Monthly Archives: May 2013

Adventures in Death: Poe’s Maelström

A Descent Into the Maelström  by Edgar Allan Poe (1841)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror  May 28,2013

If you like sea adventures, this one is an absolute must read … Picture yourself high upon a cliff on the mountain of Helseggen the Cloudy above a raging sea on the Norwegian coastline.

Some say death comes in installments offering us choices. When Edgar Allan Poe wrote A Descent into the Maelström, he presents a unique question. Is it worth it to succumb to death, hang on desperately to your life, or defy it and figure your way out? In this story, Poe takes us a step further. He tempts us into the darkness of death and opens us up to the wild beauty of nature.

We had now reached the summit of the loftiest crag.

This opening line is from an old man with shocking white hair, but not old because of age. This man is weakened, unstrung, and shaky because of “six hours of deadly terror.”

Three brothers are on a fishing trip on a schooner-rigged smack. A maelström, you probably know, is a violent whirlwind, a frenzied convulsive vortex of water. The depth of the maelstrom’s violent water might go to forty fathoms. If you were trapped inside this gyrating vortex, would you wait for death and spiral down into the abyss?

Or keep your eyes open in search of a rainbow?

Read it at Classic Literature:

If you prefer a narration, you might enjoy this two-part story (30 minutes total) on YOUTUBE:

Part I:

Part 2:

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The Lashing Dangers of Miss Northcott

John Barrington Cowles by A.C. Doyle (1890)

This week May 22 is Doyle’s birth date.

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   May 22, 2013

What is it about a beautiful woman that hints of danger?  And why is this danger so irresistible to men?  Maybe it’s the Greek myths embedded in our subconscious, the sirens (part human, part bird) who lured men by their rippling and mesmerizing song. We are reminded that a man can easily succumb to the purple-darkened seduction of a woman.  Maybe some men love to play the victim to great beauty and obsession. Maybe some women love to play the siren. Sirens were not just luring men for sexual pleasure, they were man-eating beasts. Doyle certainly loved to play with this theory and he wrote with a rich haunting effect in John Barrington Cowles.

Our central character is a dreamy sort of man, highly strung, a professional in anatomy and physics, and lives a rather solitary life. In an art gallery, Cowles meets a ravishing woman, “white as marble,” in a dark dress and white fur. Miss Kate Northcott is described as a “real Greek type.” Ah-hem, Greek? When Odysseus found he couldn’t resist the siren’s song, in order to prevent jumping to his death into the water, he tied himself to the mast of the ship! Perhaps Cowles should have done the same.

Not only does this story produce supernatural intrigue, romance, and mystery, but there’s just the slightest hint of erotica (a whip and a Scottish terrier)–at least as much as Doyle could sensibly write in the Victorian 1890s, but it’s there if you like to read between the lines as I do.

Miss Northcott is quite feminine, clever, even a dash masculine for flavor, but more to the point Miss Northcott can switch on a steely gaze. Does Cowles become bewitched? Does he become her obsessed victim? Meet Miss Northcott with “white fingers” and “lips inclined to thinness.”

Read the full text at Readbookonline:

As a bonus for A.C. Doyle’s birth date, I’ve added a podcast. Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles is most famous, but there are other stories about hounds.  How about  Lovecraft’s The Hound. This short story is narrated by Lawrence Santoro at Tales to Terrify. Lawrence has a five-minute introduction and then reads this exciting story that has a werewolf, vampire, giant bats, a dead wizard and more …


I’ll be on The Author’s Corner for a radio interview, Roxboro, North Carolina on May 23, Thursday night at 9:30 pm EASTERN time, with host Elaine Raco Chase. Call in and chat on blog talk radio:


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I Have Often Heard It Scream

The Screaming Skull by Francis Marion Crawford (1908)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   May 14, 2013


Consider this: a murder, a haunting, a tinned iron ladle, and a hatbox containing a skull. If the tinned ladle isn’t sinister enough for you, I promise, it will be.

The Screaming Skull is not about reading a horror story. The Screaming Skull is about listening, and listening not just with your ears, but with your imagination. As we avid supernatural readers know, ghosts are never only about ghosts.

