You can read good, scary dark fantasy and horror fiction all year long. There are no set rules that you should read it only during autumn. But with pumpkins stocked in piles at the grocery stores and Halloween decorations and candy fighting for space on shelves, there’s something about reading a few spooky novels, nonfiction ghost books, and terrifying short stories this time of the year. Though there is plenty of good reads out there, here's ten to get you started.
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson: This is the only book I read in my life that one scene out of it scared the bejesus out of me, while I was in a
classroom full of students in 8th grade. Blurb: It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.
It by Stephen King: This and his other book, Salem’s Lot, scared me while reading alone at night. Blurb: They were just kids when they stumbled upon the horror within their hometown. Now, as adults, none of them can withstand the force that has drawn them all back to Derry, Maine, to face the nightmare without end, and the evil without a name.
Ask the Bones: Scary Stories from Around the World, edited by Arielle North Olson and Howard Schwartz: There’s something about folklore. Blurb: What is real and what is imaginary? Do evil creatures lurk in the shadows? Do demons attack the helpless? Are there such things as invisible men? For generations, storytellers have given substance to our worst fears. In Ask the Bones, master storytellers Arielle North Olson and Howard Schwartz retell a varied selection of the world's most frightening folktales. Be warned-these stories could scare you to death!
Seed by Ania Ahlborn: Blurb: With nothing but the clothes on his back—and something horrific snapping at his heels—Jack Winter fled his rural Georgia home when he was still just a boy. Watching the world he knew vanish in a trucker’s rearview mirror, he thought he was leaving an unspeakable nightmare behind forever. But years later, the bright new future he’s built suddenly turns pitch black, as something fiendishly familiar looms dead ahead. When Jack, his wife Aimee, and their two small children survive a violent car crash, it seems like a miracle. But Jack knows what he saw on the road that night, and it wasn’t divine intervention. The profound evil from his past won’t let them die…at least not quickly. It’s back, and it’s hungry; ready to make Jack pay for running, to work its malignant magic on his angelic youngest daughter, and to whisper a chilling promise: I’ve always been here, and I’ll never leave.Country comfort is no match for spine-tingling Southern gothic suspense in Ania Ahlborn’s tale of an ordinary man with a demon on his back. Seed plants its page-turning terror deep in your soul, and lets it grow wild.
The Haunted by Bentley Little: Blurb: The Perry family's new house is perfect-except for the weird behavior of the neighbors, and that odd smell coming from a dark corner in the basement. Pity no one warned the family about the house. Now it's too late. Because the darkness at the bottom of the basement stairs is rising.
Hell House by Richard Matheson: Blurb: Rolf Rudolph Deutsch is going die. But when Deutsch, a wealthy magazine and newspaper publisher, starts thinking seriously about his impending death, he offers to pay a physicist and two mediums, one physical and one mental, $100,000 each to establish the facts of life after death.
Dr. Lionel Barrett, the physicist, accompanied by the mediums, travel to the Belasco House in Maine, which has been abandoned and sealed since 1949 after a decade of drug addiction, alcoholism, and debauchery. For one night, Barrett and his colleagues investigate the Belasco House and learn exactly why the townsfolks refer to it as the Hell House.
The Manor by Scott Nicholson: Blurb: Ephram Korban was an admirer of the human creative spirit, dedicated to collecting art in its many forms--literature, photography, painting, and sculpture--before he took his own life. Nestled in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains stands the home he built as a retreat for artists to hone their craft, perfect their skills...perhaps even produce a masterpiece. Isolated from the outside world in the electricity-free mansion, artists gather to court their muses for six weeks, undisturbed. Anna Galloway has no interest in art and even less in the people who produce it. Her sensibilities are more in tune with the realm beyond the physical, where the souls of the deceased reside and visions reveal secrets. She has included herself among the elite artistes in residence at Korban's retreat because she has seen the manor in her dreams--and believes Korban's ghost may be wandering its halls. Now, a blue moon is on the rise in October, opening magical pathways to conjure up something unimaginable. Something feeding off the energies of those in the house. Something seeking everlasting life--at any cost.
Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe by Edgar Allan Poe: You can’t go through October without reading Poe.
H. P. Lovecraft: Complete Fiction by H. P. Lovecraft: While Poe writes about terrors of the mind, Lovecraft brings us the physical monsters.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury: Only Bradbury can write tales of the October Country so well, and this novel is one of his best dark fantasies. Read the book, then rent the movie based on it—it will get you in the Halloween mood. Blurb: A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope's shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic rare-show's smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes -- and the stuff of nightmare.
