The Monkey's Paw (1902) By: W.W. Jacobs
Sergeant-Major Morris visits the White family and regales them with his tales of India. The topic shifts to a curious item Morris mentioned: the monkey's paw. He quickly tries to change the subject, but is forced to reveal a bit about it. It grants three wishes to three owners. He's had his and wont talk about them. The first owner's first two wishes aren't important since his third one was for his death.
Sergeant-Major Morris is a friend of the family warns them against using the cursed object. His downtrodden nature and reticence to use the monkey's paw lend foreboding to the object before we even hear much about it.
Mr. White is rather against messing with the paw, though he finally gives in. He doesn't quite believe in the paw until his first wish comes true in the most horrible way. He's not a stupid protagonist and remains skeptical enough to not be stupid. Modern horror writers take note.
Mrs. White half believes in the monkey's paw and pushes Mr. White to make the wishes he does. She's written like most women at the time: nosy and pushy. It is unfortunate that her desires drive the tale so much.
The Monkey's Paw is a dried mummy's hand with a curse upon it. It doesn't force the user to do anything, but it will punish anyone who tries to use its powers. This is one of the most clever and enduring cursed objects in all of fiction and the strength of this tale shows why.
Another horror tale told completely within a house, though with a glimpse of the road outside. The limited setting helps with the trapped and claustrophobic feeling that fuels the terror and urgency at the end of the story.
In the End
The final wish brings solace to one and grief to the other. It is also left somewhat ambiguous as to whether the monkey's paw does anything at all, but that's the boring way to look at things.
The Monkey's Paw is an effective horror short story that doesn't waste time. It's short story that effectively uses inference and atmosphere to build terror; the Monkey's Paw is a tale of the dangers of human curiosity. Check it out!
Availiable free at Project Gutenberg and on Kindle.