I’m one of those weird people who has a few favorite stories/novels that they first read in school and loved. While I’ve gone on and on about The Giver and its sequels, let me introduce to a short story that my fourth-grade class read and I still read it to this day: Three Skeleton Key by George G. Toudouze.
The story is about three lighthouse workers on an island called Three Skeleton Key who one day get attacked by a boat filled with water rats. Now they have to figure out a way off the island or stop the rats.
This story interests me because it’s such a simple story with a real terror. These men aren’t superheroes or anything like that. They’re just normal lighthouse workers with families and normal lives. The horror is unique because it’s something anyone can experience. Imagine being a situation where you’re surrounded by large rats with nowhere to escape. You’re pretty much dead.
Rats are a great element in horror because they work in packs, carry diseases, carry vermin on their backs and their teeth can gnaw through most objects. Rats are also real. Ghosts, zombies, vampires, demons and aliens may be horror staples, but they’re not real. Rats on the other hand are and there have been real-life stories of rats completely wrecking entire towns. In fact, they’re one of the major reasons one-third of Europe died in the 1300s in what we today called the Black Death.
Toudouze’s writing also helps with the story. His writing brings out the gravity of the situation and doesn’t hold any punches. Plus it reads like how a lighthouse worker would talk. Plain, everyday language of a blue-collar worker. This is ironic seeing how the best version of this story is from the radio drama Suspense performed by Vincent Price, a man that’s been known to love high everything.
Still, Vincent Price did an amazing job of performing this story. Actually, anything performed by Vincent Price is amazing. Have a listen to him in anything, but especially Three Skeleton Key. Once you’ve done that, read this story for yourself. It’s only ten pages long and worth reading over and over again, especially to that one relative/friend who’s scared to death of rats.