Archive for the ‘Two Dozen Ghost Stories’ Category

When The Stars Are Right

December 25, 2015

It happened at a time when society had ground to a halt just as it accelerated virtually to the point of singularity, like a gerbil in a wheel, running ever faster and faster, expending its life’s blood in going precisely nowhere. Televised news reports had become indistinguishable from the programmes that ostensibly parodied them – the people laughed aloud at the words of politicians and took the pronouncements of comedians as deadly serious analysis – holy men were caught with whores and catamites on a weekly basis while the words of athletes were revered as if they were prophets and sibyls.

Governments fought wars against the groups they’d armed the week before and jihadis destroyed the fast food joints where they’d taken their first dates four years previously. The sciences made the distinctions between man and beast and between matter and information more porous and diaphanous with each passing month; space probes whispered the echoes of secrets from the womb of Time and those who listened to them shuddered and doubted themselves, while their colleagues in adjacent departments reknitted the stuff of Life to recipes sponsored by pharmaceutical industrialists. The seasons were horribly mixed, and the birds, beasts and fish swarmed this way and that in a fashion that perplexed the greatest authorities on living things; those who staffed the asylums began to fear that their patients displayed not insanity but super-sanity, a new form of intellect fit to understand this new phase of existence, terrifying to the old order that could not comprehend it.



The Apprentice

December 24, 2015

Old Syd had been working this spot for, ooh, coming up to about 130 years now? It was the best spot for miles around and he took his work very seriously. The King’s Arms Hotel was one of those establishments that had acquired a reputation for haunting over its long history, with the result that this actually contributed considerably to its appeal to customers. The irony at work here was that a great many of the punters whom Syd didn’t consider worth bothering with nonetheless managed to convince themselves they’d felt some atmospheric ‘presence’ and went away prepared to tell friends and relatives about the sound of a groaning water pipe they’d heard in the night that was undoubtedly the tortured wail of an unquiet spirit, while those on whom he did actually decide to lavish his attention typically had the most horrible experience of their lives, left the place at the hurry-up and never mentioned the incident to anyone else, except perhaps a psychiatrist or priest.



December 23, 2015

Doctor Benway’s patented Complete De-Anxietization Programme (CDAP, pronounced ‘see-dap’ to those in the know) had been nothing short of a resounding success since its introduction on the NHS. Admittedly, each procedure was expensive in itself (the actual cost of materials and labour made up only 12% of the price Benway’s Seychelles-registered company charged for the service) but the savings made on medical care throughout the subjects’ future lives were phenomenal. It was, in fact, hailed as the key factor that saved the NHS from total disintegration after two continuous decades of austerity.

The completely de-anxietized patients squirmed and wriggled happily (one must assume) out of the specialized wards that began to make up larger and larger portions of every public hospital, until each hospital was virtually nothing but CDAP wards performing CDAP procedures on patient after patient. Very soon all forms of crime and antisocial behaviour, along with all the other social ills associated with unhappiness, dissatisfaction and mental illness in the most general sense, were in steep decline. The programme was quickly franchised to several other countries, both with and without socialized medical care systems.

Benway was publicly heralded as ‘the new Nye Bevan’ by the government of the day and much of the press. He preferred to see himself more as a sort of cross between Hippocrates, Edward Jenner and Jesus Christ, but since he was a modest man he kept this – along with a personal fortune estimated at a hundred and fifteen billion dollars (US) – quite to himself.

Judgement Town – a parable

December 22, 2015

A chill wind whispers through the streets,
It seems a voice, or something near;
The clouds are white as winding sheets,
The people glance around in fear.
A gull emits a lonely cry,
As if in answer to the wind.
A pall of guilt hangs from the sky –
All know who cheated, lied and sinned.
There is no hiding in this town,
From consequence of each misdeed;
You’ll reap the fruit of evil seed
That finds this place such fertile ground.

It once was otherwise, you see.
The sun shone down, the breeze was mild;
The park was filled sounds of glee,
The joy of woman, man and child.
Each one had secrets, things they’d done,
And wanted others not to know;
But all were blithe beneath the sun
While crimes and mischiefs didn’t show.
Thus life was easy, while it lasted:
All were confident and gay.
Until occurred that awful day,
And now the town is bleak and blasted.

