Title: The Dead Smile (Chilling Horror Short Stories)
Author: F. Marion Crawford
Genre: Short Story, Horror, Gothic, Paranormal
Pages: 13 (75-87)
Oh wow…so this one put my imagination to good use to scare me a little witless. There’s no gore in this story. Nowhere does it describe bloody scenes, decapitation, or dismemberment; the only disturbing things described are the conditions of corpses and the frightening ‘dead smile’. And it is that smile that my mind recreated to frighten me!
This story was nothing like I was expecting and it had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. The imagery was beautifully done, nothing to elaborate, just enough to get the point across and the image into your mind. While originally published in 1899, The Dead Smile does not quite read like it’s over a century old. Some of the words and phrasing show its true age, but overall the story does not appear to have been weathered by time. In fact, if I had not read the author’s bibliography in the back I wouldn’t have realized how old it was!
Crawford’s writing is different than other authors that I’ve read from that time. He knows when to be poetic with his details and when to be simple and straightforward. He focuses on action and dialogue to keep the readers going, to keep them hooked until the end, but he draws out the passages when tension is high to try and force the reader to feel the same. And he uses just enough information to keep the readers wanting more, reading until the very last page. It might have been one of the longer short stories so far, but it sure didn’t feel like it!
The Dead Smile was a fantastic short story with an intriguing concept. The most chilling aspect of the story is the imagery that Crawford use to invoke the ‘death smile’ in your mind. Every time the smile appear on the page it appeared in my mind and made me shiver. Again, the writing was fantastic and almost timeless, which I haven’t found a lot of recently. My biggest complaint is that it appears that the editor fell asleep on the job. Why? Because there were weird periods in the middle of sentences or breaking up words, one place even had a random 4 when it should’ve been a t. The transcription mistakes were so weird that it took me out of the story just a little bit. Overall, The Dead Smile was a wonderfully chilling read and I would recommend it to anyone who may be interested, the language is easy enough to follow for almost anyone.
Title: Breach (Chilling Horror Short Stories)
Author: Justin Coates
Genre: Short Story, Horror, Science-Fiction, Paranormal
Pages: 7 (68-74)
After reading this short story the first thing that comes to mind is Hellboy. Main character is a large mysterious man that unsettles people, he comes from a mysterious agency, and he gets called to investigate really freaky cases that are beyond real…Yea, that really sounds like Hellboy!
Anyways, I found this short story to be quite enjoyable, though it didn’t freak me out as much as I had hoped. I still squirmed a bit while reading, though that’s because this story has a bit of descriptive gore that my mind had fun (but not for me) recreating the scenes. This to me definitely read like a gory scary story rather than an honestly frightening one. If this were made into a movie (or some other form of visual media) then I would be scared witless from all the carnage, but to read it doesn’t translate the same for me, at least this time.
Other than the less than chilling impact of the story, Breach is still a fantastic short story to read. It’s a little slow in the beginning as the author sets the stage, but after the first page it picks up rather quickly until the end. There’s not a lot of science, just weird devices and concepts that aren’t explained fully and that you’re supposed to take at face value. There’s lots of action in this short story, and the author does well to keep sentences short and description simple to keep the mood and pacing brief.
Overall, Breach was an interesting short story that I flew through and enjoyed immensely! Though I didn’t find it terribly frightening, the writing is well crafted and easy enough to follow. I would recommend this to anyone who loves Hellboy and similar works, gore, and more paranormal-esque stories. Breach does have a bit of historical content which may intrigue some readers; personally, I found it rather (enjoyably) surprising. If you aren’t much for detailed gore and death, then I would suggest skipping this one.
Title: The Yellow Sign (Chilling Horror Short Stories)
Author: Robert W. Chambers
Genre: Short Story, Horror, Historical-fiction
Pages: 12 (56-67)
It has taken me a while to sort through all my thoughts for The Yellow Sign, and unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen. The story was originally written in 1895 and seems to be a little easier to read than other works of the time. While there were some phrasing and terminology that took me a moment to decipher, it was still a wonderfully written piece with more hard details than poetic ramblings. Don’t get me wrong, I love poetic writing but this story was definitely better without it.
The main character of this short story did very little to impress me, his thoughts and opinions made me dislike him and ramblings. While there were no long passages of useless thoughts, there were still mentioned details that seemed to add no real depth to the story at all. There’s mentions of mysterious and/or tragic past lovers, mentions of The King in Yellow, and supposed tragedy befalling people he knew who read the work. Doing some research, I’ve found that The King in Yellow is a play that the author mentions in some of his other short stories as well, but have found very little to do with the content of the mentioned work. While The Yellow Sign was a bit disturbing, I found it less enjoyable because I didn’t understand the importance of The King in Yellow and the obvious pull it had on the plot.
Overall, The Yellow Sign was an interesting story that left me with some chills but nothing more. I would recommend this one to any classic literature lover or anyone familiar with The King in Yellow. Otherwise, I don’t think many readers will find this tale as frightening as it may have been when originally published and the tales of The King in Yellow were a bit fresher in the public mind.
Title: The Dying Art (Chilling Horror Short Stories)
Author: Glen Damien Campbell
Genre: Short Story, Horror, Historical-fiction
Pages: 8 (48-55)
The Dying Art really surprised me. For whatever reason, I haven’t really liked a lot of stories (books or movies) that involve magicians, mostly because I can’t stand the main characters and their usually high-class pompous attitudes. However, this short story was not what I was expecting and I really enjoyed it.
