The Call Is Coming From Inside You!

CW: Mention of self-harm in description of Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi.

March Madness 2020-style: a world where the concept of “going viral” has suddenly lost all appeal, where every day is Casual Friday, where we have all the free time we once wished for, although we’re spending it a little more reclusively than we’d perhaps imagined.

Self-quarantining, sheltering in place, social distancing—all of these practices are meant to keep ourselves and those at least six feet away from us healthy and safe, but some circumstances make it impossible for even the best-intentioned among us to follow the rules. I’m not talking about narrow footbridge quandaries or Good Samaritan curbside CPR or people who will just not stop spring (out)breaking—but how are you supposed to keep six feet away from someone who’s already . . . inside of you? When there’s someone or something in your head, sharing your body, elbowing your identity in the ribs, hunkering down in all those places Purell just can’t reach?

Here are ten tales of boundary-challenged people or entities whose presence would be burdensome enough in the best of times, but now? Now they could get you fined for noncompliance. If nothing else, they might make you appreciate your solitude a little bit more.

Come Closer

by Sara Gran

At the risk of losing a ton of followers, I gotta take a stand and call hard disagree on William Congreve’s “most furious things ever” rankings. Sure, a woman scorned will boil a bunny, smash a car window or two, maybe even ruin your credit, but Billy—hell hath actual demons. Who will literally wear you like an outfit. In this novel, one possesses the body and soul of an ordinary woman named Amanda and slowly burns her life to the ground: sabotaging her career, ruining her marriage, and making it impossible for her to ever go back to that one bodega again.


by Akwaeke Emezi

What’s worse than being inhabited by a demon? Being inhabited by a number of beings that aren’t quite demons but aren’t not demons either. Like how chimpanzees aren’t taxonomically monkeys, but—come on, look at ‘em—those are monkeys, am I right? Changes in a person’s behavior and personality, promiscuity, mood swings, eating disorders, depression, episodes of self-mutilation (the favorite game of a demon-bully: “Why are you cutting yourself? Why are you cutting yourself?”) . . . well, a demon’s the only logical explanation for any of that, right? Right?


by Octavia Butler

Sometimes it’s not a someone squatting in your mind, but a no one—an empty space where your identity used to be, leaving you a stranger to yourself, alienated from your own skin. The causes of memory loss are numerous: it can result from physical or psychological trauma or neurological decay, but sometimes a 53-year-old genetically modified vampire will wake up in a cave above a ruined city to find themselves trapped in the body of an 11-year-old girl and they, too, will have amnesia. Psychological trauma is a way more common cause, though.

Someone Like Me

by M.R. Carey

Have you ever felt like there was a better version of you out there? A more successful, happier, more fulfilled you who made smarter choices and has subsequently been living the life you ought to be living? The life you deserve? What if all you had to do was just . . . take it? To evict the spirity bits from the meat of other-you and move on in? Is it considered identity theft if the body is genetically yours? Does it count as murder if there’s still a pulse in that flesh?

All of these questions bring to mind that old Morrissey koan:

Does the body rule the mind
Or does the mind rule the body?
I dunno

The Eighth Girl

by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung

I say “demonic possession,” you say “Dissociative Identity Disorder.” Looks the same from the outside, but while a demon’s only interested in joyriding a human body until it crashes, DID’s revolving door of personas manifest to protect already-damaged psyches from further harm. And although both situations involve lost time and a side order of “what’s my body been doing?” panic, if you have to sublet, it’s comforting to know that whatever literally has your back will also figuratively have your back. Put it this way—there is zero chance that a demon shacking up in your skin is going to be washing your hands with antibacterial soap for twenty seconds every time you touch a door.

This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us

by Edgar Cantero

If you’re already experiencing cabin fever irritability—throwing half-completed jigsaws at your roommate for finishing the milk, bickering with your spouse over takeout menus—imagine how much more claustrophobic those relatively trivial domestic disputes would feel if they were taking place inside you. For example, if you were twin siblings with separate consciousnesses, two genders, two discrete and wildly different personalities, but with only one body to share between you, and you had to fight for custody of that physical form on a daily basis. And also investigate crimes. Yeah. Now stop arguing about which takeout to get. Get both. Tip generously.

This Is Your Brain on Parasites: How Tiny Creatures Manipulate Our Behavior and Shape Society

by Kathleen McAuliffe

This is the only nonfiction book on the list, but its title alone is scarier to me than any horror novel I’ve ever read. If you don’t know anything about parasites, here are some bullet points: Some can change the color of their host’s skin to make them more visible to a predator. Some inject their eggs into their host’s body so their babies have something to eat once they’ve hatched. Some override the brains of their hosts, causing them to raise the parasite’s young as their own, or fling themselves into bodies of water, or run directly into the mouth of a predator. There are more than 430 kinds of parasites that can live on or inside a human body . . . and they LOVE sheltering in place. Sweet dreams!


by Mira Grant

Speaking of parasites, this is the first book in Grant’s Parasitology trilogy, a mash-up of science fiction, medical thriller, and moral philosophy seminar set in a near-future world in which humanity has conquered all diseases and disorders, from cancer to allergies, by simply implanting genetically engineered tapeworms into folks and forgetting that hubris exists. Everything is going swimmingly until the implants become a little more . . . sentient. Which is a real drag for the people who used to be in charge of a body that is now basically an Airbnb and there’s tenant rights and it becomes a whole thing. It’s a mostly horrible situation. But at least they don’t have COVID-19. Or condoms.

Rosemary’s Baby

by Ira Levin

Speaking of condoms, every mother who’s been cooped up quarantining with their young children for the past few weeks has no doubt found the experience all too reminiscent of those long months of pregnancy when being alone was never an option, and that kid was just always there, sucking away your energy, messing with your hormones. But it was All Worth It, right? All the discomfort of pregnancy, all the pain and inadvertent defecation of childbirth, all the sleepless nights and anxiety were all totally worth it because it’s a BABY! Yours forever! There’ll be a survey at the end of this quarantine, but I think I know what box Rosemary’s gonna check.

Half Life

by Shelley Jackson

If we’re going to hold a book written fourteen years ago accountable to standards for social interaction devised less than a month ago (and who’s gonna stop me, you? You’re as cloistered as I am, pal), then Nora is demonstrating a next-level commitment to social distancing by trying to get Blanche, her twenty-years-slumbering sister, surgically removed from their body. However, points are lost for being (gasp!) outdoors in San Francisco and later traveling nonessentially to London. I don’t want to sound like the municipal government of Bomont, Utah, here, but that kind of reckless behavior is just asking for trouble, missy.

Karen Brissette

Karen Brissette, booknerd for hire, is the #1 reviewer on Goodreads and also writes about books for NoveList and L.A. Review of Books. She is the same-but-different Karen Brissette blogging her way through Paul Tremblay’s novel A Head Full of Ghosts, but her real blog is: Although she played the sax for ten years, she is terrible at tooting her own horn.


Artwork by prettysleepy1 from Pixabay