In most honest form, I recall to you an academic list, which I have fastidiously discovered through Plutonian nightmares that have defiled my fleeting knowledge of the earthly truths I once knew, of the six scariest words I have accounted in my life. Few have endured this maldictonox that was borne to pass under my visage.
A long time ago, before the internet gave us pictures of cats in pumpkins to celebrate Halloween, people liked to gather together and tell scary stories. Even before Halloween as we know it became an official holiday the end of the harvest, the shortening of the days, the impending winter, and the chill in the air sent people rushing to huddle around a fire eager to scare each other witless. It wasn’t just about the fun of seeing who could be the last man standing, there was also a bond that was built that would be needed for the bleak months ahead. This was the case long before master of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe was even in short pants (which probably caught fire, given his luck), but after his works started to gain popularity there was a whole new batch of horrors for people to soil themselves to!
Poe’s works were visceral, unapologetic, gruesome, and psychological. He pioneered the “singular effect,” which basically meant if your aim is to write a scary story every single thing you put to paper should be for the sole purpose of making your reader curl into a fetal position and cry. Poe’s works are almost always from a first person perspective, meaning you jump into a person’s brain every time you read one and it seems like they’re always begging you personally to back them up.
It also makes them the perfect works to read out loud in the storytelling tradition. For the audience, they get to see a performance rather than a reading, and for the reader, well, who doesn’t love the excuse to go a little mad from time to time?
In a world of graphic visual violence we often forget how terrifying just sound can be (until we hear something at the window while we’re trying to sleep and remember we live on the 10th floor). This Halloween, instead of just opting for another slasher-movie fest, or eating your weight’s worth in snickers, why not gather a group of friends together, dim the lights, and have a ghost story party? Special Guest star: Edgar Allan Poe. Plus 1: Terror.
Here are my top recommendations of Poe works to accomplish your singular effect of scary fun! Happy Halloween!
Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to...read?!? This year, instead of giving books to your Halloween visitors (because those get heavy!), fill your neighbor childrens' plastic pumpkins with one of these sweet book-inspired confections.
It was a ramshackle, seven bedroom Victorian house that clung to the side of a small hill. The front porch pitched ever so slightly to the right, and the paint flaked off the attic cupola in snow-like tufts. But it had beautiful bones, this house…both literally and metaphorically. Decades ago, as the tale went, a young boy died of tuberculosis in a first floor bedroom. His parents, heartbroken, hung themselves in the attic.
When I was in college, eight of us inhabited the Earlham House, as it came to be known. One night, the roommates and I were sitting in the parlor watching Beverly Hills 90210 (that’s right, I’m not ashamed!) when…
The noise came from the first floor bedroom. Another followed: BANG! Another: BANG! As Kelly Taylor squealed, “Dylannnn!”, we raced to the bedroom to discover all of the framed photos, previously hanging on the walls, face down in the middle of the floor.
Someone actually gasped, and the terror was palpable. A week ago, the girl who inhabited the same room had told us how she woke to find a small, child-sized figure at the foot of her bed. We brushed it off to the previous evening spent with her friend Jose Cuervo, but now we believed. There was no explanation for the pictures… or the cold spots on the back staircase… or the feeling that someone was always watching… waiting…
(Insert funereal organ music here.)
In honor of Earlham House, here’s a list of some of the creepiest abodes in literature - eschewing obvious contenders like 112 Ocean Avenue (aka “The Amityville house”; everyone knows that place sucked) and Hill House (because was it really the house that was haunted?)