Inktober 2019 – Ghost

There was a line of six photographs laid out on the table. Each one showed the front of Oliver’s house, dimly lit by a post-sunset sky and streetlight on the far side of a tree. The position of the camera was the same in all, as was the colour of the sky, suggesting without need to refer to the timestamps in the lower right corners of each that each was taken in quick succession.

Oliver gave them a cursory glance, then looked across the table at the young couple who had brought them. If not for the current circumstance, he thought he would think well of them, because they seemed pleasant enough.  They were polite, well-spoken, and their visible tattoos were interesting rather than shocking. The letter they had left in his mailbox was, some modern failures of punctuation aside, entirely unthreatening. He realized only now it had been a mistake to even respond to it.

“It appears that this investigation of yours is already underway,” he said, with a coolness that seemed to strike home. Both his visitors blushed, and he almost forgave them.

“We thought…” said Will, the taller of the two, before having to clear his throat. He was all in black, from hair to shoes, and Oliver marked him as a goth, although either non-confrontational or under-committed. “We thought, since we were dropping off the letter, we’d…”

“Take advantage of being here.” Oliver said the first two words with careful emphasis, drawing another blush. “I’m sorry, but I really do think you’re wasting your time here.”

“Mr. Whitlaw, please.” Aurora was much less thematic. Oliver couldn’t decide if she was affecting professional dress or if she had simply come directly from some kind of higher-end retail job. “We just want to look into the stories about your house.”

“Those stories are outdated,” he said. “I have lived here almost thirty years, and never run into anything upsetting.”

“But…” Will pointed to the odd-one-out of the six shots, fourth in the series. In one of the dark upstairs windows, there was a slim pale figure, face as white as the torso. The head had no features but for a pair of great dark eyes, which seemed to be melting down toward the neck. “That’s definitely something.”

“A reflection from something on the other side of the street, maybe?” Oliver shrugged.

“But then why is it only in that one shot,” Aurora asked. “Look at the timestamps– there’s only a tenth of a second between the shots.”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged again. “Perhaps it’s something in your camera, rather than my house.”

That made them look at each other. Before either had a chance to get their feet back under them, he pressed on. “Look, you said in your letter you wanted to do an interview. Let’s go through your questions, and I’m sure you’ll be satisfied that your time will be better spent looking for hauntings in a livelier place.”

An hour later, Aurora and Will were stepping through the front door, thanking Oliver for his time. He bid them a polite good evening, while inwardly shouting and don’t come back! When they were off the porch, he turned out the light in the foyer, then stood and watched them, concealed by the sheer across the little window in the door and the glare of the porch light. They crossed to a small car, and drove away moments after climbing in. No more pictures taken.

Oliver went upstairs, shaking his head. He had heard the stories about the house from the neighbours when he and Ellen had moved in. Those stories had become cross-fence jokes during barbecue season, and had dropped entirely after the car accident. Perhaps, with the intrepid Aurora and Will seen off, their questions about cold spots and unexpected noises all answered in the negative, he would hear no more about those long-ago spectral tales.

He paused at the front bedroom, the one he and Ellen had always called the spare. He took a deep breath, partially because he was getting old and stairs were not getting easier, and partially because he hadn’t remembered to sigh with relief when his visitors drove off. He tapped at the door, then opened it just a crack.

“They’re gone,” he said. “I won’t be having them back.”

From somewhere in the darkness of the spare room, an echo of his sigh drifted.

“Inktober 2019 – Ghost” ©2019 Dirck de Lint.

Sinterklaasjegeshenk!

Dutch is not the equal of German when it comes to menacingly long compound words, but sometimes it offers up a good’un.

Today is the festival of St. Nicholas, familiarly Sinterklaas to the Dutch, when good kids get a present and bad kids get threatened with abduction to Spain, because we’re still upset about the Thirty Years War and colonialism. We won’t, to avoid roaring arguments about racism versus cultural heritage, think too hard about St. Nick’s sidekick who does the abducting. Let’s just imagine a regional variant of Krampus and leave it at that.

ANYWAY, by way of observing Sinterklaasje and honouring my own paternal heritage, and to also nod to the British seasonal tradition of a ghost story, I’m posting Wassail today. Keep warm, as the sun prepares for its bounce off the southern limit of its yearly wobble, and if you have a sufficiency of bounty please share it with your fellows.

Terrifying Return of All True Ghost Horror!

