Every year since starting this blog, I’ve done a post near Halloween linking to a bunch of public domain horror stories to read to get into the season. It so happens this year that I also just finished the draft of my book on the history and physics of invisibility, so I thought I would celebrate by making this edition of Halloween Treats an invisibility-themed one! Linking below to some of the stories that I talk about in my upcoming book.
What Was It? by Fitz James O’Brien (1859). As far as I know, the earliest story to give a scientific explanation for invisibility, as two guests at a reportedly haunted house encounter something not-quite-a-ghost!
The Crystal Man, by Edward Page Mitchell (1881). This story, about a man who accidentally gets stuck invisible, seems like a likely inspiration for H.G. Wells’ later work! Not a very scary story, but a grim finale that says a lot about human nature.
The Horla, by Guy de Maupassant (1887). A man in Paris starts to believe that his home has been invaded by an invisible and malevolent being that exerts a psychic influence over him. This story has distinctly apocalyptic overtones, quite remarkable for its time. de Maupassant struggled with psychological issues, and it is thought that this story was a way for him to describe his own troubles, which honestly just makes it more disturbing.
The Damned Thing, by Ambrose Bierce (1893). This famous story, told in multiple parts, follows an inquest into the murder of a man in front of a witness by a thing unseen. Bierce would pull off his own sinister disappearing act at the end of his life, disappearing while reporting on the Mexican Revolution. Bierce’s signature wit is still on display in this horror story, as the title of the first chapter makes clear.
The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells (1897). The most famous story of invisibility, and rightly so. Wells follows the struggles and madness of a scientist who rashly imbues himself with invisibility without realizing the consequences.
The Shadow and the Flash, by Jack London (1906). Many famous authors have written about invisibility, including Jack London. In this tale, two rival scientists perfect distinct methods of turning invisible: perfect blackness (the shadow) and perfect transparency (the flash). In the end, the rivalry between the two turns into a deadly battle of invisibility styles.
The Face in the Abyss, by A. Merritt (1923). A novel of adventure and horror by one of the most successful authors of the weird in his era! An American treasure hunter, searching for Incan gold, instead finds a lost civilization that worships an imprisoned god and includes winged serpents that can appear and disappear at will!
The Dunwich Horror, by H.P. Lovecraft (1929). The wicked Whateley family of Dunwich gets their hands on a tome of forbidden lore, and summon a beast that is the size of a house yet completely unseen! It is up to scientists, aided by the occult, to end the menace.
There are more stories to choose from, but this is all I could find in the public domain! Enjoy!