The Dark Mother: A Short and Most Hideous Horror Story

Graveyard Shift   by Richard Matheson (1960)

Tuesday’s Tale of Terror   July 22, 2014

What portal do we enter when we confront the dark mother?












This short story by the esteemed Richard Matheson (1926-2013, author of I am Legend, Hell House, What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes) is a story that has all the elements of true horror, empathy, and shock. Matheson’s gift in this story is a perspective into the “dark mother.” Do you have one of these or know a dark mother who rules harshly, extolling her powers of fear and control? Have you witnessed the dark mother at her darkest, the woman who has the capacity to harm or neglect her child? She is the “shadow archetype” named by Carl Jung—who suggests that our negative emotions are part of the whole of the power we possess and part of our human experience (in order to appreciate the light, we must know the dark). The dark mother is taboo, of course; we don’t like to talk about mothers harming their children. I certainly don’t.

Nott_paintingHowever, I do like when horror stories get into the grit of a soul in order to enhance our understanding of our dark sides. And we all have a dark side somewhere, buried or not, and isn’t that why many of us love to explore horror fiction? Because we can dig up this dark side within the safety of fiction, recognize it, feel it, and do no real harm. I guess what I’m suggesting here is that if we didn’t read horror stories and enter this imaginary world, we might feel the need to act out our dark sides in the real world. Reading the news is an example of how many people actually do act out their shadow sides.


In Graveyard Shift, we have three letters (epistolary fiction) from Luke to his father Sam, from Sam to George and a letter from George to Sam. The widow Blackwell is found dead. Her little boy Jim is the only one alive in the cabin. To say more about this story would diminish its effects and Matheson deserves your clean eye and mind on the page … as you experience the shadowy portal of the dark mother.


The PDF link below may or may not be working. I think copyrights are still legal, preventing free reads. You can read it in the anthology “Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural,” selected by Marvin Kaye on Amazon (a fine selection of offbeat and rare stories), or likely borrow this book at your local library (try WorldCAT to locate in a library near you).

Try this PDF link to read Graveyard Shift (Scroll to Story #12):,000%20Ebooks/Richard%20Matheson/Richard%20Matheson%20-%20Short%20Story%20Collection%20Volume%20I.pdf





In literature/mythology, other dark mother themed stories are Lamia who was a child-eating demon (also the poem Lamia by John Keats in 1820), Medea, Grimm’s Hansel and Gretel, Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, Bloch’s Norma Bates in Psycho, and contemporary Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline. There are others, of course, and if you have a short story or novel in mind, please post it in the comments below.





Other Reading Web Sites to Visit

Horror Novel Reviews   Hell Horror    HorrorPalace

 Monster Librarian  Tales to Terrify       Spooky Reads

 Lovecraft Ezine      Rob Around Books    The Story Reading Ape Blog

     The Gothic Wanderer   Sirens Call Publications  The Fussy Librarian

For Authors/Writers:  The Writer Unboxed


Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free Tales of Terror classic Authors.




Filed under dark fantasy, fiction, horror, horror blogs, short stories, tales of terror

6 responses to “The Dark Mother: A Short and Most Hideous Horror Story

  1. Alan Hopewell

    I read “Graveyard Shift” when I was twelve, in 1968, and was chilled to the bone by it, due in large part to the fact that such a thing could happen.
    Over the years, I forgot the name of the story, and the author, but not the story. When I was in my thirties, I purchased a paperback copy of Matheson’s SHOCK anthology from a used bookstore. Upon reading the Table of Contents, I ran across the title, “Graveyard Shift”, and I knew…I turned right to the story, and read it anew, feeling that chill envelop me again.
    Had I ever had the chance to meet Richard Matheson, the first question I would’ve asked him would’ve been,
    “What inspired you to write ‘Graveyard Shift’?”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for visiting my blog and liking it. I do appreciate it very much. Have a blessed day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Shirley, I appreciate your post on editors (being an editor myself) and was pleased to see another writer expressing value for the editorial side of books and especially fiction. It’s not enough for us to study and practice the craft of writing and explore our creativity, but we must also ensure that our books meet professional standards. And that requires professional book cover artists, editors and proofreaders, and of course good reviewers.


  3. Oh, I’ll have to read Sturgeon’s “Shadow, Shadow on the Wall.” Thank you, Sean, for your very fine comment. I do think that acknowledging the dark mother helps all women to become more aware and become better mothers. Yes, Jung and Freud do address these issues. Not recognizing our dark sides, for all of us, is a dangerous place. This is where I think reading horror literature can serve to be insightful and illustrate between being the creator vs. the destroyer.


  4. Absolutely, the “dark mother” is a key concept in horror literature–probably literature in general. And I think it is fruitful to look at some of this material in both Jungian and Freudian terms, (“If it isn’t one thing, it’s a mother.”), though these two hardly have the last word on this. Mythologies from different parts of the world also touch on the primordial dynamic of having a “dark mother”. My first encounter with this in horror literature was as a child reading Theodore Sturgeon’s “Shadow, Shadow on the Wall”. Another example that comes to mind is Angela Lansbury’s character in “The Manchurian Candidate.” Thanks for this post–I would like to track down the Matheson story you cite..


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