I didn't have a problem finding another good story from Otto Penzler's The Big Book of Ghost Stories this weekend. I almost think I could just let the book fall open to a story and start reading and find something entertaining. As I was flipping through, however, it was Rosemary Timperley's "Harry" that caught my eye.
Rosemary Timperley was born in London in 1920 and passed away in 1988 after a long and productive career as a novelist, short story writer and screenwriter. It seems ghost stories were her thing and she has been widely anthologized. I wonder why I had not come across her previously. In the biographical sketch included with her story, it's noted that Timperley "wrote with a Victorian sensibility".
"Along with an enormous amount of general fiction, she produced scores of ghost stories that tend to be charming and gentle in tone, rather than terrifying."
"Harry" seems to fall somewhere in between. It's her most famous story and has twice been adapted for film. Most recently it was made into a movie here in the US in 2003 with the title Twice Removed, and in 1960 it appeared as an episode of the Canadian television series First Person. The story itself first was published in Cynthia Asquith's The Third Ghost Book in 1955.
Perhaps not spine chilling, it is certainly an eerie story involving a very young girl and her imaginary friend. I've often wondered what it is about children and ghost stories (children in ghost stories that is). For some reason they seem spookier than others. Children are like a clean slate--pure and innocent and open to influence. They are more ready to believe it seems than adults who are jaded and less willing to see the strange and unusual around them.
"Such ordinary things make me afraid. Sunshine. Sharp shadows on grass. White roses. Children with red hair. And the name--Harry. Such an ordinary name."
It's a hot, sunshiny day and five-year-old Christine is playing in her garden happily, watched over by her mother. It's not such a remarkable thing really when Christine gets up, walks to the shady area by the rose bushes and appears to be speaking to someone who isn't there. It does make her mother uncomfortable to see how attached Christine is to this friend. She can't see anything amiss in the garden, yet Christine becomes so animated at times, as if there were someone right there talking with her and playing by her side. She even refuses at times to go with her mother to the shops unless Harry, as she has dubbed her friend, can go with them.
So nervous does her mother become she even takes her to the doctor. The doctor finds her case a little unusual but not really unique. Being an only child, and a lonely one at that, an imaginary friend simply is her way of being able to talk to someone--better than to talk to oneself, right? Christine's mother begins to dread the imaginary Harry. She tries to be comforted by the doctor's words, but really she's only more spooked.
"Chris ran ahead of me. She looked up as if at someone beside her. For a brief, dreadful second, I saw a shadow on the pavement alongside her own--a long, thin shadow--like a boy's shadow. Then it was gone. I ran to catch her up and held her hand tightly all the way home. Even in the comparative security of the house--the house so strangely cold in this hot weather--I never let her out of my sight. On the face of it she behaved no differently towards me, but in reality she was drifting away. The child in my house was becoming a stranger."
I think the scare factor in this story is less for Christine and her imaginary friend (no matter how creepy he may seem) than for the fear her mother has, and the sense of her losing control and of her child drifting away. Personally imaginary friends never plagued me. All things considered that was probably a very good thing!
I'm curious whether anyone has read any of Rosemary Timperley's work? Her stories appeared in a number of periodicals like the London Evening News, London Mystery Selection, Good Housekeeping and Reveille. She apparently had the reputation as "one of Great Britain's foremost ghost story writers", and she even edited Ghost Books for five years between 1969-1973. I was hoping my library might have a book or two by her, but alas there is nothing in our catalog. Of course now that she is in mind, she'll probably start popping up all over the place.
Only three more weekends of ghost stories left and so many to choose from! Maybe I'll have to continue on my short story reading through the end of the year.