It is of course Halloween and if you’re like me, you’re reaching for some ghoulish reads that are filled with horror, frights, and mystery. To celebrate, I’m offering up four dastardly delights for you (all which are available for free; links included).
Before there was Stephen King making New England all kinds of weird, there was H.P. Lovecraft. In The Dunwich Horror, Lovecraft is masterful at designing the strange and foreboding backwater Massachusetts hamlet of Dunwich. Outsides rarely come through and if they do, they would barely, if at all, register that they just made their way through Dunwich. With dark pizzazz, Lovecraft is able to describe a place of horror and claustrophobia where doom is lurking everywhere: “The birds are psychopomps lying in wait for the souls of the dying, and that they time their eerie cries in unison with the sufferer’s struggling breath.” In February 1913, Wilbur Whateley is born to a “somewhat deformed, unattractive albino woman of thirty-five, living with an aged and half-insane father.” If that doesn’t grab you, I don’t know what will. Perhaps, the hounds that are always crying at the presence of the Whateley progeny? Wilbur develops at such a rapid rate, that he is full-grown by age ten. Mysterious disappearances and deaths abound, otherworldly creatures wreak terror, and occult texts make up The Dunwich Horror.
The unnamed narrator of Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre tale, The Pit and the Pendulum finds himself a prisoner of the Spanish Inquisition. No information is given of his crime, trial, or persecutors, but Poe makes quite obvious his impending doom: “I struggled no more, but the agony of my soul found vent in one loud, long, and final scream of despair.” The narrator awakes trapped in a cell but then unfortunately falls into a murderous pit, where a steady pendulum with the sharpest of blades, swings back and forth as he lies strapped to a slab. With each swift cut across the air, the pendulum is lowered toward its victim. As the narrator ponders his end, the walls of the room start to push in on him. Major claustrophobia alert. Unlike other Poe stories that rely on the supernatural, The Pit and the Pendulum taps into the fear of being trapped and watching your imminent fate swing in front of your eyes. When you’re done reading this anxiety-inducing tale, as soon as the sun sets, flip on the film adaptation starring Vincent Price.
One can never have too much Poe, can they? Definitely different from the above-mentioned, The Murders in the Rue Morgue is sometimes called the first modern detective story. A ghastly double-murder is committed one night in Paris and there are plenty of auditory witnesses who heard a struggle in the apartment of the late Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter. The grisly and gruesome details that Poe draws are what make this story a winner. Without them, the story would be too simple. Also, he throws in red herrings galore. What was the accent of the man (or woman) who was heard arguing with the L’Espanaye women? What about the 4000 thousand francs still left behind? Why would the murderer almost completely decapitate an old woman? As the unnamed narrator who follows the reasoning Frenchman Dupin, we too “shudder, without knowing why.”
Welsh mystic and author Arthur Machen begins his novella The Great God Pan with Dr. Raymond resorting to a gruesome surgery on a young woman named Mary. In his motive is to “lift the veil,” as he puts it, which is opening the human mind to greater abilities and in doing so one shall see the great god Pan (metaphorically speaking, that is). But something has gone horribly wrong. About 18 years later, a mysterious woman appears in certain social circles of London. At times, she is one woman and then another, always changing names and origins. She is often described as attractive but something is terrifyingly off about her, too. Then a peculiar trend is happening among the young, successful men of the West End–a rash of suicides are running rampant. But are they really suicides or another unpleasant means to an end is the question asked. Has some actually unleashed the great god Pan?