“The boundaries which divide life and death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” Edgar Allan Poe.
I don’t know about you, but I do enjoy a spooky story. There is always that moment – breath held, heart pounding – before The Big Reveal; is it a ghost? Is it real? Are they already dead? Or was it just a dream..? (lame!)
There are many excellent contemporary horror writers such as Stephen King and James Herbert , but to get a real chill, I tend to look to the classics: Bram Stoker (Dracula), Mary Shelley (Frankenstein) and my personal favorite, Edgar Allan Poe.
If you have never read any of Poe’s work, may I humbly suggest you give him a try. There are many compilations of his poetry, short stories and essays, but if you would like to “cut to the chase” and read some of his more well known work, may I suggest the following (no spoilers):
The Fall of the House of Usher
This is quintessential Poe. Death, madness, terror, it’s got it all! The last days of Roderick Usher are guaranteed to give you goose bumps. The ultimate “haunted house” tale.
“I looked upon the scene before me – upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain – upon the bleak walls – upon the vacant eye-like windows – upon a few rank sedges – and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees – with an utter depression of the soul which I can compare to no sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium…the hideous dropping off of the veil.”
The Masque of the Red Death
The Red Death is a plague that has ravaged half the population of the land. In an attempt to flee this terrible fate, a group of aristocrats seal themselves in a giant castle. Is it possible for the elite to survive death…?
“…But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many who had…become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no individual before…”
“Nevermore!” cried the Raven, in this classic poem of a man looking back and remembering a lost love.
“But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore-
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”‘
The Pit & The Pendulum
A man is being tortured by the Spanish Inquisition, the swinging blade descending ever lower…the alternative, a dark, depthless pit…
“The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. As a natural consequence, its velocity was also much greater. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that had perceptibly descended. I now observed — with what horror it is needless to say — that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel, about a foot in length from horn to horn; the horns upward, and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor…”
The Murders in the Rue Morgue
It’s the original “detective story”. The character of C Auguste Dupin, who solves the baffling mystery using the power of deduction, is said to have influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his creation of Sherlock Holmes.
“They have fallen into the gross but common error of confounding the unusual with the abstruse. But it is by these deviations from the plane of the ordinary, that reason feels its way, if at all, in its search for the true. In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked ‘what has occurred,’ as ‘what has occurred that has never occurred before.’ In fact, the facility with which I shall arrive, or have arrived, at the solution of this mystery, is in the direct ratio of its apparent insolubility in the eyes of the police.”
The Black Cat
A macabre tale narrated by a man who, in a drunken rage, kills a cat. A dire lesson in the perils of under-estimating the supernatural powers of cats…
“My wife had called my attention, more than once, to the character of the mark of white hair, of which I have spoken, and which constituted the sole visible difference between the strange beast and the one I had destroyed. The reader will remember that this mark, although large, had been originally very indefinite; but… it was now the representation of an object that I shudder to name — and for this, above all, I loathed, and dreaded, and would have rid myself of the monster had I dared — it was now, I say, the image of a hideous — of a ghastly thing — of the GALLOWS”
The Tell-Tale Heart
This is the story of a murderer’s guilt. He claims he is not mad yet his actions, and the beating heart of a dead man that no-one else can hear, proves otherwise…
“I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me –the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room.”