To paraphrase Mr. Lovecraft, “Fear is the strongest emotion.”
The following shorts fall under the banner of this disreputable genre, bound by common ground: to instill in you that most universal feeling. No, I don’t speak of love. If they are not all directly frightening tales, remember that fear is not to be confused with terror. The latter wants only one thing. While fear can indeed frighten, it can also inspire awe, wonder, and a powerful sense of mystery.
To the uninitiated, this roundup is the second installment to P.D. Horror Stories Roundup #1. Unlike that one, the stories here are shorter overall, with more variety in tone and style. And if you’re reading this at night, I really, really suggest you watch this skit to set the mood! It’s an amusing three-minute cartoon; but Annable is a superb storyboardist, and “The Hidden People” slowly builds suspense.
All stories are linked to their text-in-full. I recommend you read them without eyestrain; thus, copy and paste the stories from your browser window and into a free application like Dark Room. If you have an iPhone or something similar, Stanza is another free alternative. **Some of the below texts may require you to copy and paste.
Mr. Bierce, writer for The San Francisco Chronicle, here discloses three allegedly true vignettes, all to do with the horror of the vanishing act: people who spontaneously disappear without a trace, right before the eyes of their loved ones. Included is an article outlining the theory put forth by Dr. Hem, that there exists a “space between spaces.”
The prose of Ambrose Bierce, best known for An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, has been cited as too choppy when compared to his counterparts “across the pond,” yet so dry and matter-of-fact that no one has ever cared. His topics touch on the supernatural as much as they do with factual reports; and to our heightened fascination, this flavors his stories with a hint of the very real.
In a deserted hut in the middle of the night, a young woodcutter awakens to see an eerie ‘woman of the snow.’ She makes him promise not to tell anyone he has seen her, else she will return to suck the life out of him. Years pass, and he forgets his promise…
Memorable tales are often the simplest, and here no time is wasted delivering the punchline. Modeled after a Buddhist fable, this is so tightly structured to be one of the popular ‘Kaidan’ adaptations; among others, it even inspired an episode of Tales from the Crypt.
Upon hearing cries for help, a ship’s crew encounters a small boat at sea. Its unseen occupant is unwilling to board and shuns from the light of their lanterns. From there they are told the strange tale of a nearby uncharted island, where there lies a bizarre landscape.
The unusual concept borders on sci-fi, yet the framework is horror. While not directly frightening, it instead bears the qualities of a subtle, well-remembered nightmare. Hodgson is more fascinated by horror than he is frightened by it; and this fascination elevates his work into territory rarely trodden. This popular piece has been adapted several times into film and television.
On a hill sits Thurnley Abbey, a reputedly haunted mansion. That doesn’t bother Colvin’s friend, who is about to marry and plans to inherit the place. The old friends get to talking about ghosts, whereupon Colvin jokes, “If one were to see a ghost, one ought to speak to it.”
Told at a leisurely pace, this tale concerns the passage of time and the role it plays in sticking to our word. Or maybe that’s just pretense. Unlike a typical haunted house story, nothing out of the ordinary actually happens in Thurnley Abbey. At least until the time comes.
A handful of friends who disbelieve in the supernatural decide to stay overnight in the Toll House, a place fraught with peculiar history: its occupants are always discovered dead the morning after.
Lesser known than his masterwork “The Monkey’s Paw,” this short is no less ingeniously plotted and still holds up a century later. No spectral sightings here. The mystery of the Toll House lies within the weary framework of the human mind. A refreshing perspective to the often stale genre of haunted houses.
Aurthur Jermyn was an intelligent young man of good standing. So it came with surprise to those who knew him that he doused himself in oil and set himself ablaze. Thus, compiled for your perusal, here we have the facts concerning the late Aurthur Jermyn, and the queer reasons why he chose oblivion.
Lovecraft’s non-Mythos stories were either lightweight mood pieces or heavyweight pulps. This refined piece, a standalone tale, is verbosely economical, with subject matter that’s pleasantly pulp-ish. Even better, he manages to tell a bizarre story in such a spare amount of time.
A farmer sees that his neighbor will encircle a large mound rather than cross over it. He tells the farmer an oral history of the dirt mound, which had its origins with the Spanish conquistadors and is now considered a bad omen. That night, convinced of buried treasure, and unbeknown to the neighbor, the farmer begins to dig.
When he wasn’t writing stories to meet a deadline—or maybe because he was trying to meet a deadline—Howard had pacing in spades. Here, he tells an efficient tale of pure inevitability: what will happen is inevitable, predictable even, and breathlessly we expect it. Not for a second is that an understatement.
Through his window, a teacher witnesses a bizarre murder. Years later, he is witness to yet another strange event; one that bares an eerie correlation to the previous.
Horror could do with more surrealism; after all, to witness a perceived supernatural event is downright strange. This short-short is as light as a fable, but the plot unfurls with such a dose of magical realism that, well, who knew horror could be so…elliptical?
Oh, there’s plenty of crap to clog the drain. The awful stories, the dull stories, the stories in bad taste—they stagnate in cliches. It takes a great storyteller to tell a story about ghosts, because everybody knows all the good ones have been told.
Allow me to summarize what I read from an EC rag. I believe it was an issue of Tales from the Crypt. Now, this is straight from my memory, and so for those who know the tale, forgive any lapses in my telling.
It opens in the early 1900s with a young woman and her grandmother. There is talk about a certain young man, and the girl is commanded by her heartless grandmother never to see him again. The girl sneaks out and attempts to see her lover. But it’s raining out—pouring—and she succumbs to pneumonia. Days pass. The poor young woman dies; not from being out in the rain, the narrator supposes, but from a broken heart.
Her lover is mortified. He is forbidden by the cruel grandmother to attend her funeral, where she is to be sealed in a mausoleum, not buried. Acting upon this detail, that night the young man ventures into her mausoleum to say his farewells. To his luck, he finds the heavy doors to the crypt open. Inside, he sees his beautiful lover in repose, and spends the night whispering sweet nothings by her open coffin. As he turns to leave, a gust of wind kicks up and the giant doors seal shut. Horrified, he attempts to pry them loose. Then he bangs on them with his fist. Nothing works. He is trapped.
Nearby custodians wise up to the noises coming from the mausoleum and unlock the doors. They discover the young man, still alive, but terribly shaken and emotionally disturbed. It turns out that in his tortuous ordeal, he survived by drinking water from morning dews. Eventually he grew hungry, ravenously hungry and, well, he had to nibble on something…
What a horrible story! Very awful and disgusting. And very good. My point is that it could have been lifted from another story, “ripped off” so to speak (EC writers were known to borrow from classic works). But it hardly matters. This is a fine story because of how deliberately it is told.
Remember this: all bad horror stories are uninspired knockoffs. Good ones are merely inspired. So until next time, I hope you all enjoy these stories as much as I did!