October is here. The leaves are turning, the pumpkins are boasting new faces and the moon seems to shine its silvery glow even brighter. Miniaturized versions of sinister ghouls, cowled vampires and terrifying witches will soon be set loose upon every neighborhood throughout the land seeking their sugery bounty. For us here, you know what that means. The time has come. The Ninth Annual Horror Delve Halloween Suggested Reading List awaits you below, should you dare take up the challenge.
THE STORIES (Listed By Publication Date Order):
1. “The Horned Women” by Lady Jane Francesca Wilde (1887) – This Irish legend is about twelve witches who show up at a woman’s house, with each new arrival sprouting one more horn from her head than her predecessor. The woman who owns the house receives specific instructions as to how to she can protect herself against these evil intruders from a well.
2. “The Story of Baelbrow” by E. And H. Heron (1898) – Flaxman Low attempts to help the Swaffam family deal with a violent entity that’s haunting their ancestral home of Baelbrow. While it has long been rumored to be haunted, recently things have stepped up with physical manifestations and attacks on people inside the house even resulting in a death. Low follows several different clues, including descriptions of the specter and bite marks on the victims, to help him figure out exactly what it is they are up against, and it’s an odd one indeed! You can listen here for free: https://hypnogoria.blogspot.com/2019/10/great-library-of-dreams-62-story-of.html
3. “Number 13” by M. R. James (1904) – A man staying in room 12 of a hotel begins to realize another room takes the space between his and room 14 at various times during the night. Superstitious beliefs has prevented there being a room numbered thirteen. In the mysterious extra chamber, from which an eerie red glow emanates, the man hears strange talking and sees disturbing shadows. This is a favorite of mine. The bizarre things attached to this spectral room point to a diabolical, demonic entity taking up residence in the extra-dimensional space.
4. “The Floor Above” by M. L. Humphreys (1923) – After he receives a letter from a long, lost friend asking him to come pay a visit as he isn’t doing well, a man promptly heads out. He soon begins to sense something wrong with both his friend as well as the place where he’s living. This is an excellent, creepy tale which you can listen to here for free: https://pseudopod.org/2021/09/03/pseudopod-773-the-floor-above/
5. “Music Hath Charm” by L. T. C. Rolt (1948) – A man begins to worry about his friend who has recently inherited a house in Cornwall from a rich uncle. The house is said to have a dark history with ties to wreckers and smugglers. After an oddly decorated music box is found hidden inside a wall in the house, strange things begins to occur around the house and its new lord. This is an excellent story of a spooky, seaside house with lots of neat, gothic touches to it. You can listen to it here for free: https://uk-podcasts.co.uk/podcast/classic-ghost-stories/s02e26-music-hath-charms-by-l-t-c-rolt
6. “Sticks” by Karl Edward. Wagner (1974) – This excellent novelette begins when a horror illustrator named Colin Leverett comes across an abandoned house surrounded by stick formations in the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountains. Intrigued by them, he draws a sketch of their unusual pattern. When he ventures inside the old place, he is attacked by a hideous skeletal litch. He manages to escape, eventually deciding it must not have actually been as it appeared. From that point on, his artwork becomes much more disturbing which leads to his work drying up. Years later a descendant of an author he admired named H. Kenneth Allard reaches out to him about his artwork which depicted the sticks he saw at the abandoned house. There seems to be a dark cult attached to them which could mean danger for him.
7. “Miss Mack” by Michael McDowell (1986) – Miss Mack is a large, friendly woman who works a teaching job at a school in the town of Babylon under Principal Hill. When Miss Mack becomes fast friends with a woman named Janice and the two begin spending every weekend together, Principal Hill becomes jealous as he has plans to ask Janice to marry him. Hill seeks assistance from his mother who has ties to the dark arts for a solution on Halloween night. You can listen to this story for free here: https://pseudopod.org/2021/09/19/pseudopod-775-miss-mack/
8. “Worse Than Bones” by Ramsey Campbell (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.
9. “The Phénakisticope of Decay” by James Ebersole (2018) – When, as children, a group of friends enter a house rumored to be haunted on Halloween night, they are greeted by a strange man. This man gives each of them a Phénakisticope, a pinwheel-style device with drawings on it which appear to animate when it’s spun and viewed in a mirror. These ones, however, depict extremely dark cartoons involving horrific deaths. Years later, after they are older, these trinkets take on new meaning. This is an excellent, unique Halloween tale.
10. “In the English Rain” by Steve Duffy (2020) – The narrator of this story meets a beautiful girl named Sally at his school when she asks him about his living close to one of the Beetles. This was something he’d boasted about. In truth, the house, called Shelgrave, was purchased by John Lennon, but he never actually lived there. From this meeting, the unnamed narrator and Sally become best friends, although he would have preferred it to be more than that. One day, when his father is out of town, Sally insists they scale the fence and go explore the now abandoned, neighboring house. This is an excellent haunted house story which really invests you in the characters and has a bizarre, chilling ending. Highly recommended!!
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Article by Matt Cowan
3 thoughts on “HALLOWEEN SUGGESTED READING LIST IX (2021)”
A fine post in a decade-long series of posts. I read the Campbell story last night and really enjoyed it.
“Sticks” is perenially for me another matter!
Cthulhu mythos stories, particularly ones where the starting point is “Lovecraft was telling the truth”, have been the ruin of many a fine story idea. There is no better example of this than Karl Edward Wagner’s story “Sticks” (1974).
What begins as a perfectly observed story imbued with a strange and uncanny logic shifts midway into a sub-Derleth potboiling melodrama of cheapening fan-service and stultified aesthetic insularity.
If KEW had stopped at this point in the story, so much the better for our genre and its aspirations – at its best moments – to sublimity:
….At one point Leverett found remnants of an apple orchard groping through weeds and bushes. He thought the house must be close by, but here the flooding had been particularly severe, and evidently even those ponderous stone foundations had been toppled over and buried beneath debris.
Leverett finally turned back to his car. His step was lighter.
[I am willing to make the same case for Fritz Leiber’s promising 1976 story “The Terror from the Depths.”]
That particular Campbell story has long been a favorite of mine. I feel it’s a standout even among the countless other amazing stories he’s penned over the years.
As to “Sticks”, I can see how the inclusion of Lovecraft could be a turn-off, but it didn’t bother me in this case. I’d likewise have been fine if there were no mention of Lovecraft. I just enjoyed the investigative journey the story took me on.
Thanks for checking out the list and for the shares as well. Much appreciated! 🙂