My rating: ★★★★☆
Summary from Goodreads
A young man in need of a room meets a most accommodating landlady…
What a crazy sense of unease you get from this super short story!
Remember, it is nearly impossible to talk about a short story without some type of spoiler, so proceed with caution if you haven’t read the story yourself. As a matter of fact, click here for a free copy of the story online if you want to take 15-20 minutes to read the story yourself!
This isn’t a supernatural story or a ghost story. Instead it is about an old lady that appears to be sweet and accommodating and perhaps a little senile. She runs a Bed & Breakfast and 17-year old Billy Weaver needs a place to stay. Billy feels compelled to stop at the B&B, even though he was directed to a pub for lodging just a bit further down the road. Billy knocks on the door of the old lady’s home and she immediately invites him in as if she has been waiting specifically for him. From this point on the creepiness magnifies tenfold!
The story is written in such a way that you quickly begin to understand that the lady has done “something” to her former lodgers. You just don’t know what exactly – and that is what makes the story great! Dahl creates this sense of unease that is palpable. You know something is up and you become worried that the young man isn’t “getting it” and you want him to get the heck out of there! Billy doesn’t appear to understand that he might be in trouble – even after noticing that his tea “tasted faintly of bitter almonds”.
We are never told the old lady’s motives. We don’t understand why she does what she does and that makes the story all the more unsettling.
Selfishly, my only nitpick is that I wish the story would have been a little bit longer! I wanted more!
This story originally appeared in the 29 Nov 1959 issue of The New Yorker and was later anthologized in the 1960 book Kiss Kiss. It won the “Best Short Story Mystery” at the 1960 Edgar Awards, marking the second time Dahl won that award for his work.