I'm happily moving into my ghost story mode despite the hot weather. I haven't yet decided whether to dip into the various collections of stories I have on hand (both those I own and have been reading from for the past few years as well as a few collections I've borrowed) or read straight through The Haunted Looking Glass: Ghost Stories Chosen and Illustrated by Edward Gorey. This Gorey (not to be confused with gory--though who knows, maybe there will be a little of that, too?) collection has a dozen short stories that look like mostly Victorian or early twentieth century stories.
This weekend I read the first of the dozen, Algernon Blackwood's "The Empty House" (and yes, that is Gorey's illustration for this story up above). Of course it's hard to achieve a truly scary ghost story, but even one with good atmosphere is satisfying for me. Algernon Blackwood is known for his stories of the supernatural and occult. I don't recall having read him before, so this is my first proper taste of his writing. It's a story all about atmosphere and one that has the potential to make a very creepy film. I do like a good haunted house story, and this was as entertaining as they come.
"Certain house, like certain persons, manage somehow to proclaim at once their character for evil. In the case of the latter, no particular feature need betray them, they may boast an open countenance and an ingenuous smile; and yet a little of their company leaves the unalterable conviction that there is something radically amiss with their being: that they are evil. Willy nilly, they seem to communicate an atmosphere of secret and wicked thoughts which makes those in their immediate neighborhood shrink from them as from a thing diseased."
And maybe it is the same with houses. An evil deed perpetrated within, no matter how much time has passed since the action leaves an "aroma" for all who come after. That is certainly what seems to happen to Jim Shorthouse (what a name!) who has been summoned by his spinster Aunt Julia. She has in her possession the key to a purportedly "haunted" house in the main square of this tiny seaside town.
Aunt Julia has a mania for psychical research, and with her--where there is a will there's a way, and she has a will to investigate. Delightedly . . . she tells him, but she dares not go alone. The house now stands empty after a number of inhabitants claim something strange there has been going on. He agrees, but on the condition that whatever happens they will not turn away. To show fear and turn tail and run will only give whatever is haunting the house more power.
Why always at night? Why a deserted town? And why number thirteen for an address? Why must the foosteps echo on the pavement? No human comforts for these two. Of course if it were not thus, where would be all the fun? The evil that occurred in this very old and distinguished house involves the murder of a young woman. Will the crime being enacted once again, a ghost image perhaps, in front of Jim and his Aunt Julia? Almost immediately they sense something--sounds, cold breezes, a presence . . .
"Inside the house the silence became awful, he thought, because any minute now it might be broken by sounds portending terror. The strain of waiting told more and more severely on the nerves, they talked in whispers when they talked at all, for their voices aloud sounded queer and unnatural. A chilliness, not altogether due to the night air, invaded the room, and made them cold. The influences against them, wherever these might be, were slowly robbing them of self-confidence, and the power of decisive action; their forces were on the wane, and the possibility of real fear took on a new and terrible meaning."
You know how it is with psychics--that they claim they can act as a conduit to those on the other side? It seems that one or the other of the pair is drawing the spirits out . . . But I won't give away the ending.
This is a gentle sort of read as ghost stories go. A nice entertainment, the hint of things going bump in the night! And a good way to kick off my RIP reading. Where shall I go from here? More gentle stories or something a little more daring? You know how it goes with short stories. You never quite know what you are going to get until you dive it--which is a lot of their attraction for me.
Next week: "August Heat" by W.F. Harvey (hah, how fitting, even though we have just slid into September!).