Ghosts of Yesterday

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

I spent way too much money at Borderlands Books the other day: Fritz Lieber: Selected Stories, a collection of grotesqueries and mysteries from Japanese mystery writer Edogawa Rampo, and a collection of short stories called Ghosts of Yesterday, by Jack Cady.

I’d never read Jack Cady before, and I wonder how I missed him. His list of awards stretches from the Atlantic Monthly “first” award and the Iowa Prize for short fiction all the way to the Nebula, the Bram Stoker, and the Philip K. Dick awards. Looking over his biographies and obituaries on the web, it sounds like he didn’t set out to be a fantasy/horror writer, more like his interests and choice of subject matter led him to be labeled that way. Nor does it seem like he minded, either.

Anyway. In my usual fashion, I’m reading all three books at once, back and forth, like a literary tapas bar. I’ll probably write about Lieber and Edogawa Rampo at some point, but the first two Jack Cady stories in the collection struck me strongly. The first one “The Lady with the Blind Dog” is a meditation on lives wasted and opportunities lost, with a Neil Gaiman-ish vibe to it. I liked it, though anyone who writes about summer sunlight lying across San Francisco like the gaze of Mediterranean gods hasn’t spent very many summers here. But then again, he lived in Washington state, so….

The second story, “Jeremiah,” was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, though you wouldn’t have guessed that by reading it, which is sort of my point here. It’s set in the last vestiges of a small town in Northwest Washington state, once upon a time a vibrant fishing and farming village, now nothing but cattle grazing grounds for large agro-business, and drinking grounds for a variety of has-beens. Jeremiah is an old preacher-man who arrives out of the blue one day, and things start happening, to the people and to the town…

There is nothing supernatural in the story at all, beyond matter-of-fact mention of the ghosts (of lost fishermen, perhaps?) that flitter around near the docks and the old cannery. That part reminded me just a little of the way that Annie Proulx writes about the supernatural (and she’s written some great weird tales, by the way). Cady writes about ghosts, and they could be literal, but they could be metaphorical, too. And the story is full of mist and fog and smoke, the endless gray days of the Pacific coast at certain times of the year… .

I recommend finding the story, if you can. I’ll leave you with a quote. Someone has been setting fire to the old abandoned farmhouses around the town. Here, the townspeople have gathered as one such house burns:

Cattle were in the fields. Against all nature, the cattle drifted toward the fire. The herd formed a semi-circle in the wind-blown mist. White faces of cattle stared through mist, were reddened by reflections from the fire. The cattle stared not at fire, but stared in ghostly illumination at the road where we stood helpless to affect events, and watched; where we spoke excitedly, or with sadness, or, with but a murmur. The cattle seemed to stand as witness to our lives, their eyes blank as the blind eyes of the dying house.


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