They tell me — I have never had occasion to experiment — that "there is more than one way to skin a cat." I know, by reason of many delightfully quaking hours while equipped with slippers and easy chair, that there are a good many ways to induce shivery sensations in a reader.
It doesn't take a ghost story, necessarily; fear has many forms, and the spectral tale has lost the monopoly it once enjoyed. That type was, perhaps, written most effectively by M. R. James, and I have included here his wonderfully titled, "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad," as well as "Ghost Hunt," which H. R. Wakefield gives a distinctively modern twist.
The eleven other stories, however, produce shivers of other, widely varying kinds. The malignant creature which attacks the terrified servant night after night in Henry S. Whitehead's "Cassius" high-lights a fine example of the strange-beast theme. Ambrose Bierce's little shocker, "One Summer Night," is typical of this writer's bold delineation of brutality and callousness; its grave-robbing scene, with the ghoulish enterprise illumined by fitful lightning flashes, is appropriately eerie.
Our fear of the unknown, of elemental nature, gives us some terrifying moments in John Buchan's "Skule Skerry" when the venturesome scientist, alone on the tiny islet, realizes he is close to "the world which has only death in it" and, shuddering, stands "next door to the Abyss — that blanched wall of the North which is the negation of life." John Metcalfe takes us to "The Bad Lands," where ordinary things become charged with "sinister suggestion" and the scenery develops "an unpleasant tendency to the macabre" — small wonder that it evokes a dream in which, with Brent Ormerod, we walk "up and up into a strange dim country full of signs and whisperings and somber trees, where hollow breezes blow fitfully and a queer house set with lofty pines shines out white against a lurid sky." Br-rrr! And, accompanying H. G. Wells's foolhardy young hero into "The Red Room," we discover, with him, that it contains not "haunts," but simply Fear — black Fear.
Along with Hugh Walpole's evildoer, we cringe under the terrible whips of conscience in "The Tarn." In contrast, Elizabeth Bowen presents in "Telling" a killer whose mind is incapable of knowing remorse for his bloody deed, but only a dim comprehension that at last he has found Something he can do — Something that others cannot. The havoc wrought by a twisted mind holds us enthralled in "The Night Reveals," William Irish's account of a man who finds he does not really know his wife; and John Collier, in "Little Memento", affords us a brief but memorable peek into the machinations of a devious and morbid old man.
Lastly, two tales which are far, far different from each other, but in their own ways equally effective. When you read Lord Dunsany's "The Sack of Emeralds," forget the real world and surrender yourself to his magic as he tells us of "one bad October night in the high wolds, with a north wind chaunting of winter," when an old man, his face hopeless, totters along under the weight of a heavy sack; listen to the click, clack, clop coming nearer in the darkness, first faintly, then louder and louder, at last to reveal the rider: a figure wearing a sword in a huge scabbard, looking blacker than the darkness — Ray Bradbury, whose unique talent for horror-writing is beginning to receive just recognition, makes us share with his simple swamp folk their awe at the silent thing sloshing in "The Jar"; like them we ask, "Wonder what it is? Wonder if it's a he or a she or just a plain old it?"
Whether you like your shivers old-fashioned or newfangled, or both, you should get plenty of them from these pages!