A Gothic, Cosmic, and Psychological Lifetime of Horror: The 16 Greatest Short Stories from Robert Bloch

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

Robert Bloch wrote literature that ranged from the psychologically terrifying to the downright “weird” horror; his inspiration stemmed both from watching his first scary film on his own as a child—and his subsequent nightmares—and his admiration for the stylistic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. His stories, however, are and always will be uniquely Robert Bloch, a genius in psychological horror with a splash of the supernatural. His deep interest in serial killers brought back anti-heroes like Norman Bates and Jack the Ripper.

“The Shambler From The Stars” (1935)

This particular short story first appeared in the September issue of Weird Tales, in 1935—later on, it was included as a part of his first published book, The Opener of the Way (1945). It was one of the many works that bore the influence of H.P. Lovecraft and can be considered part of the genre of cosmic horror. More than just another author following the footsteps of Lovecraft, Bloch still included elements of Lovecraftian influence, such as the inclusion of The Necronomicon, and The Book of Eibon. Deliciously self-indulgent, Bloch’s story is about a writer of weird fiction obsessed with learning all things occult when he looks to find the aforementioned esoteric tomes of forbidden knowledge. As we all know when it comes to Eldritch cosmic horror, this writer inevitably summons something disastrous.

“The Secret in the Tomb” (1935)

Another instance of cosmic horror in the early days of Bloch’s writing career, it has been compared directly to the stylistic literature of the father of cosmic horror himself—to the point that, if the author of this had been unknown, it would have been assumed to have been a product of Lovecraft. This dark, dank tale of eldritch horror and dread is lurking, just beyond sight, and awaiting the arrival of the last descendant of a long line of sorcerers.

“The Mannikin” (1937)

Another Weird Tales original, published in the April edition in 1937, we get a tale of a strange reclusive and a disfigured, hunchbacked man named Simon, whom the locals all despise. As a short story, of course, it doesn’t take long to find that this cosmic horror is based all around the diabolical hump on Simon’s back—just wait until you find out what the hump really is.

“The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (1939)

This is a story that Bloch originally published under the pen name Tarleton Fiske in Strange Stories Magazine, in 1939; in this story we see a similarity to “A Shambler in the Stars” when we follow a photographer who takes incredibly bizarre photos as his life’s passion. While he doesn’t believe in the occult, his assistant happens to be a devotee of a peculiar occult practice and everything changes when the photographer is brought an ancient jewel.

“Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” (1943)

Over the years, Robert Bloch’s short story “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” has been adapted to various mediums following its publication—the story is about a man from Chicago who is approached by a gentleman from England who tells him that he’s looking for Jack the Ripper. This, of course, is strange on its own as the infamous serial killer should have died years before. The Englishman believes that Jack the Ripper has become immortal through occult means and that his serial murders are actually ritual sacrifices that restore his youth. The man from Chicago is enlisted to help to bring the Ripper to light.

“Satan’s Phonograph” (1946)

A slow burn for a short story, this haunting tale follows the narrator down memory lane as he tells the reader about the ingenious, but wildly mad piano teacher that helped him to reach Carnegie Hall—but when the pupil returns from his tours across Europe with his new wife in tow, he finds that his old teacher had been institutionalized—when his insane old teacher shows up in his house with a seemingly innocent phonograph and his wild theories, the narrator believes his teacher is simply delusional.

“Sweets To The Sweet” (1947)

Bloch spins the thread of a sinister six-year-old girl, following the narrative of the housekeeper as she speaks to her former boss’s brother, who happens to be a lawyer. The housekeeper encourages the lawyer to look into what she believes to be a brutally abusive situation between father and daughter. She tells the brother about all of the signs of alcoholism and beatings, while the child is accused of witchcraft. When the lawyer finally goes to investigate what is happening in his brother’s home, he finds out that the truth may be more disturbing than he expects.

“Floral Tribute” (1949)

An eerie tale of a young boy being raised by his grandmother brings her fresh flowers home every day—it’s not until the inhabitants of the local cemetery come to speak with the grandmother that she finds out that he has been taking them from the graves of the nearby graveyard, where he plays among the tombstones.

“The Shadow From The Steeple” (1950)

Yet another story based in the Lovecraft universe, Bloch starts the story off with the friend of a character Lovecraft had killed in his short story “The Haunter in the Dark” whom Lovecraft had modeled after Bloch himself. A convoluted and dark fictional tale based on Lovecraft and his circle of writers, we get to see the authors appearing as characters of their own making. As another story within the Cthulhu Mythos, we see how involved Bloch was still within the Lovefcraft style even at this point in his career.

