Title: Ghost Tour: An Armchair Journey Through the Supernatural.
Author: M.R. James, Dennis Wheatley, Kingsley Amis, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Buchan, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, Richard Hughes, Gaston Leroux, E.T.A. Hoffman, Gustav Meyrink, Henry James, Fritz Leiber and Ray Bradbury (edited by Peter Haining).
Genre: Fiction, short stories, horror, crime.
Country: England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Germany, Austria, and U.S..
Language: English, French, and German.
Publication Date: 1821, 1851, 1893, 1908, 1912, 1925, 1928, 1931, 1936, 1943, 1949, 1963, 1969, and 1972 (this collection 1984).
Summary: A collection of 15 short stories that provides a journey around some of the most famous fictional hauntings in the western hemisphere, conjured up by some of the finest ghost story writers. In A Warning to the Curious (1925) by M.R. James, when Paxton, an antiquarian and archaeologist who holidays in "Seaburgh" (a disguised version of Aldeburgh, Suffolk) and inadvertently stumbles across one of the three lost crowns of Anglia, which legendarily protect the country from invasion, he is stalked by its supernatural guardian. In In the Fog (1963) by Dennis Wheatley, a man walking in the London's fog recalls a similar night many years ago when he was driven to an impassioned act of violence. In Mason's Life (1972) by Kingsley Amis, a man at a bar discovers a shocking truth about the nature of his existence. The Tale of Tod Lapraik (excerpted from the novel Catriona) (1893) by Robert Louis Stevenson is told to a collective of Highlanders and framed as an anecdotal story of the peculiar supernatural events of the Bass Rock off the coast of North Berwick. In Skule Skerry (1928) by John Buchan, a man investigates an island that is a stop for migratory birds and discovers that it attracts other unnatural creatures as well. In The Sexton's Adventure (1851) by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a sexton that is scared by a friend's suicide into a vow of sobriety has his convictions tried by a horrifying specter. In The Banshee (1949) by Lord Dunsany, when a stubborn landlord refuses to give up a piece of land, a man well-versed in the supernatural is appealed to to ask for help from a banshee. In The Children of the Pool (1936) by Arthur Machen, a man haunted by his own dark past begins to be haunted by sentient, all-knowing voices while staying near a mysterious pool in the Welsh countryside. The Ghost (1943) by Richard Hughes, a woman pursues her murderer in her new ghostly form, with an unexpected outcome. In The Letters of Fire (1908) by Gaston Leroux, a group of friends waiting out a storm at a mansion with a dark reputation come face to face with their host's curse when he reveals how he had made a pact with the devil. In The Doppelgänger (1821) by E.T.A. Hoffmann, when the narrator's university friend experiments with astral projection and the supernatural, he unexpectedly creates a double of himself. In The Man on the Bottle (1912) by Gustav Meyrink, the guests at a lavish Halloween masquerade are unable to distinguish fantasy from reality until it is tragically too late. In The Ghostly Rental (1931) by M.R. James, a man comes across a haunted house and a ghost who pays the father who murdered her rent to remain in the house. Richmond, Late September (1969) by Fritz Leiber is a story that imagines the missing time leading up to Edgar Allan Poe's delirium and death, when he has an encounter with a mysterious lady with a familiar name. In The Hour of Ghosts (1969) by Ray Bradbury, a new technological advancement allows people to experience their own classic ghost visitations.
My Rating: 7.5/10
♥ '"..and do you know, sir, what's the meanin' of that coat of arms there?"
'It was the one with the three crowns, and though I'm not much of a herald, I was able to say yes, I thought it was the old arms of the kingdom of East Anglia."
'"That's right, sir," he said. "And do you know the meanin' of them three crowns that's on it?"
'I said I'd no doubt it was known, but I couldn't recollect to have heard it myself.
'"Well, then," he said, "for all you're a scholard, I can tell you something you don't know. Them's the three 'oly crowns what was buried in the ground near by the coast to keep the Germans from landing – ah, I can see you don't believe that. But I tell you, if it hadn't have been for one o them 'oly crowns bein' there still, them Germans would a landed here time and again, they would. Landed with their ships, and killed man, woman and child in their beds."
.."There has always been a belief in these parts in the three holy crowns. The old people say they were buried in different places near the coast to keep off the Danes or the French or the Germans. And they say that one of the three was dug up a long time ago, and another has disappeared by the encroaching of the sea, and one's still left doing its work, keeping off invaders. Well, now, if you have read the ordinary guides and histories of this county, you will remember perhaps that in 1687 a crown, which was said to be the crown of Redwald, King of the East Angles, was dug up at Rendlesham, and alas! alas! melted down before it was even properly described or drawn. Well, Rendlesham isn't on the coast, but it isn't so very far inland, and it's on a very important line of access. And I believe that is the crown which the people mean when they say that one has been dug up. Then on the south you don't want me to tell you where there was a Saxon royal palace which is now under the sea, eh? Well, there was the second crown, I take it. And up beyond these two, they say, lies the third."
'"Do they say where it is?" of course I asked.
'He said, "Yes, indeed, they do, but they don't tell," and his manner did not encourage me to put the obvious question.
♥ 'What is to be done?' was his opening. Long thought it right (as he explained to me afterwards) to be obtuse, and said: 'Why not find out who the owner of the land is, and inform –' 'Oh, no, no!' Paxton broke in impatiently. 'I beg your pardon: you've been very kind, but don't you see it's got to to go back, and I daren't be there at night, and daytime's impossible. Perhaps, though, you don't see: well, then, the truth is that I've never been alone since I touched it.
