I love a good short story book, and if it has stories about haunted houses, that’s even better.
Walls of Fear did not disappoint. 16 stories, if I’m counting correctly, all dealing with the hauntedness of structures with walls. “Hauntedness” probably isn’t a word, but I don’t care.
Even the introduction was worth reading, and enticed me to give Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining another look. Which paid off. I found that I didn’t hate it nearly as much as I did the first time I saw it, when it originally released at the theater. There are still parts I don’t care for, as it differs drastically from the book, and Jack Nicholson’s “Jack” seems crazy right from the start, which is not how Jack Torrance should appear. But this is not a review of The Shining, is it?
“Out of Sight, Out of Mind,” by Jack Womack, is a tale of going through a dead man’s house, the dead man being a bit of a hoarder. It’s not so much a haunted house story, but definitely inspires fear, as they make a surprise discovery in one of the bedrooms.
“Tales From A New England Telephone Directory,” by James Morrow, is one of my favorite stories. A phone booth isn’t exactly a house, but it has walls, and it was most definitely haunted by something.
“Firetrap,” by Greg Cox, is about three college students who rent a cheap house. Two guys and one girl rent a house, and some strange things begin to happen. However, when one of the guys finally realizes what the noises are, that he is hearing from the basement, things take a deadly turn. Another favorite.
“The Art of Falling Down” is a strange story about an old photographer and a boy he has been commissioned to photograph. It’s a bit humorous, I think, because, in the midst of all the weird stuff that is happening, what the boy keys in on is when the photographer says a “forbidden” four letter word.
“The Cairnwell Horror,” Chet Williamson, is one of those truly horrible tales, reminiscent of the style of Lovecraft. There’s not exactly a ghost in this house, but whatever it is is cursed, and is ancient. It also holds great influence over the inheritance.
“Erosion,” by Susan Palwick, is about an odd condition that seems to affect the women of a family that lives close to the sea. I like how the ending leaves much to the imagination.
“Happy Hour,” by Ian Watson, involves a haunted exhaust fan in the country pub known as the Roebuck. A group of four, two married couples, meets weekly with a rather strange woman named Alice. Another of my favorites.
“The Haunted Boardinghouse,” by Gene Wolfe, is about a young man who is having to withdraw from university because he is out of funds. However, he gets a letter about a position over the library, with a bit of tutoring thrown in, at a nearby boarding school. But there is something odd about that town. So odd, that the coaches don’t go there anymore. He finally gets there, but is he alive or dead?
“Inside the Walled City,” by Garry Kilworth, involves the tearing down of a large building in Hong Kong. The building, full of maze-like passages, is one of those that used to house thousands of homeless, hence the “walled city” designation. It seems, however, to have a life of its own. Another favorite.
“Grandmother’s Footsteps,” by Gwyneth Jones, is said in its introduction to be about the psychology of oppression. It certainly seems to chronicle a young mother’s descent into madness as she attempts to restore a house. But it seems the house has a life of its own, characterized by the ghost of an old woman.
“Madame Enchantia and the Maze of Dreams,” by Jessica Amanda Salmonson, seems to be about someone who is already slightly mad. It, too, is one of my favorites, employing imagery that is quite fantastic.
“Slippage,” by Edward Bryant, is less than four pages, but involves a couple of ghosts who are in love with themselves as much as they are in love with each other.
“The House on Rue Chartres,” by Richard A. Lupoff, involves H.P. Lovecraft, E. Hoffmann Price, and some absinthe. And something horrible, which may or may not have actually happened. This, too, was a favorite.
“House Hunter,” by Sharon Baker, is about a man who had a terrible relationship with his mother. It also seems to involve a couple of people who play off of the fear from that terrible relationship. Again, one of those that dances over the fine line of reality and hallucination.
“Penelope Comes Home,” by M.J. Engh, is the only story in the book that I really didn’t like. I found it to be extremely pretentious, and didn’t care for the main characters at all. It’s a sixty-page story that doesn’t even begin to exhibit characteristics of a horror story until about forty pages in. I mean, there is a hint that something supernatural is going on, but barely a hint. By far, my least favorite story in the book.
“Cedar Lane,” by Karl Edward Wagner, is a chilling tale about the many possible lives of a young man who, apparently, never got to live them, all centered around his boyhood home.
Walls of Fear is definitely worth reading, especially if you are a fan of horror/haunted house short fiction. I highly recommend it.