“Head Man” (1950)

An interesting spin on Nazi Germany’s obsession with the occult and paranormal, a SS executioner puts everything on the line to keep possession of the heads of a man and woman who had been charged with witchcraft and executed as a result.

“The Hungry House” (1951)

A tale that will once again make you fear your own reflection in a mirror; “The Hungry House” takes place after a couple moves into their new home. As they try to get comfortable in their new house they begin to see spooky inexplicable reflections around the house and dismiss it as being an overactive imagination. It’s not until the husband finds the locked closet in the attic that they realize something is incredibly wrong with their house—in it are all of the mirrors that the previous owners had removed from the walls of the house.

“Notebook Found in an Abandoned House” (1951)

This story is told from a notebook found in an abandoned house, which was written by a twelve-year-old boy by the name of Willy Osborne who is trapped within the house by the sinister beasts, or “them ones,” that stalk him from within the woods and swamps that surround the house. “Them ones,” that Willy is scared might come and get him are monstrous, Lovecraftian elder creatures who used to be take sacrifices to be appeased.

“The Light-House” (1953)

This particular short story took special influence from a story that Edgar Allan Poe began before his death in 1849, but was never able to finish; in 1953 Bloch took this unfinished short story, finished it, polished it up, and then had it published. As such, it is considered a posthumous collaboration. It follows the pursuits of a nobleman who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper, so he may write in solitude. His loneliness gets the better of him in this weird and satisfyingly dark tale, when he tries to psychically summon a companion.

“House of the Hatchet” (1955)

A couple with a relationship on the rocks decides to take their a second honeymoon on the road—on their trip they end up stopping at a haunted tourist attraction, where the story goes that a husband had killed his wife with a hatchet in one of the rooms. When they decided to take a tour of this haunted house, the husband begins to feel a heavy dark presence in the room where the murder was said to have occurred…

“Terror In Cut Throat Cove” (1958)

Considered a horror adventure tale, “Terror In Cut Throat Cove” follows the tale of an American writer who is approached by a treasure-hunting duo; they end up recruiting him to help them locate this long-lost legendary ship that sunk with a massive fortune aboard because the writer has an undeniable fondness for the girlfriend of the treasure hunter. A crazy adventure ensues until they find the ship and one of the divers returns from the ship’s wreckage without his head.

“The Animal Fair” (1971)

This story of a drifter who ends up in the small town of Medley, Oklahoma while the carnival is in town—where he enters the a tent that houses a gorilla who happens to be the main attraction—not to mention seriously abused by his trainer. This horrifying weird tale ends in a shocking twist and is well worth the read.

Works Cited:

Cowan, Matt. “FIFTEEN HORROR TALES BY ROBERT BLOCH.” Horror Delve, 4 Apr. 2016, horrordelve.com/2016/04/04/robert-bloch/.

HorrorBabble. “The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 12 Mar. 2018, youtu.be/0Q6xA0f9SNk.

HorrorBabble. “The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 20 Aug. 2018, youtu.be/vodqchPxgCoyoutu.be/vodqchPxgCo.

Thomas, G. W. “The Early Robert Bloch.” Dark Worlds Quarterly, 6 Aug. 2020, darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org/the-early-robert-bloch/.

A Look into the Life of Horror Writer Dennis Etchison

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Featured Horror Books

Possibly one of the most well-received writers and unfortunately, one of the most recently deceased within the horror writing community, Dennis Etchison made his waves in the world of writers at large. As an American writer and editor of fantasy and horror fiction, he has been hailed as, “one hell of a fiction writer,” by his peer in horror, Stephen King. Etchison himself described his work as, “rather dark, depressing, almost pathologically inward fiction about the individual in relation to the world,” which is fair–writing horror is a pretty grim business. It could be argued that The Viking-Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, which described him as, “the most original living horror writer in America,” really did recognize the genius and inspirational talent of him as a writer. At the end of this month, we’re coming up on the first anniversary of the death of this highly regarded writer of horror fiction. So join us as we celebrate the life and work of Dennis Etchison for our Dead Author Dedication of May.

Growing Up…

Born Dennis William Etchison on March 30, 1943 in Stockton, California and he grew up as an only child when World War II was still ravaging the globe. He, therefore, didn’t have any men in his home and as a result believed he was spoiled greatly as a child where he spent most of his time without normal exposure to children his own age. It’s said that this sense of isolation from his peers, as well as the need to interact with society, was reflected later as parts of the themes of many of his work. His father regularly took him to attend shows at the Olympic Auditorium where he developed a fascination in the fight between good and evil–and gave him the ability as a young boy to become a fan of wrestling as a sport.

