My favorite writer of all time is Ramsey Campbell. He’s won multiple awards in his career, including: World Fantasy Awards, British Fantasy Awards, Bram Stoker Awards, International Horror Guild Awards, as well as The Horror Writers’ Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Living Legend Award of International Horror Guild 2007. Most of the stories on my list can be found in his collection ALONE WITH THE HORRORS, which also won the 1994 World Fantasy Award-Collection, as well as the 1993 Stoker-Collection Award. It is my belief that one day Ramsey Campbell’s work will be looked upon in the same light as M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood, H.P. Lovecraft, and J. Sheridan Le Fanu. The following is my list of favorite Ramsey Campbell short stories:
1- “Down There” (1978) – A woman working on the sixth floor of an old building finds herself alone with her boss due to her fellow workers being on strike. Her boss becomes increasingly more nervous as time passes. One of the building’s two elevators doesn’t work and is stuck in the massive subbasement that had been stock-piled with rotting food. Rumor has it a huge quantity of the spoiled food disappeared one day with no explanation as to where it could have gone. As the two remain in the building during a thunderstorm, they start to notice clues that something is making its way up towards them from the lower levels.
* At one point, famed director Guillermo Del Toro was slated to adapt this for a horror anthology film. Unfortunately, the project went under before it was made. It’s a shame. I would love to have seen these hideous creatures on the silver screen.
2- “Worse Than Bones” (2001) – An older man named Hammond loves books above anything else, particularly used ones that have been written in by previous owners. It makes the books feel “lived in” to him. His recent purchase is titled Tales of the Ghostly, an anthology of ghost stories. The book’s previous owner made numerous comments on each story, much to Hammond’s delight. He becomes less enamored with the book when the notations grow dark, and even personal. He manages to track down some history of the book’s former owner, a woman named Hettie Close. This fantastic tale looks at Hammond’s struggle with his domineering boss, difficulty in relating to his younger co-workers, and attention from an unwanted supernatural presence.
3- “Just Waiting” (1983) – A successful writer returns to the wishing well hidden, deep in a forest where he made a wish as a child. The bizarre and tragic events of that day so long ago changed the course of his life. I love stories set in forests, and this is my favorite of that sort. It has the perfect mix of setting, characters you recognize, and weird supernatural beings.
4- “The Inhabitant of the Lake” (1962) – A man goes to visit a friend named Cartwright, who’s a gifted, albeit morbid artist. Cartwright had moved into one of a line of deteriorating, secluded cabins by a lake to help him paint. As time passes he starts to hear unexplained sounds coming from the water and starts having nightmares. Something ancient and bizarre seems to be exerting an influence from the lake, which puts the men in horrific peril. This is vintage otherworldly horror that any fan of The Cthulhu Mythos should devour.
5- “The Scar” (1967) – Lindsay Rice begins to question whether or not his brother-in-law is still who he appears to be after spotting a nearly perfect lookalike on a bus. The only difference being a scar on the doppelgänger’s face. His vague suspicions are hampered by debilitating social awkwardness. This story is about everyday characters forced to deal with an insidious evil that is closing in on their family.
6- “The Other Side” (1985) – A stern teacher watches the menacing actions of a mysterious, clown from the safety of his window. The clown is a malignant supernatural force that’s well aware the teacher is watching.
7- “Above the World” (1977) – A man returns to the mountainous vacation spot he used to go to with his wife when they were still together. It is also the spot where she and her new husband died on a later visit. The man spends time remembering the good times he had with her while going into the forested mountains for its breathtaking view from high above everything. As he does, he begins to notice hints that the area holds some essence of the lost couple. This is a wonderfully eerie tale.
8- “In the Bag” (1974) – A rigid school master doles out harsh punishments after his son who attends the school had a plastic bag wrapped around his head by an unknown perpetrator. A dark secret from the school master’s past mirrors the incident. He’s plagued by mysterious sounds and visions ever since leading him to suspect something from his past is coming for revenge.
* This won the 1978 British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story.
9- “The Brood” (1976) – A veterinarian who enjoys people-watching from his window becomes intrigued by an old woman who stands under a lamppost every night. She seems to be collecting pets she takes home which are never seen again. Eventually, she stops going to the lamppost. When he goes to investigate, he finds something he completely unexpected. The descriptions of the setting and creatures are poetic and eerie.
10- “The Ferries” (1978) – A man witnesses his uncle being carried off by a mysterious boat across an open field when he awakens from a nap. This excerpt describes what he saw: “Its sails looked stained patchily by mould. It was full of holes, all of which were misshapen by glistening vegetation. Were its decks crowded with figures? If so, he was grateful that he couldn’t see their faces, for their movements made him think of drowned things lolling underwater, dragged back and forth by currents.” All he finds in the field afterwards is a bottle containing a miniature boat. From that point forward he fears something is coming for him as well.