13 days of Halloween
I’ll set the scene for you.
It’s been a long month, the longest month of the year as far as you’re concerned. It all began exactly on the first.
he trees have already changed their colour; golden and red leaves have started falling to the quiet unevenly paved streets, making you slip once in a while as you get off the big yellow bus and run home. The small isolated town is surrounded by corn stalks that have changed color too—they’re beige and crispy and they’re going to be plowed down soon. But first: they’ll be made into mazes to get lost in as the air of the countryside fills with the small of smoke and chill.
You hop off the bus wearing a blank shirt and black leggings with black shoes, a cat-ear headband and your backpack. You have a pink nose and whiskers coming from your plump cheeks.
You walk home with your little brother, him wearing a clown costume and doing that thing he does where he makes his eyeballs shake if he looks at you intently. He also has a backpack filled with candy from school. He’s in first grade so he’s particularly excited—you, you’ve done all this before.
You walk to your house—it’s a little brisk, but the sun is out. It’ll get colder when 5pm hits and your little brother has to wear a sweatshirt under his clown costume.
You get to your house and Dad hasn’t raked the leaves yet—no point as it adds to the atmosphere. You see the tombstones that have been living in your front yard for most of the month and the spider webs along the windowpanes. Some of the spiders have started to come loose and are swinging in the gentle breeze.
Dad has added the big monster footprints in glow in the dark paint so that kids know where to walk to get their candy. You can see him inside the small porch, intently adjusting. The pumpkins you carved with Mom are nestled against the tombstones with the gargoyles outside of the door, their shining red eyes following you in.
You open your porch door and your brother hustles ahead of you, but you stop to offer Dad some of your candy from school. He’s hanging up a stuffed football player, wearing an old jersey from the high school and a helmet. When Dad lets him go he swings with the rope around his neck for a few moments before he settles.
There’s glow in the dark paint handprints all along the walls that will be permanent and show up on Christmas evening. There is a large BEWARE written on the wall like blood. Dad has switched the normal light to a black light so that the glow in the dark paint shows up better. “What are you going to be tonight?” Dad asks as he takes the Milkyway you offered and chews.
“A sorceress.” You say proudly. A cat costume is child’s play now.
“Ohhh…” Dad agrees. “Are you ready?”
You nod and he jumps off the chair and hides it in the garage. Then he turns off the main light so that only the black light shines out of the dusty windows. You watch absently, nibbling your own chocolate, as your Dad puts on his vampire cape and goes to the corner of the room and switches something on, then rushes to the beer-barrel you own for some reason to switch something else on inside. Finally he runs to the garage and switches just one more thing. Mom arrives to the door with a bowl of candy in her hand.
The walls light up with BEWARE and TURN BACK NOW and DOOM in various shades of glow in the dark paint. There’s red blood splattered on the wall and tendrils of foil comes from the doorframe that people have to walk through to come in.
Suddenly, a spooky laugh emits from behind the door before some haunting music melts into your ears and when you look to where it comes from, there are two glow in the dark eyes staring at you. Then fog starts to come from the beer barrel, filling the floor with two feet worth, twirling around you. You swish your hands through it. And finally, a flash of artificial lightening snaps off and thunder rumbles through the small porch as Dad wanders around the walls, splattering blood for the final touches, taking bites out of his Milky Way while humming along to the music.
It’s Halloween night.
Obviously, I have very fond, wholesome family memories of Halloween. Something about the atmosphere that surrounds Halloween night is so…engulfing that I always spend the better part of the month getting more and more excited. Between decorations slowly being put up, to classic horror films light Fright Night and Creature from the Black Lagoon playing at 3am in the morning, there’s such an undercurrent charge in everything that’s done leading to Halloween that I’m practically wired to become excited around this time of year, even though Halloween isn’t a big thing in Australia. (YET.)
So I thought—why don’t I do one of the only charitable things I’ll ever do and curate 13 classic horror stories that I feel encompasses Halloween, with a build up of narrative until the big ole’ 31, so that you can enjoy Halloween with me too?