During his teenage years he wrote for his school papers and was a decidedly good writer for his age, having discovered Ray Bradbury and emulated his style before he had developed his own. This was the time that he began writing short stories, but upon submitting them for publication was rejected every time–that is until he remembered Ray Bradbury, who had suggested that a writer should look to a market that would be the least likely to publish their work. After heeding the advice of his source of inspiration, he was promptly accepted for publication in a gentlemen’s magazine entitled Escapade.

Career

While we’re going to focus more on the literary career of Dennis Etchison in our next installment of the Dead Author Dedication for the month of May, we feel it’s important to recognize here some of the highlights of his achievements. Dennis Etchison had a prolific writing career when it came to short story fiction, something utterly unheard of for an author who was actually quite popular during their lifetime–considered a king of anthologies, he began with publications of his short stories in the 1960s.

At UCLA he sought a higher education in the 1960s, Etchison studied film and eventually became highly knowledgable on the subject; he wrote various screenplays, many of which were never produced. He even became a consultant to Stephen King for his non-fiction volume Danse Macabre (1981) and also wrote for television. In his expansive five-decade career, his range included short stories, movie novelizations, original novels, anthologies, essays, editorials, and radio work.

Not surprisingly, Etchinson also served as the President of the Horror Writers Association from 1992 to 1994. At the turn of the century, in 2002, he adapted almost one hundred episodes of the original Twilight Zone television series for a CBS radio series which was hosted by Stacy Keach. Over the course of his career, he won the British Fantasy Award three times for fiction, as well as two World Fantasy Awards for anthologies he was responsible for editing. In 2017, Etchison was recognized by the Horror Writers of America when they bestowed the honor of the Bram Stoker lifetime achievement award upon him.

Much of Etchison’s work can be found under his pen name, Jack Martin, One thing that Etchison can be credited for aside from all of his other achievements is his excessive humility when regarding his own work. Inspiration can be found from his relatability for aspiring writers and we think that this can be summarized by one quote in particular.

I know a short story or a book that I’ve written much better than anybody else in the world. I’ve read it a hundred times. And just because it’s published doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect. You don’t write in a vacuum. You write on a schedule, professionally, and something may be published that I know is flawed. I understand the weaknesses of the work better than anybody else.

I could give you an annotated version of one of my stories that would point out not only the references and the origins of the lines and thoughts, but what I was trying to do – what I wished there were more of, what I now think there’s too much of. After you’ve written it and set it aside, you can come back to it and you see it in a different light. So I now look back at any story of mine more than a couple of years old and it does not look good to me. I could go through it and make it better, but I don’t do that. It represents the best I could do at that time, under those circumstances, and it’s representative of the person I was. I am embarrassed by some of the early stories, which continue to come back in reprint anthologies around the world.

It’s nice to be paid for work I did in my teens! But I can look at it as if someone else had written them and say, “My God! Is he aware of how these words look on the page?” I have a more acute sense of style than I did then; a better understanding of myself and human relationships. Two years from now I’ll look back at the present stories and be appalled. But it’s like life: what you do is the best you can do on that day. You have to finish your job at the end of the day and say, given the circumstances, this was the best that I could do. But tomorrow’s a new day. I can try to do better.

Dennis Etchison on his own writing.

Throughout his career Etchison gave back to the next generation of aspiring writers, by teaching classes in creative writing at his alma mater, UCLA. The most admirable trait of this horror master, is that he inspired many to write down their stories and accept that our flaws as writers actually contribute to our ability to evolve and improve.

Death

Although his cause of death has still been relatively unreported upon, we do know that Etchison was reported to have died during the night on May 28, 2019, at the age of 76. This was a tremendous blow to the modern horror community, as it lost one of the most influential modern writers who brought originality and life to such an exciting genre of fiction.

A Lovecraftian Life and Death

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Lifestyle

Known as the Father of Cosmic Horror, H.P. Lovecraft only lived for forty-six short years. What he was able to accomplish in his lifetime, however, was enough to change the tides of an entire genre.

A Visionary from an Early Age

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in the late summer of 1890, to Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft and Winfield Scott Lovecraft, in Providence, Rhode Island. As a child of three, his father suffered from a nervous breakdown and was sent to Butler Hospital, where he remained in residence for five years until his death in the summer of 1898. Unaware of his father’s mental condition, Lovecraft was told that his father was paralyzed and comatose, but surviving medical records show that his father actually died of paresis—a form of neurosyphilis.

Following the death of his father, Lovecraft was brought up by his mother, two aunts, and grandfather—who had him reciting poetry at two, reading at three, and writing at six or seven years of age, having recognized his advanced intelligence. By the age of five, he had proven his penchant for the creative, fantastical, and mythological, eventually using these influences to inspire his own literary works. His oldest surviving work came when he was a young boy of seven, having paraphrased the Odyssey into rhyming verse in his 1897, “The Poem of Ulysses.” His grandfather played a large role in Lovecraft’s strange gothic sense of fantasy, encouraging him to pursue his weird flights of fantasy into the realm of horror.

