O the blood-encrusted thoughts!
whirring like blades, wheeling
and whining through the
ambushed mind, unbeckoned;
unhindered, unheeded—how does one
pray to be emptied?
Sly little half-truths; those
brazen whole-truths, eyes
like coals, low to the burning;
“‘tis the hooded chill cloaks the fever!”
Old Wives’, you know;
smoldering blue at the gums…
tooth and blade, chew,
then whirrr; whirrr, then chew—
through the indigo watches
of the night.
(C)2018 Sanguine Woods
Table of Contents
9 • Shapeshifting the Werewolf in Literature • essay by Andrew Barger
17 • Hugues the Wer-Wolf: A Kentish Legend of the Middle Ages • (1838) • short story by Sutherland Menzies (variant of Hugues, the Wer-Wolf)
45 • The Man-Wolf • (1831) • short story by Leitch Ritchie
85 • A Story of a Weir-Wolf • (1846) • short story by Catherine Crowe
113 • The Wehr-Wolf: A Legend of the Limousin • (1828) • short story by Richard Thomson
135 • The White Wolf of the Hartz Mountains • (1839) • short fiction by Frederick Marryat (variant of The Werewolf (excerpt: chapter 39 of The Phantom Ship)) [as by Captain Frederick Marryat]
Table of Contents
- Introduction: Things Are Complicated • (2013) • essay by Paula Guran
- Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep • (1991) • novelette by Suzy McKee Charnas
- Stackalee • (1990) • short story by Norman Partridge
- Bed and Breakfast • (1996) • short fiction by Gene Wolfe (variant of Bed & Breakfast)
- Frumpy Little Beat Girl • (2010) • short story by Peter Atkins
The Night of White Bhairab • (1984) • novelette by Lucius Shepard
- … And the Angel with Television Eyes • (1983) • short story by John Shirley
- Lost Souls • (1986) • short story by Clive Barker
- Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel • (2008) • novelette by Peter S. Beagle
- Demon • (1996) • short story by Joyce Carol Oates
- Alabaster • [Dancy Flammarion] • (2006) • novelette by Caitlín R. Kiernan
- Sanji’s Demon • [Yamada Monogatari] • (2010) • novelette by Richard Parks
- Oh, Glorious Sight • (2001) • novelette by Tanya Huff
- Angel • (1987) • short story by Pat Cadigan
- The Man Who Stole the Moon • [Tales of the Flat Earth] • (2001) • novelette by Tanith Lee
- The Big Sky • [Newford] • (1995) • novelette by Charles de Lint
- Elegy for a Demon Lover • [Kyle Murchison Booth] • (2005) • short story by Sarah Monette
- And the Angels Sing • (1990) • short story by Kate Wilhelm
- The Goat Cutter • (2003) • short story by Jay Lake
- Spirit Guides • (1995) • short story by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
- Demons, Your Body, and You • (2011) • short story by Genevieve Valentine
- The Monsters of Heaven • (2007) • short story by Nathan Ballingrud
- Come to Me • (2012) • short story by Sam Cameron
- One Saturday Night, with Angel • (2010) • short story by Peter M. Ball
- Lammas Night • (1976) • novelette by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
- Pinion • (2011) • short story by Stellan Thorne
- Only Kids Are Afraid of the Dark • (1967) • short story by George R. R. Martin
- Murder Mysteries • (1992) • novelette by Neil Gaiman
SHE WANTED to have a vampire lover. She wanted it so badly that she kept waiting for it to happen. One night, soon, she would awaken to wings flapping against the window and then take to wearing velvet ribbons and cameo lockets around her delicate, pale neck. She knew it.
She immersed herself in the world of her vampire lover: she devoured Gothic romances, consumed late-night horror movies. Visions of satin capes and eyes of fire shielded her from the harshness of the daylight, from mortality and the vain and meaningless struggles of the world of the sun. Days as a kindergarten teacher and evenings with some overly eager, casual acquaintance could not pull her from her secret existence: always a ticking portion of her brain planned, proceeded, waited.
She spent her meager earnings on dark antiques and intricate clothes. Her wardrobe was crammed with white negligees and ruffled underthings. No crosses and no mirrors, particularly not in her bedroom. White tapered candles stood in pewter sconces, and she would read late into the night by their smoky flickerings, she scented and ruffled, hair combed loosely about her shoulders. She glanced at the window often.
