As this is the last weekend before Halloween I will be putting my ghost story anthologies away for a while, but I have really enjoyed all the stories I've read. I think I could easily go on reading them, but a little variety might be in order now. I don't really believe in ghosts, but it can be fun once in a while to suspend belief and read something a little bit on the spooky side. Also I have several other short story collections that I hope to finish by the end of the year, so I will turn my attention to those for a while. I think I will have to invest in a copy of The Mammoth Book of Modern Ghost Stories, however (the copy I have now is on loan from the library). There have been so many good stories I've wanted to explore, and I've barely touched on most of them.
This week for my last ghost story I decided to try Jane Gardam's "A Spot of Gothic", which seems to be a pretty traditional ghost story. She is an author who has come recommended to me, but I have not yet gotten around to picking up any of her novels. Gardam is a contemporary author who was born in North Yorkshire. I thought it was interesting that she worked for a traveling library before working for several magazines. I wonder what working for a traveling library entails? She has written a fair amount of short fiction, and "A Spot of Gothic" is her "tribute to those who have written Gothic fiction".
The story is set in Low Thwaite, North Yorkshire in the fall of 1980. The young wife of a military man, has taken up residence in this small Northern village while her husband is posted for a short period in Hong Kong. Not liking big crowded cities, she decides she can cope on her own temporarily. Although her husband warns that the locals don't warm up to strangers easily in the North, she finds just the opposite to be the case. As a matter of fact they seem quite friendly.
"I was whizzing along the road out of Wensleydale through Low Thwaite beyond Naresby when I suddenly saw a woman at her cottage gate, waving at me gently like an old friend. In a lonely dale this is not surprising, as I had found out."
What is surprising is the woman waving was doing so in the middle of the night. Mrs. Bainbridge had been returning home from a dinner party when she saw the woman "waving a slow decorous arm, a queenly arm". Her hair was piled up high on her head in a queenly manner. Mrs. Bainbridge was so shaken she stopped her car a few miles further on the road and got out. She wondered if the woman was actually waving for help. Why else would someone be standing outside waving in the middle of the night?
"I got out of the car and walked about. It was cold. I stood on the bridge. Apart from the noise of the beck everything was absolutely quiet. There was not a light from any house in any direction. Down here by the beck I could see no horizons, not the fell's edge, no even the sweet nibbled grass beside the road. The air smelled very clean like fresh sheets."
"This was the pedlars' road. For five hundred years, they had walked it with packs of ribbons and laces and buttons and medicines, and a great many of them according to all the stories had been murdered for them or disappeared in the snow in winter--often not found until Martinmas. If my car doesn't start now, I thought, I shall be very much alone."
The following day she returns to the road where she stopped and backtracks to the house. She's curious about the house, but isn't willing to wander beyond the fence to look, the lane being dark and overgrown. Instead she sits down on a rickety milk platform formerly used to hold churns when she feels someone watching her. She doesn't hear anyone coming upon her, but suddenly the woman is there. It's an eerie encounter made even stranger when she discovers more about the woman later on from the local doctor.
I enjoyed Gardam's story and plan on finally looking for some of her work. Her first adult novel, God on the Rocks was short listed for the Booker Prize in 1978 and later won the Prix Baudelaire in France, and was even made into a film. It sounds very appealing to me, "a coming-of-age story set in the thirties", but as it is not in print in the US, I will have to see what the library has. I love discovering new authors through their short stories.