Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader: 4 Free Horror Stories You Need to Read
One of the original key selling points of e-readers was access to everything that was in the public domain for free. Like most things, this works better in theory than in practice. A lot of the versions available are of sub-par quality; people soon exploited this by selling actual copy-edited versions, which while nice, sort of defeats the purpose. The market soon became flooded with these, to the point where actually finding a free version is a chore.
Diary of a Reluctant E-Reader is here to set things right. Not only will I tell you about public domain stories you might actually want to read, I’ll also show you where to get them. For the initial installment in this experiment, I’ll bow to our October timeline and point towards some of the best public domain horror on the market.
Pigeons from Hell by Robert E. Howard
Pigeons from Hell is perhaps the best horror story to come out of the pulps. Beloved by the likes of Stephen King and Joe Lansdale, Pigeons From Hell is like something that William Faulkner might have written had he suffered from night terrors and been addicted to amphetamines.
It’s Southern Gothic on steroids. The story follows two drifters who stay at an abandoned Southern Manse with unhappy results. Quicker than you can say “ax to the head” one is being held by the sheriff for murder. But things are not as cut and dry as they initially seem. The house has a reputation around these parts and the fair-minded sheriff tries to get to the bottom of things, only to find that even the darkest suspicions of the secrets the house held were selling it short.
The story was written by Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan) in his usual forceful style. To give any more away would be spoiling the fun. However, one thing I will note is that Howard, like most of the pulp writers of his time, had his fair share of problematic racial attitudes. That said, the way race is handled in Pigeons from Hell is, well, let’s call it interesting. It’s far from PC, and littered with stereotypes, but the underpinning events, which would be unfair for me to reveal, are written by Howard with the air of someone who has served up a big ole heaping plate of desserts. There’s a hell of an essay to be written about it; let’s put it that way.
The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
With Lovecraft, we find a curious contradiction. No other 20th century author, not even Stephen King, can be said to have as profound an influence on the genre as Lovecraft. Simply put, if you’re reading horror published post-1950 you’re reading something that has been influenced by Lovecraft.
Yet no matter how modern Lovecraft’s sensibility is, his language is archaic. Lovecraft’s aggressively formal prose was considered an affected anachronism in his own day and can come out as down right incomprehensible to the modern reader. That coupled with his disgusting paranoid fantasies of miscegenation and unfortunate tendencies to end his books with his heroes writing about their own demise, can make him a difficult author to find an entry point into.
Call Of Cthulhu, is his most famous story, and probably remains the best way in for the curious beginner. It suffers from many of the flaws that Lovecraft’s other fiction has, but as only happens in the best of his work, those flaws are overridden by the fact that it has the feel of something written by a man possessed by a vision. Lovecraft made himself a legend by redefining what fear was, and Call of Cthulhu shows him doing that at his best.
The Bottle Imp by Robert Louis Stevenson
Though he is mostly and perhaps justly remembered for his adventure stories today, like Treasure Island and Kidnapped, Robert Louis Stevenson dabbled in horror as well. Not only is he the man who introduced us to one Edward Hyde, he also wrote some excellent stories like The Body Snatcher (adapted into a great Boris Karloff film) and this odd little story.
Part fable, part morality tale, the story follows a man who buys a bottle that as you might imagine contains an imp. Said imp will grant any wish and riches but comes with a great price. If you die while owning the bottle, you get a one way ticket to the great below. To rid yourself of the bottle you must sell it at a loss, sell it for coin and sell it with the buyer fully understanding these conditions. The price of the bottle is already very low.
The Bottle Imp develops into a great tense read. Stevenson has become sadly overlooked in the modern era, but his skills as page turner still hold up magnificently.
The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
“Such fores cannot be named, cannot be spoken, cannot be imagined except under a veil and a symbol, a symbol to the most of us appearing a quaint, poetic fancy, to some a foolish tale. But you and I, at all events, have known something of the terror that may dwell in the secret place of life, manifested under human flesh; that which is without form taking to itself a form. Oh Austin, how can it be? How is it that the very sunlight does not turn to blackness before this thing, the hard earth melt and boil beneath such a burden?”
Once regarded as one of the key works of horror fiction, The Great God Pan and Arthur Machen himself have fallen slightly out of favor. Don’t let the neglect fool you though. Like Lovecraft, Machen used the supernatural as an opportunity to write about the sheer unrelenting size of the universe around us. Unlike Lovecraft, he did so with a feeling of awe as well as fear. To say anymore of what lies in wait in this exquisite little novella, would be telling. Take an hour, read it. Thank me later.
Will you be reading any of these classics of horror?
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