Another Family Ghost Story

“Did your Daddy tell you about what happened to him in Vintar?” my mom asked me.

I’d been gently pumping my parents over Christmas dinner, hoping for more family ghost stories and such, of the kind that they told me (and which I posted) several years ago. Under my prodding, they pulled stories from their memories, most of which I’d heard before. That’s okay; the stories are always worth re-listening to, and it’s fun to note how the details change just a little every time I hear one. With my mom’s help, I got a couple more anecdotes out of my dad that were new to me. Here’s one. I think my dad must have been about eight years old, or so.

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The Maid of the Mill

Mill in the evening 1905

As we count down the days to Christmas, here’s another winter tale: a haunted house story by Josephine Dodge Daskam Bacon. I found it in Tim Prasil’s interesting Chronology of early Ghost Hunter fiction. The story opens with a critique of the genre:

The only objection I have to ghost stories,” said young Sanford, “is from a literary point of view. They’re so badly done, you know.”

Specifically, young Sanford asks, how do all these people in haunted rooms get scared to death? Why doesn’t anybody ever rescue them? Why don’t they scream?

This sarcastic complaint is a bit too much for a stranger in the room.

“Do you suppose they don’t try to scream? Do you suppose they don’t think they’re screaming?”

And so the company learns the tale of a haunted mill, where manifestations occurred every Christmas Eve for nineteen years, and three separate ghost hunter parties were driven to madness while investigating. But, of course, there had to be a fourth attempt. It went about as well as you would expect. Continue reading

My Wife’s Promise

Today I feature my second winter tale from Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835 – 1915), a best-selling “sensation novelist” of the Victorian era, most famous today for the novel Lady Audley’s Secret. Braddon also founded Belgravia magazine in 1866, and edited it until 1876, when the magazine was sold.

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“My Wife’s Promise” first appeared in Belgravia Annual, 1868, and again in Braddon’s 1886 collection Under the Red Flag and Other Tales. A former Arctic explorer tries again and again to swear off his Arctic expeditions out of family duty and love for his wife, but the call of the North is strong.

I, Richard Dunrayne, was the elder son of a wealthy house, my father, a man of some influence in the political world, and there were few positions which need have been impossible for me had I aspired to the ordinary career affected by British youth. I had been indulged in my early passion for the sea, in my later rage for Arctic exploration; and it was hoped that, having satisfied these boyish fancies, I should now settle down to a pursuit more consonant with the views and wishes of my people. My mother wept over her restored treasure, and confessed how terrible had been her fears during my absence; my father congratulated me upon having ridden my hobby, and alighted therefrom without a broken neck; and my family anxiously awaited my choice of a profession.

Such a choice I found impossible. …

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Dark Christmas

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This next winter tale is a good old-fashioned, creepy haunted house story — but a modern one, by Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and The Passion.

I found it as one of five Christmas ghost stories (all excellent) published by the Guardian Weekend magazine in 2013. Each of the stories has its own strengths; I liked them all. I chose Ms. Winterson’s story because of the five, it feels the most traditional to me.

We had borrowed the house from a friend none of us seemed to know.

A lone narrator in a mysterious, isolated house; footsteps in empty rooms; bats; flakey electricity, and of course (that modern touch) a phone that gets no signal. Oh, and an incomplete Nativity scene. What more could you want for a Christmas ghost story?

Reading this called up a lot of my favorite ghost stories, like Edith Wharton’s “Afterward” and M.R. James’ “Lost Hearts” — not that this story resembles either of those. There are just passing moments in “Dark Christmas” that brought those other stories to my mind. A good thing, in my opinion.

You can read “Dark Christmas” at Jeanette Winterson’s website.

Enjoy!


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Five modern Christmas ghost stories (including this one) from The Guardian.

The Trial for Murder

With A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens practically invented the modern notion of the Christmas season for Britain and much of the English-speaking world (along with Queen Victoria’s consort Albert, who brought German Christmas traditions like the Christmas tree to the UK). I shared Dickens’ “A Christmas Tree” for one of my early series of winter tales, but mostly I try to avoid the more obvious Christmas classics in favor of tales that you might not have read before.

