Welcome, bibliophiles and horror fanatics!
As a voracious reader and halfway competent writer, I submerge myself in the world of faded paperbacks and dusty hardcovers as often as possible. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that my favorite genre to read about is the very one that I spend countless hours watching each year. Whether it’s somber and moody tomes or blood-splattered novellas of chaos, I am all about anything and everything creepy.
The macabre short story is a beautiful part of the history of literature. With this brand new column, The Library of Terror, I am honored and beyond excited to be able to showcase stories both new and old, from far and wide, that get right under the skin and may even force you to sleep with a light on. I will also spotlight full novels from time to time, but with a deep affinity for the art of the short story which I’ve already celebrated here on Terror Time, I will spend most of my time dissecting some of the weirdest and most fun morsels of literature with this regular column.
In determining what short story to chat about first, it was fairly easy for me to land on one specific author. The late, great Ray Bradbury not only is a true icon of the weird literature world, but he also hails from the same hometown as I do. He’s an incredible force in Waukegan, Illinois’ community to this day. His fictional Green Town is based on real-life Waukegan.
Ray Bradbury’s legacy will forever speak for itself in the literary world. One of my absolute favorite themes and settings of Mr. Bradbury’s work (besides Green Town) is the carnival. Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of my all-time favorite novels and even fifty-four years after its initial release, the book still withstands the tests of time. While it certainly is probably the most well-known dark carnival tale of Bradbury’s career, it definitely wasn’t the only one- or the first!
Originally appearing in Weird Tales’ November 1944 issue, The Jar is a delightful jaunt down the macabre dirt roads of Louisiana. The story is a wonderful piece of Bradbury’s celebrated short story collection The October Country and while it is a story set in the summertime, complete with howling bull frogs and lazy crickets, it is a delicious slice of Halloween saturated reading.
“It was one of those things they keep in a jar in the tent of a sideshow on the outskirts of a little, drowsy town.”
Meet Charlie, a hapless country bumpkin that doesn’t register whatsoever on the affluent townsfolk meter. The poor fella lives near the swamps with his less-than-adoring wife Thedy and not much else. That all changes one night when Charlie is down at the carnival that has rolled into town and he becomes enamored with a glass jar holding… something.
Charlie simply can’t take his eyes off of the grey matter in the “alcohol plasma”. After a brief and very one-sided negotiation with the carny boss, Charles acquires the jar for twelve dollars – hardly a small fee for a man of Charlie’s financial standing in that day and age!
Upon loading the mysterious item into his carriage to take home, his horse whinnies and seems upset by the mere presence of the jar. When Charlie comes rumbling into The Hollow, late that same night, he shows off the jar to a few of his buddies down at the general store. Several of the men don’t pay Charlie or his jar any mind at first, but upon glancing at the thing, they soon begin to not only think about the jar constantly, but obsess over it.
Thedy, the wife who offers little in terms of compliments or love, is about as excited as you’d expect she’d be when Charlie finally gets the jar home and perches it smack dab in the middle of their humble shack.
Word spreads quickly throughout town of the jar and they mysterious thing living in it. Folks from miles around head to Charlie’s front door to view the man’s prized possession for themselves. Some believe the thing moves, others argue over the thing’s eye and hair color. One heartbroken townswoman believes the mass floating in the liquid is her three-year-old son who got lost in the swamps. What is really in this damned jar? The town is completely entranced by the object and it becomes a sort of religious artifact almost, even being referred to as a “Holy Grail-like thing”.
The story has a nice little dark twist at the end that leaves what really is in the jar up for debate, but I won’t be spoiling anything here! The Jar has it all- mystery, suspense and horror. Nobody writes like Bradbury and he sculpts his masterpiece of words to perfection with this tasty morsel.
The Jar has been featured on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1964 and The Ray Bradbury Theatre in 1992, with the 1964 version being my favorite- the gritty black and white episode fits the story’s original mood and is definitely worth a watch! But, as with all films based on literary works, the written story is way better than the one you can find on celluloid so do yourself a favor and check out this creepy tale today.
Until next time, fiends…. Enjoy!