Classic Tales Of Horror Vol.1 offers up fifteen slices of powerful story-telling from the world’s great authors. From Henry James and Ambrose Bierce to Bram Stoker and Charles Dickens. Read by John Waite (BBC Radio 4), Sarah Douglas (Superman I & II), Michael Fenton-Stevens (Spitting Image, KYTV, Hitch-hiker’s Guide) and Ben Onwukwe (London’s Burning, Othello).
Harker Brayston is a scientifically minded layabout, who finds himself confronted by a snake that he discovers under his bed in a San Francisco apartment. There seems to be a perfectly good natural explanation for this, in that Brayston is an occupant and lodger at a house that also contains a reptile house run by a zoology professor friend of his. The Professor’s snakes have a habit of escaping from the laboratories. Brayston knows little about snakes, so he has no way of telling if the snake under the bed is harmless, poisonous or a constrictor. He wisely decides to leave the bedroom to escape from its glowing baleful eyes. At first he is too scared to move, but he eventually steels himself to do so, and makes a few faltering steps towards the door leading out of the bedroom, never taking his eyes off the staring serpent. Brayston stumbles into some bedroom furniture and falls over. He lies almost paralysed, expecting the snake to lunge at him, but instead it seems to hypnotise him and Brayston moves towards the snake, feet first.
When newlyweds find the cottage of their dreams in the English countryside, they are warned that long-ago owners, two evil knights, always return on Halloween night.
A traditional American 19th century ghost story narrated from three different points of view. The opening testimony is that of Joel Hetman Junior, who tells a court of enquiry about how he received the shocking news that his own mother has just been murdered by an unknown strangler. Rushing home to Nashville, Joel finds his distraught father who tells him how he came home to find his wife’s body in the bedroom. Over several months, Joel struggles to help his father overcome his grief, and one night, as they walked in the garden, the father becomes convinced that he has seen the ghost of his dead wife. He is so frightened that he runs into the woods and he is never seen again. The second statement is that of the killer himself, a madman in an asylum who was convinced that his own wife was having an affair with another man. Following her, but somehow mistaking Mrs. Hetman for her, he murders her and the look in her eyes destroys what little sanity he has left. The murder victim herself, through a spiritualist medium, tells the third and concluding part of the story. She remembers her murder in graphic detail, and then being trapped in a dark, timeless limbo. She does recall seeing her husband and calling to him, out of love, but that he was too frightened and fled, meeting his demise in some way that has put him in a similar limbo to her own.
To what horrific ends will a man go to keep his wife from the arms of her lover? Set in 1815 and featuring some truly terrifying masonry!
Malcolm is soon to take an exam, and wants to study for it somewhere free from distraction. So he travels to Benchurch, stays a night in the inn, and the next day finds the perfect place, an abandoned house. He asked the agent about renting a part of it; he said that it being inhabited for a while should quell some of the rumors going around about the place. He asked the landlady Mrs. Wintham about it, and she is startled to hear about his staying in “the Judge’s house.” She has heard that there was something about that house since a strict judge lived there generations ago. After inspecting the house, Malcolm decided he would take up residence in the great dining room. Malcolm settles in to study, and after a while realizes the noises the rats are making. He gets up and inspects the room; his eyes meet with those of one rat who squeaks and scampers away. He studies for a couple more hours, having gotten accustomed to the sound. Soon he realizes that the noise has stopped. He looks around, and sees an enormous rat, baring its teeth in apparent hatred. He tries to shoo it with a poker, and the rat scurries up the bell rope, then the noise immediately begins again.
A European adventurer in the Yukon who outwits his (American) Indian captors’ plans to torture him.
The confession of a murderer, written hurriedly in his cell just before his execution, and as the title suggests, found soon afterwards. The story is now effectively told in flashback. The doomed protagonist is a soldier, who on returning from services overseas in 1678, discovers that his brother is dying. The brothers are married to two sisters, and the protagonist hated his brother’s sister right up to er own death. As his brother dies, he expresses a wish that the protagonist and his wife adopt their orphaned child. The protagonist does so, but he despises the boy and the feeling appears to be mutual. After an unsuccessful attempt to drown the child, the protagonist kills him with a sword, and buries the body in the garden. He is now haunted by fears that the body will somehow surface!
Henry James’ “The Ghostly Rental” deals with a young man, a newcomer in town, who loves to take walks for exercise. On one of his ramblings on a deserted rural road, this young man — our narrator — happens upon a house that immediately strikes him as “simply haunted.” When he asks one of the locals about the house on the lonely road, she tells him that people never go down that road, even though it’s the shortest route to the next town, because “it might turn out a long way.” She is just as cryptic about the house itself; it belongs, she says, to “them that are in it.”