..'It began when I was first prospecting, and put me off again and again. There was always somebody – a man – standing by one of the firs. This was in daylight, you know. He was never in front of me. I always saw him with the tail of my eye on the left or the right, and he was never there when I looked straight for him. I would lie down for quite a long time and take careful observations, and make sure there was no one, and then when I got up and began prospecting again, there hew was. And he began to give me hints, besides; for wherever I put that prayer-book – short of locking it up, which I did at last – when I came back to my room it was always out on my table open at the fly-leaf where the names are, and one of my razors across it to keep it open. I'm sure he just can't open my bag, or something more would have happened. You see, he's light and weak, but all the same I daren't face him. Well, then, when I was making the tunnel, of course it was worse, and if I hadn't been so keen I should have dropped the whole thing and run. It was like someone scraping at my back all the time: I thought for a long time it was only soil dropping on me, but as I got nearer the – the crown, it was unmistakable. And when I actually laid it bare and got my fingers into the ring of it and pulled it out, there came a sort of cry behind me – oh, I can't tell you how desolate it was! And horribly threatening too. It spoilt all my pleasure in my mind – cut it off that moment. And if I hadn't been the wretched fool I am, I should have put the thing back and left it. But I didn't. The rest of the time was just awful. I had hours to get through before I could decently come back to the hotel. First I spent time filling up my tunnel and covering my tracks, and all the while he was there trying to thwart me. Sometimes, you know, you see him, and sometimes you don't, just as he pleases, I think: he's there, but he has some power over your eyes. Well, I wasn't off the spot very long before sunrise, and then I had to get to the junction for Seaburgh, and take a train back. And though it was daylight fairly soon, I don't know if that made it much better. There were always hedges, or gorse-bushes, or park fences along the road – some sort of cover, I mean – and I was never easy for a second. And then when I began to meet people going to work, they always looked behind me very strangely: it might have been that they were surprised at seeing anyone so early; but I didn't think it was only that, and I don't now: they didn't look exactly at me. And the porter at the train was like that too. And the guard held open the door after I'd got into the carriage – just as he would if there was somebody else coming, you know. Oh, you may be very sure it isn't my fancy,' he said with a dull sort of laugh. Then he went on: 'And even if I do get it put back, he won't forgive me: I can tell that. And I was so happy a fortnight ago.'
♥ There was nothing to be seen: a line of dark firs behind us made one skyline, more trees and the church tower half a mile off on the right, cottages and a windmill on the horizon on the left, calm sea dead in front, faint barking of a dog at a cottage on a gleaming dyke between us and it: full moon making that path we know across the sea, the eternal whisper of the Scotch firs just above us, and of the sea in front. Yet, in all this quiet, an acute, an acrid consciousness of a restrained hostility very near us, like a dog on a leash that might be let go at any moment.
♥ We were a couple of hundred yards from the hill when Long suddenly said to him: 'I say, you've left your coat there. That won't do. See?' And I certainly did see it – the long dark overcoat lying where the tunnel had been. Paxton had not stopped, however: he only shook his head, and held up the coat on his arm. And when we joined him, he said, without any excitement, but as if nothing mattered any more: 'That wasn't my coat.' And, indeed, when we looked back again, that dark thing was not to be seen.
♥ 'But he was going to do as we had settled: stay in probably all the morning, and come out with us later. We went to the links; we met some other men and played with them in the morning, and had lunch there rather early, so as not to be late back. All the same, the snares of death overtook him.
Whether it could have been prevented, I don't know. I think he would have been got at somehow, do what we might.'
♥ Long said he saw Paxton some distance ahead, running and waving his stick, as if he wanted to signal to people who were on ahead of him. I couldn't be sure: one of these sea-mists was coming up very quickly from the south. There was someone, that's all I could say. And there were tracks on the sand as of someone running who wore shoes; and there were other tracks made before those – for the shoes sometimes trod in them and interfered with them – of someone not in shoes. Oh, of course, it's only my word you've got to take for all this: Long's dead, we'd no time or means to make sketches or take casts, and the next tide washed everything away. All we could do was to notice these marks as we hurried on. But there they were over and over again, and we had no doubt whatever that what we saw was on the track of a bare foot, and one that showed more bones than flesh.
The notion of Paxton running after – after anything like this, and supposing it to be the friends he was looking for, was very dreadful to us. You can guess what we fancied: how the thing he was following might suddenly stop and turn around on him, and what sort of face it would show, half-seen at first in the mist – which all the while was getting thicker and thicker. And as I ran on wondering how the poor wretch could have been lured into mistaking that other thing for us, I remembered his saying, 'He has some power over your eyes.' And then I wondered what the end would be, for I had no hope that the end could be averted, and – well, there is no need to tell all the dismal and horrid thoughts that flitted through my head as we ran on into the mist. It was uncanny, too, that the sun should still be bright in the sky and we could see nothing.
..Nothing whatever was visible ahead of us, and we were just turning by common consent to get down and run hopelessly on, when we heard what I can only call a laugh: and if you can understand what I mean by a breathless, a lungless laugh, you have it: but I don't suppose you can. It came from below, and swerved away into the mist. That was enough. We bent over the wall. Paxton was there at the bottom.
You don't need to be told that he was dead. His tracks showed that he had run along the side of the battery, had turned sharp round the corner of it, and, small doubt of it, must have dashed straight into the open arms of someone who was waiting there. His mouth was full of sand and stones, and his teeth and jaws were broken to bits. I only glanced once at his face.
~~A Warning for the Curious by M.R. James.
♥ My memories of him were so vivid that, by the time I was approaching Berkeley Square, I could almost feel his presence. It was horribly unnerving sensation and I tried to rid myself of it; but my brain rejected every train of thought except that which led up to my impulse to kill him.
~~In the Fog by Dennis Wheatley.
♥ "Why are you so agitated, Mr Pettigrew?"
"Because of what's going to happen to you at any moment."
"Happen to me? What can happen to me? Is this a threat?"
Pettigrew was breathing fast. His finely-drawn face began to coarsen, the pattern of his jacket to become blurred. "The telephone!" he shouted. "It must be later than I thought!"
"Telephone?" repeated Mason, blinking and screwing up his eyes as Pettigrew's form continued to change.
"The one at my bedside! I'm waking up!"
Mason grabbed the other by the arm, but that arm had lost the greater part of its outline, had become a vague patch of light already fading, and when Mason looked at the hand that had done the grabbing, his own hand, he saw with difficulty it likewise no longer had fingers, or front or back, or skin, or anything.
~~Mason's Life by Kingsley Amis.
♥ ..much of his life had been spent in places so remote that his friends could with difficulty find them on the map. He had written a dozen ornithological monographs, was joint editor of the chief modern treatise on British birds, and had been the first man to visit the tundras of the Yenisei. He spoke little and that with an agreeable hesitation, but his ready smile, his quick interest, and the impression he gave of having a fathomless knowledge of strange modes of life, made him a popular and intriguing figure among his friends. Of his doings in the War he told us nothing; what we knew of them – and they were sensational enough in all conscience – we learned elsewhere.
