31 thoughts on “UNFINISHED BUSINESS – A Ghost Story Anthology

  1. MAN-SIZE IN MARBLE by Edith Nesbit

    “…stricken by lightening and the vengeance of Heaven.”

    The big house, thus stricken, once built upon which land the cottage now sits wherein the lovey-dovey, arty couple, Laura and and the narrator who called her Pussy, have found to live near an atmospheric but superstitious village and its lonely church. The playing out, in chilling inevitability, of a legend within marble that we all now know about from this famous story from an equally famous horror writer who also wrote, incidentally, children’s books. This couple never bore children thus lightened.
This story its own memorial to monumental catharsis.

    “…a horror indefinable and indescribable—an overwhelming certainty of supreme and accomplished calamity.”

    ***

    “lightening’ (sic) in this edition of the story and I have discovered in many other editions of it, too.

    lightening n. — a drop in the level of the uterus during the last weeks of pregnancy as the head of the fetus engages in the pelvis.

    My review of THE WHITE LADY by E. Nesbit: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/12/06/remember-the-dead/#comment-17575
    and THE AUNT AND THE AMABEL by E. Nesbit: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/22826-2/#comment-15194

  2. Yet each man kills the thing he loves,…” Oscar Wilde

    PODOLO by L.P. Hartley

    “On the horizon it looks like a foot-rule. Even now, though I have been there many times, I cannot say whether it is a hundred yards long or two hundred. But I have no wish to go back and make certain.”

    The (probably male) narrator and Angela in white dress, with Mario the gondolier travel to what we sense is an island (Podolo) that is left alone four miles from Venice for good reasons? Angela’s husband has gone for the day on business to Trieste, a husband who jokes that he does not always welcome her to always welcome him. He likes her adventuring for her own sake without him? And the supposed deserted island, impossible to have anyone on there judging by the evidence, a foot-rule length, or a knife blade only as long as up to a stalwart little finger’s third joint, and an old military battery (“concrete emplacement, about as long as a tennis court, remained: but nature and the weather had conspired to break it up, leaving black holes large enough to admit a man”), ending with a single oar and “the horizon black” to match the possible “negro” we glimpse earlier on all fours. I was caught up if not put down with so much in all that, I got over-accustomed to the several references to the lonesome castaway of a cat and its wild spitting-toward-punctured-hiss. It needs to be captured back to Venice or put down (‘murdered’) or it’ll starve? And it was hinted at the start of this work that Angela is kind-hearted enough to do either. But I read far more within the measured lines of this chilling story. But whence did the machine gun reference derive?

    “‘Ha fatto male,’ said Mario. ‘In this country we are not accustomed to kill cats.’”

    PS: I now see that some readers think the narrator is female. I think it important that it is male in the context of the story. Or have I missed something?

  3. THE RED SHOES by Hans Christian Andersen

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    This famous story of a girl called Karen (meaning ‘pure’) and the red dancing shoes she can’t take off short of chopping off the feet in them …
    The story’s officious guardian angel with wings from shoulders down to feet and the happy ending in Heaven are based on the author’s middle name. A purity of no-body, as the eventual end result. Any ‘church portraits’ as memorabilia, notwithstanding, I guess.

    “She danced over an unfenced graveyard, but the dead did not join her dance. They had better things to do.”

    ***

    “They’re gonna make her dance ’til her legs fall off (yeah)” — Kate Bush (Red Shoes)

    “Sidesteps the puddle, her red shoes shining.” — Daniel Mills (Dream Children)

    “…malleable deceptive convalescent states in this pocket of null.” — Karim Ghahwagi (The Liminal Void)

  4. THE INVISIBLE EYE: Erckmann Chatrian

    This is a crammed story that feels iconic as well as evil, somehow archetypal as well as original, insidiously telling of the eponymous eye’s surveillance through a raised roof slate, the intense balance (“She heaved a deep sigh and leant upon an elbow. I rested in the same way.”) of mimicking between a jobbing artist as narrator (controlled, I sense, by greater more insidious narrative force upon any reader’s enforced interpretation, as another invisible eye(I)) and an old woman, the latter arguably being the wicked catalyst, by such a mimicking balance, of a virus of suicides in guests of an inn, with its iron stanchion sign for them to hang from.

  5. CELUI-LÀ: Eleanor Scott

    “Anyhow, he wasn’t going to give up his evening strolls for a superstition of someone else’s!”

    This story is a wrapped superstition within the truth of a haunting. Roughshod and clumsy, it carries a punch, paralleling both the mimicking buildings above with a church in Brittany being attached to a derelict church next to it like a tumour, with yellow and gold and crimson paint and revealing a mural that echoes a being, a woman or monk or a walking insanity, that was seen earlier on the beach, and a second shadow where only one should have been, also echoing the Breton ambiance in The King In Yellow (reviewed here.) A figure as if from Oh Whistle! (reviewed here). On the shingle beach indeed, to the sound of howling and a bed of toads (or a single toad like Azathoth?), and the friend sent here to convalesce by another friend, and which one of them, as they get confused in my mind, Foster and Maddox, treading clumsily upon the superstitions of the fearful, local curé with a found art from the beach as casket with a parchment pointing to the something that could only be called THAT ONE. A necessarily nemonymous evil… Clumsily told on purpose! — to make the horror oblique or askew enough, to creep in naively where many other stories can’t … to worry even the bravest or most experienced reader of ghosts.

    “I had hoped for lilies of gold, but gold paint, it is incredible, the cost! And the new chapel I will have in crimson for the Sacred Heart, with hearts of yellow as a border. It will be gay, isn’t it?”

