11 Edgar Allen Poe Stories That Will Get You Freaked Out on Halloween
There's something about the weather growing cooler and the trees changing color that leaves us itching for a good horror story. Is it the fact that we know Halloween is creeping toward us, or is there something more primal about the onset of winter that causes us to long for tales of death? Whatever the case, there's no better writer to kick off the eerie, crackling days of autumn than Mr. Edgar Allen Poe. (Creepily enough, nobody really knows how Poe died. Mugging? Epilepsy? Alcoholism? Rabies?)
But here's the rub: You've already read "The Tell-Tale Heart" and shivered through "Masque of the Red Death." There's no fun in reading Poe's best-known stories if you already know the twist. What's left?
Plenty. Poe was freakishly prolific and constantly revisited his favorite macabre themes: Teeth, eyes, beautiful women dying of mysterious illnesses. Though his writing — written in the early- to mid-1800s — certainly sounds old-fashioned now, it's incredible how scary the endings are to this day. Serious props to a man who can begin a story with flowery lines like, "Misery is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform. Overreaching the wide horizon like the rainbow, its hues are as various as the hues of that arch, as distinct too, yet as intimately blended..." and end it with a twist so gruesome that readers in 2014 might find it hard to fall asleep.
Read these 11 lesser-known Poe tales with a nightlight flickering in one corner of your cavernous bedroom, and whatever you do, don't fall into a dead faint — you might get buried alive.
And then — then all is mystery and terror, and a tale which should not be told. Disease — a fatal disease, fell like the simoon upon her frame; and, even while I gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept over her, pervading her mind, her habits, and her character, and, in a manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the identity of her person!
This horrific story follows the "romance" between a melancholy young man and his cousin. (It was published the same year that Poe married his cousin.) As his cousin falls sick, the man begins to obsess more and more about her teeth, which are the only part of her body untouched by sickness, and when she dies — well, he accidentally does something about it.
Horror and fatality have been stalking abroad in all ages. Why then give a date to this story I have to tell? Let it suffice to say, that at the period of which I speak, there existed, in the interior of Hungary, a settled although hidden belief in the doctrines of the Metempsychosis.
This story is about a cruel Hungarian baron, but the message is simple: Abuse the horses, and the horses abuse you.
I could no longer bear the touch of her wan fingers, nor the low tone of her musical language, nor the lustre of her melancholy eyes.
Poe loved a good dying-wife trope. Morella is a highly intellectual woman who dies in childbirth after reading German philosophy concerning ideas of identity. The girl child lives, but the husband is terrified to name her, because she's so much like Morella. (She also grows really, really quickly. Normal!) Finally, by the time the child turns ten, the husband decides to have her baptized and to give her his wife's name. Big mistake.
And be was a passionate, and wild, and moody man, who became lost in reveries; so that he would not see that the light which fell so ghastly in that lone turret withered the health and the spirits of his bride, who pined visibly to all but him.
This two-page story inspired Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. It concerns a narrator who grows obsessed with a very realistic portrait, and then finds a book describing how the portrait was painted by an artist so obsessed with creating a realistic depiction of his wife that he forgot all about his wife in real life. Cue wasting away.
With my brow to the glass, I was thus occupied in scrutinizing the mob, when suddenly there came into view a countenance (that of a decrepit old man, some sixty-five or seventy years of age) — a countenance which at once arrested and absorbed my whole attention, on account of the absolute idiosyncrasy of its expression.
The plot summary of this story is simple: a man becomes obsessed with the strange expression on an older man's face, and follows him around London for hours, but the older man never notices him. The "point" of the story is much more unclear, and Poe leaves much of the guesswork up to the reader. Who is the narrator? Who is the old man? Why is there a knife under his cloak?
At my fourth repetition of the question, he said very faintly, almost inaudibly: "Yes; still asleep — dying."
This story is absolutely disgusting. It describes, in graphic detail, how the narrator "mesmerizes" a sick man only minutes before his death, in an attempt to see what effect mesmerizing has on the dying. He soon discovers that mesmerizing keeps the man in a semi-dead-but-still-sort-of-alive state for SEVEN MONTHS, during which only the dead man's tongue can move. The ending is beyond gross.
Alas! how fearful a shock awaited the husband, who, personally, threw open the door! As its portals swung outwardly back, some white-apparelled object fell rattling within his arms. It was the skeleton of his wife in her yet unmoulded shroud.
This is a story about a man who's terrified of being buried alive. He tells multiple tales of other unlucky souls who've been buried alive, then builds himself a spring-loaded coffin in case he faints and... well, you know.
Your majesty cannot conceive the effect produced, at a masquerade, by eight chained ourang-outangs, imagined to be real ones by most of the company; and rushing in with savage cries, among the crowd of delicately and gorgeously habited men and women. The contrast is inimitable.
Love a gruesome revenge tale? Hop-Frog is the jester of a cruel and abusive king. He convinces the king and his powerful friends to dress up like eight chained orangutans for a costume ball, telling them that this will scare the ladies witless. The men love the idea, but when the party actually happens, Hop-Frog takes advantage of their chain to commit his "last jest."
Rushing to the corpse, I saw — distinctly saw — a tremor upon the lips.
Ligeia is a slender, oddly beautiful woman who dies of a mysterious illness. (Typical Poe.) After Ligeia's death, the narrator marries the blonde Rowena, but the two end up hating each other, and the narrator pines for his lost love. Eventually, as the narrator smokes opium and dreams about Ligeia, Rowena also falls ill and dies. Or does she?
10. "William Wilson"
“Scoundrel!” I said, in a voice husky with rage, while every syllable I uttered seemed as new fuel to my fury; “scoundrel! impostor! accursed villain! you shall not — you shall not dog me unto death!"
A classic doppelgänger story, creepy as only a doppelgänger story can be. A boy named William Wilson meets another William Wilson, who's eerily similar to him, and who chooses to imitate him more and more until the first William Wilson is almost driven mad. As they grow into adults, the second William Wilson is continually popping up at parties in spooky disguises, until the first William Wilson can't take it anymore. But you know the drill: never kill your doppelgänger.
11. "The Black Cat"
Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain.
When your narrator begins the story by insisting that he's sane, you know something's a little off. In an alcoholic rage, this narrator cut out the eye of his beloved black cat with a penknife. Later, he ends up hanging the cat, and when he finds a new black cat for a pet, he realizes that this one has a white spot in the shape of the gallows. Paranoia and insanity ensue, and when the narrator tries to kill the new cat, his wife interferes and gets an axe in the head for her troubles. Don't worry, the story doesn't end there...
Image: Wikimedia Commons