She resented lovers—though she took them, thrilling to the fullness of life in them, the blood and the life—who insisted upon staying all night, burning their breakfast toast and making bitter coffee. Her kitchen, of course, held nothing but fresh ingredients and copper and ironware; to her chagrin, she could not do without ovens or stoves or refrigerators. Alone, she carried candles and bathed in cool water.
She waited, prepared. And at long last, her vampire lover began to come to her in dreams. They floated across the moors, glided through the fields of heather. He carried her to his crumbling castle, undressing her, pulling off her diaphanous gown, caressing her lovely body until, in the height of passion, he bit into her arched neck, drawing the life out of her and replacing it with eternal damnation and eternal love.
She awoke from these dreams drenched in sweat and feeling exhausted. The kindergarten children would find her unusually quiet and self-absorbed, and it frightened them when she rubbed her spotless neck and smiled wistfully. Soon and soon and soon, her veins chanted, in prayer and anticipation. Soon.
The children were her only regret. She would not miss her inquisitive relatives and friends, the ones who frowned and studied her as if she were a portrait of someone they knew they were supposed to recognize. Those, who urged her to drop by for an hour, to come with them to films, to accompany them to the seashore. Those, who were connected to her—or thought they were—by the mere gesturing of the long and milky hands of Fate. Who sought to distract her from her one true passion; who sought to discover the secret of that passion. For, true to the sacredness of her vigil for her vampire lover, she had never spoken of him to a single earthly, earthbound soul. It would be beyond them, she knew. They would not comprehend a bond of such intentioned sacrifice.
But she would regret the children. Never would a child of their love coo and murmur in the darkness; never would his proud and noble features soften at the sight of the mother and her child of his loins. It was her single sorrow.
Her vacation was coming. June hovered like the mist and the children squirmed in anticipation. Their own true lives would begin in June. She empathized with the shining eyes and smiling faces, knowing their wait was as agonizing as her own. Silently, as the days closed in, she bade each of them a tender farewell, holding them as they threw their little arms around her neck and pressed fervent summertime kisses on her cheeks.
She booked her passage to London on a ship. Then to Romania, Bulgaria, Transylvania. The hereditary seat of her beloved, the fierce, violent backdrop of her dreams. Her suitcases opened themselves to her long, full skirts and her brooches and lockets. She peered into her hand mirror as she packed it. “I am getting pale,” she thought, and the idea both terrified and delighted her.
She became paler, thinner, more exhausted as her trip wore on. After recovering from the disappointment of the raucous, modern cruise ship, she raced across the Continent to find refuge in the creaky trains and taverns she had so yearned for. Her heart thrilled as she meandered past the black silhouettes of ruined fortresses and ancient manor houses. She sat for hours in the mists, praying for the howling wolf to find her, for the bat to come and join her.
She took to drinking wine in bed, deep, rich, blood-red burgundy that glowed in the candlelight. She melted into the landscape within days, and cringed as if from the crucifix itself when flickers of her past life, her American, false existence, invaded her serenity. She did not keep a diary; she did not count the days as her summer slipped away from her. She only rejoiced that she grew weaker.
It was when she was counting out the coins for a Gypsy shawl that she realized she had no time left. Tomorrow she must make for Frankfurt and from there fly back to New York. The shopkeeper nudged her, inquiring if she were ill, and she left with her treasure, trembling.
She flung herself on her own rented bed. “This will not do. This will not do.” She pleaded with the darkness. “You must come for me tonight. I have done everything for you, my beloved, loved you above all else. You must save me.” She sobbed until she ached.
She skipped her last meal of veal and paprika and sat quietly in her room. The innkeeper brought her yet another bottle of burgundy and after she assured him that she was quite all right, just a little tired, he wished his guest a pleasant trip home.
The night wore on; though her book was open before her, her eyes were riveted to the windows, her hands clenched around the wineglass as she sipped steadily, like a creature feeding. Oh, to feel him against her veins, emptying her and filling her!
Soon and soon and soon…
Then, all at once, it happened. The windows rattled, flapped inward. A great shadow, a curtain of ebony, fell across the bed, and the room began to whirl, faster, faster still; and she was consumed with a bitter, deathly chill. She heard, rather than saw, the wineglass crash to the floor, and struggled to keep her eyes open as she was overwhelmed, engulfed, taken.
“Is it you?” she managed to whisper through teeth that rattled with delight and cold and terror. “Is it finally to be?”
