And here we are again. September. As in the past half dozen years, I’ve chosen thirteen chilling tales for my imaginary horror anthology, inspired by the book H.P. LOVECRAFT’S BOOK OF HORROR. I always try to have this list up before October so that interested parties can have some suggestions for Halloween reading. This isn’t a ‘year’s best’, though often the stories on the list are ones that I’ve read or re-read recently. For example, I re-read Robert E. Howard’s OLD GARFIELD’S HEART just the other day and was reminded what a fine weird tale it was, told in a voice very similar to the one you hear in REH’s letters and set in his beloved South West.
A newer example would be MUSINGS by Brian Keene, which I just read in a new collection. It’s not a new story for Brian, but it’s new to me. Ditto Robert Bloch’s BLACK BARGAIN, which I just discovered. A nifty tale combining elements of the Cthulhu Mythos with a setting reminiscent of Damon Runyan.
SLIME is Joseph Payne Brennan’s most famous and most anthologized story, but somehow I’ve never added it to one of these lists. Very influential to Stephen King for his story THE RAFT. By the same token, THE CHARNEL GOD is one of Clark Ashton Smith’s best known stories, and it’s definitely one of my top five by Klar-Kashton. In contrast, THE LURKING FEAR is usually considered a fairly minor H.P. Lovecraft story, written as a serial right after HERBERT WEST:REANIMATOR, and not HPL’s best. Still, I found it creepy and very cinematic in construction. I think a fine low-budget horror film could be made from it.
Though I’ve read a ton of M.R. James ghost stories, I first encountered THE TRACTATE MIDDOTH as a TV adaptation done by the BBC. I enjoyed it enough to find the original story and give it a read. A classic M.R. James tale of revenge from beyond the grave. The TV version is usually available on Youtube.
Kealan Patrick Burke shows that even something as modern as social media can be grist for horror tale in OFFLINE.
Manly Wade Wellman and Karl Edward Wagner, those two southern gentlemen, return this year, Karl with WHERE THE SUMMER ENDS, a tale that could only be told in the south, and Manly with his final John Thunstone short story, ROUSE HIM NOT.
The oldest story on this year's list is by Leo Tolstoy's cousin Aleksei. THE HOUSE OF THE VOURDALAK is closer to folklore than modern horror and thus paints a very different picture of a vampire.
These days every horror anthology needs a zombie story and I picked a corker by Joe Lansdale. ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE CADILLAC DESERT WITH DEAD FOLKS is a mix of humorous and disturbing, like much of Lansdale's work.
The final story on the list was the hardest to decide upon. I considered stories by Ray Bradbury, Hugh B. Cave, and Stephen King, but I finally went with Caitlin R. Kiernan's PICKMAN'S OTHER MODEL because it's a recent mythos story that I really enjoyed.
So there you have it. Vol VII of my book of horror. Plenty of time to go and find these stories before Halloween arrives. I bid you uneasy nights and shadow-haunted dreams.
1. Musings by Brian Keene
From Where we Live and Die
2. The Lurking Fear by H.P. Lovecraft
From The Best of H.P. Lovecraft
3. Slime by Joseph Payne Brennan
From The Shapes of Midnight
4. The Charnel God by Clark Ashton Smith
FromThe Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith Vol 4
5. Old Garfield’s Heart by Robert E. Howard
From The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard
6. Black Bargain by Robert Bloch
From American Supernatural Stories
7. The Tractate Middoth by M.R. James
From Collected Ghost Stories of M.R.James
8. Offline by Kealan Patrick Burke
Available as an ebook
9. Where the Summer Ends by Karl Edward Wagner
From The Best Horror Stories of Karl Edward Wagner
10. Rouse Him Not by Manly Wade Wellman
From The Valley So Low
11. The Family of the Vourdalak by Aleksei Tolstoy
From Victorian Vampire Stories
12. On the far Side of the Cadillac Desert With Dead Folks by Joe Lansdale
From The Monster Book of Zombies
13. Pickman's Other Model by Caitlin R Kiernan
From New Cthulhu