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That said, Dickens wrote some fun ghost stories, and ’tis the season…. So today I’ll share a lesser-known Dickens Christmas tale, “The Trial for Murder,” originally titled “To be Taken with a Grain of Salt.” This story first appeared in the 1865 Extra Christmas number of All the Year Round. This issue is collectively known as Dr. Marigold’s Prescriptions — hence, each of the stories had a title with some variation of “To be taken with…”.

Though “The Trial for Murder” is generally credited to Dickens alone, Philip Allingham at The Victorian Web says the story is likely a collaboration with Charles Allston Collins, Dickens’ son-in-law and Wilkie Collins’ brother.

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Winter Tales Season: The Doll’s Ghost

Every year, from the beginning of December until Epiphany, I like to share some winter tales — stories to tell or to read around a warm fire on a cold dark night, preferably with a steamy hot drink to wrap your hands around. This year I’ll open with a lesser-known story from F. Marion Crawford.

Curtain design with doll

“The Doll’s Ghost” first appeared in the 1896 Christmas supplement of the Illustrated London News1, and again in Crawford’s posthumous 1911 collection Wandering Ghosts (Uncanny Tales in the UK). In his lifetime, Crawford was well known and well regarded for his historical novels and romances; today, he is mostly known for his supernatural tales, especially “The Upper Berth,” which M.R. James called a “horrid story” — in the positive sense of “full of horror” — in “Some Remarks on Ghost Stories.”

I picked “The Doll’s Ghost” to open up this year’s series because I like it, of course; also because the doll of the title shares my name, and Mr. Crawford and I share a birthday. It’s a “benign ghost” story, the kind M.R. James disapproved of, but it does have its creepy moments. For parents, it has genuinely scary moments. I think it’s good for the season. Continue reading

A Budget of Book Reviews: Terror Edition

Two book reviews this time: one old short story collection, one new.

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Dedication inside my copy of The Mammoth Book of Horror:
“Here’s something to keep you occupied on those cold and foggy S.F. nights when the wind(?) is howling through the cracks in the floorboards, and there’s no one to keep you company save the menacing strangers looming in the corners of your eyes.”
Names redacted for privacy.

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Reading Honolulu Mysteries

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I discovered Glen Grant’s noirish Honolulu detective Arthur McDougal in Grant’s collection Obake: Ghost Stories in Hawaii. The two McDougal tales in Obake have supernatural villains, so one could say that McDougal in these stories is a (reluctant) occult detective. The other tales in Obake, which mostly focus on aspects of Japanese supernatural folklore that “migrated” to Hawaii, are also delightful.

The short stories in Honolulu Mysteries are different. Although the tales include various aspects of Hawaiian folklore and sometimes even feature a touch of Hawaiian supernatural phenomena, the bad guys are all definitely human — just as they ought to be, in McDougal’s view.

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A Budget of Book Reviews, February 2017

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Time for another budget of (mostly ebook this time) reviews, featuring ghosts and scholars, mythological creatures and occult detectives. Really, the only thematic commonality here is that I’ve read all these books (and one magazine) recently.

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The Houseboat

One last ghost story to end this winter tale season: a haunted houseboat tale by Richard Marsh, best known as the author of The Beetle, and grandfather of Robert Aickman.

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“The Houseboat” isn’t really a winter tale, but it is a good companion piece to my previous post, Christmas Eve an a Haunted Hulk. As in Cowper’s story, this is a mostly auditory haunting.

Eric and Violet Millen have rented a houseboat, the Water Lily, for a month’s vacation. Their dinner guest, Mr. Inglis, recognizes the Water Lily from its previous incarnation as the Sylph:

“Two years ago there was a houseboat on the river called the Sylph. It belonged to a man named Hambro. He lent it to a lady and a gentleman. She was rather a pretty woman, with a lot of fluffy, golden hair. He was a quiet unassuming-looking man, who looked as though he had something to do with horses. I made their acquaintance on the river. One evening he asked me on board to dine. I sat, as I believe, on this very chair, at this very table. Three days afterwards they disappeared.”

Well, the gentleman disappeared at any rate. They found the lady’s body — on the Sylph.

I particularly like this story for Violet Millen: plucky and courageous and a natural occult detective. She handles this unusual situation almost eagerly, and much better than her husband Eric, who is a bit priggish and mostly wants to believe that the whole affair is a bad case of indigestion. A fun, suspenseful story.

You can read “The Houseboat” here.

Enjoy.


A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.

Image courtesy of Pearson Scott Foresman. Source: Wikimedia.