Freezing hands touched her everywhere: her face, her breasts, the desperate offering of her arched neck. Frozen and strong and never-dying. Sinking, she smiled in a rictus of mortal dread and exultation. Eternal damnation, eternal love. Her vampire lover had come for her at last.
When her eyes opened again, she let out a howl and shrank against the searing brilliance of the sun. Hastily, they closed the curtains and quickly told her where she was: home again, where everything was warm and pleasant and she was safe from the disease that had nearly killed her.
She had been ill before she had left the States. By the time she had reached Transylvania, her anemia had been acute. Had she never noticed her own pallor, her lassitude?
Anemia. Her smile was a secret on her white lips. So they thought, but he had come for her, again and again. In her dreams. And on that night, he had meant to take her finally to his castle forever, to crown her the best-beloved one, his love of the moors and the mists.
She had but to wait, and he would finish the deed.
Soon and soon and soon.
She let them fret over her, wrapping her in blankets in the last days of summer. She endured the forced cheer of her relatives, allowed them to feed her rich food and drink in hopes of restoring her.
But her stomach could no longer hold the nourishment of their kind; they wrung their hands and talked of stronger measures when it became clear that she was wasting away.
At the urging of the doctor, she took walks. Small ones at first, on painfully thin feet. Swathed in wool, cowering behind sunglasses, she took tiny steps like an old woman. As she moved through the summer hours, her neck burned with an ungovernable pain that would not cease until she rested in the shadows. Her stomach lurched at the sight of grocery-store windows. But at the butcher’s, she paused, and licked her lips at the sight of the raw, bloody meat.
But she did not go to him. She grew neither worse nor better.
“I am trapped,” she whispered to the night as she stared into the flames of a candle by her bed. “I am disappearing between your world and mine, my beloved. Help me. Come for me.” She rubbed her neck, which ached and throbbed but showed no outward signs of his devotion. Her throat was parched, bone-dry, but water did not quench her thirst.
At long last, she dreamed again. Her vampire lover came for her as before, joyous in their reunion. They soared above the crooked trees at the foothills, streamed like black banners above the mountain crags to his castle. He could not touch her enough, worship her enough, and they were wild in their abandon as he carried her in her diaphanous grown to the gates of his fortress.
But at the entrance, he shook his head with sorrow and could not let her pass into the black realm with him. His fiery tears seared her neck, and she thrilled to the touch of the mark even as she cried out for him as he left her, fading into the vapors with a look of entreaty in his dark, flashing eyes.
Something was missing; he required a boon of her before he could bind her against his heart. A thing that she must give to him…
She walked in the sunlight, enfeebled, cowering, She thirsted, hungered, yearned. Still she dreamed of him, and still he could not take the last of her unto himself.
Days and nights and days. Her steps took her finally to the schoolyard, where once, only months before, she had embraced and kissed the children, thinking never to see them again. They were all there, who had kissed her cheeks so eagerly. Their silvery laughter was like the tinkling of bells as dust motes from their games and antics whirled around their feet. How free they seemed to her who was so troubled, how content and at peace.
She shambled forward, eyes widening behind the shields of smoky glass.
He required something of her first.
Her one regret. Her only sorrow.
She thirsted. The burns on her neck pulsated with pain.
Tears of gratitude welled in her eyes for the revelation that had not come too late. Weeping, she pushed open the gate of the schoolyard and reached out a skeleton-limb to a child standing apart from the rest, engrossed in a solitary game of cat’s cradle. Tawny-headed, ruddy-cheeked, filled with the blood and the life.
For him, as a token of their love.
“My little one, do you remember me?” she said softly.
The boy turned. And smiled back uncertainly in innocence and trust.
Then she came for him, swooped down on him like a great, winged thing, with eyes that burned through the glasses, teeth that flashed, once, twice. . . .
soon and soon and soon.
(Story by Nancy Holder, from Vampires, Classic Tales, ed. Mike Ashley)
At the end of this post is a paragraph from a very very good ghost story that is 135 years old. But, first, I had to work out my thoughts about why I wanted to share it. And, it ties in with the premise for my ghost story anthology.
