It’s reached the time of year again when I suggest a batch of eerie tales to help set the mood for the Halloween season! This year’s impressive lineup includes such masters of the genre as Gaston Leroux (author of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), E. Nesbit, Ramsey Campbell, E.F. Benson, and Gary McMahon.
Incidentally, I had a Halloween album of stories and scary sounds as a child that included an adaptation of Leroux’s “The Woman With The Velvet Collar” which I loved, so it seems extra-fitting to make this year’s list to me.
1. “The Haunters and The Haunted” or “The House and The Brain” by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1859) – After hearing a notoriously haunted house is available to let, a fearless man, excited to experience and find an explanation for the haunting, goes there to check it out with a trusted servant and dog. The descriptions of the bizarre manifestations in the house are superb and make this one of the best haunted house stories ever written. I’ll say that I’ve read both the more standard, edited version and its original version, which contains a plodding, wordy latter third of the story that attempts to explain the haunting. I feel this is a prime example of how less is often more.
2. “The Amputated Arms” by Jorgen Wilhelm Bergsoe (1867) – The mysterious disappearance of several anatomy skeletons at a university leads a student to steal an arm bone from a body in the local graveyard. This leads to horrific nightmares, as the student wrestles with the supernatural cost of his actions.
3. “The Violet Car” E. Nesbit (1910) – A nurse is hired to live with and help a couple. The husband claims to have seen and heard a phantom car everyday since witnessing his daughter’s death after being struck by it.
4. “How Fear Departed from the Long Gallery” E.F. Benson (1912) – Church-Peveril is a large manor house so full of spectral emanations the family and staff have become accustom to them. There is one manifestation they must take steps to avoid, however. Long ago, an evil man strangled two young twins who were the rightful successors to the estate and cast them into the vast fireplace in the gallery hall. Since then, anyone remaining in the hall after sunset encounters the pitiable twins and suffer a horrible death soon afterward. Benson masterfully relates the terror of being caught after sunset in the dreaded gallery, and the scene where a woman experiences a nightmare on a green couch is so weird and unsettling, it will stay with me always.
5. “The Woman With The Velvet Collar” by Gaston Leroux (1929) – A retired sea captain tells the tale of a beautiful, pale woman he encountered who always wore a thick velvet collar around her neck and could never turn her head to either side. Her story is a tragic one in which it’s claimed her head had been cut off by a guillotine, and that the collar is the only thing holding it in place on her undead body.
6. “Graveyard Rats” by Henry Kuttner (1936) – Aggressive, oversized rats keep taking corpses from their graves before an unscrupulous cemetery worker can steal their belongings, which draws them into conflict with each other.
7. “Dead Air” by Gregory Nicoll (1988) – A disc jockey named Mary has a terrible night, forced to deal with threatening drunk callers, a slue of mysteriously scratched records and several eerie sounds and happenings while working the overnight shift at her new radio station job. When a request comes in to play a song called “The Hands of Jack The Ripper” by Screaming Lord Sutch, a musician she’s never heard of, things get much worse. Lots of references to rock bands are in this story, Blue Oyster Cult in particular.
8. “In The Shadow of Another World” by Thomas Ligotti (1991) – A man visits a strange house full of large shuttered windows with a tall turret attached to it. It turns out the place is specially designed to keep entities from a nightmarish realm which seeps into our own. These creatures can only be seen when the shutters are opened and the protective symbols are removed.
9. “Facing It” by Ramsey Campbell (1995) – On Halloween in New York, a woman tries to piece together if the mysterious events featuring a faceless man from earlier actually happened or if it was just a dream.
10. “The Sand King” by Gary McMahon (2006) – In this novelette, a man and his wife rent a place by the sea to try and mend their fractured marriage while he works on illustrations for a book based on M.R. James’ famous story, “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come To You, My Lad.” The tension between the couple is palpable as they struggle to overcome their pain and guilt. Meanwhile, the husband begins to catch glimpses of a strange, hazy figure on the beach who seems to be trying to gain his attention. This fantastically creepy tale, thick with atmosphere, does an excellent job evoking dread over the supernatural menace of the figure on the beach.
Article by Matt Cowan