Captain Charles Braddock, our narrator, is a rational man who absolutely does not believe in the supernatural or in ghosts. When he inherits a house by the sea from his cousin Luke Pratt (a country doctor who is found dead with a wicked bite in the throat by some unknown creature), Braddock is repeatedly tested in his beliefs.

Captain Braddock narrates this story while sitting in Luke’s chair, by Luke’s hearth, in Luke’s house. Braddock explains the events to a “friend” sitting opposite him in Luke’s wife’s chair.  This friend is quite mysterious because he’s not only anonymous but doesn’t ever speak a single word. We learn his reactions only through Braddock. What an odd literary technique, to say the least, for our author to create a character so mute, so passive, so nondescript that he’s practically a ghost himself. This technique, though,  is highly effective if you the reader, if you the “listener” sit in the wife’s chair and listen as if YOU are the friend.  [I admit I’m in the realm of speculation here, but I do think the author intended his reader to be the friend to fully experience this little horror.]

To tell you more of this story would ruin the unfolding of the narrative method. The title tells you enough. Yes, there is unidentified shrieking in the house. Yes, there is a mysterious skull (I’m partial to skulls as some of you know who have read The Dazzling Darkness).

The question for Braddock is … is the screaming truly supernatural? Or is the screaming the effect of the wind, the gloomy tides, or even Braddock’s own psychological shrieking? The ending answers this explicitly!

“Hush!—if you don’t speak, you will hear it now.”

Read it at Gaslight etexts.

Or watch the vintage 1958 film adaptation on YouTube:


I’m thrilled to announce that my latest short story Abasteron House is now a narration by Folly Blaine, podcast at Every Day Fiction. And just in time for May National Short Story Month—my first literary podcast. And only 9 minutes long at the link below.  If you like the story, I’d so appreciate a comment and a star rating on their Web site. Many thanks!

Next Week, A.C. Doyle in honor of his birth date on May 22nd.


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Remains of the Dead

The Damned Thing  by Ambrose Bierce (1893)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   May 7, 2013

[May is National Short Story Month. We are reading a short story every day to celebrate (Well, honestly, I do that anyway. I love reading shorties; I love writing shorties.). Please join the movement and read, review, comment, blog, post on Facebook, and tweet about short stories.]

By the light of a tallow candle … 

A corpse, a book, a coroner, insects whizzing in the trees, strange cries of night birds, and an assembly of local mountain men, The Damned Thing presents one question. What or who killed this man?

The dead man is Hugh Morgan, a hunter. We know very little of the circumstances of his death except that it happened in a field of wild oats, and something tore him to shreds.

Ambrose Bierce is a clever writer and likes to use his wit and sarcasm to bite the reader. There is something of the familiar old campfire tale here where the woodsy noises made you jump and the flickering firelight shoot out shadows with horns and claws. Lovecraft was said to have liked The Damned Thing so much that it inspired him to write The Colour Out of Space.

Bierce’s story is a short one (3000 words), but executed in four segments, has a curious scientific aspect and plays with the old adage, “seeing is believing.” Or in this case, not seeing is believing.

A man though naked may be in rags.

Meet William Harker, a young fiction writer, and the last man to see Hugh Morgan alive.

Read it at Readbookonline:

I found a narration of The Damned Thing on YouTube.  Turn down the lights, open the windows to let in the sounds and dark colors of the night and listen …

And since it’s National Short Story Month, I’ll include a second short story for you: Lovecraft’s The Color Out of Space—science fiction, moody, and atmospheric. Lovecraft considered this story to be his finest.

The opening line is certainly one of the best ever written …

West of Arkham the hills rise wild, and there are valleys with deep woods that no axe has ever cut. There are dark narrow glens where the trees slope fantastically, and where thin brooklets trickle without ever having caught the glint of sunlight. On the gentler slopes there are farms, ancient and rocky, with squat, moss-coated cottages brooding eternally over old New England secrets in the lee of great ledges; but these are all vacant now, the wide chimneys crumbling and the shingled sides bulging perilously beneath low gambrel roofs.

Read it here at the H.P. Lovecraft site:

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