In honor of the best event the calendar year offers, I’m posting another little look at my own interactions with the misty realms of which we know but dimly, with an explanation of Why I Believe in Ghosts.  Like last year’s excursion, the most startling thing about the whole affair is the title of this announcement post.  Also like last year’s post, this is not to say that there aren’t chills to be had from reading it… if you consider the broader and ongoing implications of true ghost stories.

A Traditional Holiday Story

Well… not really.

There is the British tradition of creepy stories at this time of year, as exemplified by most of M.R. James’s output, and I can more or less hang Occasional Lapses of Service on that hook.  I suspect James would probably chastise me slightly for stepping away from one of his very useful guidelines in the writing of ghost stories, one which I generally cling to pretty firmly– but it’s not really a ghost story either, so I will nod my head in admission of the departure without feeling that I’ve actually strayed from the path.

It is also not a traditional Christmas story in most other senses of the that phrase, even though there is a passing reference to carol singing.  It is, however, presented only days ahead of Christmas, and is meant as a gift to the world in general.

And now, as last year, it’s time to get seasonal liver damage through the fat and alcohol content of egg nog, and cuddle my son while we decide if that noise on the roof is a reindeer, a lead-footed squirrel (of which we’ve many in the neighbourhood), or something else entirely.  Wæs hæil, everyone!

All True Ghost Horror!

Hyperbole sure is easy!

For Hallowe’en, I thought I would offer a small recounting of a ghostly encounter of my very own.  Like a proper real-life ghost story, it does not have a very firm narrative line, and it also doesn’t have much that a dedicated sceptic can’t dismiss out of hand.

There also isn’t, at least on the part of the teller, horror.  My hair remained unwhitened.  My flesh barely crept at all.  But there is a lingering sense of having something happen which, dismissive sceptics be damned, satisfies Occam’s razor most readily by saying, “It was a ghost.”  Which, for someone who enjoys writing this sort of story, is kind of neat.

Everyone Knows Everyone

A new Current Story up today, “All the Old Familiar Faces.”  The inspiration for it was rattling around in my head for years, coming from a passing thought of Ellie Arroway towards the end of Contactof which I will say the movie is good, but if you don’t read the book, you’re missing a large quantity of good stuff.  There’s no requirement to know the novel to enjoy the story, and indeed even if you know the novel you may well not recognize the bit that stuck in my head.

I’ll also say that my use of the tag “ghost” on this entry is extremely broad application of the term.  I very nearly didn’t use it at all.

Christmas Vacation

With the exception of one anomalous year, I have never travelled at Christmas; I have enjoyed the luxury of living in the same city as my immediate family nearly my whole life.  This is not to say that I don’t want to travel, and indeed would travel a lot if means were at hand.  Since they’re not, I have to do my travelling in my imagination most of the time.

For example, there’s a bit of a framing device in the new Current Story, The Healing Power of Crystals, which suggests a trip to England undertaken by me and my wife.  Flummery, alas– she’s never been to Blighty, apart from a brief layover in Heathrow nearly twenty years ago (a frustration which still occasionally sets her quivering).  When we do go, I say with unfounded optimism, I hope any of our stops offer anything near this sort of entertainment.

To those who find themselves wondering why this story isn’t particularly Christmas-flavoured, I offer this defence: M.R. James’s stuff wasn’t often seasonally thematic either.

The Telling of Tales

The new Current Story has given me a lot of trouble.  Reticence is the third title I’ve hung on it, and while it’s the best so far I’m still not quite settled on it.  It also is so quiet in its approach that I feel a qualm hanging the label Horror on it, but it really doesn’t agree with anything else.  It’s more or less a ghost story, and definitely a story about haunting.

There is also a fairly open-ended game attached to this story.  To do homage to one of my psychopathies, I’m going to give away a fountain pen to the first person to comment on this post who can identify the four literary references I’m making in the story.  It’s not a very grand pen, but I like it enough myself to want to see it used more (I’ve got rather a lot of pens, and this one gets neglected in the crowd), and it comes in its original packaging so you can believe it’s brand new.  It’s also probably less reward than the work attached to it justifies, as a couple of the references involved are pretty obscure.

This very same Sheaffer 100 could be yours!

So, those inclined to a free pen, get your thinking caps on. Name the authors and works I’m referencing, and remember that as on Jeopardy, a nearly correct answer may help another contestant.  Unlike Jeopardy, the answer can be in the form of a statement, although question form will be admitted.

To comment, you have to tell the comment mechanism your email address.  That’s how I’ll contact you.  Please don’t put your address, email or otherwise in the comment; strange people may pester you.  Date stamps on comments will be considered authoritative; first correct answer is the only winner.