After a day at market, a man begins to walk home across the snow covered moor. He gets lost and is worried his wife will be concerned for him. He comes across a desolate house and decides to go in for a rest: he’s freezing and hungry. Also he’s a bit hacked off at being lost on such a dreadful night. He gets invited in but the host is very odd. He’s obviously the only visitor they’ve had around those parts for a while. After having a bit of scram he decides he really ought to make a move. The host tells him that if he hurries up he will be able to get on a coach that is due soon. The host then tells him about a horrific crash that happened a few years back involving the coach he is about to catch. The butler helps him most of the way across the moor to the coach stop, then turns back to his grumpy master’s house. By a bridge, the man notices that part of the railling has gone. Then the coach turns up and he gets in…
The story is narrated by a traveller in rural New England who seeks shelter from a storm in an apparently abandoned house, only to find that it is occupied by an old, white-bearded, and ragged man, speaking in “an extreme form of Yankee dialect…thought long extinct”, whose face is “abnormally ruddy and less wrinkled than one might expect.” He shows a disquieting fascination for an engraving in an old book depicting a butcher shop of the “cannibal Anziques” (from the historic Congo kingdom of Anziku), and admits to the narrator (who becomes increasingly nervous and frightened throughout the man’s story) that it made him hunger for “something more” – presumably human meat. It is suggested that the old man in the house was murdering men who stumbled upon the shack to satisfy his “craving”, but this is not revealed, as before he can finish his story the two men notice blood leaking down from the ceiling and, subsequently, a lightning bolt destroys the house.
A ghostly apparition proceeds the news of the death of a certain Mrs.Veal!
Having squandered his wealth, Guido returns to claim the hand of the celestial Juliet, but finds himself censured by her father. Petulant at his chastisement, his Byronic temperament gets the better of him, and he is punished with banishment. As he plots his revenge, he witnesses a mighty tempest, and from the raging sea emerges a strange figure. Initially repelled by the dwarfish form before him, the true horror soon strikes him: he and the dwarf are one. As their identities become increasingly merged, Transformation takes its place in the history of Doppelgänger literature.
The story involves Mr and Mrs White and their adult son Herbert. Sergeant-Major Morris, a friend of the Whites who has been part of the British Armed Forces in India, leaves them with the monkey’s paw, telling of its mysterious powers to grant three wishes, and of its journey from an old fakir to his comrade, who used his third and final wish to wish for death. Mr White wishes for £200. Their son is killed by machinery at his company, and they get compensation of £200. Ten days after they bury Herbert, Mrs White, almost mad with grief, asks her husband to wish Herbert back to life with the paw. Reluctantly, he does so. After a delay, there is a knock at the door. Mrs White fumbles at the locks in an attempt to open the door. Mr White knows, however, that he cannot allow their son in, as his appearance will be too horrific. Mr White was required to witness and identify the body, which had been mutilated by the accident and then buried for more than a week. He wishes his third wish, and the knocking stops. Mrs White opens the door to find no one there.
The story begins with the narrator, a man of “a noble descent” who calls himself William Wilson, denouncing his profligate past, although he does not accept blame[dubious – discuss]for his actions, saying that “man was never thus […] tempted before”. After several paragraphs, the narration then segues into a description of Wilson’s boyhood, which was spent in a “large, rambling Elizabethan” schoolhouse, “in a misty-looking village of England”. The house was huge, with many jumbled paths and rooms, and situated on extensive grounds; the students were kept on site perpetually, however, hemmed in by a fence surmounted by broken glass, only being released for short, guided walks and church service. William describes meeting another boy who shared the same name, who had roughly the same appearance, and who was even born on exactly the same date — January 19 (which was also Poe’s birthday). The other William represents his only competition in academics, sports, and popularity. The boy seemed to compete with him so easily, however, that William thinks it “a proof of his true superiority; since not to be overcome, cost me a perpetual struggle”. William’s name (he asserts that his actual name is only similar to “William Wilson”) embarrasses him because it sounds “plebeian” or common, and he is irked that he must hear the name twice as much on account of the other William. The boy gradually begins copying William’s mannerisms, dress and talk; although, by a “constitutional defect”, he could only speak in a whisper, he imitates that whisper exactly. He begins giving William advice of an unspecified nature, which he refuses to heed, resenting the boy’s “arrogance”. One night he stole into the other William’s bedroom and saw that the boy’s face had suddenly become exactly like his own. Upon seeing this, William left the academy immediately, only to discover that his double left on the same day. William eventually attends Eton and Oxford, gradually becoming more debauched and performing what he terms “mischief”. For example, he steals exorbitant amounts of money from a poor nobleman by cheating him at cards and trying to seduce a married woman. At each stage, his double eventually appears, his face always covered, whispers a few words sufficient to alert others to William’s behavior, and leaves with no others seeing his face. After the last of these incidents, at a ball in Rome, William drags his “unresisting” double—who was wearing identical clothes—into an antechamber, and stabs him fatally.
The story has a detailed and realistic setting in the tiny decaying cathedral city of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, at the foot of the Pyrenees in southern France. An English tourist spends a day photographing the interior of the cathedral and is encouraged by the sacristan to buy an unusual manuscript volume. This, he concludes, had been created long ago, by cutting up volumes in the old cathedral library, by canon Albéric de Mauléon.