If you are reading this collection to get chills and thrills, you might not. In fact with some of these, what you might get are giggles, kind of like watching a really tacky horror flick like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. In all, though, there is a wide variety of stories and styles here, so no matter what your horror preference, you are sure to find several really appealing.
The Mark of the Beast by Rudyard Kipling, as is typical of the author, takes place in exotic India. Fleete has inherited some land near the Himalayas, and has come to finance them. He stays with Strickland, who knows the natives well. They attend a party, and Fleete gets very drunk. On the way home he defiles an image of Hanuman, the monkey-god (an important deity in Hinduism) at a local temple. He is cursed by a resident leper, and soon after, begins to behave strangely, as his body is overtaken by a demon. It is a "werewolf" type tale, and one of the better ones in the book.
The Derelict by William Hope Hodgson is more tacky than scary, definitely B-movie material. People on a ship sailing across the North Atlantic listen to a tale told by the elderly ship's doctor. When he took a sea trip as a young man on a passenger-clipper, their vessel finds itself near a derelict ship after a bad storm. The captain and others decide to board it to investigate, when they discover that it is covered with a thick, smelly, spongy mold that eats feet. IT'S ALIVE!!! AAARrrggghhh. . .
Sredni Vashtar by Saki (H. H. Munro) is very creepy (and not without a touch of macabre humor) perhaps because it is about a brutal revenge created by the mind of a child. Sickly and lonely, Conradin hates his abusive cousin and guardian Mrs. De Ropp. To escape his misery, he discovers a hidden tool shed, where lives the only possessions in his life that he adores: a Houdan hen and a polecat-ferret that he names Sredni Vashtar, and worships as a deity. When Mrs. De Ropp announces one day that the hen has been sold, Conradin calmly and quietly turns to Sredni Vashtar. "Do one thing for me," he prays to the god, not naming what one thing, but trusting that Sredni Vashtar will know. This tale is part of a larger collection of stories by Saki called The Chronicles of Clovis: Stories by Saki. It was also made into two different movies.
The Monkey's Paw by W.W. Jacobs is one of the classic "you get three wishes" stories but as always, the people mess up and wish for the wrong things, then have to use the last wish to undo the damage. Don't people think these things out? Will they never learn?
The Dammed Thing by Ambrose Bierce begins in a cabin in the wilderness, as a group of men, seven alive, and one dead, await as another man, the coroner, reads an account from a worn book. Presently they are joined by yet another man, William Harker, a writer from the city, who is to give his own account of the terrible incident. He had been visiting the deceased, Hugh Morgan, to study him as a character, while enjoying hunting and fishing. The present event is actually an inquest, and the seven men are jurors. (One imagines Harker may possibly be a suspect in the brutal murder of Morgan.) As he gives his version of the events of that fateful day, the others believe he is a lunatic. The jury comes to the conclusion, however, that a mountain lion caused Morgan's death. But it is part 4 of this story that gives us the missing information so that we may draw our own conclusions as to the cause of death. This is one bizarre tale, but Ambrose Bierce apparently was a rather bizarre man. It also appears in his collection of works entitled An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and Other Stories.
The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is typical Edgar Allen Poe. If you are a big fan of his writing (I am!), you will already know what is going to happen in this one. A dying man, M. Ernest Valdemar, is befriended by the person narrating the story. As he has come to accept his approaching demise, he willingly and enthusiastically agrees in the presence of other witnesses to be "mesmerized" at the point of death as part of an ongoing experiment by the narrator. As the patient begins his journey, a small group of doctors, nurses and assistants are assembled, and the experiment begins. Valdemar breathes his last, but as he is guided by his hypnotist, his body responds to the directions, and a voice from deep within speaks that he is asleep, dying. For seven months the morbid experiment continues keeping him is a state of "point of death." At last, signs are given that it must end. And end it does, turning Valdemar into a pile of stinking, rotting mush. Eew. Gross.
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is by far the best and most ghastly tale in this collection. Jackson superbly builds the suspense in the most innocent way: people from the town are gathering for some kind of event. Everyone attends. There are children playing, women carrying on the usual gossip, men talking about farming, typical activities of a town get-together. But in the back of your mind, you know something isn't quite right, and you think you know what it is but it cannot possibly be, because that would be just too horrible.
The Beast with Five Fingers by W. F. Harvey is one of the silliest stories I have ever read. An elderly gentleman, Adrian Borlsover, a botanist specializing orchids goes blind. Being a remarkable man, he continues his work, and has a fond relationship with his nephew Eustace. A couple years before his death, he develops the power of automatic writing, of which he is unaware, but Eustace knows. The spirit in the hand is a nasty little thing, and when Adrian dies, the hand arrives in a box mailed to Eustace and causes all kinds of trouble. There was a movie made in 1946, with the same title, but only loosely based on the plot, starring Peter Lorre.
The Colour Out of Space by H. P. Lovecraft is like something out of The Twilight Zone. A surveyor, who narrates the story visits a place in New England where tales of evil have been passed down. The land is described as "blasted heath" and the local people have avoided the area. The surveyor thinks it is nonsense until he sees the land and hears the tale told by Ammi Pierce beginning with the day the meteorite fell to earth. This is one of the best in the book.
These nine stories, plus five more make up this well-rounded collection.
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