...Unless you don't have time to wade through 35,000 words this week, or you just aren't interested in reading five
A note before we begin, though: I've done my best not to spoil the endings; suffice to say, there are both uppers and downers in this bunch. Collectively, I'm referring to the ultimate moment where the fic establishes that it will have a "good" or "bad" ending as "the reveal" for purposes of this post, terminological accuracy be damned..
(stories listed in the order they appear on EqD)
1) Reading Room #36, by Flashgen
What it is: Twilight enters a study chamber at the Canterlot Library. When she tries to leave, she discovers that something doesn't want her to go.
A few thoughts: The writing quality was a real letdown here, on multiple fronts. From redundant lists to awkward phrasing to poor dialogue (Twilight sounds distressingly like a generic horror movie victim), there's a lot here that could be cleaned up. Also, several non-pony-isms, such as where Twilight "thumbed" through her notes, are present. The contest entries were on a deadline, so it's entirely possible that some or all of these problems would have been addressed had the author had a bit more time, but hey; that's a problem for the author to deal with, not the reader.
As for the plot itself: the "trapped in a room" concept is a classic, for good reason: it plays on claustrophobia, isolation, helplessness, and several other common fears, making it an easy way to put a bit of horror into one's story. The source of that entrapment is something of a disappointment, though, in that its actions and dialogue are fairly generic (there's that word again), lacking any apparent motivation or communicative elements to elevate it above "cliche malignant super-entity."
Recommendation: This isn't a terribly frightening story, and the writing does distract somewhat from any buildup of tension, but readers looking for a passable take on a horror standby will probably find this to be unremarkable but serviceable in that regard.
2) The Lantern, by Cold in Gardez
What it is: Daring Do and a rival archaeologist must escape from an ancient mausoleum after a trap deposits them deep below the earth, along with the titular artifact which they were both seeking.
A few thoughts: The author does a great job of utilizing the lantern in a way which is ambiguous in such a way which it inspires dread and mystery, rather than reader annoyance--no small feat, that. This story also is genuinely touching in places, and has some excellent use of dialogue as a tension breaker at appropriate points in the early going, making sure that the story doesn't crest too quickly.
The epilogue is a minor letdown, however. While it's not exactly unenjoyable, it does feature a reveal that feels unnecessarily blunt and "this is the moral!" compared to the rest of the fic. I did also find that the (very occasional) swearing in this fic was poorly placed, in that it suggested heightened tension precisely in places of respite. Despite that, though, I did feel thoroughly engaged by the characters, and their plight, throughout.
Recommendation: There's not a lot of horror here, but there's plenty of supernatural tension, and these elements are very well realized. Readers looking for something to slightly elevate their blood pressure (as opposed to spiking their heart rate) will want to give this a look.
3) The Face Takers, by shortskirtsandexplosions
What it is: Applejack tells the CMC a scary story before bed. Things turn terrifying for Apple Bloom soon thereafter.
A few thoughts: I must admit, before commenting any further, that the setup above is one that annoys the heck out of me. I mean, horror stories generally need some sort of setup, and that setup is often a legend or story told in-character, but it bugs me when the story is told for no obvious reason, and then the subsequent revelations appear to be a product of coincidental timing. It always feels contrived to me.
But that's a common element in lots of horror stories, not just SS&E's present offering. In any case, this is by far the most gruesome story in the set, and if you're looking for something nauseating, this is it. Unfortunately, that seems to be the big draw here--I wouldn't go so far as to call this story "torture porn," but once you get past the dubious appeal of body horror which is the hallmark of this fic, you're left with a long, oddly soliloquy-ish story by Applejack, the extended body horror (I really need to find a good synonym for that phrase) bit, and a short and (to me) unsatisfying reveal.
Recommendation: For those who enjoy more visceral takes on scary stories, this has the (maybe metaphorical) blood and guts you crave. I'd say that that's a rather specific taste, though, and readers not interested in body horror will probably be less taken in with this one. And of course, those put off by SS&E's loquacious style will find that it's on full display here, in all it's metaphor-laden glory.
4) More Than You Know, by Obselesence
What it is: Princess Celestia takes a young Twilight Sparkle for a walk in the castle's garden.
A few thoughts: This story uses third-person, present-tense narration--an unusual choice, but one well-chosen here, as it lends the story a slightly surreal, present-yet-distant quality which works well with the story being told. As for that story, it's absolutely terrifying, yet easy to see working within the confines of Equestria. And crucially, it's more frightening the more one thinks about it; this ultimately reads like an extended morality play, but the frightening rationality behind it is remarkably effective.
Recommendation: Although the reveal is unlikely to surprise, this has some excellent psychological horror elements, and does a great job putting a sinister take on the nature of Equestria which still seems to plausibly fit within the setting. So... I recommend it to people who like those things.
5) Red, if at all Possible, by ChaoticHarmony
What it is: Octavia is a vampire: a creature of the night, a cold-blooded murderer... and a target.
A few thoughts: As with Reading Room #36, I found the writing quality here to be an impediment to enjoyment--though not to the same degree, it must be said. The most common issue is missing commas (regrettably regular in their occurrence), but there's also a lot of redundancy here, both in wording and in story detail.
As someone who's always been most partial to the "demonic possessive forces" school of vampire-lore, I was pleased to see that the author didn't fill Octavia with angst and instead elected for a more traditional interpretation of one of horror's most-reinvented creatures. Indeed, Octavia's characterization was a high point of the story. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the other major characters, who are unconvincing (for the canon one) and poorly realized (for the OC). The story also makes some odd (and frankly, unnecessary) choices with its timeskips, which breaks up the tension and makes the ending feel more abrupt than it need have been. And as for that ending... the story ends on a definite note, but doesn't seem to carry much of a moral. I personally didn't find that problematic, but it's definitely atypical for a story in this genre to be neither open-ended nor to carry a clear message (or often, both).
Recommendation: About the only thing really worth recommending here is Octavia's characterization as a Stoker-esque vampire--and to be fair, ChaoticHarmony does do a great job with that. Still, readers looking for more will probably be left unimpressed.