Due to numerous childhood afflictions, including some instances of psychological troubles, Lovecraft’s attendance at school was never consistent—he spent much of his youth studying independently, favoring chemistry and astronomy over all else. As far as works of fiction, Edgar Allan Poe served as the inspiration for much of Lovecraft’s dark and imaginative creations. Despite his diminished ability to socialize, he was still able to create and maintain a number of significant friendships with his peers when he attended Hope High School, through his self-published hectograph journals. These journals, The Scientific Gazette (1899–1907) and The Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy (1903–07) garnered him his peer’s encouragement to write outside of his home. Unfortunately, in 1908 Lovecraft suffered from a nervous breakdown and never received his diploma. His inability to graduate high school and be admitted into Brown University would be a source of great shame to Lovecraft later in life

This breakdown led Lovecraft to become somewhat of a hermit for several years—exacerbated by the death of his grandfather and their consequential financial ruin—he would stay up late studying, reading, and writing poetry, then sleeping late into the day. Even though he managed to publish articles on astronomy in several newspapers, Lovecraft went through a difficult time after losing his childhood home, as well as the compulsive love-hate relationship he had with his mother, so he regularly contemplated suicide.

From Isolation to Notoriety

Emerging from his need for isolation in 1913, like an internet troll emerges when they see something online that drives them absolutely crazy, Lovecraft wrote an entire letter in verse to Fred Jackson as an affront. He joined the United Amateur Press Association in 1914, which is where his amateur journalism career began, leading him to launch his self-published magazine The Conservative in 1915. It would be safe to say that these opportunities launched Lovecraft’s entire career out from within the pit of his own self-pity.

H.P. Lovecraft (1915)
H.P. Lovecraft (1915)

“In 1914, when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be… With the advent of the United I obtained a renewal to live; a renewed sense of existence as other than a superfluous weight; and found a sphere in which I could feel that my efforts were not wholly futile. For the first time I could imagine that my clumsy gropings after art were a little more than faint cries lost in the unlistening world.”

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

It only took two more years of his life before he once again delved into his fictional worlds—in the summer of 1917, Lovecraft easily produced “The Tomb,” as well as “Dagon,” which were two shorter stories that he owed to his passion for fiction. The dark edgy tales of Edgar Allan Poe and fantasy tales of Irish author Lord Dunsany, which inspired some of his earlier fiction pieces.

I will tell only of the lone tomb in the darkest of the hillside thickets; the deserted tomb of the Hydes, an old and exalted family whose last direct descendant had been laid within its black recesses many decades before my birth.

The Tomb”, June 1917 by Howard Phillips Lovecraft

It was around this time that his mother’s own mental and physical deterioration began to really affect her and after her own nervous breakdown in 1919, she was admitted to Butler Hospital—the same hospital Lovecraft’s father had been committed to and subsequently died in. Only two years later a failed operation caused the death of his mother and in spite of his devastation, Lovecraft recovered enough to meet his future wife a few weeks later. In 1923, the horror magazine Weird Tales paid Lovecraft for his stories, which was his first paid gig as a writer. When he married Sonia Greene in 1924, they moved to New York for two years, but the marriage soon failed and Lovecraft returned to Rhode Island where he began working on his most renowned stories. Just two years after splitting up with his wife, “The Call of Cthulhu,” came out in the Weird Tales magazine, which was the first piece that really helped make a name for Lovecraft as an author of otherworldly horror.

The Death of a Legendary Horror Writer

I am essentially a recluse who will have very little to do with people wherever he may be. I think that most people only make me nervous – that only by accident, and in extremely small quantities, would I ever be likely to come across people who wouldn’t.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1926
Tombstone of H.P. Lovecraft
Tombstone of H.P. Lovecraft

The last decade of his life was spent creating what is now known as his classics, having found a niche for himself as an author of weird horror fiction, and prolific writer-of-letters. The last few years of his life, in particular, were incredibly strenuous for Lovecraft, beginning with the death of one of his aunts in 1932, from there his writing became largely too complex to sell to a normal reader. At this part of his career, he began to attempt a career solely editing, as well as ghostwriting stories, poetry, and non-fiction—no longer even trying to sell his own original creations. The suicide of a close friend brought him depression, but it was ultimately his own incurable illness that would bring Lovecraft’s final days. In the winter of 1936, Lovecraft’s intestinal cancer caused him pain that increased on a daily basis and eventually he had taken himself to the hospital where he died five days later, on March 15, 1937.