This is why I do what I do: I have been reading ghost stories and “mystery and suspense” stories and “uncanny” stories and “stories of the supernatural”—since the beginning of 2017, when I first began to narrow a list of hundreds of stories—maybe more—down to a growing longlist and then a shortlist for a 2-volume ghost story anthology—because, I thought, there is something about the stories written before 1920-ish, that were just better. They are better fiction, hands down, and I needed to explore this so I understood it better. After reading umpteen stories from 1780s-1915, give or take, I have come to the conclusion that, it is not about flowery language or “purple prose” or antiquated anachronistic plot structures, etc. etc. It is about being better-educated writers during a time when more was expected of our mind, our manners, our mores, our work ethic (even in writing), our reputation before “the world” (these periodicals made their way around and were widely read).
I had heard that a lot—the “overwrought prose of yesteryear” angle—and I was open to it being correct…and as I went along I compared some ghost stories from that time with some from the 1950s forward and all I could think was: ‘why does it seem that we have dumbed down fiction writing in the ghost story genre to a level of a Sport’s writeup in the Times?’ Nothing wrong with Sports writeups in the Times.
But, I don’t want to read fiction like that. I want depth, thoughtfulness, a sense from reading that the author is well-read, the characters, too; I want them drawn in 3D and not over-described.I want atmosphere. And, I want to feel like the entire story took time to build, like a cathedral, not a hut made out of hay bales.
I know some amazing writers today who are writing cathedrals. And I am so thrilled as a reader about it.
I remember reading a quote in college by Henry James, or maybe it was Joyce Carol Oates…about writing the “telling detail”…but I think we still struggle today, especially in genre or “pop” fiction, which can also be very high quality, (sometimes), with telling the “wrong” detail(s). Wrong is a subjective term. Maybe the better descriptor is the “unthoughtful” detail, the “rushed string of details” the ones that sound OK, but that when strung together fall short of showing something cohesive about the character (e.g., the red-head waltzed into the room wearing a black dress cut down to there and orange lipstick, emerald earrings that dangled like stars from her earlobes, a matching bracelet on her right wrist, bright-red patent-leather 10-inch pumps, black nylons like the ones you wore in the 1940s with a line up the back, and a purse made out of the skin of some animal, but oddly, with all of that bling, she wore not a single ring on any of her long graceful fingers, the nails of which were painted “hotlips red”).
I would argue that the only telling detail here, is that she wore no rings. Why? That detail interests me. The others don’t. They are part of a “formulaic” writing style, noir, Roger Rabbit meets Raymond Chandler, but isn’t written as well as Chandler, etc.
I don’t mean to be negative, just reflective about why some stories seem to inspire more awe in me; whereas others feel utilitarian, not unnecessary, just thin.
The writers of the 1800s weren’t writing “horror” or “weird” fiction. Because those weren’t genres yet. They were states of mind or emotion, or behavior. And they made their way into this high quality fiction. What I especially love in these stories, is the way the entire story is treated with such respect—from the pacing to the tension and from the atmosphere to the characters—these writers were grand writers, and they had been brought up not on “the milk of fiction” but on its “meat”. I fear today, we are if not back to the milk, then at least to some protein-shake-gluten-free, non-dairy, lactose-free milk substitute, with vegetable-product thickeners.
I am still on my longlist, because I thought I would find more stories and novellas, sooner. Last night I found two, that may skip the longlist and jump right to the shortlist. I’m so impressed. One is by Sir Walter Besant. I’d never heard of him until today. And, here is a paragraph from the second one, a longer story by “Mrs. Oliphant” (Margaret O. Wilson Oliphant)—and published in a two-part serialized format in a new periodical of the time, that went on actually to become very successful.
This story is 135 years old. You tell me if it doesn’t read like the best literature published today. Purple prose? Outdated style? I don’t think so. And this is just one paragraph. Imagine the whole story, about the solemn, wandering ghost of a woman, long-dead—Stay tuned for The Greatest Ghost Stories Ever Told, ed. Sanguine Woods, December 2017.
“They asked me to come at Ellermore when we parted, and, as I have nothing in the way of home warmer or more genial than chambers in the Temple, I accepted, as may be supposed, with enthusiasm. It was in the first week of June that we parted, and I was invited for the end of August. They had ‘plenty of grouse,’ Charley said, with a liberality of expression which was pleasant to hear.
Charlotte added, ‘But you must be prepared for homely life, Mr. Temple, and a very quiet one.’ I replied, of course, that if I had chosen what I liked best in the world it would have been this combination: at which she smiled with an amused little shake of her head. It did not seem to occur to her that she herself told for much in the matter. What they all insisted upon was the ‘plenty of grouse;’ and I do not pretend to say that I was indifferent to that.
