October 31: Halloween Freebie! (Happy Halloween! Let your creativity run wild with a themed post to celebrate!)
For obvious reasons, most of these are creepy. Some are horror, some are psychological thrillers, ghost stories or fantasies. A few are some combination of the above. Some are set during Halloween, while others prove that weirdness is a year round thing.
1. Down A Dark Hall by Lois Duncan- Apparently this is being made into a movie, something I didn’t know until just now! I look forward to it. The book is about Kit Gordy, a girl who is accepted to an exclusive boarding school. But something strange is happening at Blackwood Hall. Why have only four students been accepted to the school? Why are their letters to their parents getting lost? As the four students begin to suddenly develop extraordinary talents in science, math, and the arts, they begin to have bizarre dreams. By the time they learn the truth about Blackwood Hall, it may be too late for them to save themselves.
“For some reason it seemed to Kit that they were not covering any distance. The house stood above them still, no closer than it had been when they turned in at the gate. It was an illusion, she knew, something to do with the curve of the driveway and the angle at which they were approaching, but the car itself did not seem to be moving. It was as if the house were growing larger, reaching out its great, grey arms to gather them in. She could not move her eyes from the glowing windows, dancing before her like a hundred miniature suns. Kit shivered with the sensation of an icy wind blowing across her heart.”
2. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill- This has been adapted a lot. It was a popular stage play in London, as well as a 1989 made for TV film and a 2012 feature film starring Daniel Radcliffe. All of the adaptations make subtle changes to the story, which is chilling on its own. Arthur Kipps is a solicitor, who must attend to the funeral and estate of his firm’s client, Mrs. Alice Drablow, who live alone in the secluded Eel Marsh House, which is cut off from civilization by marshes and sea frets. At the funeral, he sees a woman in black, who is being watched by a group of children. After the funeral, a high tide traps him at Eel Marsh House for several days, where he endures strange noises (a carriage accident, a child’s screams) and several sights of the Woman in Black. The locals seem reluctant to tell him anything about either Alice Drablow or the Woman in Black. But Arthur’s investigations have already put him, and everything he cares about in grave danger.
“No, no, you have none of you any idea. This is all nonsense, fantasy, it is not like this. Nothing so blood-curdling and becreepered and crude – not so…so laughable. The truth is quite other, and altogether more terrible.”
3. Ghost Story by Peter Straub– Once again there is also a film version of this novel, that changes quite a bit. Check out the book first. Five old men who call themselves The Chowder Society, are lifelong friends. They gather occasionally to reminisce, and tell ghost stories. When one of these men dies, the others start to have dreams in which they also die. They soon realize that one story is coming back to haunt them. Something they did many years ago could never be completely buried. Now it may be time for the Chowder Society to pay it’s debts.
What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?”“I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me… the most dreadful thing…”
4. The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons- Siddons isn’t usually know for creepy stories like this one, but it’s definitely a successful departure from her usual work. It was made in to a TV movie in 2006, but I haven’t seen that. Colquitt and Walter are a young couple living happily in an Atlanta suburb. When construction starts on a vacant lot next door, they are mostly concerned about having less privacy. But as people move in they realize that something is happening. Something a lot worse than diminished privacy. They know the house can’t be haunted. It’s newly built! But it seems to strengthen the weaknesses and destroy the good of every person who moves into it.
“The room was bright and white and still and silent, but soundless sound roared and howled in it.”
5. The Witches by Roald Dahl– I remember reading this with a sort of fascinated horror as a kid. My reaction to the film was similar. It’s scary right from the beginning when we learn that the seven year old protagonist’s parents were killed in a car accident. At least that scared me, when I read it when I wasn’t all that much older. He goes to live with his grandmother who tells him about witches, people who look normal but are actually creatures who seek to kill human children. She used to hunt them, until an encounter with a witch cost her her thumb (which also terrified me when I was younger). When the grandmother gets ill, she and the boy go to a hotel on the southern coast of England where she can recover. There, the boy encounters the yearly gathering of England’s witches, and is trapped in the hotel ballroom, where he overhears their plan to kill more English children. What follows is a tale that made me fear teachers and sympathize with mice. Unlike most children’s books the ending isn’t all happily ever after, either.