It happened thus, so pay attention:
A trav’ler came upon the road.
None guessed that he had ill intention –
Trust was their accustomed mode.
They asked whence he had come, and he
Declared he was no man of note;
No bishop, lawyer or grandee –
A poor man in a tattered coat.
Before the town, he loud confessed
To countless crimes, both great and mean.
The townsfolk thought it quite obscene
That justice should go unaddressed.

They tried him there and then on charges
Taken from his own confession.
(The town’s chief legal man enlarges
On penalties for each transgression.)
They whipped and hanged him in a trice,
But madness fell upon the crowd:
Each found he knew his neighbour’s vice
As if the deed were spoke aloud!
Now misery and guilt abound,
With sorrow etched on every face;
And that’s how this unlucky place
Acquired the name of Judgement Town.

Damned (a ghost story in 115 words)

December 20, 2015

The séance party links hands and the lights are dimmed. “We seek the shade of the late Mr Gibbons”, intones the medium. Mrs Gibbons looks uncertainly from the medium to her adult son and daughter and back again. The table starts to wobble and there is an unearthly groan. “I sense the presence of a spirit – is that you, Mr Gibbons?”

The widow can contain herself no longer. “Is there something you want to tell us, Derek? You left us so suddenly.”

A ghastly rattle, the candle flames shiver, and then an uncanny voice:

“You lot bored me silly while I was alive, and I’m damned if I have anything to say to you now.”

The Fall of the House of Hali

December 20, 2015

Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Stranger: Indeed?
Cassilda: Indeed, it’s time. We have all laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!

* * * * *

The irony that the last three descendants of the Carcosan Dynasty had ended up living in the penthouse apartment of a building on the Rue de la Republique had long ago lost even the slightest trace of grim humour for them, yet half-siblings Claudine and Jean-Laurent and their cousin Thierry had never been able to put it out of their minds completely.

Consider the three of them, lounging around the salon on that sultry early evening in mid-August, caught up once again in one of their customary situations of simmering resentment and jealousy. Claudine, the eldest of the three by a small margin although still a young woman in the scheme of things, was the only one to have had bestowed on her the mahogany hair, pale complexion with a hint of olive to it, thick brows and large, soft, dark-brown eyes characteristic of their ancient House, looks which cause her frequently to be mistaken for an immigrée from the Levant; both her half-brother and their mutual cousin, the youngest of the three, had inherited their greenish eyes, sandy hair and skin that tended towards the florid from their grandmother, an American of Irish stock. As had happened in every generation of this unguessably ancient line, there had been a terrible tension between the need to maintain the family’s power and wealth through marriage with outlying cadet branches, and the knowledge that this persistent inbreeding was leading to the ever more prevalent occurrence of both physical and mental feebleness and, over the last century especially, outright madness.



December 19, 2015

No-one now recalls exactly when the Sign of the Worm came to the great city. All that was previously straight and orderly became curled and entangled. All knew that when the Prime Minister spoke on television, it was the Worm animating his form and ordering the words his mouth produced – the fleshy red Worm within his mouth was there for all to see. Every train upon every track became an embodiment of the Worm’s sinuous form, and all signals passing down cables and fibres, carrying voices, data, entertainment and obscenities, became manifestations of the pulsing, squirming body of the Worm.

Soon we all recognized that this slithering shape had infiltrated the land, the air and our own minds and bodies, but none dared say so himself, or admit to anyone she knew that her words and actions were no longer her own, but those of the Worm. Even natural phenomena demonstrated the Worm’s presence: flocks of starlings snaked and knotted across the sky as they had never done so before, lightning slowly wriggled to earth in defiance of any understood law of physics, and streams and rivers swelled grotesquely, become viscous and livid with writhing, vermicular forms.

Each day that passed only showed further evidence of the great Worm’s inveigling of its hideous Form into the fabric of the land and the souls of the people. Each transaction took place only because the Worm permitted it to take place, with cash or plastic changing hands as arms momentarily snaked together to make the shape of the Worm. Each lesson, lecture, sermon, broadcast and news item occurred as words Wormed out of the mouths of pedagogues, demagogues, holy men and policy makers and wriggled voluptuously into the ears of their respective publics. Each act of love, pleasure or procreation was revealed nakedly as a Worming-In, in means, process and end.