Colin, the eldest son, was the one with whom I had been least familiar. He was what people call reserved. He did not talk of everything as the others did. I did not indeed find out till much later that he was constantly in London, coming and going, so that he and I might have seen much of each other. Yet he liked me well enough. He joined warmly in his brother’s invitation. When Charley said there was plenty of grouse, he added with the utmost friendliness, ‘And ye may get blaze at a stag.’ There was a flavour of the North in the speech—of all not disclosed by mere words, but also by an occasional diversity of idiom and change of pronunciation. They were conscious of this and rather proud of it. They did not say Scotch, but Scots; and their accent could not be represented by any of the travesties of the theatre, or what we conventionally accept as the national utterance. When I attempted to pronounce after them, my own ear informed me what a travesty it was.”
– Mrs. Oliphant, “The Lady’s Walk,” Part I, Longman’s Magazine, 1882
Table of Contents
- Kirby McCauley – Introduction
- Ray Bradbury – At Midnight, in the Month of June
- Walter de la Mare – A: B: O.
- Thomas M. Disch – Minnesota Gothic
- Joseph Payne Brennan – The Jugular Man
- Fritz Leiber – Alice and the Allergy
- L. P. Hartley – The Island
- Gahan Wilson – Yesterday’s
- Dennis Etchison – Wet Season
- H. P. Lovecraft & August Derleth – Innsmouth Clay
- Robert E. Howard – People of the Black Coast
- Ramsey Campbell – Call First
- Richard L. Tierney – From Beyond the Stars
- Robert Bloch – The Funny Farm
- Carl Jacobi – The Face in the Wind
- Manly Wade Wellman – Goodman’s Place
- Mary Elizabeth Counselman – Kellerman’s Eyepiece
- Karl Edward Wagner – Sticks
- Marjorie Bowen – The Sign-Painter and the Crystal Fishes
1975 Blurb: “Eighteen spine-freezing visions of the world of supernatural terror which lurks within!
INTO THE MIND’S DARKEST SECRETS…ROBERT BLOCH, FRITZ LIEBER, ROBERT E. HOWARD, RAY BRADBURY, H. P LOVECRAFT… these are only a few of the renowned horror storytellers whose work haunts the pages of this book. Here you’ll discover a fatal night-time game of hide-and-seek… a rusted, mouldy trunk containing a ghastly artifact… a sinister fairy tale encounter in the autumn countryside… a strange device which calls the dead from the grave… an allergy with a macabre origin… a Halloween prank which brings eerie consequences… a touch of slimy evil in an ordinary family… these, and many other chilling experiences, await within these pages, to haunt the reader with a breath of cold terror.
A TREASURY OF HORROR MASTERWORKS NEVER BEFORE IN PAPERBACK!
Night Chills tends to get overlooked in the rush to praise [ McCauley’s other anthologies:] Frights  and especially Dark Forces ; but [Night Chills is] a first-class selection, reminiscent in many ways of the kind of anthology August Derleth was knocking out in the 1960s and 1970s.I
Night Chills, Story Synopses:
WARNING…MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!
Walter De La Mare – A.B.O.: Keen antiquarians Dugdale and Pelluther excavate a metallic chest from beneath an ugly, stunted yew tree in the former’s garden. Engraved on the lid, a single word of which only the first three letters have survived the elements. They lug it inside for examination but “Would to God that we had forthwith carried the chest unopened to the garden and buried it deeper than deep!” Luckily for us, Dugdale takes a chisel to the lid and unleashes a spectacularly horrible, undead walking ABO.
According to McCauley, A.B.O. was first published in The Cornhill under the nom de plume Walter Ramal which may explain why anthologists have overlooked it down the years.
Joseph Payne Brennan – The Jugular Man: Marliss, an antiquarian, buys a curious turtle ornament at a second-hand market. The dealer explains that it came from an affluent Southern family who fell upon hard times. The turtle is fitted with a concealed bell which the family used to summon the servants. When the loyal old retainer developed crippling arthritis, they discontinued the practice unless there was a dire emergency. The years of disuse mean the bell no longer works.
At the same time as Marliss makes his purchase, the city is living in fear of the Jugular Man, a burglar with the nasty habit of slitting the throats of those he robs. When Marliss disturbs him at his midnight capers, the Jugular Man comes at him with a knife. Marliss grabs the first thing at hand – the turtle. The bell shrills. The faithful retainer hasn’t worn well in the grave ….
