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.

Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk

I wasn’t planning to do another winter tale before Christmas, but I’m slipping one more in: “Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk” by prominent yachtsman and writer Frank Cowper, most famous for Sailing Tours, a five volume work describing Cowper’s circumnavigation of the British Isles. Not surprisingly, this winter tale is about a haunted sea vessel.

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I am as perfectly convinced that I was the oral witness to some ghastly crime, as I am that I am writing these lines. I have little doubt I shall be laughed at, as Jones laughed at me — be told that I was dreaming, that I was overtired and nervous. … I suppose the reason is, that people cannot bring themselves to think so strange a thing could have happened to such a prosy everyday sort of man as myself, and they cannot divest their minds of the idea that I am — well, to put it mildly — “drawing on my imagination for facts.”

“Drawing on my imagination for facts:” what a great phrase.

I decided to share this story now in part because, as I re-read it last night, I was taken by Cowper’s rich sensory — yet entirely non-visual — description of the haunting. It’s quite evocative, and creepy. A warm crackling fire as you read will be a good counterpoint to the story’s soggy, chilly atmosphere.

You can read “Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk” here.

And by the way, there really was a vessel called The Lily of Goole.

A Merry Christmas and/or Happy Hannukah to those who celebrate them; a beautiful day to those who don’t.


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

Image: from the story.

Christmas Eve

This winter tale offering isn’t a traditional Christmas ghost story — there isn’t a ghost to be found. But it’s just the kind of story I like.

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“Christmas Eve” is from Nikolai Gogol’s two volume collection of short stories, known in English as Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, the collection that helped make his reputation. Gogol was born in the Ukraine, and all the Dikanka stories brim with bits of Ukrainian folklore and details about Ukrainian village life. This particular story is full of supernatural hijinks, witches and the devil. However, this devil is more comical than frightening, and the whole story feels a bit like a Chaucerian farce. “Christmas Eve” also has a rather cinematic feel, in the way it cuts back and forth between multiple simultaneous situations. No wonder Wikipedia lists four film adaptations, as well as three or four (depending on how you count) operatic versions. It’s a bit longer than the pieces I usually share, but if you haven’t read it before, it’s well worth it. Continue reading

A Strange Christmas Game

Today’s winter tale is of the more traditional variety: a Christmas ghost story by Charlotte Riddell.

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Struggling artist John Lester and his sister unexpectedly inherit a country estate, but the situation isn’t all roses. The previous owner, Paul Lester, refused to live at Martingdale. Though he never said why, the locals believe that Martingdale is haunted by Mr Paul’s predecessor, Jeremy Lester, who vanished without a trace on Christmas Eve, forty-one years before.

People said Mr Jeremy ‘walked’ at Martingdale. He had been seen, it was averred, by poachers, by gamekeepers, by children who had come to use the park as a near cut to school, by lovers who kept their tryst under the elms and beeches.

As for the caretaker and his wife, the third in residence since Jeremy Lester’s disappearance, the man gravely shook his head when questioned, while the woman stated that wild horses, or even wealth untold, should not draw her into the red bedroom, nor into the oak parlour, after dark.

John and his sister are skeptical, at first — and in any case they can’t afford to live anywhere else. So they have no choice but to hunt down the ghost. Things come to a head on Christmas Eve.

You can read “A Strange Christmas Game” here.

Enjoy.


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

Mrs. Riddell did love a good haunted house story. If you enjoy “A Strange Christmas Game,” then you might want to hunt down some of her other such tales, including:

  • “The Open Door”
  • “The Old House in Vauxhall Walk”
  • “Walnut-Tree House”
  • “The Uninhabited House.”

“Nut Bush Farm” is not a haunted house story — it’s a haunted path story — but it’s also excellent.

Image: Cribbage board photo by Geoffrey Franklin. Source: Flickr

The Face in the Fresco

I found this antiquarian ghost story at the Ghosts & Scholars website; it just barely qualifies as a winter tale by virtue of a passing line: Here he paused and took off his hat; the day was warm for December. That’s good enough for me. This is a fun one.

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The story concerns bachelor schoolmaster Mr. Jones, who takes a Saturday excursion to visit a newly discovered twelfth-century fresco at the Godstanely village church (which you reach via a path over Terrible Down. How perfect). The church is near the ancient, possibly Stone Age road known as Pilgrims’ Way, and appears to have been built over an old burial mound. Oh, and the fresco….

