Tag Archives: Halloween stories

THE GALLOWS MAN: NEGLECTED HORROR LEGEND

Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with this slice of pure Americana.

gallows-manTHE GALLOWS MAN – This is another neglected American horror legend which has been presented in many different versions over the years. Ralph Sutherland was born in 1702 in either New York City or a town near the Catskills, depending on the version.

Sutherland was born into the New York gentry but in his adult years his drinking and gambling eventually embarrassed the family enough that they stopped associating with him. After boozing, whoring and gambling away a large part of his money Ralph was left with just one reasonably-sized home surrounded by a stone wall. He had enough funds left to maintain that house and took in an indentured servant – a beautiful teen girl from Scotland.

Sutherland’s foul and obnoxious nature soon led the girl to flee. In a rage Ralph mounted a horse and tracked her down before she got far. The black-hearted man tied the terrified girl to his horse and rode back to his home, but was either so furious or so drunk that he inadvertently dragged the poor female to her death. Continue reading

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THE CENTENARIAN (1822): GOTHIC HORROR

CentenarianTHE CENTENARIAN (1822) – Written by THE Honore de Balzac. Thirty-one days of Halloween continue here at Balladeer’s Blog! The Centenarian or The Two Beringhelds was one of the “quickie” novels that Balzac wrote in his early career, this one under the pseudonym Horace de Saint-Aubin.  

Balzac himself looked down on The Centenarian and other early works that he churned out for quick money like the Pulp writers of a century later. Still, this work has value, just like the early Pulp stories from writers like Tennessee Williams, Dashiell Hammett and others. Plus I’m a Napoleon geek so I love immersing myself in the time period in which the novel is set.

The title character is really Count Maxime Beringheld Sculdans. The Centenarian was born in 1470 and led an adventurous life, supposedly even serving as a ship’s doctor when Columbus visited the New World. During his wanderings across the globe Count Maxime studied all the medicine and related sciences that he could.

Under the Rosicrucians the Centenarian learned various secrets of alchemy, including universal healing powers and immortality. Those last two secrets often worked hand in hand: Maxime would use his powers to mystically withdraw the illness or injury out of a sufferer but his “fee” was the draining of the life essence of another person in return. 

Honore de BalzacThe Centenarian leeches out the vitality of his victims but NOT by sucking out blood like a vampire. He drains their life force via alchemical means with his “medical” equipment. By the time of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Count Maxime has grown a bit weary of his eternal life in typical Gothic style.  

In recent centuries our title character has devoted himself to secretly watching over his family line, mysteriously saving their lives or killing off their enemies at crucial periods. The Centenarian has most recently intervened in Spain during the Wars of the French Revolution, saving the life of his descendant General Tullius Beringheld.

Intrigued, Tullius seeks out information on his enigmatic savior and eventually learns the Centenarian’s true identity and about his supernatural nature. By this point (the 1790s) Maxime’s body is misshapen. His arms are emaciated but his torso and legs are thick and muscular.

He is unusually tall but the skin on his head is so thin that his  scalp and facial features resemble a living skull. He smells of the grave but his powers of healing make others treat him with fear and respect despite the awful fee he demands.  

The Centenarian’s additional powers include immunity to hanging and other forms of mortal injury. He has superhuman strength and his fiery eyes can induce fear, paralysis or death. He can read minds and teleport as well.   Continue reading

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WILD AND WEIRD (1889) – NEGLECTED HORROR

Wild and WeirdHalloween is celebrated for all 31 days of October here at Balladeer’s Blog. Here’s another neglected gem. As Johnny Carson would have said “That izh some weird, wild shtuff.” 

WILD AND WEIRD (1889) – By Gilbert Edward Campbell. This compilation of three of Campbell’s short story collections presents some of the author’s best works. He often based his tales of terror on pre-existing folklore from around Russia, England and Italy but made them come alive in more polished form.

Here are some of the stories:  

THE MIDNIGHT SKATER – This tale gets extra points from me for presenting a reasonably unique monster: a female were-bear. That’s not really a spoiler since this is one of those stories in which modern readers will guess the twist just a few pages in. Olga, a beautiful gypsy girl, is wooed by plenty of men but most of them end up getting killed by a bear-like creature. It turns out Olga herself is the were-bear, who preys on her suitors when she gets them alone in the woods.

WHAT WAS IT? – I’m often surprised at how many horror stories from the 1800s and earlier were edgy enough to kill off children. This is another one of them. Playful, mischievous children are repeatedly warned not to enter a room called “the Infernal Room.” Kids being kids, they eventually enter it anyway and face death in the form of a child-hating ghost.

THE GREEN STAIRCASE – An eerie green staircase – think David Lynch meets Arthur Machen – leads to a portrait gallery. (But no, this strange room is NOT above a convenience store.) The art is hypnotically beautiful but if you stay too long or visit too many times the figures in the pictures come to life and reveal their malevolent nature.   Continue reading

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THE BLACK REAPER (1899): GOTHIC HORROR

Black ReaperTHE BLACK REAPER (1899) – By Bernard Capes. Balladeer’s Blog’s month-long celebration of Halloween continues with this neglected horror tale. The story takes place in 1665 in a secluded British farming town called Anathoth.