Robert Bloch – The Funny Farm: Joseph Satterlee, a retired accountant, lives as a recluse, his only companions the comic strips he’s amassed these past fifty years, having spent a small fortune on old newspapers that ran them during his youth. Mandrake the Magician, Prince Valiant, Happy Hooligan and Little Orphan Annie & Co., are his friends of fifty years.
Lenny Morgan, a burglar with a very nasty streak, gets wind of old Joe’s collection and dollar signs flash before his eyes.
All I can think of is that the editor suffered a break-in while compiling Night Chills because here’s another one!
Ramsey Campbell – Call First: Ned grows obsessed with an old man’s habit of always telephoning before he leaves the library, merely to let somebody know “I’m coming home now”. He also fixates about the ring the guy wears on his wedding finger, which seems to have a human finger-nail embedded where the stone should be. He decides to break into the man’s home, where he encounters a highly sophisticated – and original – burglar alarm. Every black magician should have one.
Gahan Wilson – Yesterday’s Witch: It’s an age old tradition among the kids that, once they’ve reached the age of thirteen, come Halloween they must pay a visit to Miss Marble’s place, ring her doorbell and run away. The reclusive old woman is a reputed witch and Fred Pulley claims he once spotted her in her garden pulling bones from the ground. And her teeth! “they’re long and yellow. And they come to points at the ends. I think I saw blood on them.”
Tonight it’s our narrator’s turn. He pulls on his papier mache corpse mask and sets off with his gang. Their comeuppance is way too gentle for my tastes. I’d have preferred she set about the little bastards with a chainsaw, but thats most likely the romantic in me talking again.
Mary Elizabeth Counselman – Kellerman’s Eyepiece: When he focuses on the Sea of Tranquility with the fire-damaged lens purchased from the Cruikshank Scientific Co, amateur astrologer Cyril Kellerman observes gnat-like beings with the face of Neil Armstrong emerging from the moon’s craters. Another customer in Tokyo, sixteen year old star-gazer Hideo Nagashima, who also witnesses this phenomena, dies in an ‘accidental’ fall from the roof, but not before he’s shared his scary Earth’s conquest theory with Kellerman. Story told entirely in correspondence and a newspaper clipping.
Karl E. Wagner – Sticks: Spring 1942. Having just received his call-up papers, pulp artist Colin Leverett decides upon a fishing expedition in the desolate Mann Brook region. Tramping the cairn alongside the stream, Leverett is intrigued by the profusion of latticed stick symbols strewn through the trees, each of which “remind … him unpleasantly of some bizarre crucifix.” Having sketched several of these weird stick figures, he investigates a decrepit farmhouse where he discovers far, far worse. The events of that day haunt him far worse than anything he experiences during the war and, when he returns home, his obsession with the sticks sees him incorporate them in much of his increasingly gruesome illustrative work which by now even Weird Tales is reluctantly rejecting as too horrific.
Several years later, Leverett is offered a commission to illustrate a collection of H. Kenneth Allard’s stories by specialist publisher Gothic House. His acceptance of the job sets in motion a grisly chain of events that sees the brutal murder of several horror luminaries and culminates in his final encounter with the abomination he first saw in the farmhouse cellar thirty years previous.
In his afterword to the story in Stuart David Schiff’s Whispers (Jove, 1987), Wagner reveals that the inspiration for Sticks came from a real-life experience of Weird Tales regular Lee Brown Coye and, naturally, the truth was eerier by far than the fiction.
Thomas M. Disch – Minnesota Gothic: While her parents are in California attending Grandpa’s cremation, seven year old Gretel is dumped on ancient neighbour, Minnie Haeckel and the whatever-it-is that’s animating her brother Lew’s corpse, thirty years after she dug it up. ‘Lew’ is an invalid who Minnie keeps locked away in his pigsty of a room, just as well, really as he has nasty paedophile tendencies. Matters come to a head when Minnie bakes a gingerbread toad. Lew warns Gretel that his sister is a wicked witch and the only way she can save herself is to take some dough, mould it into Minnie’s shape, and eat it ….