“Ah!” said Mr Jones, “I understand that the fresco represents a crude but vigorous conception of Hell.”

“Well, it aren’t what I calls right, sir – that picter.”

“Not right? In the old times when the fresco was painted the clergy used to think such representations very good for you. People couldn’t read or write, you know. No education in those days as there is now! They tried to frighten people into goodness by showing them what would happen to sinners hereafter.”

“May be, but it aren’t to my way of thinkin’, sir, beggin’ pardon for the liberty of contradictin’, and it weren’t to the way of thinkin’ of them as put plaster over the thing. Best have left the devils under the whitewash.”

What could possibly go wrong? Continue reading

Doctor S.’s Story

The third and last of the “true” winter tales from Catherine Crowe’s Ghosts and Family Legends: A Volume for Christmas. Doctor S. tells this tale on the fifth of the eight evenings of fireside ghost stories. As with Colonel C.’s tale, it’s a first-person account.

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“Some years ago there was a house in the suburbs of Dublin that had remained a long time unoccupied, in consequence, it was said, of its evil reputation—the report was, that it was haunted. People who had taken it got rid of it as soon as they could, and those who lived in the neighbourhood affirmed that they saw lights moving about the interior, and, sometimes, a lady in white standing at the window with a child in her arms, when they knew there was no living creature, except rats and mice, within the walls. The wise and learned laughed at these rumours; but still the house remained empty, and was getting into a very dilapidated state.

A haunted house, ghost hunters, and a lady in white. What more could you want on a cold dark December evening? This one is short and sweet. Not all the loose ends are tied up, but that makes it feel more like real life.

You can read Doctor S.’s Story here.

Enjoy.


Read the intro to my selections from Ghosts and Family Legends at here.

A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years, including the two previous stories from Mrs. Crowe’s collection, is on my Winter Tales page.

Image: Moonlight, the Old House (1906), Childe Hassam. Source: WikiArt.

Colonel C.’s Story

This little “true” winter tale is again from Ghosts and Family Legends: A Volume for Christmas by Catherine Crowe. A certain Colonel C. tells it on the third of the eight evenings of eerie fireside anecdotes. It’s not a ghost story, as Colonel C. himself admits, but it has a supernatural flavor to it, and unlike many such tales, it’s a first-person account, from the Colonel’s boyhood.

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Poor Farmer Gould has an accident riding on the road late at night.

“We breakfasted at nine o’clock, and I was getting up, and about half dressed, when one of my sisters burst into my room, crying, ‘La! Fred., such a shocking thing has happened! poor Farmer Gould was found dead in the road this morning; they think his horse ran away, for it’s not to be found; and the chaise was upset and lying on its side. How lucky, papa did not get the mare!’

Or is it an accident? Karma suggests otherwise. It’s interesting to note that Mrs. Crowe herself suggests a (perhaps farfetched) naturalistic explanation for what happens.

Again, not a ghost story, but a crime story with supernatural overtones. Nicely told.

You can read Colonel C.’s Story here.

Enjoy


Read the intro to my selections from Ghosts and Family Legends at my previous post, along with Madam Von B.’s story.

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

Image: Carriage Drawn by a Horse, Vincent van Gogh. Source: WikiArt

Winter Tales Begin: Madame Von B.’s story

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’m starting the series a little differently, by sharing a few “true” ghost stories, rather than explicitly fictional tales.

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I’m taking these stories from Catherine Crowe’s 1858 book, Ghosts and Family Legends: A Volume for Christmas. Those of you who have read the adventures of Vera van Slyke in Tim Prasil’s Help for the Haunted know that Mrs. Crowe’s The Night Side of Nature was Vera’s trustiest reference tome. Ghost and Family Legends was Mrs. Crowe’s sequel, in a way: a collection of true (or at least truthy) anecdotes told around the fire over a course of a week at a December house party in 1857. Anonymized, of course, because who wants to admit to believing in ghosts?

“But there are no ghosts now,” objected Mr. R.

“Quite the contrary,” said I; “I have no doubt there is nobody in this circle who has not either had some experience of the sort in his own person, or been made a confidant of such experiences by friends whose word on any other subject he would feel it impossible to doubt.”

After some discussion on the existence of ghosts and cognate subjects, it was agreed that each should relate a story, restricting himself to circumstances that had either happened to himself or had been told him by somebody fully entitled to confidence, who had undergone the experience.

