15 October 2008

Put on your Halloween shorts

Horror novels are great during the Halloween season, but short stories and novellas are even better. They elicit the feeling of the campside tale or the hearthside gather-round.

And so, I present to you my favorite short stories and novellas for Halloween reading:
Some explanations and excuses:

You could term “The Turn of the Screw” a short novel, in which case I would have to write it in italics as The Turn of the Screw. But I’m putting it here anyway—to the devil with italics—because you could polish this one off easily in one sitting—and you should. Poe rules apply.

The two Lovecraft stories I picked aren’t at as high a quality as some of his others, and I would rate both “The Colour out of Space” and “At the Mountains of Madness” much higher. However, those two tales seem so essentially science fiction that they aren’t ideal Halloween reads. My Poe picks also come from the gut; I think for pure autumn freakiness, “Black Cat” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” are killer-dillers (if you don’t mind me mixing Poe with swing-dancing lingo), but I don’t like them as much in general as “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Cask of Amontillado.”

“Pigeons from Hell” nearly scared me into a coma when I first read it during a windstorm in a beach house at night. Perfect atmosphere. It’s my favorite Robert E. Howard story—yes, more than his Conan stories, and that’s saying something for me.

Almost any story in Ray Bradbury’s collection October Country would be a candidate for the list, but “The Scythe” is the one that stands out for me. The same criteria applies to M. R. James’s ghost stories: take your pick, and my pick is “ ‘Oh, Whistle.’ ”

“Dark Melody of Madness” has one of the best ending lines for any Halloween season tale: “Stay close boys. I’m afraid of the dark.”