Want more scary reads? Check out my collection of short dark fantasy and horror stories, Spectre Nightmares and Visitations, published by Under the Moon. It is available both in print and as an eBook at Under the Moon estore and in print only at Amazon. And a couple of weeks ago, I left a couple of signed copies at Books, Beads and More in Mechanicsville, Virginia. For their address and phone number go to their website/. Call before going to make sure the copies are still there.
Many things scare us. But the most fearful things are those that infect our nightmares and visitations. Monsters from the closet or from another planet. Ghosts that haunt more than a house. Werewolves are not the only shapeshifters to beware of. Children can be taken from more than the human kind of monsters. Even normal things can be the start of a heart-pounding terror. Prepare to step beyond the pages of Spectre Nightmares and Visitations.
Just tell yourself that they're only stories.
Just tell yourself that they're only stories.
The "House on Green Street" chapter from Spectre Nightmares and Visitations.
It was a very cool, breezy night, the crescent moon hovering high in the black sky like some malefic spirit ready to do mischief. Children dressed in costumes of assorted themes ran up to doors, pausing to ring doorbells, and yelling, “Trick or treat!” in high-pitched, demanding voices. Jack-o-lanterns, flickering with bright light, sat on door steps or in windows, lending a cheerful context to the night of Halloween.
But my cousin, Jim and I only paused for a moment to savor these special sights and sounds of Samhain. We trudged up to a small apartment complex on Green Street where our friends, the Collinfines, lived. Next door to the complex was an old house, empty for years and reputedly haunted. Normally a scabby sore on the upscale street, tonight, it added to the Halloween atmosphere.
Inside the apartment, we found a loud boisterous party, with people dressed in grownup versions of the costumes of the children outside in the night. In one corner some bobbed for apples in a tub of water, while others were lodged firmly in front of a large 53-inch television, watching the movie “Halloween”. Others just sat around, munching on party food and gossiping.
Jim, dressed as Count Dracula, tried to put the bite on a pretty red-headed woman dressed as an angel. As for me, I came dressed as a gypsy fortuneteller and that was my function for the party, fortune telling, along with telling ghostly tales. Spying an empty spot, I set up shop at the coffee table in front of the big blue couch and sat down.
Someone turned off the TV set and the place grew quiet as people began to gather around me. I spent the next hour telling fortunes. When everyone who wanted had their fortunes told, I began to relate some scary ghost stories. It was after I had just finished the story of a haunted room in an inn where that no one could ever spend an entire night in and live that a tall dark-haired man in the back of the room spoke up.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”
I eyed him, weighing the question carefully, and then answered him. “No. I believe that all things like ghosts can be explained scientifically, if given time to figure out what is causing the phenomenon.”
Then with a shock I noticed his eyes for the first time. They gleamed blood-red in the black light, which made the Halloween decorations glow in the room. He smiled, but it looked more like a grimace, and I saw sharp, razor-like fangs gleaming between his parted lips. Then I remembered that it was a Halloween party and that what he was wearing was only a costume, frighteningly lifelike. A very effective costume, nevertheless. He walked toward me like a wolf or large panther stalking their prey. A few chills ran up my spine. Others must have felt the same, for they parted like the Red Sea, letting him through and not allowing even the ends of his black cloak to touch them.
He stood in front of the coffee table and stared down at me. Feelings of uneasiness swirled inside me. Something about him bothered me. I wanted to jump up and run away from him, but I forced myself to stay put.
Bending down, he placed one large hairy hand, with fingers tipped with sharp fingernails, down flat upon the shiny surface of the coffee table.
“Well, I have just the bet for you,” he said.
His voice raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
“What’s that?” I asked, staring unflinchingly into his bizarre eyes, determined not to show any fear.
His smile grew more feral. “Why, there’s a supposedly haunted house next door. I say that if you stay the whole night there and returned here in the morning—unharmed—you will have proven to me that your theory about ghosts not really existing is true. Do you accept, Miss Jenner?”
I paused, wondering how he knew my name and reflecting on his strange request. “What’s wrong with the place next door? Do people go into it at night and disappear or something?”
His eyes lit up. “Why don’t you stay there and find out?”
Indecision filled me, until I heard the whispered murmurs reaching my ears, whispers that I was a coward. Throwing caution to the winds I stood up and said, “Oh, all right. But who’s going with me?” I heard the edge of false courage lining my voice.
Jim, a glass of wine in hand, spoke up. “I will, Leslie.”
He looked like he had been drinking pretty good for some time now, and I didn’t think that he would make the perfect companion for ghost hunting, but as no one else volunteered, I accepted his help. He turned and gave a sloppy grin to the redhead he had been fawning over since we arrived. No doubt he was doing this not because he wanted to back me up, but more to impress her. It seemed to work, as she simpered up at him, a silly look on her face.