♥ "There's nothing much in the story... You see, it all happened, so to speak, inside my head... I don't want to seem an egotist..."
"Don't be an ass, Tony," said Lamancha. "Every adventure takes place chiefly inside the head of somebody. Go on. We're all attention."
♥ I took up birds in the first instance chiefly because they fired what imagination I possess. They fascinated me, for they seemed of all created things the nearest to pure spirit – those little beings with a normal temperature of 125°. Think of it. The goldcrest, with a stomach no bigger than a bean, flies across the North Sea! The curlew sandpiper, which breeds so far north that only about three people have ever seen its nest, goes to Tasmania for its holidays! So I always went bird-hunting with a queer sense of expectation and a bit of a tremor, as if I was walking very near the boundaries of the things we are not allowed to know. I felt this especially in the migration season. The small atoms, coming God knows whence and going God knows whither, were sheer mystery – they belonged to a world built in different dimensions from ours. I don't know what I expected, but I was always waiting for some thing, as much in a flutter as a girl at her first ball. You must realise that mood of mine to understand what follows.
♥ I remember that I spent a good many hours in the British Museum before I started, hunting up the scanty records of those parts. I found – I think it was in Adam of Bremen – that a succession of holy men had lived on the isle, and that a chapel had been built there and endowed by Earl Rognvald, which came to an end in the time of Malise of Strathearn. There was a bare mention of the place, but the chronicler had one curious note. "Insula Avium," ran the text, "quae est ultima insula et proxima Abysso." I wondered what on earth he meant. The place was not ultimate in any geographical sense, neither the farthest north nor the farthest west of the Norlands. And what was the "abyss"? In monkish Latin the word generally means Hell – Bunyan's Bottomless Pit – and sometimes the grave; but neither meaning seemed to have much to do with an ordinary sea skerry.
♥ It was a quiet evening, the sky without clouds but so pale as to be almost grey, the sea grey also but with a certain iridescence in it, and the low lines of the land a combination of hard greys and umbers, cut into by the harder white of the lighthouse. I can never find words to describe that curious quality of light that you get up in the North. Sometimes it is like looking at the world out of deep water – Farquharson used to call it "milky", and one saw what he meant. Generally it is a sort of essence of light, cold and pure and distilled, as if it were reflected from snow. There is no colour in it, and it makes thin shadows. Some people find it horribly depressing – Farquharson said it reminded him of a churchyard in the early morning where all his friends were buried – but personally I found it tonic and comforting. But it made me feel very near the edge of the world.
♥ All the same, as I looked down at the island I did not wonder that it had been selected for attention by the saga-man and had been reputed holy. For it had an air of concealing something, though it was as bare as a billiard-table. It was an intruder, an irrelevance in the picture, planted there by some celestial caprice. I decided forthwith to make my camp on it, and the decision, inconsequently enough, seemed to me to be something of a venture.
♥ To me the place seemed to be the last word in forgotten peace.
♥ I knew the old legend of the North which tells how the Finns, the ghouls that live in the deeps of the ocean, can on occasion don a seal's skin and come to land to play havoc with mortals. But diablerie and this isle of mine were worlds apart. I looked at it as the sun dropped, drowsing in the opal-coloured tides, under a sky in which pale clouds made streamers like a spectral aurora borealis, and I thought that I had stumbled upon secrets. As the light died the sky was reflected as with the roots and branches of some great nebular tree. That would be the "weatherhead" of which John Ronaldson had spoken.
♥ But now we had the deadest sort of calm. The sea was still wild and broken, the tides raced by like a mill-stream, and a brume was gathering which shut out Halmarsness – shut out every prospect except a narrow circuit of grey water. The cessation of the racket of the gale made the place seem uncannily quiet. The present tumult of the sea, in comparison with the noise of the morning, seemed no more than a mutter and an echo.
As I sat there I became conscious of an odd sensation. I seemed to be more alone, more cut off, not only from my fellows but from the habitable earth, than I had ever been before. It was like being in a small boat in the mid-Atlantic – but worse, if you understand me, for that would have been loneliness in the midst of a waste which was nevertheless surrounded and traversed by the works of man, whereas now I felt that I was clean outside man's ken. I had come somehow to the edge of that world where life is, and was very close to the world which has only death in it.
♥ One thing I thought I saw clearly – the meaning of Skule Skerry. By some alchemy of nature, at which I could only guess, it was on the track by which the North exercised its spell, a cableway for the magnetism of that cruel frozen Uttermost, which man might penetrate but never subdue or understand. Though the latitude was only 61°, there were folds or rucks in space, and this isle was the edge of the world. Birds knew it, and the old Northmen, who were primitive beings like the birds, knew it. That was why an inconsiderable skerry had been given the name of a conquering Jarl. The old Church knew it, and had planted a chapel to exorcise the demons of darkness. I wondered what sights the hermit, whose cell had been on the very spot where I was cowering, had been in the winter dusks.
It may have been partly the brandy acting on an empty stomach, and partly the extreme cold, but my brain, in spite of my efforts to think rationally, began to run like a dynamo. It is difficult to explain my mood, but I seemed to be two persons – one a reasonable modern man trying to keep sane and scornfully rejecting the fancies which the other, a cast-back to something elemental, was furiously spinning. But it was the second that had the upper hand... I felt myself loosed from my moorings, a mere waif on uncharted seas. What is the German phrase? Urdummheit – Primal Idiocy? That is what was the matter with me. I had fallen out of civilisation into the Outlands and was feeling their spell... I could not think, but I could remember, and what I had read of the Norse voyagers came back to me with horrid persistence. They had known the outland terrors – the Sea Walls at the world's end, the Curdled Ocean with its strange beasts. Those men did not sail north as we did, in steamers, with modern food and modern instruments, huddled into crews and expeditions. They had gone out almost alone, in brittle galleys, and they had known what we could never know.
And then, I had a shattering revelation. I had been groping for a word and I suddenly got it. It was Adam of Bremen's "proxima Abysso". This island was next door to the Abyss, and the Abyss was that blanched world of the North which was the negation of life.
♥ I found I could not take my eyes from the waters. They seemed to flow from the north in a strong stream, black as the heart of the elder ice, irresistible as fate, cruel as hell. There seemed to be uncouth shapes swimming in them, which were more than the flickering shadows from the flare... Something portentous might at any moment come down that river of death... Someone...