Continue reading

The Magic Shop

One last winter tales post before Christmas Day! The tradition calls for ghost stories on Christmas Eve, and I’ve given you a few, but I can’t resist posting something a little more upbeat just before the big day. And don’t worry, there will be more spooky stories after Christmas Day, all the way up until Epiphany.

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Today’s tale is “The Magic Shop” by the great science fiction writer H.G. Wells (1866-1946). It’s a story that manages to be simultaneously sweet and unsettling, and so it feels like the perfect blend of Christmas cheer and winter tale spookiness.

The narrator and his son happen upon a wonderful magic shop — one that the narrator hadn’t remembered as being quite in that place.

“Our larger tricks, and our daily provisions and all the other things we want, we get out of that hat. . . And you know, sir, if you’ll excuse my saying it, there isn’t a wholesale shop, not for Genuine Magic goods, sir. I don’t know if you noticed our inscription–the Genuine Magic shop.” He drew a business-card from his cheek and handed it to me. “Genuine,” he said, with his finger on the word, and added, “There is absolutely no deception, sir.”

Genuine Magic? Of course not. Is it? A lovely little tale, with just a hint of darkness at the end.

You can read The Magic Shop here.

And for a bonus (since it’s two evenings until Christmas morning), I’ll repeat another little fable that I shared the year I first started sharing winter tales: “A Kidnapped Santa Claus” by Frank L. Baum (1856-1919), author of The Wizard of Oz.

Santa Claus lives in the Laughing Valley, where stands the big, rambling castle in which his toys are manufactured. His workmen, selected from the ryls, knooks, pixies and fairies, live with him, and every one is as busy as can be from one year’s end to another.

It is called the Laughing Valley because everything there is happy and gay. The brook chuckles to itself as it leaps rollicking between its green banks; the wind whistles merrily in the trees; the sunbeams dance lightly over the soft grass, and the violets and wild flowers look smilingly up from their green nests. To laugh one needs to be happy; to be happy one needs to be content. And throughout the Laughing Valley of Santa Claus contentment reigns supreme.

But near the Laughing Valley lie the Caves of the Daemons, and the Daemons are jealous of Christmas cheer. So they plot to kidnap Santa before he can deliver his toys on Christmas Eve.

You can read A Kidnapped Santa Claus here.

Enjoy.

A Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it, and a beautiful day to all of you who don’t. I’ll be back with more winter tales to end the year, soon.


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

Image: Advertising poster for magician Zan Zig, 1899. Source: Wikipedia

The Kit-Bag

Today’s winter tale comes from English ghost story writer Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951): “The Kit-Bag.”

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What happened afterwards that night happened, of course, to a man already excited by fear, and was perceived by a mind that had not the full and proper control, therefore, of the senses. Outwardly, Johnson remained calm and master of himself to the end, pretending to the very last that everything he witnessed had a natural explanation, or was merely delusions of his tired nerves.

Blackwood is perhaps best known for his short stories “The Wendigo” and “The Willows,” two examples of what you might call “nature-horror” (and they are also quite close to folk horror). Many of Blackwood’s stories are about the tension between the splendor of Nature and its capacity — even willingness — to harm. This idea of Nature as implacable and terrifying is very much like Lovecraft’s “cosmic horror,” in that it suggests the the awful things that lurk just beyond our known human world. To me, Blackwood’s treatment of this theme is even more effective than Lovecraft’s. Blackwood also wrote a series of short stories about the occult investigator Dr. John Silence, which I very much like.

“The Kit-Bag,” though, is a classic ghost story, in the M. R. James or E. F. Benson vein. Johnson works for a law firm that has just won the acquittal (by insanity) of an especially vicious murderer. Worn out by the case, and obsessed by the killer’s evil face, Johnson plans to recover by spending his Christmas holiday in the Alps. Assuming he manages to finish packing for his trip.

You can read The Kit-Bag here.

The kit-bag referred to in this story is a sack-shaped heavy canvas bag that opens at the top. It often has brass rings along the open end to thread a drawstring, or a bar for carrying the bag. It was commonly used by the military, for sports, or for rugged outdoor travel in the early twentieth century. It holds a lot, but it looks rather awkward to transport. I’ll take a backpack over a kit-bag, any day.

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Enjoy.


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

Bottom photo: Rifleman John Neale of the King’s Royal Rifles, leaves his unit in Brussels, 9 February 1946. Source: Wikipedia