Jim, a lurch of drunkenness in his step, and I left the party and headed over to the house next door. An old dilapidated place, it looked like it once had been a lovely shade of blue, but had faded to a dirty gray, flaking in places. Armed with only a couple of flashlights and blankets to keep out the cold, we stood before it and stared up at a broken brown porch covered in shadows of the night.
I aimed my flashlight and in the light, discovered the door, ajar.
Apparently kids or someone had broken in before, making it easy for us to get inside.
We picked our way through the debris on the porch (Jim actually blundered through the mess) and entered the house through the black-as-pitch doorway.
We found ourselves in a large room, empty of furniture and life, filled with debris, and there was a curious mold on the fading wallpaper covering the walls. Jim, not too steady on his feet, fell down onto his rump with an oath and slipped into a loud snoring as he went into a drunken sleep. 70
I covered him with his blanket and left him there as I decided to go ahead and explore the place. I peered closely at the mold, but decided it was better left alone, and passed through an open doorway into what once had to have been the kitchen.
I rifled through the cabinets while watching out for brown recluse spiders and rats when I heard a racket coming from back where I had left Jim. It had to be him, and I heard him stumble up the stairs to the second floor above. His clumsy feet banged around up there, and then suddenly, grew silent.
I raced back to the living room and called up the stairs. “Jim! Are you okay?”
Total silence. Worried that he had hurt himself, I ascended the stairs. I searched all the rooms on the second floor, but couldn’t find him, injured or otherwise. I worried, knowing he was too drunk to slip away and hide, playing a joke on me. I kept calling his name but didn’t get a response. The silence felt creepy to me.
A loud bang came from the ceiling above me.
“Jim!” I called out.
Loud footsteps erupted. Following the sounds to the end of the dark hall, I discovered steps that lead upwards, to the attic, I supposed. Slowly I climbed them, angry. Here I thought Jim was hurt when all the time he was up in the attic, fumbling around, safe and unharmed.
Just you wait, Jim Conners.
I halted at a closed door and pushed it open, entering. The room was pitch black and freezing cold. The door slammed shut with a loud bang, locking me in. 71
I cussed Jim out for making me even come in here when, with a swish of air, something slapped the flashlight out of my hand and sent it clattering into some far, dark corner. Even though I couldn’t see who, or what, did that, I figured it had been Jim, who wasn’t as drunk as I thought.
“Jim, that’s not funny. When we get out of here, I promise you’re going to be sorry.” But he didn’t answer me, and I forged more deeply into the attic, slapping at unseen cobwebs. I kept calling, receiving nothing but silence and I grew angrier by the minute. I now felt that Jim, some people at the party, and that horrible man had conspired to pull a stupid prank on me. This joke had gone on long enough.
“Okay, Jim, you guys have had your little joke. Now please, unlock the attic door and let’s get back to the party,” I said, trying to cool down. “You want to know something? I’m still not even the tiniest bit frightened. Angry, yes, scared, no.”
“Not frightened, Miss Jenner, but oh, you soon will be.”
The whisper breathed like a slight breeze into my ear. I turned my head to the right and saw the dark-haired man with the reddish eyes standing by my side, a green glow surrounding him. He had a nasty, feral smile plastered on his face.
“How did you get in here? We left you at the party.” I shivered, but not due to the increasing drop in the temperature, which had grown worse since he had appeared. 72
He snickered like some demented child.
“Did you, my dear? I decided to help you really celebrate Halloween, in a very special way.”
“Where’s Jim?” I asked, my voice squeaking higher in pitch.
“Why, he’s here with us . . . forever. As soon you will be, of course.”
He pointed to a corner in the room. Jim lay there on his back on the floor, encased in a greenish glow. At first I thought he was just unconscious, but then I saw the slit under his chin, a red liquid trickling down from it.
My God, the creep had murdered Jim.
Frightened, I backed away, groping behind me for the locked attic door as I kept my eyes on the crazy person in the place with me. My fingertips touched the splintered wood of the door and with one hand; I grasped the door knob and tried to open it. But it stayed locked, steadfast. The man and his strange light vanished just then, leaving me alone in the dark. My heart thudding painfully and with the metallic taste of fear in my mouth, I whirled around and began pounding and kicking at the door.
I broke off when I heard a familiar ghastly whisper in my ear. “Now you will be part of the house on Green Street. Forever—”
Excuse me, but I have to go. However, I do have final proof that ghosts really do exist, because, now, I’m one of them, a part of the house on Green Street. Forever.