♥ I knew that there was nothing wrong with my body, but I was gravely concerned about my mind.
For this was my difficulty. If that awful thing was a mere figment of my brain then I had better be certified at once as a lunatic. No sane man could get into such a state as to see such portents with the certainty with which I had seen that creature come out of the night. If, on the other hand, the thing was a real presence, than I had looked on something outside natural law, and my intellectual world was broken in pieces. I was a scientist, and a scientist cannot admit the supernatural. If with my eyes I had beheld the monster in which Adam of Bremen believed, which holy men had exorcised, which even the shrewd Norlanders shuddered at as the Black Silkie, then I must burn my books and revise my creed. I might take to poetry or theosophy, but I would never be much good again at science.
~~Skule Skerry by John Buchan.
♥ ..for she thought he had of late been oftener tipsy than was consistent with his thorough reformation, and feared the allurements of the half dozen "publics" which he had at that time to pass on his way to the other end of the town.
They were still open, and exhaled a delicious reek of whiskey, as Bob glided wistfully by them; but he stuck his hands in his pockets and looked the other way, whistling resolutely, and filling his mind with the image of the curate and anticipations of his coming fee. Thus he steered his morality safely through these rocks of offence, and reached the curate's lodging in safety.
~~The Sexton's Adventure by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.
♥ I was wondering what other experiences he might have had among those that seem to roam in the bad light just outside the encampment of Man..
♥ "Well, they drank their bottle and I drank mine till the dry feeling in my mouth was all gone. And I didn't drink only because my mouth was dry, but because I was going to talk with one of them that we don't commonly address at all, and I wanted a little support. Who wouldn't, before going to talk with one of the likes of them? For there's something about them that is not in us at all; it's like going to chat with a mountain or the north wind or the sea, to be talking with one of them. We're not their class at all, in the ordinary way. But with a bottle of whiskey in me I wouldn't mind going up and talking with the King, or with one of the oldest witches. It's a fact that you are more on a level with them when you have a bottle of whiskey in you; but, God knows, it's only for a short time, and you're sorry for it afterwards. And yet why be sorry for having been the equal of a king, and having talked with mighty spirits, even if it only was for a short time? Sure, your life's the better for it after. And God knows where we should all be without whiskey."
♥ '"Then if you'll do that," I said, "and give a hoot as you go, the same as you promised, there's nothing more I'll be asking you, for I know it is not for us to be troubling immortal powers with talk about two-acre fields in a marshy spot, that aren't worth bothering about even among mortal men, that are here for so short a while, let alone the spirits that speak with the stars and that make a coach-and-four of the great winds. So if you'll excuse me me I'll take up no more of your honour's time, and will be getting back to mortal things and temporal ways. And it's very grateful I am for all your kindness."
~~The Banshee by Lord Dunsany.
♥ After this point, I seemed to be in undiscovered country; the ash trees grew densely on either side of the way and met above it: I went on and on into the unknown in the manner of the only good guide-books, which are the tales of old knights.
♥ And just at the wood's ending, there was one of those tracks or little paths of which I have spoken, going off from my lane on the right, and winding out of sight quickly under all its leafage of hazel and wild rose, maple and hornbeam, with a holly here and there, and honeysuckle golden, and dark briony shining and twining everywhere. I could not resist the invitation of a path so obscure sand uncertain, and set out on its track of green and profuse grass, with the ground beneath still soft to the feet, even in the drought of that fiery summer.
♥ But I had always known him as a genial, cordial fellow, a thoroughly good-natured man; and I was sorry and shocked, too, to see him sitting there wretched and dismayed. He looked as if he had seen a ghost; he looked much worse than that. He looked as if he had seen terror.
♥ It is not altogether unheard of for very decent men to have had a black patch in their lives, which they have done their best to live down and atone for and forget. Often enough, the explanation of such misadventure is not hard to seek. You have a young fellow, very decently but very simply brought up, among simple country people, suddenly pitched into the labyrinth of London, into a maze in which there are many turnings, as the unfortunate Roberts put it, which lead to disaster, or to something blacker than disaster. The more experienced man, the man of keen instincts and perceptions, knows the aspect of these tempting passages and avoids them; some have the wit to turn back in time; a few are caught in the trap at the end. And in some cases, though there may be apparent escape, and peace and security for many years, the teeth of the snare are about the man's leg all the while, and close at last on highly reputable chairmen and churchwardens and are pillars of all sorts of seemly institutions. And then gaol, or at best, hissing and extinction.
♥ This mental process, I may say, is strictly indefinable and unjustifiable by any laws of thought that I have ever heard of. It won't do to take our stand with Bishop Butler, and declare with him that probability is the guide of life; deducing from this premise the conclusion that the improbable doesn't happen. Any man who cares to glance over his experience of the world and of things in general is aware that the most wildly improbable events are constantly happening.
♥ Some time ago, a learned and curious investigator demonstrated how Coleridge had taken a bald sentence from an old chronicler, and had made it the nucleus of The Ancient Mariner. With a vast gesture of the spirit, he had unconsciously gathered from all the four seas of his vast reading all manner of creatures into his net: till the bare hint of the old book flowed into one of the great masterpieces of the world's poetry. Roberts had nothing in him of the poetic faculty, nothing of the shaping power of the imagination, no trace of the gift of expression, by which the artist delivers his soul of its burden. In him, as in many men, there was a great gulf fixed between the hidden and the open consciousness; so that which could not come out into the light grew and swelled secretly, hugely, horribly in the darkness. If Roberts had been a poet or a painter or a musician; we might have had a masterpiece. As he was neither: was had a monster. And I do not at all believe that his years had consciously been vexed by a deep sense of guilt. I gathered in the course of my researches that not long after the flight from Brondesbury, Roberts was made aware of unfortunate incidents in the Watts saga – if we may use this honoured term – which convinced him that there were extenuating circumstances in his offence, and excuses for his wrong-doing. The actual face had, no doubt, been forgotten or remembered very slightly, rarely, casually, without any sense of grave moment of culpability attached to it; while, all the while, a pageantry of horror was being secretly formed in the hidden places of the man's soul. And at last, after the years of growth and swelling in the darkness; the monster leapt into the light, and with such violence that to the victim it seemed an actual and objective entity.
