Maybe you no longer go Trick-or-Treating on Halloween night, but no one ever outgrows the love of a good, scary story. Recently, I asked for favorite scares of a literary bent and you responded with the following suggestions. So grab a warm blanket, light a candle, and curl up with some blood-curdling good stories.
Ray Bradbury’s novel about two thirteen-year-old boys who visit an evil carnival may sound rather benign but it is a frightening read, and the top vote-getter in my poll. Here’s an excerpt from the novel:
For these beings, fall is ever the normal season, the only weather, there be no choice beyond. Where do they come from? The dust. Where do they go? The grave. Does blood stir their veins? No: the night wind. What ticks in their head? The worm. What speaks from their mouth? The toad. What sees from their eye? The snake. What hears with their ear? The abyss between the stars. They sift the human storm for souls, eat flesh of reason, fill tombs with sinners. They frenzy forth….Such are the autumn people.
Umm. Yeah. Someone please turn on the lights.
Multiple titles by the living Master of Horror, Stephen King, were suggested, including It and The Shining. But there is something particularly unsettling about King’s imagining of the reanimation of beloved pets. As one of the characters eventually realizes, “Sometimes dead is better.”
This little bit of terror is not a novel or short story per se, but it is a fictional grimoire used by another master of the horror genre, H.P. Lovecraft. In this book of magic, we learn more about the Old Ones and the terrifying Cthulhu.
In The Call of Cthulu, Lovecraft writes:
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island in the midst of black seas of infinity and it was not meant that we should voyage far. Some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality that we shall either go mad from the relevation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
You have been warned…
Track a witch and burn her alive. Good times. Says the friend who recommended this: “Total pulp. Depression-era junk. But was creepy as hell when I read it for a Marginal Lit. class.” It also made it to “Marginal Film-making” in this 1962 flick starring Nobody-You’ve-Ever Heard-Of and co-starring Nobody-You’ve-Ever Heard-Of .
Strangled with your own hair? See what happens when you live in repression? I’m looking at YOU, Victorians….
I found / a thing to do, and all her hair / In one yellow string I wound / Three times her little throat around / And strangled her.
Before Alfred Hitchcock terrorized us with a (literal) murder of crows hell-bent on tenderizing Tippi Hedron‘s face, Daphne du Maurier creeped us out in print and made us keep a wary eye on the neighbor’s parakeet.
7. The Cat Who Went to Trinity by Robertson Davies
Maybe you want a Halloween story, but one that isn’t necessarily frightening. If so, this short story might be just the ticket. Says a friend, “Who could resist a Franken-cat that speaks in the language of the Gothic novel and poops shredded paper?”
Beware three wishes, especially if the acquisition of those wishes involves swearing on a shriveled up paw of a dead monkey from India. Write that down….
9. The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
The film of the same name came out when I was a very little girl. I was not allowed to see it and just what I heard about it scared me enough that I have not seen it to this day. It remains one of the most frightening tales ever, and its ability to chill is just as powerful in print.
Click here for an interesting interview with the author and his decision to revise the novel for its fortieth anniversary.
10. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
No list of top frights would be complete without Poe. Perhaps what is most disturbing about this and other stories is the complete lack of motive behind the murders, other than the convoluted and rarely clearly articulated reasons in the narrator’s mind:
It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture – a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees – very gradually – I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
Buwhahaha. Good Hallow’s Eve to all!