31 HORROR STORIES – “The Monkey’s Paw” (1902)

Yeah, yeah, I know. This one usually makes it onto every list. There’s a reason why.

W.W. Jacobs, who was mainly a travel writer, had a few ghost stories in him, including this doozy. It’s been performed on stage, radio, and is the inspiration for at least two films — PET SEMATARY and the far superior DEATHDREAM. You probably know the plot: a retired Seargent-Major, one of those proto-Blimp types who spent a lot of time in India, is visiting friends. The friends are your typical, quaint British family — mom and pop, son, living in a cozy house at the end of a lane, with a single lamp across the street.

Seargent-Major produces a mummified monkey’s paw, says a few ominous things about it, and then tosses it on the fire. Pop rescues it, S-M warns him not to use it, and we’re off.

The paw, you see, grants three wishes. It granted the S-M’s three wishes, but you can tell it ended in disaster. The guy he got it from used the third wish to ask for death.

Well, no harm in wishing for 200 pounds, right?

‘Course not.

Again, you probably know the plot, the twists, and the creepy/tragic ending.

But it’s the writing. The writing, simple and straightforward, but always…hinting. Like a murderer with impeccable manners:

“I expect you’ll find the cash tied up in a big bag in the middle of your bed,” said Herbert, as he bade them good-night, “and something horrible squatting up on top of the wardrobe watching you as you pocket your ill-gotten gains.”

“He sat alone in the darkness, gazing at the dying fire, and seeing faces in it. The last face was so horrible and so simian that he gazed at it in amazement.”

And the monkey’s hand moves when you wish.