♥ Psychology is, I'm sure, a difficult and subtle science, which, perhaps naturally, must be expressed in subtle and difficult language.
♥ Old stories often turn out to be true.
~~Children of the Pool by Arthur Machen.
♥ He killed me quite easily by crashing my head on the cobbles. Bang! Lord, what a fool I was! All my hate went out with that first bang: a fool to have kicked up that fuss just because I had found him with another woman. And now he was doing this to me – bang! That was the second one, and with it everything went out.
My sleek young soul must have glistened somewhat in the moonlight: for I saw him look up from the body in a fixed sort of way. That gave me an idea: I would haunt him. All my life I had been scared of ghosts: now I was one myself, I would get a bit of my own back. He never was: he said there weren't such things as ghosts. Oh, weren't there! I'd soon teach him.
~~The Ghost by Richard Hughes.
♥ "If the gentleman who lives in younder house, which is said to be haunted by the devil, does not grant us the shelter of his roof to-night, we shall be compelled to sleep here."
Hardly had he uttered the words when a strange figure appeared at the entrance to the cavern.
..He was tall, lanky, of bony frame, and melancholy aspect. Unconscious of our presence, he stood leaning on his fowling-piece at the entrance of the cavern, showing a strong aquiline nose, a thin moustache, a stern mouth, and lack-lustre eyes. He was bareheaded; his hair was thin, while a few grey locks fell behind his ears. His age might have been anywhere between forty and sixty. He must have been strikingly handsome in the days when the light still shone in those time-dimmed eyes and those bitter lips could still break into a smile – but handsome in a haughty and forbidding style. A kind of terrible energy still lurked beneath his features, spectral as those of an apparition.
By his side stood a hairless dog, low on its legs, which was evidently barking at us. Yet we could hear nothing! The dog, it was plain, was dumb, and barked at us in silence!
♥ I tried to laugh over the matter, but the state of my mind, the story I had just read, the howling of the dog, her strange leaps, the sinister locality, the old room, the pistols which I myself had loaded, all had contributed to take a greater hold of my imagination than I dared confess.
Leaving the window I strolled about the room for a while. Of a sudden I saw myself in the mirror of the wardrobe. My pallor was such that I thought that I was dead. Alas, no! The man standing before the wardrobe was not dead. It was, on the contrary, a living man who, with all his heart, was summoning the King of Lost Souls.
Yes, with all my heart. I was too young to die; I wished to enjoy life for a while yet; to be rich once more; for her, for her sake, for the one who was an angel. Yes, yes, I, I myself summoned the devil!
And then, in the mirror, side by side with my form, something appeared – something superhuman – a pale object – a mist, a terrible little cloud which was soon transformed into eyes – eyes of fearful loveliness. An other form was standing resplendent beside my haggard face; a mouth – a mouth which said to me, "Open!" At this I recoiled. But the mouth was still saying to me, "Open, open, if you dare!"'
Then something knocked three times upon the door inside the wardrobe – and the door flew open of its own accord!
..You wish to know what the wardrobe contained? Well, I am going to tell you. There was something which I saw – something which scorched my eyes. There shone within the recess of the wardrobe, written in letters of fire, three words:
"THOU SHALT WIN!"
Yes, he continued, in a gloomy tone, the devil had, in three words, expressed in characters of fire, in the depths of the wardrobe, the fate that awaited me. He had left behind him his sign manual, the irrefutable proof of the hideous pact into which I had entered with him on that tragic night. "Thou shalt win!" A ruined gamester, I sought to become rich, and he told me: "Thou shalt win!" In three short words he granted me the world's wealth "Thou shalt win!"
Next morning old Appenzel found me lying unconscious at the foot of the wardrobe. Alas! when I had recovered my senses I had forgotten nothing. I was fated never to forget what I had seen. Wherever I go, wherever I wend my steps, be it night, be it day, I read the fiery phrase, "Thou shalt win!" – on the walls of darkness, on the resplendent orb of the sun, on the earth and in the skies, within myself when I close my eyes, on your faces when I look at you!"
♥ "It is you who have so willed it. I had harboured a supreme hope that I should die without having again made the infernal attempt, so that when my hour had come I might imagine that Heaven had forgiven me. Here are your cards! I will not touch them. They are yours. Shuffle them – deal me which you please – "stack" them as you will. I tell you that I shall win. Do you believe me now?"
Allan had quietly picked up the cards.
The man, placing his hand on his shoulder, asked, "You do not believe me?"
"We shall see," replied Allan.
"What shall the stakes be?" I inquired.
"I do now know, gentlemen, whether you are well off or not, but I feel bound to inform you – you who have come to destroy my last hope – that you are ruined men."
Thereupon he took out his pocket-book and laid it on the table, saying:
"I will pay you five straight points at écarté for the contents of this pocket-book. This just by way of a beginning. After that, I am willing to play you as many games as you see fit, until I cast you out of doors picked clean, your friends and yourself, ruined for the rest of your lives – yes, picked bare."
"Picked bare?" repeated Allan, who was far less moved than myself. "Do you want even our shirts?"
"Even your souls," cried the man, "which I intend to present to the devil in exchange for my own."
..Next morning we did not ask our host to give us the opportunity of winning back our money. We fled from his roof without even taking leave of him. Twelve thousand francs were sent that evening to our strange host through Makoko's father, to whom we had told our adventure. He returned them to us, with the following note:
"We are quits. When we played, both the first game, which you won, and the second one, which you lost, we believed, you and I, that we were staking twelve thousand francs. That must be sufficient for us. The devil has my soul, but he shall not possess my honour."
~~In Letters of Fire by Gaston Leroux.
♥ An old man with a lantern answered my summons; and, on my inquiring if Herr Lachner lodged there, desired me to walk upstairs to the third floor.
"Then he is living!" I cried, eagerly.
"Living!" echoed the man, as he held the lantern at the foot of the staircase to light me on my way – "living! Mein Gott, we want no dead lodgers here!"
