Friday, 28 January 2011

The Power of Three - 11th Installment

Here are three more selections from the horror masterclass with which to liven (or deaden) your first coffee break of the morning. Again, they came out of a hat in no particular order, but again there's an interesting variation of themes and styles on show.

Someone contacted me recently to congratulate me for what I'm doing with this feature, but also to express frustration because some of these stories are now so hard to find. I concur with that absolutely. If I could reproduce the stories here in full, I would, but there are still copyright issues with most of them.

All I can really do with POWER OF THREE is toss a few ideas around, and nominate titles that I reckon are worth looking out for if you're ever dithering over whether to buy an anthology. For what it's worth, I stress again that no horror story makes this list unless it made a profound impression on me the first time I read it.

It by Theodore Sturgeon

A corpse dumped in a swamp rots to its bones, but new, malignant life forms when dirt, debris, plant matter and mud meld around it, creating an unstoppable force of evil (pictured).

One of the world’s scariest tales, and probably one of the genre’s most influential. From Solomon Grundy in the late 40s, through to Man-Thing and Swamp-Thing in more recent times, the notion of a skeleton resurrected by nature and provided with flesh made from muck and filth has become very familiar to us. Of course, all those other characters were born in comic books, and were somewhat tongue-in-cheek. The main protagonist in this, the original investigation of such nightmarish possibilities, is an out-and-out monster, who embarks on a mindless and destructive rampage. A vivid and horrendous fantasy, so convincingly written that you actually believe it could happen.

First published in UNKNOWN, 1940.

Upstairs by Tananarive Due

A nameless serial killer terrorises a suburban neighbourhood. Meanwhile, a precocious but na├»ve little girl befriends the strange, ragged man she finds sleeping in her mom’s attic.

A real gem, this one, from the famed civil rights author, but nevertheless a protracted nightmare for the reader, who of course is completely aware of the terrible danger facing our pint-sized heroine and her adoring middle-class family. To say more would be too much of a spoiler, but it’s knife-edge tension from start to finish, and yet this tale is written in the most gentle and charming way, because it’s all from the perspective of a child who is so cute and loving that she may even win the heart of a soulless monster.

First published in VOICES FROM THE OTHER SIDE, 2006.

The River Of Night’s Dreaming by Karl Edward Wagner

A female convict escapes when her prison transport crashes, and takes refuge in a large Victorian townhouse, where a genteel lady and her beautiful maidservant promise to take good care of her.

A dark, sensual and sinister tale, wherein the comforting forces of hearth and home contrast painfully with the harshness and cruelty of the world outside. But which is reality and which is fantasy, and what happens when these two states of being overlap? In typical Wagnerian fashion, this is a gorgeously written piece, but it’s the subtle and terribly disturbing undercurrents that are most important. A masterly fusion of supernatural terror and psychological disintegration.

First published in WHISPERS 3, 1981.

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