Written in 2014, The Dying Art is written through the perspective of a Londoner in the 1900s, and Campbell was able to write in such a way to reflect the time of the story. It was refreshing to read a historical-fiction with the voice and dialogue that matched the era, including vocabulary and phrases that are no longer used today. While written in an older voice, the story pacing is still very familiar to current readers. There are no long passages of unnecessary internal monologues or scenery descriptions. Instead, Campbell rolls the story along, covering something like 40 years in a handful of pages and giving enough detail to inform and enthrall his readers.
I think so far, this is one of my favorite short stories in this anthology, a few of the others have been great but this one has not only creeped me out but also made me laugh. The latter is a bit more trivial and has more to do with an uncommon phrase that brought a funny image to mind, but still I give the author high marks for making me laugh and then check the windows a few pages later. I would definitely recommend this story to anyone, especially those who love magic, mystery, or a more classical narrative. The Dying Act, is another story that has an open ending and you’re left guessing between two possible endings, which I think just adds to the creepy factor but might anger some readers.
Title: The Watcher by the Threshold (Chilling Horror Short Stories)
Author: John Buchan
Genre: Short Story, Horror, Gothic
Pages: 12 (36-47)
I have to say that I was a little disappointed with The Watcher by the Threshold. It was really hard for me to get into the story and I never really did. It didn’t help that there’s what I assume to be a typo in the first sentence, which claimed the story was set in the year 189. At first, I thought nothing of it but then how the author started describing the scenery, the architecture, clothing, etc. didn’t really fit with the timeline. I kept pausing, stepping away from the story, to try and make sense of what was going on, and it wasn’t until the mention of a watch that I decided that the story was set in the late 1800s. I’ve tried finding info on the short story, but have found absolutely nothing to help me, so by the time I figured out the setting a lot of my interest in the story was lost.
I also kept being pulled from the story because of its length. The Watcher by the Threshold is told through the first person perspective of a lawyer character, and he goes through passages of long-winded descriptions, thoughts, and opinions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a lover of long-winded fantasies and the like, but when it’s a short story about a character we know next to nothing about I find the long thoughtful passages to be quite tedious to read. In fact, there may have been a few times in which I dosed off while reading this short story.
As much as I like older stories, this one just really wasn’t for me. While the writing was beautiful, it was often tedious to read and follow. It also didn’t help that I didn’t really care for the voice of the main character, so his constant internal complaints about his surroundings just grated on my nerves. The long passages made for a slow pace that really didn’t change in speed, and the ending fell short of any impressionable impact. The Watcher by the Threshold wasn’t very scary, I was curious as to what was wrong with one of the characters, but it was never really made clear. The story was slightly disturbing, but the feeling didn’t last long. I’m sure there are classic literature buffs that would love this story, but I was not a fan.
Title: Mirror’s Keeper (Chilling Horror Short Stories)
Author: Michael Bondies
Genre: Short Story, Horror, Fantasy
Pages: 5 (31-35)
Mirror’s Keeper is a simple story told from the perspective of a young woman about her encounter with the town’s old “witch”. It’s a very brief short story that doesn’t waste time with a whole lot of details. Bondies does a wonderful job giving readers enough information to capture the reader’s attention without bogging them down with too much information. There’s just enough to paint a simple, and sometimes very gruesome, picture and to keep the story going. The pacing in the story is perfect; there’s a steady beginning that steadily brings the reader’s to the action before finishing in a rush, very much like a rollercoaster.
I don’t have much to say about this story. Mirror’s Keeper was interesting with a concept that I wasn’t completely unacquainted with, but an ending that caught me a bit off guard. I would definitely suggest this story to anyone, I think most people would enjoy Mirror’s Keeper. It is a bit open ended though, so if you don’t like those kind of stories then you should skip this one. Other than that, I highly enjoyed Bondies’s short story and his writing style, and I want to read more of his work. While this story wasn’t scare-your-socks-off scary, it was a little chilling especially with the open ending.
Title: Beyond the Wall (Chilling Horror Short Stories)
Author: Ambrose Bierce
Genre: Short Story, Horror, Gothic
Pages: 6 (25-30)
Beyond the Wall is very similar to That Damned Thing by the same author, in that the majority of the story is told as a story to another character. While I didn’t care for it in the latter short story, I felt that it worked pretty well for the former. In Beyond the Wall, the meat of the story is told through the dialogue of two old acquaintances; one is visiting while the other is telling the ‘spooky story’. This was handled better because the told story had the normal flow of a story, while the told story in That Damned Thing did not and therefore felt out of place.
Again, I didn’t find this story to be creepy, scary, or chilling. For me the story, while still very interesting, was more of a sad tale than one for fright. There are elements that may be frightening to younger audiences, but it was another instance in which time has taken away some of the fright. In 1907, I’m sure this story was quite unnerving, but I believe that the audience of today would find it less so.
Overall, this was a very interesting and enjoyable short story. Some readers may not like or have issues with the now old writing style. Bierce’s voice is very poetic and complex, with sentence structures that may lead some readers to confusion. Lovers of classics and English will definitely enjoy this story. While not chilling or frightening, I still really liked this story and find it to be the best of Bierce in this collection of short stories.