♥ "You are, of course, aware," began my friend, "that in those cases where a mesmeric power has been established by one mind over another, a certain rapport, or intimate spiritual relationship, becomes the mysterious link between those two natures. This rapport does not consist in the mere sleep-producing power; that is but the primary form, the simplest stage of its influence, and in many instances may be altogether omitted. BY this, I mean that the mesmerist may, by a supreme act of volition, step at once to the highest power of gradations of somnolency or even clairvoyance. This highest power lies in the will of the operator, and enables him to present images to the kind of the other, even as they are produced in his own. I can not better describe my subject than by comparing the mind of the patient to a mirror, which reflects that of the operator as long, as often, and as fully as he may desire. This rapport I have long sought to establish between us.
.."Dr. K –, under whom I have been studying for the last year here in Cassel, first convinced me of the reality of the mesmeric doctrine; before then, I was as hardened a sceptic as yourself. As is frequently the case in these matters, the pupil – being, perhaps, constitutionally inclined more toward those influences – soon penetrated deeper into the paths of mesmeric research than the master. By a rapidity of conviction that seems almost miraculous, I pierced at once the essence of the doctrine, and passing from the condition of patient to that of operator, became sensible of great internal power, and of a strength of volition which enabled me to establish the most extraordinary rapports between my patients and myself, even when separated from them by any distance, however considerable.
"Shortly after the discovery of this new power, I became aware of another and a still more singular phenomenon within myself. In order to convey to you a proper idea of what this phenomenon is, I must beg you to analyse with me the ordinary process of memory. Memory is the reproduction or summoning back of past places and events. With some, this mental vision is so vivid, as actually to produce the effect of painting the place or thing remembered upon the retina of the eye, so as to present it with all its substantive form, its lights, its colours, and its shadows. Such is our so-called memory – who shall say whether it be memory or reality?
"I had always commanded this faculty in a high degree; indeed, so remarkably, that if I but related a passage from any book, the very page, the printed characters, were spread before my very vision, and I read from them as from the volume. My recollection was therefore said to be wondrously faithful, and, as you will remember, I never erred in a single syllable. Since my recent investigations, this faculty has increased in a very singular manner. I have twice felt as though my inner self, my spiritual self, were a distinct body – yet scarcely so much a body as a nervous essence or ether; and as if this second being, in moments of earnest thought, went from me, and visited the people, the places, the objects of external life.
"Nay," he continued, observing my extreme agitation, "this thing is not wholly new in the history of magnetic phenomena – but it is rare. We call it, psychologically speaking, the power of far-working. But there is yet another and a more appalling phase of far-working – that of a visible appearance out of the body – that of being here and elsewhere at the same time – that of becoming, in short, a doppel-gänger. The irrefragable evidence of this truth I have never dared to doubt, but it has always impressed me with an unparalleled horror. I believed, but I dreaded; yet twice I have for a few moments trembled at the thought that I – I also may be – may be – Oh rather, far, far rather would I believe myself deluded, dreaming – even mad!
"Twice have I felt a consciousness of self-absence – once, a consciousness of self-seeing! All knowledge, all perception was transferred to my spiritual self, while a sort of drowsy numbness and inaction weighed upon my bodily part. The first time was about a fortnight before I visited you at Ems; the second happened five nights since, at the period of which you have spoken. On that second evening, Heinrich" – here his voice trembled audibly – "I felt myself in possession of an unusual mesmeric power. I thought of you,mand impelled the influence, as it were, from my mind upon yours. This time, I found no resisting force opposed to mine; you yielded to my dominion – you believed."
"It was so," I murmured faintly.
"At the same time, my brother, I felt the most earnest desire to be once more near you, to hear your voice, to see your frank and friendly face, to be standing again in your pretty garden beside the running river. It was sunset, and I pictured to myself the scene from that spot. Even as I did so, a dullness came over my senses – the picture on my memory grew wider, brighter; I felt the cool breeze from the water; I saw the red sun sinking over the far woods; I heard the vesper-bells ringing from the steeples; in a word, I was spiritually there. Presently I became aware as of the approach of something, I knew not what – but a something not of the same nature as myself – something that filled me with a shivering, half compounded of fear and half of pleasure.
"Then a sound, smothered and strange, as if unfitted for the organs of my spiritual sense, yet reverberating and confused, like distant thunder. I felt paralysed, and unable to turn. It came and died away a second time, yet more distinctly. I distinguished words, but not their sense. It came a third time, vibrating, clear, and loud – "Albert, look round, man!" Making a terrible effort to overcome the bonds which seemed to hold me, I turned – I saw you!
"The next moment a sharp pain wrung me in every limb; there came a brief darkness, and I then found myself, without any apparent lapse of time or sensible motion, sitting by yonder window, where, gazing on the sunset, I had begun to think of you. The sound of your voice yet rang in my ears; the sight of your face was still before me; I shuddered – I tried to think that all had been a dream. I lifted my hands to my brow: they were numbed and heavy. I strove to rise; but a rigid torpor seemed to weigh upon my limbs. You say that I was visibly present in your garden; I know that I was bodily present in this room. Can it be that my worst fears are confirmed – that I possess a double being?"
♥ "Will you not tell me the particulars of your first experience of this spiritual absence?"
Albert sat pale and silent, as if he heard not.
I repeated the question.
"Give me some more brandy," he said, "and I will tell you."
I did so. He remained for a few moments looking at the fire before he spoke; at last he proceeded, but in a still lower voice than before. "The first time was also in this room; but how much more terrible than the second. I had been reading – reading a metaphysical work upon the nature of the soul – when I experienced, quite suddenly, a sensation of extreme lassitude. The book grew dim before my eyes; the room darkened; I appeared to find myself in the streets of the town. Plainly I saw the churches in the grey evening dusk; plainly the hurrying passengers; plainly the faces of many whom I knew. Now it was the market-place; now the bridge; now the well-known street in which I live. Then I came to the door; it stood wide open to admit me. I passed slowly, slowly up the gloomy staircase; I entered my own room; and there –"
He paused; his voice grew husky, and his face assumed a stony, almost a distorted appearance.
"And there you saw," I urged, "you saw –"
"Myself! Myself, sitting in this very chair. Yes, yes; myself stood gazing on myself! We looked – we looked into each – each other's eyes – we – we – we –"
~~The Doppelganger by E.T.A. Hoffmann.
♥ The bright hall seemed to darken.
Silently and with invisible pinions the gigantic ebon birds of terror streaked through the hall of the fête.
~~The Man on the Bottle by Gustav Meyrink.