Fritz Leiber – Alice and the Allergy: For these past two years Dr. Howard’s young wife Alice has been a martyr to puffy-eyes, panic attacks and depression, but as yet neither he nor Dr. Renshaw from the Allergy lab have been able to discover what exactly sets her off. Howard believes what she really needs is a psychiatrist. She was raised by a man-hating aunt who filled her head with all sorts of notions and it hardly helped matters when she was attacked by the rapist-cum-strangler who’d terrorised three Midwestern cities over a lengthy period. But that man has been dead for two years, so why is she so terrified that he’s coming back for her.
I believe this to be timeless wisdom, though penned in 1976. It is for these reasons I love older terror fiction. And it is for these reasons that I dislike a lot of modern horror fiction.
AFTERWORD by Kirby McCauley
FRIGHTS (an anthology of new horror stories), St. Martin’s Press, 1976
‘The tale of terror is one of the oldest forms of storytelling, inherent to every human culture. It has been with us from the very beginning, whether in stories told around campfires or represented in drama, art, whispered over [our] night fires—or in broad daylight, for that matter—of brushes with scary things. And men who have put their experiences of awe and fright in written form have done so since earliest times, from The Odyssey of Homer forward to the date you see on your daily newspaper. Many of the great literary figures have created works of terror and the supernatural, Shakespeare, Goethe, Poe, Balzac, Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Tolstoy, Pushkin, Maupassant, Kipling, Mann, to name only some. The appeal of “things that go bump in the night” is very basic everywhere. And now this form [—i.e., the terror tale—of storytelling] is perhaps the last strong outpost of Romantic expression in the arts.
And yet, for all that, particularly in America, there is a kind of stubborn supercilious refusal in many quarters to recognize this kind of story as a literary form worthy of attention by serious, intelligent readers. The reasons for this are doubtlessly many, but one is surely the tongue-in-cheek interest in bad horror movies and their overworked reliance upon familiar supernatural characters, Dracula and Frankenstein the two best known. All these stereotypes have their place, but how big a place is the question. Where the interest seems to be destructive is when the essential inspiration and attitude [are] irreverent or sadistic. Concerning the former, I am among those who believe that the magazine “Unknown” and magazines in its tradition failed because their predominant premise was too whimsical. “Unknown” did run a good many excellent stories, but also a good deal of “cute, clever, and amusing” material written by writers having a condescending, self-indulgent fun at the reader’s expense. People do occasionally like humor in their supernatural tales, and, indeed, there is an element of ironic humor near the heart of the good story of terror; but it must be carefully controlled or the reader is unlikely to engage in the sober kind of pondering necessary for maximum enjoyment of the strange story…
The mainstay appeal is the chill of probing the unknown, as the bestselling books in the genre testify. And the tale of the humorous macabre is usually most satisfying when written by those who have reverance and love for the non-humorous supernatural and who themselves write it well—a W. W. Jacobs, a Robert Bloch, or a Gahan Wilson. One knows in reading their funny supernaturals that it is an affectionate and respectful use of humor, and, probably deep down, a usage that is made with an occasional look over the proverbial shoulder. Many of those attracted to the light and whimsical tradition have, I would suggest, weak credentials in the respect and reverence department: their true loves are elsewhere—and it shows.
The intrusion of the sadistic into the supernatural terror story is more serious and perrenial. Any genre that frequently has to do with fear and death must naturally approach territory that is ripe for sadistic treatment. But not only is there a difference in treatment between the sadistic story and the true supernatural story, there is an equally great difference in inspiration and appeal, as Fritz Leiber ably points out in the Introduction to this book. Tales of the supernatural appeal on many levels, but none of them involve a focus on physical suffering and unpleasantness for its own sake.
Labels are tricky. What does one call this rather broad same-spirited form? I tend to prefer the term “terror”, but it seems to me only one of several satisfactory ones. Many are turning away from the word “horror,” but I like all the terms: stories of horror, wonder, terror, fantasy, the inexplicable, the supernatural, as long as the inspiration is not that of the dilettante or the sadist. FRIGHTS is the title of this collection because it seemed to me to convey a welcome to a broad variety of eerie and suspenseful stories. Additionally, I tried to collect stories that are a bit different, that struck me as more than another vampire story or another deal-with-the-Devil story; the somewhat off-road modern tale of suspense and horror was my goal. And- –important, I think—all the stories in this book have never been published before. There are, I believe, some very vital and fine things being written today in this field, and there should be more places to focus those new works.In a small way I hope this book enlarges that showcase.’
New York City
January 11, 1976
Jacket & Paperback Cover Art by George Zeil, 1976
(Images: Abe Books; Too Much Horror Fiction)