Below is a list of 13 horror stories—most movie marathons in the states begin on the 19th so that the 13th day is Halloween—but you can read these short stories anytime for some good ole’ classic horror:
1. The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
A creepy cross between Agatha Christie and Edgar Allan Poe—and the inspiration behind the film The Pest, this short story was actually first adapted in 1932 and is considered a classic short story full stop. But why on a horror list? Because the Zodiac Killer loves this short story.
2. The Cats of Ulthar by H. P Lovecraft
Short and sweet and perfect for cat lovers, this short story by the genius Lovecraft is about a small village that has a couple that routinely captures and murders the local cats, until a caravan comes through and something mysterious happens…
3. The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft
Another Lovecraft, and a classic regardless of genre, The Call of Cthulhu is about the iconic monster you keep hearing about and wondering where it came from when mentioned in popular culture. You’ve seen the monster, probably a cute chibi version as well, why not experience the real deal? Bonus point: part of this famous short story takes place in Sydney, Australia!
4. Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Simple, straight to the point, and with the famous Fountain of Youth. This short story is usually what happens right before everyone dies. Spooky and very highbrow, you will notice that this mystery narrative plot has been used over and over again since 1837.
5. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
An excellent first-hand account of paranoia, we know nothing between the main character and his victim but we know every excruciating detail of the narrator’s discomfort with the “evil eye.” Like most Poe short stories, it’s a rollercoaster of dark emotions and sets a great spooky tone that stays with you for the rest of the day.
6. The Black Cat by Edgar Allan Poe
My personal favorite—another short story that encourages you not to mess with black cats.
7. The Body Snatcher by Robert Louis Stevenson
Ever wonder why some tombs in England have cages around them? You may think it’s to keep the dead inside, but actually they were specifically made to keep the living out of the graves during the era of stealing corpses for medical observation. Because let’s be honest…a cage isn’t going to stop the dead.
8. Yuki-Onna by Lafcadio Hearn
The mythological version of Yuki-Onna is much older than Halloween itself, but in short, she’s a snow spirit that haunts the mountainside and kills her victims by breathing on them. They vary from story to story, but in Hearn’s rendition, you learn to do as the paranormal, inhuman spirit says.
9. The Hand by Guy de Maupassant
Creepy and a little gross, there’s nothing like a hand coming back for revenge. Much like The Most Dangerous Game and Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment, it’s written beautifully but is essentially creepy. It’s odd to think that during this time, this is what people read for entertainment and weren’t as perturbed by it as we are. Bonus point if you can think of the Halloween movie I just had to watch after reading this!
10. The Devil and Tom Walker by Washington Irving
It is universally understood that making a deal with Old Scratch, then attempting to get out of the deal, is one of the worst things you can do. But the narrator of this story does exactly this—from finding his wife’s liver and heart in the forest to ultimately paying his due, this short story is perfect if you’re wondering how far material possessions will get you with the Devil himself.
11. The Monkey’s Paw by WW Jacobs
A very simple lesson in this paranormal horror: be careful what you wish for, because you might get just get it.
12. Epilogue by Edgar Lee Masters
A lyrical Halloween death poem narrated by Beelzebub, Loki, and Yogarindra, this final act from the book A Spoon River Anthology has always been one of my favorite poems as it’s so closely reminiscent of the witches in Macbeth. Spoon River is a book written completely in epitaphs of the dead once living in, you guessed it, Spoon River, and they hate each other. A wonderfully quirky poem with the type of mischievous humour associated with Halloween.
13. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
I think this one was a bit obvious, but in my defense, when I asked a few people about some horror short stories they could suggest, every single one of them suggested Sleepy Hollow. And not the Johnny Depp version—this version is so much more dark and a staple in American Halloween lore. This short story has been closely associated with Halloween since the early 1900’s because of how it’s written and how the Headless Horseman is portrayed. Because as nice as this short story is, you must remember that the Headless Horseman is independent of Sleepy Hollow—he has appeared in England, Germany, India and Scotland. All of them involve a decapitation from battle, and all of them have accounts of being seen. So maybe these horror stories aren’t as far-fetched as you’d think.
So just remember as you read through the spooky stories above—on All Hallows’ Eve the barrier between what is real and what is considered unreal is very thin, and the stories you read up to Halloween might have more truth to them than you realize. So go on ahead, go Trick-or-Treating, wear your costume, eat your candy, and appreciate the things that go bump in the night.