♥ I used often to stretch away for my daily ramble, with no companion but the stick in my hand or the book in my pocket. But in the use of my legs and the sense of unstinted open air, I have always found company enough. I should, perhaps, add that in the enjoyment of a very sharp pair of eyes, I found something of a social pleasure. My eyes and I were on excellent terms; they were indefatigable observers of all wayside incidents, and so long as they were amused I was contented.
♥ That winter was what is called an "open" one; there was much cold, but little snow; the roads were firm and free, and I was rarely compelled by the weather to forego my exercise. One grey December afternoon I had sought it in the direction of the adjacent town of Medford, and I was retracting my steps at an even pace, and watching the pale, cold tints – the transparent amber and faded rose-colour – which curtained, in wintry fashion, the western sky, and reminded me of a sceptical smile on the lips of a beautiful woman.
♥ In a short time I came to the house, and I immediately found myself interested in it. I stopped in front of it gazing hard, I hardly knew why, but with a vague mixture of curiosity and timidity. It was a house like most of the houses thereabouts, except that it was decidedly a handsome specimen of its class. It stood on a grassy slope, it had its tall, impartially drooping elm beside it, and its old black well-cover at its shoulder. But it was of very large proportions, and it had a striking look of solidity and stoutness of timber. It had lived to a good old age, too, for the wood-work on its doorway and under its eaves, carefully and abundantly carved, referred it to the middle, at the latest, of the last century. All this had once been painted white, but the broad back of time, leaning against the door-posts for a hundred years, had laid bare the grain of the wood. Behind the house stretched an orchard of apple-trees, more gnarled and fantastic than usual, and wearing, in the deepening dusk, a blighted and exhausted aspect. All the windows of the house had rusty shutters, without slats, and these were closely drawn. There was no sign of life about it; it looked blank, bare and vacant, and yet, as I lingered near it, it seemed to have a familiar meaning – an audible eloquence. I have always thought of the impression made upon me at first sight, by that grey colonial dwelling, as a proof that induction may sometimes be near akin to divination; for after all, there was nothing on the face of the matter to warrant the very serious induction that I made. I fell back and crossed the road. The last red light of the sunset disengaged itself, as it was about to vanish, and rested faintly for a moment on the time-silvered front of the old house. It touched, with perfect regularity, the series of small panes in the fan-shaped window above the door, and twinkled there fantastically. Then it died away, and left the place more intensely sombre. At this moment, I said to myself with the accent of profound conviction – "The house is simply haunted!"
Somehow, immediately, I believed it, and so long as I was not shut up inside, the idea gave me pleasure. It was implied in the aspect of the house, and it explained it. Half the hour before, if I had been asked, I would have said, as befitted a young man who was explicitly cultivating cheerful views of the supernatural, that there were no such things as haunted houses. But the dwelling before me gave a vivid meaning to the empty words; it had been spiritually blighted.
The longer I looked at it, the intenser seemed the secret that it held.
♥ "That house down that side-road," I said, "about a mile from here – the only one – can you tell me whom it belongs to?"
She stared at me for a moment, and, I thought, coloured a little. "Our folk never go down that road," she said, briefly.
"But it's a short way to Medford," I answered.
She gave a little toss of her head. "Perhaps it would turn out a long way. At any rate, we don't use it."
This was interesting. A thrifty Yankee household must have good reasons for this scorn of time-saving processes. "But you know the house, at least?" I said.
"Well, I have seen it."
"And to whom does it belong?"
She gave a little laugh and looked away, as if she were aware that, to a stranger, her words might seem to savour of agricultural superstition. "I guess it belongs to them that are in it."
♥ For several days, I thought repeatedly of this little adventure, but I took some satisfaction in keeping it to myself. If the house was not haunted, it was useless to expose my imaginative whims, and if it was, it was agreeable to drain the cup of horror without assistance.
♥ I was temped to follow him, at a distance, to see what became of him; but this, too, seemed indelicate; and I confess, moreover, that I felt the inclination to coquet a little, as it were, with my discovery – to pull apart the petals of the flower one by one.
♥ One day I took a stroll in Mount Auburn cemetery – an institution at that period in its infancy, and full of sylvan charm which it has now completely forfeited. It contained more maple and birch than willow and cypress, and the sleepers had ample elbow room. It was not a city of the dead, but at the most a village, and a meditative pedestrian might stroll there without too importunate reminder of the grotesque side of our claims to posthumous consideration.
♥ "This is a very comfortable place," he presently added.
"I am fond of walking in graveyards," I rejoined deliberately, flattering myself that I had struck a vein that might lead to something.
I was encouraged; he turned and fixed me with his duskily glowing eyes. Then very gravely – "Walking, yes. Take all your exercise now. Some day you will have to settle down in a graveyard in a fixed position."
"Very true," said I. "But you know there are some people who are said to take exercise even after that day."
He had been looking at me still; at this he looked away.
"You don't understand?" I said, gently.
He continued to gaze straight before him.
"Some people, you know, walk about after death," I went on.
At last he turned, and I looked at me more portentously than ever. "You don't believe that," he said simply.
"How do you know I don't?"
"Because you are young and foolish." This was said without acerbity – even kindly; but in the tone of an old man whose consciousness of his own heavy experience made everything else seem light.
"I am certainly young," I answered, "but I don't think that, on the whole, I am foolish. But say I don't believe in ghosts – most people would be on my side."
"Most people are fools!" said the old man. .."I stick to what I said about people who deny the power of departed spirits to return. They are fools!"
