As October chills and Halloween creeps closer, there’s no better time for scary stories. From masters of the craft such as Stephen King and Edgar Allen Poe, The PHOENIX chose five horror stories to help students celebrate the holiday.
“The Scythe” — Ray Bradbury (“Fahrenheit 451,” “The Martian Chronicles”)
“The Scythe” uses Ray Bradbury’s trademark style of nostalgic science fiction-horror to tell the story of Drew Erickson, a poor farmer who stumbles upon an abandoned farmhouse with his family after their car breaks down. He walks inside to ask the owner of the house for a meal and finds the man dead with a note beside him. The note states that whoever finds the man’s body is the new owner of the property and is responsible for reaping the wheat outside with the man’s scythe, a curved blade used for farming. Erickson accepts soon discovering he’s taken a job for which he didn’t sign up.
“The Scythe” is a perfect example of Bradbury’s ability to elevate the science fiction-horror genre into an intelligent commentary on violence, capitalism and desperation. The story is part of the short story collection, “October Country” (1955).
“The Tell-Tale Heart” — Edgar Allen Poe (“The Raven,” “The Fall of the House of Usher”)
“The Tell-Tale Heart” deploys Edgar Allen Poe’s device of the mentally unstable narrator. The story follows the speaker as he decides to murder his roommate because of his disturbing “vulture-like” eye.
In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” readers are never told what about the roommate’s eye disturbs the narrator, which is part of the brilliance. Because the story is told from an unreliable point of view, readers can decide if it’s possible the roommate meant the narrator any harm, or if the narrator is simply insane. Poe showcases his use of horror to explore guilt and regret while weaving a compelling, pulse-pounding narrative. “The Tell-Tale Heart” can be read for free online.
“Children of the Corn” — Stephen King (“It,” “The Stand”)
“Children of the Corn,” the story that spawned a movie franchise, follows a bickering couple, Burt and Vicky, who drive to California for vacation. While traveling through rural Nebraska, they accidentally hit a boy who stepped out from a nearby cornfield with his throat cut. They rush the child to a nearby town but find it empty, until a group of children emerges from the corn.
“Children of the Corn” may be more famous now for its weak movie adaptations, but that shouldn’t deter horror fans from reading the original short story. Full of tension, violence and impending doom, this story is one of Stephen King’s best. “Children of the Corn” can be found in the short story collection, “Night Shift” (1978).
“The Call of Cthulhu” — H.P. Lovecraft (“At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Dunwich Horror”)
One of the most influential horror stories ever written, “The Call of Cthulhu” tells the story of Francis Thurston, a man who finds a collection of strange papers in his deceased uncle’s home. The papers describe a monstrous, grotesque creature called Cthulhu living deep within the ocean, and a “cult of Cthulhu” that sacrifices humans in hopes of calling the beast to land. Thurston soon discovers the cult still exists and that he may now know too much.
Lovecraft and his “Cthulhu mythos” have influenced numerous storytellers, including Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Guillermo del Toro. “The Call of Cthulhu” led to Lovecraft’s creation of “cosmic horror,” a subsect of the genre which argues that true horror is the universe’s indifference toward humanity. The story can be found in various collections of Lovecraft’s work.
“The Veldt” — Ray Bradbury
“The Veldt” takes place in the Hadley family’s “Happylife Home,” an automated house that takes care of its occupants’ every need. Peter and Wendy, the children of the family, love to spend time in the “nursery,” a virtual reality room that can reproduce any setting they imagine. George and Lydia, the children’s parents, notice the nursery has been stuck on an African grassland — the titular veldt — with lions feeding in the distance. Worried that their children are imaginging this scene of death, they decide to call a psychologist to look at the room.
“The Veldt” evolves from a fascinating science fiction premise to a chilling, inescapable nightmare. Ray Bradbury’s brilliant spin on the horror genre is a must-read this Halloween. The story can be found in the science-fiction anthology, “The Illustrated Man” (1951).