Like many other underappreciated artists of his age, Lovecraft has gained a far greater following after death than he ever saw during his lifetime. He’s been the inspiration for writers Peter Straub, Stephen King, as well as Neil Gaiman—to name a few.

Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.

Stephen King

Anna Byrne: Chapter 02 – The Burden of a Witch’s Son

Categories
Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

Urban Legends: The Curse of Lafayette

I looked up at the loft in my father’s study, my eyes burned from a lack of sleep, but if I was ever going to get broken in to some of the insane notions that my father spoke about the night before this was how I should do it. I felt his hand grasp my shoulder and the kiss he gave me on the back of my head, as he encouraged me to do the deed.

“Oh Anna, it’s not that bad,” he chuckled as he watched me climb the wooden loft steps.

“JESUS CHRI—”

“You watch your mouth young lady!” I heard him snap, as he stood in his office below.

“What is all of this stuff, Da’?” He couldn’t really blame me for my initial reaction, his loft seemed to extend the length of the entire house and not just over his own study. It was also filled with boxes, filing cabinets, and the odd armoire—speaking of which, how the hell did he even get that up there?

“Oh, don’ ye touch the armoire!” I heard him shout as he had read my mind when he settled back in front of his computer, “that’s a story fer another day!”

“You don’t expect me to get through all of this today do you?” the incredulous tone in my voice came out without my permission, but dad already knew the kind of sass that I brought to the table.

“Nah, jus’ find Oregon, seein’ ye already met Rue.” I heard him chuckle to himself, as if he had just remembered a funny joke and I could almost feel my eyes roll into the back of my head.

Oregon, Oregon—my eyes scanned the boxes, he told me he wasn’t going to help me go through anything, but that I had to go through it. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to go through a few notes he’d collected on the subject. This, however, was far and away beyond a few notes that he had alluded to. Finally, I found a box against the wall that was labeled Oregon, it was sitting on a stack of boxes—also labeled Oregon—shit, I knew it, I was going to be here all night. I grabbed the top box and wrestled it over to the desk that sat in front of the octagonal loft window, where radiant light filtered through.

“Well, here goes nothing,” a sigh escaped my chest and I threw back the dusty lid of the first box of many that I was charged with reading through and memorizing. I quickly scanned the file names for the Heceta Head Lighthouse, but was disappointed to find there was nothing about it in this particular box. Another file name caught my eye though, LAFAYETTE, OR – WITCH’S CURSE, father’s handwriting neatly headed the label. My curiosity was piqued now, I had to read this one first.


The year was 1885 and the Willamette Queen had just pulled into the dock of Lafayette, Oregon. Despite the early hour, the skies were gloomy, overcast, and the clouds threatened to batter all that which laid below. Locals disembarked with a spring in their step to meet their families who had gathered to welcome them home, while others shuffled off in a daze as they attempted to gather themselves. One such family, a man as well as his wife and mother stepped off to the side; they looked around for a moment and after a brief conversation with a local street vendor, set off down one of the muddy dirt roads that led into downtown.

Sheriff Harris, propped up on his horse, eyed the newcomers into his town and noted all of the people with which he would become acquainted in the days to come. He was a relic of older times and practices; his hat, brown duster coat, and boots proved as much, the splatters of dried mud gave away his hands-on approach to his livelihood.


The Marple family had recently become settled in a home on the outskirts of town, the matron of the family, Anna Marple had already become a name on the lips of the townspeople. As a widow, it was not unusual for her to live with her son and his wife, but she never seemed to act her part. The other women of the town shunned her, gossip telephoned from one ear to the next, and there always seemed to be some small scandal or another lingering around her. This didn’t seem to matter to one David Corker, a lonely widowed shop owner; she had caught his eye nearly the first day she and her family disembarked from the Willamette Queen that dreary fall day in 1885. Anna had gained a reputation of being a very unchristian woman, her traditional black widow’s clothing turned heads, children ran when she came walking into town, and there always seemed to be a raggedy black cat that trailed behind her wherever she went.
Folks in those parts believed the widow Marple to be a witch, but the topic was never broached in proper company.

I am beginning to suspect my husband’s mother is making sinister plans for me; I fear that my mouth has become too much for her to stand to provide food for. I have no money to my name and my only contribution is that I keep a tidy home. I am quite proud of that fact, if I am to be frank, I was raised to be a homemaker after all. That of course seems to be of no consequence to my husband’s mother.

Julie Marple – May, 1886

Seasons had passed in the town of Lafayette, the summer had been a prolific one for the townspeople and consequently the burglaries had been numerous. The widow Marple had effortlessly acquired the company of the widower Corker, who had earlier that year begun the process of courting the target of his affections. This of course spawned more gossip and rumors, of the widow having Mr. Corker under some type of spell. The sheriff of course had more important things to worry about, mostly the burglaries that had been occurring in the middle of the night—and at present he only had a single suspect. It of course didn’t help that the description of the perpetrator had matched quite exactly with the lanky, sallow Mr. Marple with his dark and greasy long hair.