♥ This sister, who was known as Miss Deborah, was an old maid in all the force of the term. She was deformed, and she never went out of the house; she sat all day at the window, between a bird-cage and a flower-pot, stitching small linen articles – mysterious bands and frills. She wielded, I was assured, an exquisite needle, and her work was highly prized. In spite of her deformity and her confinement, she had a little, fresh, round face, and an imperturbable serenity of spirit. She had also a very quick little wit of her own, she was extremely observant, and she had a high relish for a friendly chat. Nothing pleased her so much as to have you – especially, I think, if you were a young divinity student – move your chair near her sunny window, and settle yourself for twenty minutes' "talk". "Well, sir," she used always to say, "what is the latest monstrosity in Biblical criticism?" – for she used to pretend to be horrified at the rationalistic tendency of the age. But she was an inexorable little philosopher, and I am convinced that she was a keener rationalist than any of us, and that, if she had chosen, she could have propounded questions that would have made the boldest of us wince. Her window commanded the whole town – or rather, the whole country. Knowledge came to her as she sat singing, with her little, cracked voice, in her low rocking-chair. She was the first to learn everything, and the last to forget it. She had the town gossip at her fingers' ends, and she knew everything about people she had never seen. When I asked her how she had acquired her learning, she said simply – "Oh, I observe!" "Observe closely enough," she once said, "and it doesn't matter where you are. You may be in a pitch-dark closet. All you want is something to start with; one thing leads to another, and all things are mixed up. Shut me up in a dark closet and I will observe after a while, that some places in it are darker than others. After that (give me time), and I will tell you what the President of the United States is going to have for dinner." Once I paid her a compliment. "Your observation," I said, "is as fine as your needle, and your statements are as true as your stitches."
♥ "I will tell you. I once committed, unintentionally, a great crime. Now I pay the penalty. I give up my life to it. I don't shirk it; I face it squarely, knowing perfectly what it is. I haven't tried to bluff it off; I haven't begged off from it; I haven't run away from it. The penalty is terrible, but I have accepted it. I have been a philosopher!
"If I were a Catholic, I might have turned monk, and spent the rest of my life in fasting and praying. That is no penalty; that is an evasion. I might have blown my brains out – I might have gone mad. I wouldn't do either. I would simply face the music, take the consequences. As I say, they are awful! I take them on certain days, four times a year. So it has been these twenty years; so it will be as long as I last. It's my business; it's my avocation. That's the way I feel about it. I call that reasonable!"
♥ "You ought to know that such things are. I killed my own child."
"Your own child?"
"I struck her down to the earth and left her to die. They could not hang me, for it was not with my hand I struck her. It was with foul and damnable words. That makes a difference; it's a grand law we live under!"
♥ "But I should like to see you again." And he stopped and looked at me, terribly and mildly. "Some day, perhaps, I shall be glad to be able to lay my hands on a young, unperverted soul. If a man can make a friend, it is always something gained."
♥ I came back into the hall, and walked to the foot of the staircase, holding up my candles; to ascend required a fresh effort, and I was scanning the gloom above. Suddenly, with an inexpressible sensation, I became aware that this gloom was animated; it seemed to move and garther itself together. Slowly – I say slowly, for to my tense expectancy the instants appeared ages – it took the shape of a large, definite figure, and this figure advanced and stood at the top of the stairs. I frankly confess that by this time I was conscious of a feeling to which I am in duty bound to apply the vulgar name of fear. I may poetize it and call it Dread, with a capital letter; it was at any rate the feeling that makes a man yield ground. I measured it as it grew, and it seemed perfectly irresistible; for it did not appear to come from within but from without, and to be embodied in the dark image at the head of the staircase. After a fashion I reasoned – I remember reasoning. I said to myself, "I had always thought ghosts were white and transparent; this is a thing of thick shadows, densely opaque." I reminded myself that the occasion was momentous, and that if fear were to overcome me I should gather all possible impression while my wits remained. I stepped back, foot behind foot, with my eyes still on the figure and placed my candles on the table. I was perfectly conscious that the proper thing was to ascend the stairs resolutely, face to face with the image, but the soles of my shoes seemed suddenly to have been transformed into leaden weights. I had got what I wanted; I was seeing the ghost. I tried to look at the figure distinctly so that I could remember it, and fairly calm, afterwards, not to have lost my self-possession. I even asked myself how long it was expected I should stand looking, and how soon I could honourably retire. All this, of course, passed through my mind with extreme rapidity, and it was checked by a further movement on the part of the figure. Two white hands appeared in the dark perpendicular mass, and were slowly raised to what seemed to be the level of the head. Here they were pressed together, over the region of the face, and then they were removed, and the face was disclosed. It was dim, white, strange, in every way ghostly. It looked down at me for an instant, after which one of the hands was raised again, slowly, and waved to and fro before it. There was something very singular in this gesture; it seemed to denote resentment and dismissal, and yet it had a sort of trivial, familiar motion. Familiarity on the part of the haunting Presence had not entered into my calculations, and did not strike me pleasantly. I agreed with Captain Diamond that it was "damned disagreeable". I was pervaded by an intense desire to make an orderly, and, if possible, a graceful retreat. I wished to do it gallantly, and it seemed to me that it would be gallant to blow out my candles. I turned and did so, punctiliously, and then I made my way to the door, groped a moment and opened it. The outer light, almost extinct as it was, entered for a moment, played over the dusty depths of the house and showed me the solid shadow.
..I took some satisfaction in the reflection that I had not been ignobly terrified; I had not bolted nor swooned – I had proceeded with dignity. Nevertheless, I was certainly more comfortable when I had put thirty miles between me and the scene of my exploit, and I continued for many days to prefer the daylight to the dark.
~~The Ghostly Rental by Henry James.
♥ The man looked older than he was, at least as years are reckoned by an insurance agent.
♥ "Your pallor. Your shivering. I had begun to fear you were suffering with some fever or other malady requiring the attention of a physician."
"No disease which a drink will not cure," he assured her with a quickening smile and ushered her through the doorway which had meanwhile been opened by a bobbing and upward-grinning Negro dressed in red jacket and dark trousers that came to mid-calf. "While life itself is a fever."
♥ "You mentioned a liquor for which your brother has a predilection. May I ask its name?"
"Absinthe, sir. It contains oil of wormwood."
"Yes. The Conqueror Worm."
"Also sir, he is, alas, a devotee – he would wish me to tell you this – of laudanum and morphine and their parent, opium."
..He lifted his dark eyes as if seeing her for the first time. His countenance became radiant. "Oh, Berenice, the opiates are sorry, tattered emalion phantoms when matched against the face and form of a supremely beautiful woman and the blessed touch of her fingers."
♥ She looked at him compassionately, a lovely figure in her black rep that glinted in the candlelight, which also glistened on her swellingly-parted raven's-wing hair and made mysterious her more slim than classical pale face and her great dark eyes with the forbidding yet alluring distance in them, those eyes that while giving absolute attention to the man, still seemed to look at all the world.
~~Richmond, Late September by Fritz Leiber.