I love a good horror story. Ever since I was first unsettled by The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillma during my English degree, I have enjoyed reading anything that has a supernatural, ghostly, chilling edge to it. Stephen King has become one of my favourite authors because of his uncanny ability to make my flesh crawl.
Despite this, planning and writing something in this genre for the Monster Anthology has proved challenging, and I’ve reread a number of my favourite short stories to try and get into the zone of writing something with a disturbing feel.
I thought I’d share some of them, but rather than writing about the ‘classic’ stories we all think of when we think about the horror genre (The Tell Tale Heart, The Monkey’s Paw, etc.), I decided to share three lesser known stories that people may not have come across yet.
They are in no order of preference, as I like them all for different reasons. Have a read and see what you think.
The Pond by Nigel Kneale
The unnamed main character of The Pond encompasses many of the qualities you would expect to find in any creepy character. He lives at the edge of an eerie, quiet pond. He ventures out each day and lures the frogs of the pond into his net by making a convincing frog-call with his throat. Then he takes the frogs back to his cabin, where he lives alone, and… does some rather strange things with them.
The man is not described much at all; all of the creepy, skin-crawling characterisation is delivered through his actions throughout the story. He is a taxidermist, with a particular fascination for frogs. We are given a graphic description of how he carefully and expertly removes the frog’s skin, scrapes the muscular tissue from the bones, which he boils to make them supple. And throughout all of this, he makes soft exclamations of ‘Ah – big beauty!’ and other oddities.
Just when you think it can’t get any more uncomfortable, it does. I won’t reveal what he does with the frogs once he has prepared them. The most enjoyable thing about this story is its weirdness when you read it for the first time. I love Kneale’s description throughout, from the vivid scene setting at the beginning, to the clinical minutiae of the taxidermy process. It is a well-crafted story which builds to a crescendo of a surprise ending.
Read it here: The-Pond-Nigel-Kneale
The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
I love the Sci-Fi genre and Ray Bradbury is the master of it, but the reason I chose this story is because has a disturbing feel to it. The Veldt delivers an unsettling lesson: if we become over reliant on technology, we may (or may not!) live to regret it. The story is about a family who have bought an interactive house which cooks, cleans, babysits, provides entertainment and can transport the characters from room to room. What amazes me is that it was first published in 1950.
The parents, Mr. and Mrs Hadley, become concerned when they discover that their overly-spoiled children have been changing the landscape of their virtual reality nursery to an alarming scene: an African Veldt, from which the Hadley’s hear screams which sound familiar, and where lions roam and eat unidentifiable things. Frightened, the Hadley’s take the advice of a psychologist, who declares that they’ve lost their ability to be self-sufficient; if the kitchen broke they’d starve. They decide to switch off the nursery.
In a story where the parents realise too late that they are weak and the children rule the household, it is not surprising when things start to go wrong for the Hadleys. The children themselves are to be feared: they speak in unison, which reminded me of the twins from the movie The Shining, and the description of them is sickly sweet. They have ‘cheeks like peppermint candy, eyes like bright blue agate marbles’. They had to be evil.
Read it here: The-Veldt-Ray-Bradbury
The Pale Man by Julius Long
When I first read The Pale Man it gave me goose-bumps. The story’s narrator is an unnamed male who works as an assistant at a university, and is staying in a hotel over the summer holiday. In his first weeks in the hotel, he encounters someone in the hallway, a man who he describes as ‘tall and straight’ and mentions that he has an extremely pale complexion of ‘wholesome ivory’.
Throughout the story, the narrator becomes fascinated by the pale man, who nods politely but never speaks, and who constantly changes his room at the hotel. The narrator is puzzled by this behaviour, supposing that the hotel staff must be fed up of the pale man. Except we find that, when the narrator finally asks a staff member about the pale man, it is clear that no one else has seen him.
The most successful thing about the story is the narrator’s confusion and his growing obsession with the odd behaviour of the pale man, which forces the reader to be curious. The Pale Man doesn’t have lots of action and only contains a few lines of dialogue, but the strong narrative builds suspense and tension whilst driving the reader through to the end, which I won’t spoil. Let’s just say: it’s creepy.
Read it here: The-Pale-Man-Julius-Long