Friday, June 5, 2015

Eight Tales of Terror You Might Enjoy

Edited by Stephen P. Sutton.
1968. 210 pages: 8 stories.
For sale HERE.
In an earlier posting we figured why wait for Christmas to enjoy Yuletide mayhem? Similarly we've decided not to tarry until Halloween, that time of year when tales of the uncanny seem to captivate what's left of the reading public.

Most call them "horror" stories, but we like Boris Karloff's preferred term "tales of terror." Karloff's distinction is much more useful and descriptive: "Horror" is the "gross out," physical, and literal aspect of this genre of fiction, of the kind one sees (and often has to endure) in movies and TV; whereas the term "tales of terror" emphasizes the psychological dimensions of encounters with the uncanny. After a career of depicting the macabre, Karloff knew that what happens in the mind is often far more exquisitely terrifying than anything we might experience in mundane reality.

Here, then, are eight terror tales that are worth seeking out.
(1) "The Red Lodge" by H. Russell Wakefield (1888-1964) (more about Wakefield HERE):

When an artist rents a cottage with his wife and six-year-old son, they all find out how "The Permanent Residents" of the lodge really feel about it:
. . . And then I suddenly found myself at the end of the garden, attempting desperately to hide myself behind a rowan tree, while my eyes were held relentlessly to face the door. And then it began slowly to open, and something which was horridly unlike anything I had seen before began passing through it, and I knew It knew I was there, and then my head seemed to burst and flamed asunder, splintered and destroyed, and I awoke, trembling, to feel that something in the darkness was poised an inch or two above me, and then drip, drip, drip, something began falling on my face. Mary was in the bed next to mine, and I would not scream, but flung the clothes over my head, my eyes streaming with the tears of terror. And so I remained cowering till I heard the clock strike five, and dawn, the ally I longed for, came, and the birds began to sing, and then I slept.
(2) "Sredni Vashtar" by "Saki" (1870-1916) (more about the author HERE and the story [SPOILERS] HERE):

A sickly child feels unfairly put upon and confined, and so he creates his own means of escape:
. . . And then of a sudden he stopped his chanting and drew closer to the windowpane. The door of the shed still stood ajar as it had been left, and the minutes were slipping by. They were long minutes, but they slipped by nevertheless. He watched the starlings running and flying in little parties across the lawn; he counted them over and over again, with one eye always on that swinging door. A sour-faced maid came in to lay the table for tea, and still Conradin stood and waited and watched. Hope had crept by inches into his heart, and now a look of triumph began to blaze in his eyes that had only known the wistful patience of defeat. Under his breath, with a furtive exultation, he began once again the paean of victory and devastation. And presently his eyes were rewarded: out through that doorway came a long, low, yellow and brown beast, with eyes a-blink at the waning daylight and dark wet stains around the fur of jaws and throat. Conradin dropped on his knees. The great polecat-ferret made its way down to a small brook at the foot of the garden, drank for a moment, then crossed a little plank bridge and was lost to sight in the bushes. Such was the passing of Sredni Vashtar.
(3) "Thurnley Abbey" by Perceval Landon (1868-1927) (more about Landon and the story [SPOILERS] HERE):

