When I was sixteen years old, I came down with a horrible case of the flu. It kept me in bed for three days, drinking nothing but water and eating a few saltine crackers. I faded in and out of consciousness, with a fever that spiked at just over one hundred degrees.
My mother cared for me, but she had to work and I was left alone in my sick bed most of the day. Earlier that summer, I had discovered some old paperback books at my grandparent’s house; they were books once owned by my uncle and long forgotten in a dusty old room in the unused second story of the house. Among them was The Macabre Reader, an anthology of horror stories. It was this book that was sitting on my nightstand during those long hours that I was alone with my illness.
I began reading the book despite the fact that at the time I was no fan of horror stories or scary movies. I don’t know what drew me to the book; even the gruesome cover bothered me to the point that I fashioned a slipcover from a piece of white paper. But once I began reading, I was hooked. The stories seemed to plug into the fever dreams I was having, turning them into livid theater in my mind. The book was old, older than me at any rate, and had that musty smell that I’m still fond of.
The book was my first introduction to the world of pulp horror, specifically to Lovecraft, Smith, Bloch, and the other members of the Weird Tales circle. Lovecraft’s The Thing on the Doorstep was the first of his works I’d ever read, and remains a favorite to this day despite the fact that many consider it one of his weaker stories. I read the whole thing in a day, then re-read it the next day.
The ‘Reader led me to other books, especially those of Lovecraft, and opened the world of horror fiction to me. I still have that book, a first print from the 1959, still in that hand-made white slipcover. It still has that musty smell, and from time to time I pick it up lovingly and read one of the old stories, stories I’ve nearly memorized over the years.
If you want a copy for yourself, you can, amazingly, find it on Amazon.