Soon the Worm was all there was, as everything still remaining above ground was rendered porous and friable and eventually sank into the earth, where Worms and nothing more made up the totality of all that lived and moved.

The Ship

December 17, 2015

I’d been enjoying the trip so far – much of the Island is gorgeously rustic and atmospheric at any time of year, and at no time moreso than in the autumn – and with one day to go, I felt that I should complete the experience by taking in some of the local lore specific to the so-called ‘back of the Wight’: the southern and southwestern coast, where the accumulated legendry of smugglers, shipwrecks and ghosts is at its densest. For this reason I had booked just a single night at the Black Rat Inn; a hostelry close to the southernmost point of this little landmass, dating from the 18th century, which is to say, the very Golden Age of smuggling.

Following dinner and a few pints, during which time I’d pumped the landlord for all the information he could give about the local history, traditions and superstitions, I decided to take a stroll down to the clifftop, overlooking the English Channel and a spot a few hundred meters out to sea where, it was said, the ribs of a wrecked Victorian schooner could still occasionally be seen at the very bottom of a spring tide.

The full moon already hung high in the clear sky that mid-October early evening and the waves had been receding all day, so I was hoping to be able to see some sign of the wreck and had even brought a small pair of sports binoculars with me for this very purpose. As I walked down from the grounds of the old inn and across a field in which a few sheep grazed, I saw that my hopes had not been in vain: clearly visible above the small waves were the stumps of three masts, and here and there the protruding part of a wooden rib that had once formed the hull of a large sailing vessel.



December 17, 2015

Don’t fall asleep, keep senses keen,
While training it to Wembley Park,
To Dollis Hill or Willesden Green;
For if you doze as sky grows dark,
You’ll wake to views that chill the marrow,
For you’ll have ended up in Harrow.

Within this place there is no cheer,
No pleasant green or babbling brook;
No tavern offering warmth and beer,
Nowhere to eat or a buy a book.
There’s only standing stone and barrow,
In that wasted land called Harrow.

The region’s void of living things,
With ne’er a dog or cat or mouse;
No butterfly with painted wings,
No ladybird or spotted grouse.
You’ll see no kestrel, dove or sparrow,
But only carrion crows in Harrow.

Harbingers of doom and death,
Portents whisp’ring of decay;
A wind that seems the Reaper’s breath,
Grey ash on all that you survey.
The ruthless march of Time’s swift arrow;
Such are the sights you’ll see in Harrow.

A collector of note

December 16, 2015

Percival Kitt-Brooks, Professor of Anthropology at Exeter College and a collector of note, was immensely pleased with his latest acquisition. A colossal Maori war spear – ceremonial, undoubtedly, for it was quite certainly much too large and heavy to have been of any practical use – had been shipped to him by a missionary currently active near Wellington. Some eight feet in length and made of a fantastically tough and almost black exotic hardwood, it was carven along most of its length with scenes depicting ancestral spirits of the tribe and a variety of patrician deities, all of whom were doing various disgusting and incredibly painful-looking things to human figures representing members of neighbouring rival tribes. Although highly stylized, the carvings were remarkably lifelike in terms of facial expression, with leering eyes, fang-like teeth and other features picked out with masterful artistry in abalone and jadeite. The professor had been so impressed with the thing that he’d had it installed vertically, point uppermost, in the atrium of the grand Georgian villa he and his family called home, just off Holywell Street to the immediate north of the ancient heart of Oxford. It couldn’t stay there for good, of course, but he would enjoy showing it off to visitors or simply poring over it by himself for a few weeks while he wrote up a paper on it and a few other artefacts he’d acquired in the last couple of months, before having it displayed permanently in the museum he’d recently established (and, with characteristic modesty, named after himself). The various curses associated with the object, which the missionary had had the foresight to jot down and send to Kitt-Brooks before having the chief who’d described them baptized at riflepoint, were previously unknown to anthropology and analysis of them would form a vital part of the paper.

“Ugh, you’re not going to leave the vile thing there are you, darling?”, came a politely distressed voice from upstairs. Percival sighed and looked up to see his wife, a vision of mildly disapproving beauty in a crinolette and bustle, leaning over the bannister and frowning.


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