Friday, 7 January 2011

The Power of Three - 8th Installment

It’s that time of the week again. Here are three more of my recommendations for those seeking new levels of terror from their short fiction. Once again, there’s no rhyme or reason to these selections. I drew them from my list of favourites at random, though, again fortuitously, we have three real bone-chillers to pore over.

Secret Worship by Algernon Blackwood

A silk merchant makes a trip to the remote Bavarian boarding school where, as a child, a secretive sect of Catholic monks gave him an excellent education. Needless to say, things aren’t quite as they were – if they ever had been.

This chilling tale takes on new resonance in the age of alleged abuses at malfunctioning Catholic schools, but in fact this is a demonic romp rather than an exposé of real-life tragedies. You know from the outset that our luckless hero’s memories of his school days are just too good to be true, but only after he’s returned so many years later and been welcomed by a hooded brethren whose behaviour becomes progressively more menacing do you get your first inkling of the true depths of horror that await him here. Another Blackwood masterclass in how to construct auras of impending doom.

First published in SECRET WORSHIP, 1908.

The Waiting Room by Robert Aickman

A stranded traveller opts to spend the night alone in the waiting room of an eerie old railway station. But it isn’t long before he starts to suspect that he isn’t alone at all.

A real oddball for Aickman in that this one is about as close to writing a traditional ghost story as he would ever come. But as always with the maestro of the cerebral chiller, such is the skill with which he weaves the dreamlike state into which our main character falls that it becomes a truly riveting read. Of course, you’re never quite sure what is imaginary and what is real, but the horror, though suggested rather than explicitly shown, lurks constantly in the sooty shadows encircling our weary wayfarer, and the tension and terror grow steadily. The pay-off, when it finally comes, is an absolute choker (literally).

First published in DARK ENTRIES (pictured), 1964.

Nigredo by Steve Duffy

An antiquarian ventures to a lonely Dutch island to dig in the ruins of an alchemist’s abandoned house. It’s purely unintentional that he arouses the ire of the island’s sole denizen – a living by-product of the former occupant’s unholy experiments.

An undeniably Jamesian tale, the creeping horror of which is beautifully concealed – at least at the outset – by sumptuous language and a scholarly air. However, when the monster attacks, and it’s a monster from your worst nightmares, this deceptively innocent little outing becomes a major event in short-form horror fiction. The dripping pines and mist-shrouded headlands are a set to die for; and that ghastly shape, always close behind our trapped and panting hero, is one of the scariest antagonists you’ll ever encounter.

First published in THE NIGHT COMES ON, 1998.

1 comment:

  1. Whole-heartedly agree with the recommendations. It is tragic that Aickman's works are still so difficult to come across in properly edited collections.