In celebration of the month of October, I’ll be sharing 31 of my favorite spooky, eerie and creepy stories, one per day. The stories will range over an array of genres: horror, suspense, science fiction, mysteries and dark fantasy.
The October Country
…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…
— Ray Bradbury
Dress of White Silk by Richard Matheson
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
“Quiet is here and all in me.”
I’m going to come right out and say it: Richard Matheson is one of the half dozen or so finest short story writers in American history. There you go.
It’s a difficult task selecting a single Matheson story to include in any kind of lineup. There are so many excellent stories, some very well known, like Nightmare at 20,000 Feet or Duel, others less so but no less powerful, like Disappearing Act or The Children of Noah.
Dress of White Silk falls into the latter category. Weighing in around five pages, it is very short. Told from the point of view of an uneducated and clearly disturbed little girl, the tale would likely have become tiresome if stretched too far beyond that length. Matheson, however, was a master craftsman, and well aware of the dangers of excess.
The story opens with the little girl locked away in her room. Her grandmother (Granma) has put her there.
Granma locked me in the room and wont let me out. Because it happened she says. I guess I was bad. Only it was the dress. Mommas dress I mean.
The unnamed girl’s mother is dead. For how long, it isn’t clear. What is clear is that the little girl is obsessed with her dead mother’s things, most especially her dress. She enjoys sneaking into her mother’s room, sitting at the vanity, brushing her hair, gazing at her mother’s picture and, carefully and secretly, taking out her mother’s dress.
Granma has her reservations. She keeps the dress locked up and the key hidden. It’s never stated why.
One day, the little girl’s friend Mary Jane comes to the house to play. Things start out well enough. The girl tells Mary Jane all about Momma, and Momma’s room, and Momma’s picture, and Momma’s dress. Maybe this is just too much of a good thing for young Mary Jane. Or maybe Mary Jane is just a bitch. Either way, she gets around to telling the girl that she doesn’t believe anything the girl has said about Momma.
Mary Jane said I bet you havent no mother I bet you made it all up she said.
I got mad at her. I have a momma I know. She made me mad at her to say I made up it all. She said Im a liar.
The little girl decides to show Mary Jane once and for all. She’ll sneak her up into Momma’s room and show her everything. That’ll learn her.
Sadly, Mary Jane isn’t all that impressed. She says some things she shouldn’t. And that’s when the shit hits the fan.
There are a lot of stories out there about madness, either the descent into it or the daily living with it. Poe was the best with this kind of thing. Where Matheson excels is in giving a living voice to a disturbed and unlikable character. His use of diction and phrasing is keenly crafted. Too far in one direction, and the narrative would become unreadable. Too far in the other, and the reader would question whether the girl is truly unbalanced or not.
And, as always, Matheson is the master of the gut-punch ending. We’ve known from the start this wasn’t going to end well. After all, the little girl is locked up for a reason. So when the little girl finally has enough of Mary Jane’s smart mouth and starts shoving her around, we’re not all that surprised.
But I, for one, wasn’t quite ready for this:
Granma took me away from there I guess. I don’t know. She was screaming god help us its happened its happened. Over and over. I don’t know why. She pulled me all the way here to my room and locked me in. She wont let me out. Well Im not so scared. Who cares if she locks me in a million billion years? She doesn’t have to even give me supper. Im not hungry anyway.
More October Stories
For the month of October, you can download
Tyler Miller’s The Other Side of the Door
In celebration of my favorite month, I’m giving away my collection The Other Side of the Door. These are stories inspired by so many of my favorite writers: Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Richard Matheson, Shirley Jackson.
Stories like the award-winning Til Death Do Us, about a man who believes he’s gotten away with his wife’s murder…at least until her severed finger is delivered to him in a box. Somebody knows the truth…
Or another first-place winner: Not Dead, Not Even Past, the story of a small-town sheriff confronted with a string of suicides he can’t explain. Each of the victims share a disturbing trait: no matter how they died, all of them have lungs full of water.
I loved working on these stories, and I truly believe that you’ll enjoy reading them just as much as I enjoyed writing them. Check them out. For the entire month, they’re free. What have you got to lose?
Except a little sleep…