The Black Reaper of the title is an interesting humanoid monster. Religious superstition and human evil mingle in this tale, just like in so many other great horror stories. And it seems Stephen King must have been, uh … “inspired” by The Black Reaper.

The citizens of Anathoth are described in the narrative as the kind of religious people who merely pay lip service to their beliefs but don’t live by them. They even treated their previous Vicar like a joke.

Now the plague is once more at large in the land and a new fire-and- brimstone preacher has replaced the disrespected man in Anathoth. The new “holy” man  frequently rails at the citizens, telling them that they are all horrible sinners and that God will one day mow them down like ripe corn.

All of them, that is, except the children. Continue reading

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CITY OF VAMPIRES (1867)

Vampire city 2Halloween Month moved another notch today, leaving us with just 20 days left. Balladeer’s Blog continues its month-long celebration with a look at another neglected gem of horror fiction.

LA VILLE-VAMPIRE (City of Vampires) 1867 – Written by the accomplished and prolific Paul Feval, it’s City of Vampires or, if you prefer, Vampire City (Wham, bam, thank you ma’am! Va- va- va- Vampire CIT-EEE! … Had to be said.)

Paul Feval’s heroine in this story is the young Ann Ward, who went on to be Ann Radcliffe, pioneer of Gothic Horror through such works as The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. Ann’s friends Cornelia de Witt and Ned Barton depart for the continent with their new acquaintance Otto Goetzi.

Vampire CityGoetzi turns out to be a vampire who lures Cornelia and Ned deeper and deeper into a trap. Back in England, Ann Ward deduces all this from odd letters that she receives from her friends and from horrific premonitions which come to her in nightmares.

Ann and a much older family servant called Grey Jack cross the English Channel to come to the rescue of Ann’s friends. Soon the trail leads to Belgrade and then to a dismal city called Selene by outsiders but known as the Sepulchre to its inhabitants, all of whom are vampires.    Continue reading

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THE DEVIL OF PEI-LING (1927): NEGLECTED HORROR NOVEL

Halloween Month rolls blithely along as Balladeer’s Blog presents another look at a neglected work of horror fiction.

Devil of Pei LingTHE DEVIL OF PEI-LING (1927) – This minor masterpiece was penned by the Bard of the Bowery himself, Herbert Asbury! New York Detective Inspector Conroy tries to stop a reign of terror which is in actuality being inflicted on the world by supernatural forces from beyond the grave and from just north of Hell.

The Inspector was first drawn into the affair by the novel’s narrator, a physician friend of Conroy’s a la Doctor Watson to Sherlock Holmes. The doctor treats a comatose woman following a car accident and notices that she has deep red stigmata on her hands and feet. These stigmata don’t stop at an imitation of Christ’s wounds and begin to sprout nails as well. 

The horrors just keep coming from there, as a “living” crimson rope often appears out of nowhere to hang a series of law enforcement figures and jurors who sentenced a murderous magician named Paul Silvio to death by hanging.

As Conroy and his medical friend probe deeper they learn that after Silvio was hanged, his corpse animated itself long enough to threaten vengeance on everyone involved in his execution. Soon after the comatose stigmatic woman appears at the hospital other horrors abound.

Gigantic toads the size of small dogs show up, bloody human sacrifices take place and a bronze idol of a demonic being called Pei-Ling periodically comes to life to murder people. Continue reading

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THE GREEN HUNTSMAN: CHRISTMAS HORROR FOLKLORE

green-flamesTHE GREEN HUNTSMAN – The Green Huntsman is an interesting example of the many figures who started out as folklore before being committed to the printed page in horror stories.

Long before the short stories featuring the Green Huntsman began to appear around the 1830s the figure was already being conflated with the Wicked Huntsman of Basque folk tales. Joseph Holt Ingraham’s 1841 story titled simply The Green Huntsman is arguably the best known of the short stories.

The figure eventually known as the Green Huntsman has its origins centuries ago. Originally a mortal man, this huntsman was a Castilian nobleman who had a perfect body but a very ugly face. As the tale was inevitably embellished it got to the point where the man freakishly had just one large green eye above the nose of his otherwise handsome face. 

green-flames-2The nobleman was obsessed with tracking down and marrying a mythical woman called the Christmas Bride who could only be found on Christmas Eve. This woman was incredibly beautiful but blind. The Green Huntsman wanted her as his bride not only because she would not be able to see how hideous he was, but, more importantly, she was destined to give birth to a son who would become the New Charlemagne, who would unite all Europe under one ruler. 

Clad in his all-green hunting outfit the Green Huntsman would ride forth every Christmas Eve accompanied by his hunting dogs. One year the whip he used to urge his horse onward contained a hair from the head of the Virgin Mary herself. (Remember, there was a lucrative business long ago in selling fake relics like pieces of wood from the “true” cross, plus the bones or other items from various saints.)

That hair from Christian mythology’s Blessed Mother supposedly would act as a divining rod, and the bristles on the whip would point the way to the Christmas Bride. The Green Huntsman had paid an enormous amount of money to the Pope himself to obtain the hair. Continue reading

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