The Picture in the House
by H.P. Lovecraft
An amateur genealogist of sorts is traveling through the Miskatonic Valley by bicycle, chatting with the locals and researching certain undeclared data. As a real doozy of a storm breaks overhead (my words), he trespasses into an old homestead for shelter, sure that it is empty.
Well, empty it is not. An extremely old man lives there, but not of the grumpy variety. This particular old man is a friendly one, and he welcomes the stranger with open arms. Despite this, our protagonist can not help but get the creeps from this old salt. Maybe it's the tattered rags he wears for clothes, maybe it's the thought-to-be-extinct dialect he uses...or maybe, just maybe, it's the unnatural obsession he has with the archaic, museum-quality book full of images detailing acts of bloodshed, carnage and (gasp!) cannibalism!
With this story, the downside of writing a horror tale in the first person becomes painfully obvious. There is a severe sense of dread permeating the entire story, and a palatable sense of impending doom. Unfortunately, since the narrator obviously lives to tell the tale, you never fear for the one man that we should be fearing for. There are only two characters here, and since we know that the narrator is our 'hero', then we instantly know that the creepy old man is our 'villain'. If there were at least one or two more sympathetic characters, this could prove to be a moot point, but with such a minuscule cast it kind of cuts back on the suspense.
I should warn you that Lovecraft, never willing to pass up an opportunity to belittle another race, drops the N-Word right in the middle of this tale. I know, I know, he is a product of his times, but it can still be a little jarring.
On the positive side of things, Lovecraft's opening paragraphs here are some of the best he has so far written, and solidify his philosophy of the genre--genuine horror, whether cosmic or earthly, found in your own backyard.
"But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous.""The Picture in the House" takes place in the fictional Miskatonic Valley and makes mention of the neighboring town of Arkham, both of which are important locales in Lovecraft's canon.