Leslie Poles Hartley (a favorite of mine) was born in Whittlesea, Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 1895. He joined the British Army in 1919, but was sent home after a short stint due to medical problems. He started his writing career as a fiction reviewer for several magazines, continuing at it for thirty years. His first published book was a collection of short stories titled Night Fears (1924). He also published short story collections of the supernatural in The Killing Bottle (1932) and The Traveling Grave (1948). He’s probably best known for his country life novel The Go-Between (1953), for which he won the Heinemann Foundation Prize of the Royal Society of Literature in 1954. It was adapted into a well-regarded feature film 1971. Hartley’s ability to create a strong atmosphere of country life is evidenced in many of his horror stories, particularly with “Feet Foremost” and “The Cotillon”. Hartley died of heart failure in 1972.
1. “Night Fears” (1924) – A night security guard questions the direction of his life after encountering a mysterious man on the job who asks him some troubling questions.
2. “A Visitor From Down Under” (1926) – A man traveling from Australia is being sought by something he thought he’d left behind and forgotten. This eerie story is about a conductors disturbing conversation with a malignant pursuer, creepy children’s rhymes, surreal dreams and strange supernatural occurrences. Another great one by Hartley.
3. “Feet Foremost” (1938) – A group assembles for the housewarming of the newly renovated Low Threshold Hall. The house had sat unoccupied for the previous hundred and fifty years. A young woman and her fiancée arrive at separate times, which proves unfortunate for the prospective groom who was not present to hear the legend of the malicious ghost that haunts the hall. It’s said the ghost of an ill-treated former mistress of the hall tries to gain entry across the threshold of her former residence, and if successful, she will possess and eventually kill the person who carries her through the front doors. Once that person is dead, she will leave the hall within their body, carried out of the house feet first. The reason the house has a low threshold is to help identify the ghost, as she looks normal when she arrives at the front door seeking admittance. If a woman appears and asks for assistance inside, they will know she’s the vengeful specter. She’s seeking retribution against anyone who takes her inside no matter their connection to the descendants of the cruel husband who crippled and later killed her. She’s a particularly malevolent entity who shows no mercy towards her victims in this great haunted house story.
4. “The Cotillon” (1948) – Marion Lane is a beautiful, flirtatious woman who attends an event called a cotillon, which is like a masquerade party with a series of games designed to choose a dancing partner without knowing who that person is. A mysterious man takes her interest during the event. An aura of cold surrounds him and doesn’t speak much. When he does speak to her after getting her alone, he says things that are both chilling and horrific. The ending of this story will stay with you long after its completion.
5. “Podolo” (1948) – A group finds a starving cat when they go to explore the small, deserted island of Podolo. The lady of their group wants to bring the cat back so he doesn’t die on the island. The men reluctantly agree but find rescuing the cat difficult. Unfortunately for them, something else resides there.
6. “The Thought” (1951) – A man’s pleasant existence becomes unbalanced when a dark thought enters his mind unbidden and starts to overtake everything else. He can only banish the thought by going to a local church and praying in a loud, boisterous fashion. Onlookers believe he’s praying for things he should not. When he becomes rich soon afterwards, his motives are questioned even more. One evening, something dark comes to him when he’s alone in the darkened church one cold night.
7. “W.S.” (1954) – A writer starts to receive postcards from someone he believes to be a fan. Messages written on them start off friendly but gradually become more ominous. They’re signed W.S. and originate from locations that are moving steadily closer to the recipient. Strange coincidences regarding these notes cause him to question his own sanity, as well as to ponder the possible supernatural origins of its sender.
8. “Someone in the Lift” (1955) – A boy and his family are spending the holidays in a hotel. The lift (elevator) has a see-through bared door. The boy is the only one who keeps seeing a tall figure when the lift moves into view. His mother becomes concerned with this fixation and asks his father to talk to him about it. He does so by suggesting the figure in the lift is possibly Father Christmas. This is a very short but great tale of holiday horror.
9. “The Waits” (1961) – A wealthy family is visited by two carolers on Christmas Eve, but when the daughter offers them money, they refuse it telling her it isn’t enough. This is repeated when other family members go and offer them more. They say they want the father to come see them and then sing a twisted version of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’.
Article by Matt Cowan