stuff I was doing while I wasn't doing something else

I get days off, I plan to do all kinds of things, and I end up sleeping, sleeping, sleeping. My days off tell me that if I didn't have a job to go to I'd probably sleep 20 hours a day, and fritter away the other four. I am as useless as a housecat without the redemptive adorableness.

But, I did manage to read a bunch of short stories so I could write little reviews of 'em. I'm not sure how useful this will be, but I got inspired by Patton Oswalt's blog. I don't need a lot of prodding to read old horror short stories, so even seeing that someone else did it turns me into a toddler who's just made eye contact on a plane and will. not. stop.

I have it in my head to try to compile my own short story anthology of scariest creepyass-shit-ever. It's a work in progress, to which things are added as I read 'em or remember that they should be on the list. Here's what I have so far, in no particular order, and linked online if I can find a copy:

Algernon Blackwood - "The Listener"
Shirley Jackson - "The Bus"
Thomas Ligotti - "Gas Station Carnivals"
Arthur Conan Doyle - "Lot No. 249"
E. F. Benson - "The Room In The Tower"
C. M. Eddy - "The Loved Dead"
F. Marion Crawford - "The Screaming Skull" (and "The Upper Berth" is damn sure a contender, too)
M. R. James - "Oh Whistle and I'll Come To You, My Lad"
Karl Edward Wagner - either "In The Pines" or "River Of Night's Dreaming" - I also had this guy planned for a post on "unjustifiably out of print" authors. I can't believe this guy's stuff is having to sell for $150 for beat-up paperbacks... his horror work should be permanently in print, and it's an absolute travesty that it's so hard to find.
Robert W. Chambers - "The Yellow Sign"
Lafcadio Hearn - "Mujina"
Charlotte Perkins Gilmam - "The Yellow Wallpaper"
Ramsey Campbell - "The Companion"

Seek any of those out and read them. I guarantee a case o' the creeps. A lot of 'em are overanthologized already, but there's a reason for that - they fuckin' work.

Anyway, on to the stuff I read over the weekend (also linked if I can find one). Many of these were read in Library of America's American Fantastic Tales collection, edited by Peter Straub (seen here devouring a pair of spectacles) and he's a rather middling editor... a lot of his picks are great, but some others are weak, and he leans toward nearly-unreadable styles. I still recommend 'em, but if they do more volumes (and I hope they do) I'd vote for a different editor.


"The Fisherman" - Brian Rosenberger. (from Vile Things ) The only surprise in this horror tale of what's-the-master-fisherman-using-for-bait is that it's not a surprise at all. I thought surely it'd be something more clever or no one would have bothered publishing the story. I think it's supposed to be black humor but unless backwoods folks masturbating and defecating kicks over your ticklebucket there's not much hilarity to be had. Not boring or incompetent or anything, but not much point in reading it, either. The fact that this story was picked to lead off a "cutting edge" anthology makes me think maybe I should be submitting my crap after all.

"The Treader of the Dust" - Clark Ashton Smith (in The Klarkash-Ton Cycle) A scholar of arcane occult lore finds himself confronted with a very creepy being whose presence brings age and crumbling. The writing style is rather stiff and requires a lot from the reader, but the appearance of the monster is worth the slog, and the imagery is strong and cold.

"My Hobby, - Rather"
- N. P. Willis (in The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre) A man who watches over corpses until they're buried has to fend off a hungry and very determined cat from one of his "clients." Morbid.

"The Snail Watcher" - Patricia Highsmith (from Eleven) - A man who sees a pair of snails mating gets turned on by the eroticism of it and starts breeding them in his study. His obsession turns into an extreme case of hoarding, and he finds out that snails are a dangerous thing to keep in enormous amounts. Goes from uncomfortable to creepy to nightmarish pretty quickly, with one of Highsmith's typical not-quite-right-in-the-head protagonists. Worth seeking out (this whole Eleven book has been great so far).

"Post-Mortem Recollections of a Medical Lecturer"
- Charles Lever. (from The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre) Numbed by the sudden death of a patient and loss of his notes, a lecturer has a catatonic attack during a speech and is nearly buried alive. It's well-described but there's not much of an actual story to it.

"The Golden Baby" by Alice Brown (in American Fantastic Tales) - A cruise liner full of hateful people is stopped and visited by a woman with a happy golden baby, who makes everyone full of love. Badly-written and mundane allegory, pretty worthless.

"The Repairer of Reputations"
- Robert W. Chambers (from American Fantastic Tales) In a future (1920's) America, which has repelled an invasion by Germany and set up suicide chambers in every town for any who want to kill themselves, a mentally-ill narrator (who's very defensive about his sanity) conspires with a born-deformed-and-then-further-maimed mastermind who's at constant war with his cat. The world around them has been poisoned by an evil book called The King In Yellow, which is supposed to be the highest pinnacle of art but also a mind-and-soul-destroying influence on all who read it. The narrator and his cohorts plan an apocalyptic coup d'etat that will put the Earth under the mythical King In Yellow's rule... but it's soon clear that the narrator is even more megalomaniacal than we'd thought and his perceptions cannot be trusted (or, at least, that's what we must hope). Extremely weird, paranoiac tale seething with hints of a far more frightening story under the surface, which isn't being told. That's a hard trick to pull off, but Chambers manages quite well. Relentlessly dark and powerful and off-kilter nightmare-logic tale.

"The Birds Poised to Fly" - Patricia Highsmith (from Eleven). Odd story about an unbalanced weirdo who proposes to a female friend (who he doesn't seem to know well enough to ask for marriage) through the mail. When she doesn't write back quickly enough for him, he deals with his disappointment by stealing his neighbor's mail and answering one of his love letters. Not very scary, but bizarre.

"Luella Miller" - Mary Wilkins Freeman (from American Fantastic Tales) Rather inconsequential tale of a woman whose parasitic nature drains the life from those who help her. Starts out pretty eerily with people shunning her house decades after her death, but ends up being no big deal.

"The Horror at Chilton Castle" - Joseph Payne Brennan (another unjustifiably-out-of-print guy) (From Fine Frights) A guy doing genealogical research in Ireland discovers that one branch of his family is subject to a horrible curse involving something chained in a secret room in a castle for 500 years. Horrific stuff.

"Some Terrible Letters From Scotland" - James Hogg (from The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre) A trio of letters about a cholera epidemic. In the first, a cholera victim is nearly buried alive. In the next, a sailor and his dog terrify a town just by showing up, since everyone thinks they may have been exposed to the disease in their travels. In the third (which is tough to read because of all the Scottish brogue) a man thinks his dead sisters came back to take his mother away for making light of the disease. Okay, no great shakes.

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