Edith Wharton's stories serve as a reminder of what horror is. It doesn't need a Michael in a hockey mask wielding a kitchen knife or Freddie and his claws or even an evil clown in a storm drain. It just needs to hit the place where your fears live, to make you bristle with dread, to make you KNOW that you must not turn around.
Have you ever wished you'd turned on the light before mount the steep stairs in the dark? Been certain of being watched when you know you are alone? Have forboding flow through you and freeze you in place, afraid of something you can't name but cannot ignore? Those are the times when the horror is upon you and your own mind destroys your peace.
This is the kind of CGI-free, primal dread that Edith Wharton writes about in these stories.
I've just finished the first story: "Mr Jones." It tells of a bright, independent woman, inheriting a small country house from a distant relative. The house has long lain unoccupied except by servants. She sees it first in the sunshine and falls in love with it. Without declaring who she is, she asks to see the house but the servants deny her access, saying Mr Jones wouldn't like it. When she takes over the house, it is clear that things are not as they should be. It is less clear who Mr Jones is and what his role is in the household.
The rest of the story is the gradual discovery of the truth about Mr Jones.
By modern standards, it's a gentle tale with a low body-count and no dismemberments or sexual violence. Yet, let yourself believe in Mr Jones, in the reality of who he is and the hairs on your neck would raise and you would want to leave.
The story is given more impact by Wharton's light, sparkling prose and her rapidly but potent descriptions of people and places.
I'm reading this for the Classic Horror square on my Halloween Bingo card.