Alexis Lykiard (ed.) – The Horror Horn: The Best Horror Stories Of E. F. Benson (Panther, 1974)
Introduction – Alexis Lykiard
The Room In The Tower
The Thing In The Hall
The House With The Brick Kiln
The Horror Horn
“And No Birds Sing”
The Bed By The Window
Negotium Perambulans: ” … and him that had been a great burly man was withered to a bag o’ skin, for the critter had drained all the blood from him.”
A horror masterpiece. Polearm, an isolated fishing village in Western Cornwall. A panel in the church depicts a priest stood at the lychgate brandishing a crucifix at the huge caterpillar-cum-slug-like entity, “the pestilence that walketh in darkness”, reputed to have destroyed at least two Godless men. Now John Evans, a likable local artist who grew up at the rectory, moves into the cursed Quarry-house. In no time he’s cultivated a serious Whiskey habit and his paintings take a turn for the monstrous. The narrator is present to witness his terrible doom.
The Room In The Tower: “Suddenly a voice which I knew well broke the stillness, the voice of Mrs. Stone, saying ‘Jack will show you to your room: I have given you the room in the tower.’ It seemed to come from near the gate in the red-brick wall that bounded the lawn, and looking up, I saw that the grass outside was sewn thick with gravestones. A curious greyish light shone from them, and I could read the lettering on the grave nearest me, and it was ‘In evil memory of Julia Stone.’
From his early teens the narrator has been plagued by the same ominous dream. Now aged 30, his premonition is about to be played out for real when he visits his friend John Clinton at the Sussex cottage and Mrs. Clinton repeats those words he’s come to dread: “Jack will show you to your room now. I have given you the room in the tower.”
Mrs Amworth: The village of Maxley, Suffolk, is roused from its slumbers with the advent of a very merry 45 year old widow, fresh back in England after a soujourn in India. Only one person doesn’t take the gregarious Mrs. Amworth – Mr. Urcombe, a retired professor with a deep interest in the occult who suspects there’s something of the night about her. when the residents begin falling ill and one young boy teeters ion the brink of death, Urcombe confronts her. She is so angered by his accusation that she walks in front of a car. But a small thing like death isn’t going to stand in the way of her bloodlust.
When it comes to my personal favourite Benson trad. vampire chiller, The Room In The Tower just about has the edge over this ripping yarn, but Mrs Amworth is another instant classic from one of our greatest horror authors.
Caterpillars: “Gradually, like some hideous tide of flesh, they advanced along the passage …” Villa Cascana, Italian riviera. Benson has dreadful visions of ghostly mutant creatures crawling over the bed of his friend and fellow visitor Arthur Inglis. At breakfast the following morning Inglis hands him a pill box in which he’s captured a caterpillar with curious crab-like legs – with grim irony he refers to it as species Cancer Inglisensis. Mindful of his ominous dream, Benson hurls it out of the window and into the fountain but the furry little fiend refuses to drown. It seems to have designs on Inglis. Only much later, when Inglis is no longer with us, does Benson learn the dreadful fate of the man who’d previously stayed in his friend’s room.
” … And No Bird Sings”: Hugh Granger and his wife live on the verge of a patch of woodland wherein something terrible lurks. “It has to be kept alive by nourishment and that explains why every day since I have been here I’ve found on that knell we went up some half dozen dead rabbits.” Benson suggests stoats or weasils might be responsible but Granger sets him straight on that: “These rabbits have not been eaten, they’ve been drunk.” Excellent, suspenseful climax in which Benson is attacked by some cold, hairy, slimy thing. It extends a tube-like protrudence which fastens on his neck …..