I thought I'd take October 2017 to revisit and analyze some of my favorite short horror stories, one per day. My only rule is that I won't repeat any author. I won't necessarily be discussing the best story by every author, just one of my favorites. These are, in other words, tales which have stuck in my memory and which I want to revisit; I want to figure out why they stuck in my mind. I also want to explore my favorites featuring certain tropes or sub-genres of horror.
And the first I want to look it is the dangerous pit of "the twist ending." Far too many otherwise decent tales of horror have been ruined by the predictable surprise, the forced plot kerplunk, the deus that machinaed a groan out of we, the readers.
I do believe twist endings can be done, but first you have to anticipate and eliminate every guess your reader might make. And your readers ain't dumb.
Ramsey Campbell knows this. His fiction is filled with surprising turns of phrase in nearly every paragraph.
And he knows the horror genre inside and out. He knows it better than his readers - and uses this fact to his full advantage.
As with most twist endings, even the barest summary would ruin the story - but know ye now that Campbell's story "Call First" gets its twist ending just right.
"Call First" is probably not the first story one thinks of when one thinks of Ramsey Campbell. But while Campbell has quite a number of repeatedly anthologized classics such as "Mackintosh Willy" or "The Guide", or the dozen more I could mention, this short shocker always impressed me as a somewhat forgotten gem, a perfect example of how to approach it, if one must have a twist ending to one's spooky monster story. It's a tale that would have fit perfectly in the old EC comics or Outer Limits.