Last week's ghost story by Shamus Frazer was so good I decided I needed to search out something else by him to read this weekend. Unfortunately I could not find any more of his stories anthologized in any of my books or any of the collections handy at the library. So, on to a little online searching and I discovered that Ash-Tree Press in Canada has (happily) has published his short stories in ebook format (I think there is also a cloth edition, which was a little out of my price range). I believe (though don't quote me on this) that Where Human Pathways End is the complete set of Shamus Frazer's ghost stories, of which there are ten. The ebook contains one poem as well.
I think Shamus Frazer is one of those authors who during his time publishing was popular and somewhat acclaimed but has over time fallen by the wayside and is not much read these days. It's a pity as last week's story "Florinda" was excellent and one of my favorite short stories this year, and the two stories I read this week nearly as good and very entertaining--perfect fall reading. If you are a fan of ghost stories or stories that fall into the horror/suspense category, or if you just like good storytelling, I highly recommend looking for Frazer's work.
Shamus Frazer wrote novels in the 1930s but didn't get on to short story writing until the 1960s. His first two early novels were seen as natural successor's to the work of Evelyn Waugh--"a master of satirical irony". Why is it that writers of ghost stories often are also teachers or in some way associated with academia? Frazer studied Modern History at Oxford and went on to teach English and History at a preparatory school. He later moved to Singapore where he was a lecturer at a teacher's training college. Apparently he was well known in Singapore and every Christmas Eve would read one of his ghost stories on Radio Malaya. Several of his short stories were anthologized in his lifetime ("Florinda" being the most popular), but it wasn't until after his death that they were collected and published in one volume. I'm curious to read his story, "The Tune in Dan's Cafe" which was adapted to TV and aired on Rod Serling's Night Gallery. Maybe that will be one of next weekend's stories (and I think I can find the episode online).
There was something familiar about the first story I read, "The Fifth Mask". Had I read it before somewhere and just didn't remember? In any case, it was very creepy. In both stories I read there is a narrator looking back on an event that is particularly horrifying. So much so that the narrator will avoid a place or stick to a familiar routine.
"Remember, remember--the Fifth of November? I only wish it were possible to forget it. But every year at this time one is reminded of what has been, and--of what is to come."
Our storyteller keeps to the highways at this season. Is the Fifth of November a bit like our Halloween? Not in the begging for candy aspect but for donning masks? As that is what the two young boys do in this story. They don their masks and set out asking people to "spare a penny for the old guy". As a child the narrator lived in the Northern town of Failing in Darkshire. It was a foggy night--"not thick but moving in swirls". He was nearsighted so over his mask he had to wear his glasses. They come across an old lady in a field who is willing to "spare a penny" for the boy who will unmask her--as she has taken one of the boys's masks and covered her own face.
"'Give me the masks, she said, 'and I'll show you a trick, shall I?' . . . An optical illusion, if you like long words."
Would you? Would you remove her mask? After reading this story, I must say, I wouldn't.
I do love trees. The bigger and more twisty the better really. But then again, after reading "The Yew Tree", I might not want to come across one in the dark and alone and if it was especially threatening looking. I have a very vivid imagination and now that I have images in mind from this story . . . well, I'll hug a tree like this one in the daylight but maybe not at night. The narrator in the second story recounts an experience of a friend so horrifying that when the friend had a chance to move as far away as Australia he took it. The two had been visiting a botanical gardens and a tree was reminiscent of one that was rather terrifying in England.
"You know that great banyan tree by the wooden bridge at the farther end of the lake--a grotto of knolled roots and python thick columns formed by the fibres coiling down from the branches like Rapunzel's hair to root in the soil? Well, nothing would induce Martin to go past that tree. He stuck on the edge of the lake, looking ghastly. We had in the end to retrace our steps."
And so the friend tells his tale. A few year's previously he had been sent to a place near Doomchester (what names--so very evocative!) to work. A pretty place--"there's the remains of Robin's forest, and those great feudal estates, the Princedoms."
A bleak, dark place by the sounds of it. The sort of forest that ends up in a Disney movie about fairy tales. It was a dark and stormy night sort of place. Everyone told him in another part of the valley, but why travel back and forth when there was a deserted cottage, so charming-looking, to stay in close by. Deserted for a reason. Warning sign there, but then we'd not have such a scary story to read otherwise.
I've not read three of the stories in the collection and will continue on with a few more next weekend. I'm going to try and finish by month's end. Shamus Frazer's stories would be good anytime, but they are perfect for October.