“In fairy-tales, witches always wear silly black hats and black cloaks, and they ride on broomsticks. But this is not a fairy-tale. This is about REAL WITCHES. The most important thing you should know about REAL WITCHES is this. Listen very carefully. Never forget what is coming next.”
6. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones– Polly Whitacker has two sets of memories. In one set, everything is normal. In the other, her life is tied up with that of cellist, Thomas Lynn. When the second set of memories begins to overpower the first, Polly realizes that someone has been trying to make her forget about Tom, whose life is at risk from supernatural forces. It’s a retelling of the Tam Lin legend (that is set on Halloween and features a pretty kickass heroine) as well as that of Thomas the Rhymer. The last chapters are (intentionally, IMO) ambiguous, so don’t expect everything to be tied up neatly here.
“Mr. Lynn gave her one of his considering looks. “People are strange,” he said. “Usually they’re much stranger than you think. Start from there and you’ll never be unpleasantly surprised. Do you fancy doughnuts?”
7. The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donoghue– Ever since he almost drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten year old Jack has been terrified to go outdoors. He spends most of his time at home, drawing monsters. He often slips into trances when he does this, and he has terrifying nightmares. His mother, Holly, hears strange sounds coming from the ocean at night. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, searching for a vision he once saw. Jack’s only friend, Nick, becomes entangled and obsessed with the power of Jack’s monster drawings. Only Jack knows the truth of what happened that day when he almost drowned, and why he can’t stop his drawings.
“In the dream house, the boy listened for the monster under his bed.”
8. The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters– Hundreds Hall has been home to the Ayers family for a generation. Once grand and impressive, it is now decayed and crumbling. Dr. Faraday’s mother once worked there as a parlor maid. When he returns to the Hall, thirty years later, to treat a servant, he finds Mrs. Ayers, the matriarch, her son, Roderick, a wounded RAF airman who now oversees the family farm, and Caroline, her daughter, whom the locals call a natural spinster. Dr. Faraday becomes obsessed with all of them. After Caroline’s usually gentle dog, Gyp, attacks a visiting child, bad fortune seems to follow the Ayers family, as they are visited by fire, suicide, and worse. You could get into a debate with another reader about whether this is truly a ghost story, or a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator. I’m of the belief that it’s a bit of both.
“The subliminal mind has many dark, unhappy corners, after all. Imagine something loosening itself from one of those corners. Let’s call it a—a germ. And let’s say conditions prove right for that germ to develop—to grow, like a child in the womb. What would this little stranger grow into? A sort of shadow-self, perhaps: a Caliban, a Mr Hyde. A creature motivated by all the nasty impulses and hungers the conscious mind had hoped to keep hidden away: things like envy and malice and frustration…”
9. The Other by Thomas Tryon– Holland and Niles Perry are thirteen year old identical twins. Holland is spirited and mischievous while Niles is sweet and eager to please. When the boy’s father dies in an accident, their mother takes to her room, buried in grief. This leaves her sons to run around unsupervised. As Holland’s pranks become more dangerous and sinister, Niles begins to realize that he can no longer excuse his brother’s actions. There are several twists in this tale. One will probably not come as much of a surprise to contemporary readers. But keep reading, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is a film adaptation that wasn’t bad, but the book is (of course) better, so go for that first. Then, check out the film, if you enjoy it.
“Things cannot ever be the same again. Not for any of us. Not any more. We sometimes reach a point in our lives where we can’t ever go back again, we have to go on from there. All that was before is past now. It went too far. Everything has gone too far. It must stop, do you see? Now–it must–stop.
No more game?
No. No more game.”
10. Danse Macabre by Stephan King– In the fall of 1978, Stephen King taught a course at the University of Maine, about “Themes of Supernatural Literature”, which ended up being at least as enlightening for the teacher as it was for the students. At that point, King had already established himself as a major writer of horror. Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining and The Dead Zone, had all been released to acclaim and sales. In this book, King explores why anyone would pay good money to buy a book that they know will make them frightened and uncomfortable. More than that, they will be angry if they aren’t scared/disturbed/grossed out. Why? In this book, King attempts to answer that question, with characteristic intelligence and humor.
“We fall from womb to tomb, from one blackness and toward another, remembering little of the one and knowing nothing of the other … except through faith.”