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With Halloween creeping ever closer, we decided to conjure up some special treats: a few unexpected scares from authors who are more well-known for their less ghoulish major works. It’s time to unmask these writers…but beware: Don’t read these stories when you’re home alone!
Charles Dickens – “Captain Murderer”
Dickens is most well-known for novels such as A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and Oliver Twist. However, he also dabbled in the macabre. His short story “Captain Murderer” takes the French folk legend of Bluebeard and turns it into a terrifying tale of marriage, murder, and cannibalism. It will make you think twice before ever eating another meat pie.
Roald Dahl – “The Landlady”
In this foreboding narrative, Dahl—who is more familiar to readers as the author of unique, classic children’s stories (e.g. Matilda, The BFG, James and the Giant Peach, etc.)—tells the story of a man who is inexplicably drawn to a bed and breakfast while traveling. The landlady engages him in conversation and offers him tea, which he accepts despite the faint but certain scent of almonds. She also mentions her unusual hobby: performing taxidermy on her deceased house pets. The rest is left to our imagination.
Rudyard Kipling – “The Mark Of The Beast”
Set in Kipling’s homeland of India, this is considered his best horror story. Fleete, the main character, drunkenly stumbles through the city and knowingly desecrates a local temple. A priest who suffers from leprosy reveals himself and bites Fleete, leaving an ominous mark. Soon Fleete is behaving as if possessed: gnawing on raw meat and howling like a wolf. The doctors think he is infected by rabies; Fleete knows the gruesome truth.
Nathaniel Hawthorne – “Young Goodman Brown”
Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is renowned as a critique of the Puritan society he so despised. But his harsh judgment of New England Puritanism is also evident in a much darker and more ominous story, “Young Goodman Brown.” In it, the titular character walks into the woods late at night despite the protests of his wife, Faith. As midnight draws nigh, he encounters a stranger whom he resembles but doesn’t recognize. Then, in a forest clearing he witnesses a terrifying ceremony resembling a witch’s sabbath, meant to initiate him and his wife into the evil shared by all the townspeople.
Edith Wharton – “Afterward”
In this short story, a married couple moves to a rundown house on the English countryside, drawn to it by tales of a possible haunting. Upon arriving, both Mary and her husband notice mysterious strangers near their property, but think nothing of them. It’s not until her husband is missing that Mary realizes the unnerving possibility that she and her husband might have brought the ghosts with them.
Mark Twain – The Mysterious Stranger
This strange departure from Twain’s standard narratives tells the story of a boy living in an Austrian town who encounters the nephew of the fallen angel Satan. Also named Satan, the nephew tells the boy that he can foresee the horrible fates of his family and friends. When the boy asks Satan to intervene, he does so citing mercy—in the case of a man who is told he will suffer a terrible illness for years, Satan kills him immediately. Unfortunately, this work was never completed; we can only imagine how Twain intended to complete this eerie story. To see just how unsettling Twain’s dark tale can be, take a look at our article: 5 Creepy Film Adaptations of Novels Written By Famous Authors.
Henry James – The Turn Of The Screw
James’s ominous novella centers on a woman who accepts the job of governess to two children in Essex, England. When she arrives at the estate, she learns that the previous governess and a former employee have died, and she starts to see their apparitions throughout the house. The story’s pacing is so suspenseful that the reader is left wondering until the very end whether the woman’s visions are even real and what insidious dangers lurk around every turn.
There are many sinister stories by authors who branched out from their usual prose to write some delightfully disturbing page-turners. If you’re not afraid of what you’ll find—we dare you to read more!