Tag Archives: ghosts

What’s Under the Tree?

Pre-wrapped gifts are essential, or her little darling will pitch a fit.

She shoulders the door open, her arms stretched around sparkling presents, hoping this will be the last gift run of the year.

She hears a tiny voice singing by the fir tree, plucking each word, “You better watch out.”

Unloading her packages on the floor, she glances at her blotchy-faced, wild-eyed child, whose ruddy fingers like tentacles clutch the nearest branch, corrupting the evergreen with an insatiable, yellowing appetite, as the little darling jabs at gifts with a candy cane, shaking the tree with each word—mine, mine.

(Written for the Advent Ghost Story Fest)

Edwardian Ghost Stories

Nicholas Lezard recommends the ghost stories of EF Benson (1867-1940).

When I reread “Caterpillars”, for the first time in four decades, I very quickly regretted that I had chosen to do so at night. Gatiss, in his introduction, says that it is “perhaps a ghost story like no other”, and he’s not wrong: it’s the kind of story that leaves one feeling almost unclean, checking clothes and body for vermin.

(via Prufrock News)

Shirley Jackson’s Last Haunting Novel

Shirley Jackson, whose short story “The Lottery” has been retold too many times, left us a last, remarkable story in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and David Barnett loves it. “There isn’t a shred of the supernatural in Castle, though it feels like there is.” It feels like it because when one character goes to town, she’s greeted like this:

Merricat, said Connie, would you like a cup of tea?
Oh no, said Merricat, you’ll poison me.
Merricat, said Connie, would you like to go to sleep?
Down in the boneyard ten feet deep!


He Sees You When You’re Sleeping

The bundle bounces against Hayk’s back as he dashes behind houses. Barely a mark on the shadows, he slips in through crack and out by door with another name scratched off his list. But what did he care for a list? He’d take anyone.

Whimpering cries tumble from his sack as he hurtles a fence.

“Back to Hayk’s mine!”


He breaks against a snarling mastiff with dawn in his eyes, who grabs his leg and flings him into the trees, scattering children across the yard.

With guttural barks, the dog drives them, bruised and wailing, back to their homes.

(This is one of many 100-word stories offered for I Saw Lightening Fall’s Advent Ghosts 2015. Many more stories through the link, including Lars’ story earlier this month, and my past contributions can be found under the content tag “flash fiction.”)

Scary Ghost Stories of Christmases Long Ago

“The first key to a Christmas ghost story,” writes Colin Fleming, “is a convivial atmosphere. People in these stories are well fed, they’re often hanging out in groups, you feel like you’re hanging out with them, and you do not wish to leave any more than they do. It is cold outside but warm in here, and it’s time to rediscover that sense of play that so many of us adults lose over the years, and which, when we are fortunate, we remember to rediscover at Christmas.”

He recommends five old stories to fit the bill.

We Tell Ghost Stories In Order to Control Our Fears

“One of the primary experiences ghost stories deal with is fear,” Chris Yokel explains. “Many literary critics recognize that the management of fear is one of the important explanations for the existence of the ghost story. Julia Briggs in her book Night Visitors says, ‘Both the recital and reading of stories of the terrific unknown suggests a need to exorcise in controlled circumstances, fear which in solitude or darkness might become unmanageable. By recounting nightmares, giving them speakable shapes and patterns, even if as compulsively as did Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, we hope to control them and come to terms with them.’”

Do we control our fears when we tell stories of indomitable evils, of horrors that cannot be held back, or of despair that literally eats at us? How much do our stories define for us this “terrific unknown”?

Japan, Most Haunted

When Lafcadio Hearn stepped onto the shores of Japan in 1890, he began writing ghost stories. On assignment from Harper’s Magazine, Hearn was charged to explore and explain this undiscovered country to eager Americans. That his answer was to write about Japan’s spirits should have surprised no one; Hearn had a predilection for the macabre and uncanny. But while a previous sojourn in New Orleans had supplied him with ore for his imagination, in his new home he struck the mother lode. Japan is the most haunted country on Earth.

Most people know that Japan is particularly good at ghost stories. As they should be; they have been working at it for some time. Theater, literature, art, or film—Japan’s storytelling is inherently haunted. Indeed, a history of Japanese literature is a history of ghost stories.

The Resurgence of Ghost Stories


Several new books intend to supplant vampires and others horrors in popular imagination with ghosts, writes Sarah Hughes, such as books by The Woman in Black author, Susan Hill, and Kate Moss, who’s latest, The Taxidermist’s Daughter: A Novel, will be released this spring.