The Marple residence had been frequented by Sheriff Harris on many occasions, mostly due to complaints by other townspeople, but recently it had more to do with the fact that before their arrival the theft of property had been a rarity in his town. There was just nothing else that could be said on the matter, in fact, the only thing Harris could do was charge him with a crime—but the evidence supporting his theory was severely lacking. It would just have to wait.

The fall of 1886 came quickly, like the changing of the leaves, it was there before anyone could realize it was even happening. Sheriff Harris continued to get more reports of burglaries in the area and he knew he would have to do something about it soon, or risk his own unemployment. Luckily for Harris, what happened on November 1, 1886 was exactly what he needed to solidify a case that would take Marple off of his streets for good.

Let me start by saying I did it, of course, I did it. Who else could have? Who else would have? We haven’t been living in Lafayette for very long, but it feels like forever when no one will give you and job and let you keep it. That is to say—me—they won’t give me a job and let me keep it.

Richard Marple – November 1, 1886

The widow Marple had not been seen in town for a few weeks now, but her beau David Corker couldn’t leave his shop unattended. So it was to much of the surprise of his regular customers when, unlike his normal routine, Corker didn’t open the shop exactly at nine on the second morning of November. This was so odd to one of his patrons that they immediately went over to the house of the widower to see why he couldn’t purchase the much needed laudanum for his wife’s debilitating headaches. When the patron found the door to widower Corker’s home ajar, he stepped inside and realized why the store had not been opened on time that morning.

Suffice it to say, Sheriff Harris was called immediately; upon the discovery of a bloody, mutilated, and hacked Mr. Corker alongside a house that looked as if a herd of stampeding cattle had been driven through, he knew exactly who must have done it.


Sheriff Harris pounded heavily on the door of the Marple residence, the haunted silence and blackness of the night otherwise unsettled him. “Richard Marple!” He hollered into the thick wooden door before him, “This is Sheriff Harris, open up!” The plain and mousy Julie Marple opened the door in her pink floral night-coat. She held a chamberstick aloft in her hand and drew up the light to her pale and sunken expression to get a look at the Sheriff. The look on her face was one of bewilderment and exhaustion.

“What can I help you with Sheriff?” Julie’s voice was a small, melodic sound, but her confusion was thorough.

“My apologies Mrs. Marple for the late hour, but I was hoping you could tell me if your husband was in your company two nights ago?”

“I—uh—that is to say, he left early in the evening, he said that he had business to attend to in town, why is it that you ask?”

The Sheriff shook his head then further explained that he wasn’t at liberty to disclose the details of his visit, but that it was an urgent matter that required her husband’s attention. Within a moment she disappeared and the door closed with a solid thud in the sheriff’s face. When Julie’s husband appeared at the door, his expression was as sullen and bleak as could be expected—he knew what the sheriff was now at his doorstep, but his poor acting might have a fool believe that he was surprised.

“How can I help you Sheriff Harris?” Richard Marple feigned a look of foolish innocence, the lines on his pallid face were strikingly deep when the dim light of a half-moon fell upon them.

“Mr. Marple, I’m going to need you to come down to the jail with me, I’ve got several questions for you.”

“Oh, alright—let me just get my coat,” Richard of course could have used that time to establish an alibi with his mother and wife, so Harris couldn’t risk any more time spent allowing Richard the opportunity.

“I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, Mr. Marple.” The sheriff reached out and shackled his suspect, “let’s go.”


Julie watched as her mother-in-law deteriorated over the winter—there was no one left to financially support either of them and Julie wished that she had gotten out of that wretched household already. She swore to herself that the only reason she stayed in Lafayette was because she was needed for her testimony of the night in question. Otherwise she would have already hopped back on the Willamette Queen and taken it back to Corvallis to stay with her parents until she could find a way to make her own way in the world.

Her mother-in-law seemed to get smaller and smaller the longer Richard was in jail, but without his overbearing presence, Julie felt like she was thriving. She had taken the opportunity that was presented with his absence to take up a small side-business sewing and darning clothing for people in need; when the sheriff had searched her home and found the blood-soaked shirt, piece of paper, and tools of her husband’s thieving trade, however, she found she no longer had any customers. Her husband’s assumed guilt was apparently her own as well.

