If you’re looking for some spooky reads for Halloween, here are three short horror stories featuring cats. Best read on Halloween night, basking in the candle light emanating from inside a pumpkin, with some seasonal chocolates at your side, and all the doors and windows secure. You’ll never look at a cat the same way again…
The Black Cat, by Edgar Allan Poe
Available here. Read it in about 30 minutes. Warning: features cruelty to animals.
This tale begins with the narrator foreshadowing the gruesomeness of the story by emphasising the ‘horror’ that the reader will find within it. Throughout the story, words in the same semantic field occur, such as ‘dread’, ‘terror’, and ‘wretchedness’, to reinforce this.
The narrator immediately informs the reader ‘to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul.’ Further foreshadowing occurs, when the narrator mentions his wife’s superstition that ‘all black cats … [are] witches in disguise.’
The cat’s name, a clever aptonym, is Pluto – ruler of the underworld (AKA Hades) in Greek/Roman mythology, often depicted with a three-headed hellhound by his side. This further emphasises the foreboding and foreshadowing.
The exposition of the first few paragraphs centres on the narrator’s fondness for pets, then we have a change, as the narrator admits that his love for the animals is affected by his consumption of alcohol. The narrator’s initial love for his cat is juxtaposed with the violence he inflicts upon it, which culminates in him killing the cat; following this, misfortune befalls him.
His change in attitude is accompanied by a change in language: initially he describes his pets as ‘faithful’, ‘beautiful’, and ‘intelligent’, but he later feels nothing but ‘disgust’, ‘annoyance’, and ‘hatred’; ‘cat’ becomes ‘beast’ and then ‘monster’.
A replacement cat (or is it?) mysteriously appears, which the narrator blames for his deteriorating sanity, and there is only one horrific course of action that he feels is available to him, which propels the story towards its horrific conclusion.
The Cat From Hell, by Stephen King
Available here. Read it in about 45 minutes.
Even if Stephen King is a little too gory for your tastes, it’s worth reading the openings of some of his stories to see how he deals with characterisation. For example, right from the start of this terrifying tale, we have two rounded and contrasting characters, one an old man and the other a hitman. Both are made real in only a few words through their physical descriptions, actions, and dialogue. The third sentence provides all the exposition we need about the hitman.
The characterisation of the cat is also well done: ‘Its face was an even split: half black, half white’, so its appearance suggests it duplicitousness; the ‘straight-arrow’ of the black-white dividing line suggests its determinedness; and the ‘sullen coal of hate’ reflected in its eyes betrays its dangerous intentions. Once we have our three characters, the old man then tells the hitman the story of why he thinks the cat has it in for him, and the three deaths he claims it has caused. It all sounds pretty ridiculous to the hitman, until it doesn’t. The ending is gruesome; only read it if you have a strong stomach.
The Brazilian Cat, by Arthur Conan Doyle
Available here. Read it in about 60 minutes.
This cleverly-plotted tale is told in the first person. It’s more of a mystery than horror, with lots of similar features to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock stories, but it’s atmospheric, and features a terrifying cat, so is more than appropriate for Halloween.
The narrator, Marshall, begins by declaring his financial woes to the reader, and stating that neither his chronically ill uncle, nor his cousin who has recently arrived from Brazil, are willing to assist him, despite their wealth. Things don’t look good, but then, out of the blue, Marshall’s fortunes turn when the cousin invites him to visit for the first time.
The cousin, Everard King, is depicted as being a friendly and charitable man, who is well thought of in the local community. His wife, on the other hand, a native Brazilian, is cold and unwelcoming. Despite the frosty reception, Marshall enjoys staying with his cousin, whose estate is full of exotic wildlife. King’s prize animal, being the terrifying Brazilian cat, a panther-type species. These animals, according to King, are ‘The most absolutely treacherous and bloodthirsty creatures upon earth’; and once they’ve tried human blood, they ‘prefer humans to game’.
Things look even better when King offers money to Marshall, but as this is a Conan Doyle story, all is not as it seems, and a storm one night brings terror for our unlucky narrator.
When you reach the end of the story, you can clearly see the little clues, all laid out like breadcrumbs.
Happy Halloween reading and writing!