I heard that voice.
“Can you see me, Amanda?” she asked.
Just then a growling Firebird sped by the cross street, honking its horn. Instinctively I blinked and turned towards it, for a half second or less. When I turned back, she was gone.
I was old enough to know that this was impossible, what had just happened, and that only crazy people believed in impossible events. I buried the memory so deeply it didn’t resurface until the dreams began.
Incidentally, my father and Noreen died while I was in my second year of college. They were scuba diving off the coast of Jamaica and got caught in a coral reef and drowned.
I TOLD Edward the whole story, about the woman I had seen as a child and the dreams I had had.
“So you saw a woman, when you were a girl, who looked like your imaginary friend, and last night you had a dream about her.” Ed had a certain tone of voice, skeptical and a little condescending, which made him could sound like a father whose daughter was late coming home from the prom. It wasn’t one of his more attractive qualities.
“But who was that woman? Why did she know my name?”
“It was probably that Stacy woman.”
“Tracy. But it wasn’t Tracy. It was Pansy.”
Ed sighed. “So it was Pansy,” he said.
“Oh, forget it.”
Edward put the paper down and reached across the table for my hand, which I reluctantly gave to him.
“Alex and Sophia said we could use their beach house the last weekend in September. You want to go?”
Alex and Sophia were old friends of Ed’s. A few times a year they gave us the keys to their beach house outside the city.
“We both need to relax,” Ed said.
There was no more talk of Pansy or nightmares for the rest of the morning. Maybe Ed was right, I thought: Pansy never had pointy teeth, and I never saw her naked. Naamah had bigger eyes. Pansy was shorter. But as the day went on and their faces came in and out of my mind I was sure the two women were one and the same. Naamah could have been Pansy, only a few years older. Pansy could have been Naamah, dressed and made up for a costume party.
And besides, I was pleased with the dream, in a way. To see Pansy again was like a visit from an old friend. I was irked with Edward but I quickly got over it. He was right, after all. I was stressed, and we did need to relax. Somehow that explained away the strange dreams—stress. As for what I had seen on the street that day when I was nine, I told myself Ed was right. It must have been Tracy after all.
WE COULD devote our lives to making sense of the odd, the inexplicable, the coincidental. But most of us don’t, and I didn’t either.
Want to keep reading? Click below to get your own copy of Come Closer!