When it comes to almost any genre, but horror/mystery in particular, pulling off a compelling, convincing and chilling short story is a challenge. Short stories still need to hit all the complex highs of a long, elaborate tale, but in a very limited amount of space.
As an avid mystery lover, I bought a few copies of Ellery Queen when I was young, and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t often that I read a story and thought, “Wow, that was incredible.” I mostly liked them for their delicious, often borderline saucy, pulp art covers and catchy Nancy-Drew-esque titles.
While I certainly still enjoy a scary 600-page tome by Stephen King, or a 13-book supernatural series by Kelley Armstrong, sometimes I’d like to get my creepy fix in 20 minutes or less.
Short stories are making a comeback, and like anthologies on TV, I’m pleased about that.
I follow a great blog called Monster Magazine World, and recently, they featured a spooky little narrative, a real gem which I thought was perfect for sharing during All Hallows’ Eve month. Oddly enough, the plot doesn’t scream “Mystery and Horror!” Man wants to buy a house. Man feels the house is overpriced. Man visits house to try and convince the owner to sell for less. Seems pretty nondescript and boring, right? Oh, are you in for a treat.
“The Right Kind of House” was featured in the February 1957 issue of Michael Shayne Mystery Magazine. It was later reprinted in the March 1963 issue of Reader’s Digest.
The author of this toe-tickling tale is Henry Slesar. You might not be familiar with the name, but he has some pretty neat sci-fi/mystery connections.
If you’re a fan of The Twilight Zone, you might be interested to learn that Slesar wrote “The Old Man”, a short story which Rod Serling adapted into one of my Top 25 episodes, “The Old Man in the Cave”. A second Slesar story, “The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross”, was adapted for the season 5 TZ episode of the same name.
In 1958, “The Right Kind of House” was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Starring Robert Emhardt and Jeanette Nolan (who would go on to play in two episodes of The Twilight Zone: “The Hunt” and “Jess-Belle”), it’s an entertaining 26 minutes, but somehow, the original story packs a much more poignant punch. That’s not surprising though, is it? I think that most people would agree that Book > Movie!
You can watch the TV version of “The Right Kind of House” here, but I highly recommend that you click the link below and read the short story first. A huge thank you to the author over at Monster World Magazine for scanning this story from his original copy of Reader’s Digest. The dénouement is subtle and unexpected, and is guaranteed to send a little shiver up your spine when the realization hits you.
Make no mistake, this one will haunt you.
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Gertrude: “No, no, the drink, the drink!–O my dear Hamlet! The drink, the drink! I am poisoned.” (dies) ~ Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2
Until next time, unpleasant dreams . . .
“We all go a little mad sometimes… haven’t you?”