My RIP reading seems to be following a similar trajectory so far. I've finished my first book, a novella by Susan Hill, which I will write about this week, and now two short stories of the uncanny. They all have similar themes or are written in similar styles, but then maybe ghost stories by their very nature are similar in tone? Nightmarish qualities, feelings of dread, strange coincidences. Even if ghost stories are hard to pull off in terms of real scariness, the good ones still give a feeling of being cut off from reality, the feeling that the world is slightly off balance.
I'm hoping to read my way through The Haunted Mirror, which is a collection of stories by a variety of authors--favorites as chosen by Edward Gorey. I'm not sure how they are ordered, perhaps randomly. They are stories by nineteenth or early twentieth century writers (mostly male authors alas). This week's story is by an author I've not had the chance to read until now, "August Heat" by W.F. Harvey (quite fitting for a hot September that's happening at the moment.
It's a hot August afternoon and the narrator of the story, James Clarence Withencroft is an artist, though not a very successful one. Nearly melting from the heat, he has just made up his mind that the coolest and most comfortable place in the neighborhood is the deep end of the public swimming pool, which is where he is planning on going until sudden inspiration for a drawing comes upon him. So he sets about making a sketch. It's an unusual drawing--rather the subject is unusual. He draws a man of some girth, "a mountain of flesh", who is sitting in a courtroom just after sentence has been pronounced. His expression is one of horror and utter collapse.
Feeling pleased with his work James sets off with the intention of visiting a friend. Instead he stumbles upon something which jars him. He meets up with the man in his drawing. A man he had never set eyes on before. It's as if he has just stepped out of the drawing. Uncanny. Tempted as I am to share just one or two more details from the story, I am going to resist. I will only say there are more coincidences. This is a very short story that leaves things open ended for the reader's interpretation.
Since the Harvey was such a fast read and not wanting to leave this shadow world quite yet, I picked up Nightshade: 20th Century Ghost Stories edited by Robert Phillips which I have out from the library. It's another smorgasbord of stories by a variety of modern authors. It's a nice mix of writers both female and male and both English language and stories in translation. I decided to stick with someone fairly familiar, however, and read "The Bus" by Shirley Jackson. Shirley Jackson is always good for a chill or thrill or at the very least a nice feeling of creepiness.
Old Miss Harper doesn't like traveling in any case, but even less so on the dirty bus that takes her home. But it's a wet, nasty night and she is anxious to be out of it and in the comfort of her own house and there simply isn't any other way. Miss Harper is on the curmudgeonly, cantankerous side and doesn't hesitate to complain to the ticket seller or the driver about the cleanliness of the bus. She even jokingly thinks to herself that it would not be a surprise if the bus company sent a letter of complaint about her.
Resting her head against the seat she drifts off into an uncomfortable sleep. She enters a sort of dreamlike state that is fitful and not at all restful. All of a sudden, maybe an hour later she's jostled awake by the driver. He shakes her until she opens her eyes and tells her she must get off the bus. Her ticket is only good for a certain distance, but she believes she has arrived home so grabs her suitcase and eases herself down the stairs. After the bus pulls away and she has a chance to look about her she realizes that the bus has only left her at an unknown crossroads.
It's a filthy night and she's quickly soaked to the bone. When she sees approaching headlights she walks into the road and waves her hands in order to make them stop. It's a truck with two young men who she asks for a ride. As wet as she is they take a little convincing to let her ride along. They drop her off at a house that's been turned into a roadside saloon frequented by young people. The house, once a private family home, seems oddly familiar. More of the uncanny. Coincidence once again or something more sinister? In true Shirley Jackson form there is a twist at the end. Not quite the same caliber as "The Lottery" she still does a nice job of throwing the reader slightly for a loop.
Next week a story by Charles Dickens: "The Signal Man".