Ghostly apparitions, the bloodier and unDisneyfied fairy tales, the scary stories told around a campfire. They all become more spine-tingling as darkness closes in on the days of autumn.
At some time in the next three weeks, if you want to prep for Halloween by more than filling a plastic pumpkin with candy for the kids, here’s a trio of horror short stories designed to shiver your timbers and get you in the mood.
“The October Game” by Ray Bradbury (1948) – A sadistic spouse, a pitch-black basement, a game that just might go awry, Bradbury partners with your imagination to ramp up the chills. Hear it here on the Classic Ghost Stories Podcast, which offers many more.
“Berenice” by Edgar Allan Poe (1835) – Less well known than “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or “The Pit and the Pendulum”—all of which are heart-skippingly scary—this one appeals to me because I’ve used it to create two of my own short stories. You can read Poe’s original here. He describes an increasingly unhinged young man who marries his cousin. He obsesses on her teeth. And when she dies, he pulls them out. I’ll let you discover the rest for yourself. My 21st century version, published in Quoth the Raven, is about a meth addict (the bad teeth) obsessed with her twin brother and his girlfriend who has perfect dentition. It doesn’t end happily. My other story based on “Berenice” ends much more happily and appears in a 2021 collection titled Sherlock Holmes: Adventures in the Realms of Edgar Allan Poe. Holmes and Watson to the rescue!
“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl (1959) also invokes the virtue of beautiful teeth. A young man needing a cheap place to stay makes a bad choice. A master class in devious foreshadowing. You know you’re in for it when the first paragraph ends, “But the air was deadly cold and the wind was like a flat blade of ice on his cheeks.” Read it here.
Now, go grab a sweater.