‘Dagon’ by HP Lovecraft

Simultaneously the most marvellously dramatic yet most coolly detached opener in short story history:

I write this under appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.

In fairness, almost any Lovecraft would do if you’re looking for that signature mix of the histrionic and the weirdly formal, but “Dagon”takes my top spot mostly thanks to its no-holds-barred horror sequences and the tantalising early elements it contains of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. A morphine-addicted man recounts a terrible past encounter on the open ocean, all the while preparing to fling himself from the window as “a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it” becomes more and more apparent. Lovecraft’s grotesque and squelching imagery is second to none and ‘Dagon’ is a perfect encapsulation of his inventive powers. A masterful invocation of the things that haunt us, “especially when the moon is gibbous and waning”.

First published in The Vagrant, November 1919. Widely collected, including in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Tales, Penguin Classics, 2002, and The Complete Fiction of HP Lovecraft, Chartwell Classics, 2016, and available to read online here