I’ve just read Lucy Lane Clifford’s ‘The New Mother’ , first published in 1882; a short story that will give children (and probably me!) nightmares.

It was an influence on Neil Gaiman‘s Coraline and Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw.

You could describe it as a cautionary tale but not all such moral stories are so bleak and scary. There’s something sadistic in the way the two well-behaved girls, known only by their nicknames Blue Eyes and Turkey, are  manipulated and made to suffer.

They meet a strange woman (“a village girl”) in the woods who has a box containing small dancing figures that she will only show to children who are naughty.

The two must therefore prove that they change their good ways and be bad if they are to see what’s inside the box. Even when they do misbehave, this evil girl merely taunts them by saying: “make-believe naughtiness is only spoilt goodness”. In other words only pure, unadulterated evil will unlock the secret.

Their mother tells her daughters that if they continue to be bad she will go away and be replaced by a new mother with two glass eyes and a wooden tail. Rather than say any more, you can read it yourself at Weird Fiction Review.

Related Link:
Scary stories for Halloween (Guardian.co.uk)