A haunted house in this modern age of electricity? Surely not:
. . . I switched on the bedside lamp. The sudden glory dazzled me for a moment. I felt under my pillow for my book with half-shut eyes. Then, growing used to the light, I happened to look down at the foot of my bed. I can never tell you really what happened then. Nothing I could ever confess in the most abject words could even faintly picture to you what I felt. I know that my heart stopped dead, and my throat shut automatically. In one instinctive movement I crouched back up against the headboards of the bed, staring at the horror. The movement set my heart going again, and the sweat dripped from every pore. I am not a particularly religious man, but I had always believed that God would never allow any supernatural appearance to present itself to man in such a guise and in such circumstances that harm, either bodily or mental, could result to him. I can only tell you that at that moment both my life and my reason rocked unsteadily on their seats.
(4) " 'God Grant That She Lye Stille' " by Cynthia Asquith (1887-1960) (more about Lady Asquith HERE):
A doctor falls in love with a beautiful woman who claims she doesn't really exist:
. . . Beneath the transmuting moon the crowded tombstones looked more sharply outlined, far less merged into the green quiet of the long grass. In the daytime the atmosphere breathed a sense of acquiescence, as though the oft-repeated text, "Thy will be done," had been instilled into the very air. But now the peace of buried centuries seemed disturbed, the consecrated ground to quiver with insubmission. Even the yew trees seemed to bristle. Starkly black, they stood like mutinous sentinels.
As I turned my eyes to the eastern side of the churchyard, I heard myself gasp. In the uttermost corner something white glimmered on the ground. I knew at once what it was. Ten strides brought me to where Margaret, in her long nightgown, lay outstretched across a flat tombstone. Her arms, the hands tightly clenched, were flung out in front; her slim, protesting body writhed. It looked as though she were struggling to rise, but had no power—almost as though some force were drawing her down. I heard a low, piteous moaning and knelt to examine her pale, twisted face. The eyes were closed. Her tormented body rolled over to one side, leaving the inscription on the gray lichened stone exposed. As I knelt I involuntarily read the brief words:
Here lyes the bodye of Elspeth Clewer.
God grante that she lye stille.
(5) "The Voice in the Night" by William Hope Hodgson (1877-1918) (more about Hodgson, a World War One casualty, HERE):
A three-man fishing boat is becalmed in the Pacific, miles from anywhere they know of, when they hear a voice:
. . . Suddenly I was called to myself by a queer hoarse sound on my left. Turning quickly, I saw that there was movement among an extraordinarily shaped mass of fungus close to my elbow. It was swaying uneasily, as though it possessed life of its own. Abruptly, as I stared, the thought came to me that the thing had a grotesque resemblance to the figure of a distorted human creature. Even as the fancy flashed into my brain, there was a slight, sickening noise of tearing, and I saw one of the branchlike arms was detaching itself from the surrounding gray masses and coming toward me. The head of the thing—a shapeless gray ball—inclined in my direction. I stood stupidly, and the vile arm brushed across my face. I gave out a frightened cry and ran back a few paces. There was a sweetish taste upon my lips where the thing had touched me. I licked them and was immediately filled with inhuman desire.
(6) "The Extra Passenger" by August Derleth (1909-71) (more about Lovecraft collaborator Derleth HERE):
An egotistical man commits what he thinks is the perfect crime, but he fails to allow for the uncanny:
. . . The match went out. Mr. Arodias was afraid to light another. For one cataclysmic moment the stuff on his fellow traveler's hands and shoes had looked like blood! Mr. Arodias swallowed and told himself that he was having hallucinations stemming from some rudimentary conscience which had not died with the rest of it in that long-ago time when he had entered upon his life of dubious practices and crime.
(7) "Casting the Runes" by M. R. James (1862-1936) (more about "the originator of the antiquarian ghost story" HERE):

When people start to die inexplicably, can a piece of paper be responsible?
. . . I suspected—as I told you—that Karswell had borne ill will to my brother, even that he was in some way responsible for what had happened; and now his book seemed to me to be a very sinister performance indeed. One chapter in particular struck me, in which he spoke of 'casting the runes' on people, either for the purpose of gaining their affection or of getting them out of the way—perhaps more especially the latter. He spoke of all this in a way that really seemed to me to imply actual knowledge. I've not time to go into details, but the upshot is that I am pretty sure from information received that the civil man at the concert was Karswell; I suspect—I more than suspect—that the paper was of importance, and I do believe that if my brother had been able to give it back he might have been alive now.
M. R. James in 1900
(8) "The Book" by Margaret Irwin (1889-1969) (more about Irwin, normally a historical novelist, HERE):

A stockbroker, a family man, encounters evil in the form of a book that writes itself—and which urges him to do something no decent person would consider:
. . . But presently, interspersed with these commands, were others of a meaningless, childish, yet revolting character, such as might be invented by a decadent imbecile.
He at first paid no attention to these directions, but found that his new speculations declined so rapidly that he became terrified not merely for his fortune but for his reputation and even safety, since the money of various of his clients was involved. It was made clear to him that he must follow the commands in the book altogether or not at all, and he began to carry out their puerile and grotesque blasphemies with a contemptuous amusement, which, however, gradually changed to a sense of their monstrous significance. They became more capricious and difficult of execution, but he now never hesitated to obey blindly, urged by a fear he could not understand.
By now he understood the effect of this book on the others near it and the reason that had impelled its mysterious agent to move the books into the second shelf, so that all in turn should come under the influence of that ancient and secret knowledge.
- Tim Prasil, tireless investigator of the paranormal in literature as well as being himself a fine ghost story author, has a website HERE.

Category: Tales of terror (or horror stories, if you wish)

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