I must admit that I never loved David Corker—nor did I ever much enjoy his company. He was a sad older widower and a dullard at that. I sometimes suspect that his late wife passed simply to be rid of his intolerable presence. It soon became clear to me, however, when my son Richard could not find steady means of employment that it would fall to me to secure this family’s financial future. What better way than to lure in a lonely shopkeeper with my feminine gifts? Now you may be thinking that I am some sort of working lady, but I find those sorts of ladies to be utterly deplorable. I was a well-respected woman in my time, especially whilst my dear departed husband was still alive.

Anna Marple – January 7, 1887

From where Richard sat rotting in the cell at the Lafayette jail, he saw winter turn back into spring, the light slowly made its way through his barred window and he got a new cellmate often enough to keep the company fresh. Aside from not having bar-girls, tobacco, and drink, it was almost as if he wasn’t missing much of the outside world at all.

We moved here from Corvallis and you might now be imagining something awful that I must have done to drive us away from such a place. Well, I must confess that sleeping with the local tavern owner’s wife was not exactly an innocent affair, it was surely not as seedy as might be otherwise imagined. I may also, on more than one occasion, have liberated the random shop or home of certain valuables that need not have been immediately noticed. Regardless, nothing that I did in Corvallis was as terrible as what I am now suspected of.

Richard Marple – January 20, 1887

It wasn’t until early spring of 1887 that Sheriff Harris finally had enough to convict Richard Marple of the murder of shop owner David Corker—although with two witness who couldn’t corroborate his whereabouts, evidence stained with Corker’s blood, and the tools with which he broke into the home it would have seemed like an open-and-shut case. Richard, however, maintained his innocence from the time he was arrested; until he unwittingly divulged the facts of his own guilt to a cellmate, who was more than happy to give testimony in return for a reduced sentence of his own.

I wish I could tell you that I married well, that I married for love, and that I could, beyond a shadow of a doubt, trust my husband. There is a reason we moved away from Corvallis in 1885, though, and it was not a good one. My mother and father did not know Richard well enough when they gave me away, however, I trust that if they had understood the character of the man that they would have vehemently objected. My story may not be remembered but I have a strong suspicion that my husband and his mother will live on in history. After all, murderers usually do.

Julie Marple – April 10, 1887

The conviction of Richard Marple was unopposed after that final piece of the puzzle was fit roughly into the picture—a confession, even second-hand was enough to convince the jury of his peers. Even with the general disdain of the town for him and his family, they had otherwise been unwilling to suspect that one of their own was capable of committing such a crime. Corker had been a beloved member of their community though and his absence continued to be felt on a daily basis; the only recompense was someone would hang for the crime. Eventually the realization of the one they should hang became self-evident and he was sentenced to swing by the neck on November of that year.


The Gallows
The Gallows

The burly Sheriff Harris stepped up to Richard at the gallows, papers in his hand as he read off the convictions for which the man was to be executed. “For the robbery and most heinous murder of our own David Corker, Richard Marple shall now be executed by hanging!” This announcement was met by unwavering applause from the thirty or more men, women, and children that made up the crowd that stood before them.

Richard stood hunched next to the confident authority of the Sheriff, his shoulders slumped forward in defeat as the noose hung heavily around his neck. His beetle black eyes scanned the crowd which continued clapped heartily to watch him meet his demise. Several men shouted from the crowd, but Richard could only make out one man in particular, who told shouted to let “the murderer burn in hell!”

“Put the hood over the prisoner’s head,” Sheriff Harris ordered the executioner immediately, he was in no mood to let a murderer have his last words, but before the hood could be shoved over his head, Richard pulled roughly away.

“MURDER!” He shouted desperately into the crowd below him—his dehydrated lips cracked with his efforts, “May God judge you all!” Anything else that Richard may have said was muffled as his head was stuffed forcibly into the hood. The executioner stepped back to the lever of the trapdoor and on the Sheriff’s signal pulled forcefully to release it. “ACK!” The sound that escaped Richard’s throat was inhuman, as his feet fell out from beneath him and the rope snapped taut. His eyes bulged out of his face, the knot lodged directly under his throat, which prevented his neck from breaking and him from meeting a quick end.

Richard’s mother emerged from within the center of the crowd, her hair was wild and unkempt—her eyes were red with a year’s worth of tears. Her dress billowed around her as she fell to her knees, the people that surrounded her moved suddenly to give her a wider berth.

“Murderers! All of you! Murderers!” She bellowed, her grief-stricken voice cracked with a hoarse pain. “You shall all feel the pain of those you have wronged! Your town shall never prosper! I curse you and all of your children’s children to feel the fiery hell of my fury as your town burns around you time and time again!” Her head fell limp into the hands that now rested on her lap, her sobs shook her body viciously as Richard’s body twitched and seized. His wife, Julie, came behind his mother to comfort her, her own face streaked with tears, but Anna pulled away wailing for the loss of her only son.