Hughes writes, “Not since the heyday of MR James and WW Jacobs has the ghost story been so in vogue, but why? ‘We’re definitely seeing a resurgence after horror has held sway for a long time,’ says Mosse. ‘The thing about horror is that it’s not that subtle; it’s a straightforward chase about the terrible thing that’s going to get you. With a ghost story the whole thing is, “Is it coming? Is everything in your head?” Ghost fiction plays on those fears – which is why I describe The Taxidermist’s Daughter as not a whodunnit but a whydunnit.'”

Editor Angus Cargill tells Hughes genre fiction is growing in popularity. “We’re definitely seeing less of the sort of snobbery there used to be. I love it when writers cross genres, so it’s great to see someone like William [Gay], who was known as a literary southern gothic writer, move more towards horror, or [David] Mitchell writing a ghost story.”

Not quite in this vein, but I’m told the movie Lake Mungo is a quite scary ghost story, which while having a feel like Paranormal Activity, puts it to shame with a substantive story and acting.

An occasion of crime?

There’s an old theological term, “an occasion of sin,” which (if I understand it correctly) means to place temptation in someone’s path. I hope I haven’t been an occasion of crime in this blog.

Last month I posted a story, and a picture, about my visit with the Viking Age Club to historic Ness Church, Litchfield, Minnesota. I told how the first victims of the Dakota War of 1862 are buried there, and that local legend says the place is haunted.

Four days after I posted my story, according to this article from the Minneapolis City Pages newspaper, four people were arrested for breaking into the church and vandalizing it, as well as the monument.

I hope they didn’t learn about it here.

Probably not. We cater to a pretty high class of reader at Brandywine Books.

Holiday Shopping with a Smile

Libby’s famous smile flickers when she sees another woman smile from the opposite escalator with a wide, toothy grimace.

“A face only a mother would love,” she mutters, striding over to the next mall store with extended sales. She smiles at the cashier. He grins back, his ears vanishing behind a wall of gleaming teeth.

Forgetting everything now, she hurries back into a suddenly manic throng, passing from leer to leer as other shoppers direct her to the fire-lit house built with toys. Waifs grab her hands and pull her to an enormous, red man with a wide, open mouth.

(Written for Loren Eaton’s 2013 Advent Ghost Storytelling Fest)

Family Reunion: Advent Ghosts 2012

“Not this again!” William growls.

The traditional roasted chicken and dressing, gravy, green beans, and corn sit steaming on the table while his wife glides about the room, bringing honeyed ham, broccoli casserole, rolls and muffins, tomato and squash soups—everything as overabundantly perfect as it had been every Christmas. Beautiful, but ethereal.

His sons and daughter, their bodies scorched from the fire three years ago, quietly urge him to eat “to forget this weary world.”

Eyes burning, he throws a coat over his pajamas and stumbles into the icy street. His wife follows with a cup of flaming cider.

(Index of all stories submitted to the Advent Ghosts Storytelling Fest)

Fourth Annual Advent Ghosts Storytelling

Loren Eaton refers to the beautiful aurora in northern-most and southern-most skies, which is one of the cool aspects of the new Angry Birds Seasons update, but I don’t plan to talk about that here. I wanted to announce my participation in Loren’s shared storytelling event, Advent Ghost 2012. We will be posting our 100-word stories on our respective blogs on Saturday, December 22, and Loren will link to all of them on his blog. I’ll be sure to link to this indexing post too. Now, you have something to look forward to. There’s no need to thank me.

You can read past stories for this event and other flash fiction I’ve posted in our Creative Writing category.

Agnes Mallory, by Andrew Klavan

‘Look,’ she said wearily from the stairs. I was leaning against the stove, studying her stupid sneakers. My arms crossed, my soul leaden with sorrow. ‘I just don’t want to approach you too fast. I know you don’t like journalists. I saw you on TV: slamming the door? That’s why I was watching…’

‘Oh, admit it: you were being mysterious and romantic.’

‘Jesus!’ One of her little sneaks gave a little stomp. ‘You sound just like my father.’

Fortunately, this arrow went directly through my heart and came out the other side, so there was no need to have it surgically removed, which can be expensive….

Back in 1985, the young author author Andrew Klavan had a novel published in England which didn’t find a home in the U.S. This novel is Agnes Mallory, which is now, thankfully, available in a Kindle edition from Mysterious Press.

The narrator of the story is Harry Bernard. Harry lives in a secluded cabin, outside the New York suburb of Westchester. He is a recluse, a broken man, a disbarred lawyer who has left his family behind.

He wants nothing to do with the young woman who follows him home one evening, in the rain. Klavan introduces her in such a way that the reader isn’t sure at first whether she’s real or a ghost. And that’s appropriate, since this is a kind of a ghost story—but the ghosts are the memories we carry with us and the dreams we’ve buried in the cellar. Continue reading Agnes Mallory, by Andrew Klavan