In the years between trick or treating myself and turning on the porch light to pass out candy to the kiddies, I developed a deep appreciation for classic horror fiction. Some of the greatest horror writing has always been found in the short fiction form, and I have a list of perennial favorites I try to revisit annually, once the leaves begin to turn.
Ambrose Bierce is generally known only for his satirical Devil’s Dictionary, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” and his mysterious disappearance. His portfolio, however, is packed with tales of ghosts, dread, and damnation. The collection, Can Such Things Be?, offers a wealth of eerie reading. Especially recommended are “The Moonlit Road,” a chilling realization of the Rashomon effect, and “An Inhabitant of Carcosa,” as desperate a story as can be put to paper and the inspiration for H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow.
Speaking of which, Chambers’ collection of stories about the malevolent King and the dread Yellow Sign effectively evoke a Gothic atmosphere of despair and doom. The stories in this mythos are highly effective chillers, and seem to be an aberration among Chambers’ flowery romantic fiction.
W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw” is a cautionary story culminating in an image so horrific, it’s rightfully earned a reputation as a classic. Although the story’s been adapted to radio and TV, the original prose version is unsurpassed.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Feathertop” is more whimsical than horrible, a morality tale involving a witch, a scarecrow, and some insufferable Puritans. And something that keeps lighting Mother Rigby’s pipe.
Charles Beaumont was responsible for nearly as many memorable Twilight Zone episodes as was Rod Serling. Like Serling, Beaumont was adept at crafting allegorical stories of suspense and terror. There are the hellish neighbors of “The New People,” the twisted psychology of killer and victim in “The Hunger,” the world’s deadliest prisoner in “The Howling Man,” and the most atrocious parenting this side of Mrs. Bates in “Miss Gentibelle,” all of which can be found in his collected stories.
Finally, just when it appears that there are no worthy living, working authors who could add to my autumnal required reading, I discovered Collected Stories by Lewis Shiner. Known best as a cyberpunk pioneer, and later for the remarkable rock and roll fantasy, Glimpses, Shiner offers an abundance of evocative horror, science fiction, and suspense—among an array of other genres—in this substantial collection, which is strongly recommended overall.
A few of the Collected Stories enhancing my haunting season this year include:
• “Primes”— If you have a double in the world, wouldn’t one of you would be superfluous?
• “The Circle”—About the great power of storytelling and ritual, especially at this time of year.
• “Nine Hard Questions about the Nature of the Universe”—This should disabuse us of the notion that our most cherished human characteristics and concerns are of any consequence to the rest of the galaxy.
• “Lizard Men of Los Angeles”—A pulpy reality in which a Mandrakian hero and his enigmatic assistant encounter acolytes of Crowley and an even-more monstrous sub-culture in 30s L.A.
I hope among these suggestions you’ll find what you need to get into the proper frame of mind for a chilling Halloween. The thought of my readers lacking a good read, now that’s frightening.