For a while now I've been looking forward to Carl's R.I.P. Challenge, as I've discovered I love reading ghost stories and now have an excuse to read to my fill every weekend (not that I needed an excuse). For September and October I'll be looking for short stories that fit this genre in one way or another. I find writing about individual stories a challenge, and the stories I read this weekend were very short, so beware of possible spoilers as I'm not sure how to talk about them without giving away the plot.
One of my short story author 'finds' this year has been Saki (Hector Hugh Munro). He writes these wonderfully witty stories that seem to have a quirky twist at the end of them. I wrote about a few of them here. I've been wanting to revisit his work, so when I saw "Laura" in Classic Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories edited by Rex Collings, I knew that's where I had to start. This is not a traditional ghost story, but it does have a touch of the macabre to it. I actually found it pretty amusing.
Laura is on her deathbed. Or, well, she's ready to pass over to some other place anyway. Her friend Amanda asks her, "You aren't really going to die are you?" And Laura responds that she has the "doctor's permission to live until Tuesday." She explains that she's not been a very good person in life, has even been mean and vindictive when the situation warranted it. She expects to return reincarnated as some lower life form. An otter would be nice. Actually I'm not going to give any more away, as this is such a great story in the inimitable Saki way, that I recommend you read it instead of me telling you about it. It's online here. Saki was known to satirize Edwardian life. I wonder what he was trying to say here?!
Not content with just one story, I also pulled out The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings by Edgar Allen Poe. Last year I read a few stories from this same volume. Poe had an interesting life. Born in 1809, his parents were both actors. He led a troubled life (orphaned young, dropped out of school due to gambling debts, dishonorably discharged from West Point, and he married his very, very, young cousin), but he managed some remarkable things in his literary career. He is supposedly one of the earliest known American practitioners of the short story, and he is considered the inventor of detective fiction genre. And his work has obviously endured and is still read widely today.
(Spoilers). I remember reading "The Cask of Amontillado" when I was in school and thought it was time to give it a reread today. My memory tends to fade after time when it comes to what happens in books, but for some reason this story has always stayed with me quite vibrantly. Maybe it's that final jingling of bells on the jester's hat that Fortunato wears as he's being entombed in a cold, slimy, nitre-filled catacomb of a very unhappy narrator who's been wronged and insulted. There's a saying that goes "revenge is a dish best served cold." Meaning don't lash out at someone in anger, but take your time to think it through and then get him really good later. That's pretty much what happens in this story.
The head of the Montresor family has been insulted by Fortunato. The reader is never told what happened, and even Fortunato doesn't seem to recall, but it was bad enough that the narrator lures Fortunato to his home to taste a fine vintage of amontillado, or so he says. He was offered a good deal on it, but he's not quite sure it's truly amontillado. Fortunato had been merrily imbibing during Carnival, so he's quite happy to assist. Fortunato being a true wine connoisseur might be able to help him. If he could just come to the Montresor vaults to taste the pipe of amontillado, it would be a great favor. Dressed in his Carnival finery, he jingles away as he follows Montresor to his demise. Fortunato is anything but fortunate. He'd been given any number of opportunities to turn back, but his desire for the amontillado got the best of him. In the end he is indeed the fool. (End of spoilers).
This is such a wonderfully crafted story, if you've not read it, I highly recommend it! You can find it online here.