Witch Burning a Village
Witch Burning a Village

“Hot damn,” I heard the words come out of my mouth after having reviewed the file at length. I folded up the file, but several news clippings fell out into my lap when I went to replace the file into the box. There was a clipping of every single fire that had occurred in Lafayette since the widow Marple had placed her verbal curse upon the town and its people. In fact not a decade had gone by since, that the town had not experienced some type of devastating fire—and there had been, I saw, on two separate occasions, fires so intense that they had leveled the entire town. “That was one pissed-off witch.”

Beyond Frankenstein—Mary Shelley’s Literary Successes

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Women in Horror

The tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is that, despite having one of the most famous horror stories of all time, her other work is virtually unknown. Her other two novels, aside from Frankenstein, were actually strange and unique in their own way—keep reading to learn more about the roads Mary Shelley paved for the literary community.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818)

Shelley’s first and most notorious novel was started when she was still a teenager, in 1816, at age 18. Female writers around the world, myself included, are grateful for her contribution to literature, even though she published initial additions anonymously when she was twenty in London in 1818. Her name didn’t actually appear on the publication until the second edition was published in Paris in 1821.

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

What is incredible about this book is not just that it was written by a teenager, or that it was written by a woman, but that it was written by a woman from the perspective of a young male scientist. This story arose from her travels through Europe in 1815 while she traveled along the Rhine in Germany. Eleven miles away from what is considered Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before her visit a mad alchemist conducted various experiments. She continued her travels across Geneva, Switzerland—which was also used as a setting for much of the novel. Shelley and her traveling companions had incredibly controversial conversations that ranged from the occult to galvanism—this of course was around the time that Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments with his frog galvanoscope.

The legend of how Shelley came up with her idea of this particular novel tells us that Shelley and her traveling companions, most all of them writers, decided to have a contest amongst themselves. They wanted to challenge each other and see, who among them could create the most engaging, terrifying, and outrageous horror story. Initially stumped by the prompt, Shelly thought upon the topic for days until she finally had a dream that would inspire her to write the story of a scientist who created life, only to be horrified by his own creation.

The story of Victor Frankenstein was rather controversial due to the idea of Galvani’s technology and what his experiments meant for the scientific community at the time. So, Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist as a man pursuing knowledge that lies in the unorthodox, blasphemous fields of secrets yet-to-be-told. Life and death are uncertainties in this story, when Victor creates a sapient creature, one constructed from the pilfered parts of those who have died.

Galvani’s experiments gave the scientific community a lot of ideas about reanimation after death and also launched experimental medical treatments using electricity to cure diseases that were incurable at the time. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the process that Luigi Galvani used to achieve this ground-breaking discovery about electrical impulses and the nerve system, there are a few YouTubers who decided to replicate the experiment. Enjoy!

The Last Man (1826)

Shelley’s novel The Last Man is an unusual topic for the time during which it arose; originally published in 1826, this book envisions a future Earth—set in the late twenty-first century—that is ravaged by plague and unknown pandemic. It harbors the eery scene of a planet in the throes of apocalypse, where society has degraded to a dystopian nightmare, amidst the ravages of an unchecked and unknowable plague that blankets the globe.

The Last Man

In order to write this particular novel, Shelley spent time sitting in meetings of the House of Commons in order to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a Romantic Era political system. As such, she created another first in literature—dystopian apocalyptic visions of the future within the writing community. Due to the insanely new concept of a dystopic world, her novel was suppressed by the literary community at large, as it was a wholly nightmarish idea at the time. It was almost considered prophecy and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the novel resurfaced to the public where it was clearly understood to be a work of fiction.

Mathilda (1959)

Mathilda is one of those books that, if it had been published during Shelley’s lifetime, it might have created another scandal for Mary Shelley—as such her second long work, despite having been written between August 1819 and February 1820, wasn’t published until 1959, well after Shelley’s death. While this isn’t a horror novel, it does provide some insight into the dark and depressed mind of Shelley following the death of two of her children. Their deaths in 1818 and 1819 respectively caused Mary Shelley to distance herself emotionally and sexually from her husband which was an incredible hardship on their marriage.

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The plot of this particular novel dealt with a common theme found in Romance Era novels—incest and suicide, this novel in particular was the narrative of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter. Now you may be thinking—that’s disgusting! And by today’s standards of familial relationships and romantic relationships, you would be correct.

Mathilda tells her story from her deathbed, having barely lived to her twenties, in order to tell the story of her darkest secrets that have led her to such a young demise. She confesses the truth of her isolated upbringing which leads to the ultimate begrudging truth of her emotional withdrawal and inevitable, secluded death. She never names her father, who confesses his incestuous love for her—his confession fuels his decision to commit suicide by drowning.

Index of Sources