  6. AEE83772-9AD4-4A00-9790-5FFC730D8010

    This story was originally read by me in this book. My first memory of any book, as a toddler in the early 1950s, was this book on a sparsely populated bookshelf owned by my dear Mum and Dad.

    THE MONKEY’S PAW: W. W. JACOBS

    “; of wars and plagues and strange peoples.”

    A paw that had only three wishes but an infinite number of people who could ask of it their own bespoke three wishes. This famous story of an old couple with their three wishes available from the eponymous fakir-tinctured paw that twitched in the hand, by so-called coincidence or not, when any wish was asked of it, a story spoken of to me by my late lamented father-in-law, many years ago, as his most terrifying experience from reading any fiction. From a friendly game of chess between a father and son to a mother’s ‘impressive chords’ on a piano to cotton she picked off trousers and a pareidolia of faces in a fire to a Maw and Meggins machine starting up, a clock ticking a squeaky mouse or rat, a machine that clogged up life’s flesh to the sound of a door-bolt drawn “stiffly from the socket” by raising oneself on a chair…

    A w added to ww to make www? “…his blotchy face whitened. ‘And did you really have the three wishes granted?’ asked Mrs White.”

    “‘What’s that?’ cried the old woman, starting up.”

  7. Possible spoilers

    THE LISTENER: ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

    “The chance was a mere chance, and unworthy of record.”

    This story of a striving writer who takes on a property cheap, without knowing why it is cheap in an erstwhile London.
    And finds it full of things like…

    “The floor of my sitting-room has valleys and low hills on it, and the top of the door slants away from the ceiling with a glorious disregard of what is usual. They must have quarreled – fifty years ago – and have been going apart ever since.”
    and
    “…the same uncouth figure of a man crept back to my bedside, and bending over me with his immense head close to my ear whispered repeatedly in my dreams, “I want your body; I want its covering. I’m waiting for it, and listening always.”

    Cats stalking him from outside, rats inside, winds full of tricks and larks, dreams of dreams and the Listener who terrifies him as the narrator eventually follows him to the room upstairs, and thoughts fighting thoughts within the narrator’s brain he can’t control (“unusual thoughts, thoughts I have never had before, about medicines and drugs and the treatment of strange illnesses”), and mention of de Quincey alongside suicides cursed with ‘reclothing’ themselves upon earth, the sense of a closeness of a loathsome disease, a bad egg, and a landlady with a tablecloth that makes his clothes feel crooked and she also has a “son who is ‘somethink on a homnibus.’” A repeated refrain throughout of this son on an omnibus. But what is that to do with the suspensively awaited Chapter to rescue the narrator? But rescue him from what… a ghost of a leper as a mere chance decoy from a terrifying truth, so worth recording, after all?

    “I am looking forward very much to Chapter’s arrival. […] I wish Chapter would come. My facts are all ready marshalled,…”
    The narrator’s thoughts versus Chapter’s thoughts like two sets of bombs.
    And my italics here…
    “He talked and I listened. But, so full was I of the horrid thing I had to tell that I made a poor listener. I was forever watching my opportunity to leap in and explode it all under his nose.”
    Some think ‘hominibus’ (Latin), cf “somethink on a homnibus.”

    Hic liber a duobus hominibus scriptus est.

    My previous reviews of Algernon Blackwood: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/ancient-sorceries-and-other-chilling-tales-by-algernon-blackwood/

  8. Pingback: THE LISTENER: ALGERNON BLACKWOOD | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  9. One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Nugent Barker

    “Then I tried the latch, and found myself at once in a room that seemed to spread over the whole house. For all I knew, it was the house. The endless sagging beams helped to make it look like that, I think.”

    Well, I know this review site is headed with, inter alia, ‘Various passions of the reading moment’, well, here it is – possibly the most frightening ghost story told by someone in front of a roaring fire, later morphing into a nightmare based on the nonsense of a nursery rhyme. It has everything you would hope or dread or expect, a haunted nursery, a fat-womanish pursuer, a secret garden and more. It is as good as all that sounds and should not be missed.

    “ I pulled up my chair, spread my elbows, and wrote at once, in viridian green, on a new page;
    ‘One, two, buckle my shoe;
    Three, four, knock at the door;
    Five, six, pick up sticks;
    Seven, eight, lay them straight;
    Nine, ten, a fine fat hen;
    Eleven, twelve, dig and delve.’”

  10. THE EYES OF THE PANTHER: AMBROSE BIERCE

    “Surprise — an emotion unknown in dream.”

    Arguably, a tale of male /female orientations and stereotypes. And differing points of view. A truly chilling story, too, of self-persuaded horror linking myths and dreams and today’s reality (“…she had only mistaken an effect of her mental disorder for its cause, bringing into imaginary relation with her own personality the vagaries of the local myth-makers”), a panther recurrently leaning upon its hindlegs to look into windows, with its searing eyes.
    Also, a misbegotten romantic wooing, with mention of a woman’s “few foolish books” and her baby’s “exultant goo-goos”. A candle she left at a window to welcome her forest hunter home, but attracting one of the panthers, instead. To become one of the panthers (as a were-panther?) or to ‘feast with panthers’, as the infamous Oscar Wilde saying goes, a saying as left unsaid by the woman protagonist here, relating to a potential such feasting-with-panthers by Charles Marlowe and the character called Jenner Brading drafted into the story as a legal respectability who also wanted to marry this woman, a woman who calmly called herself insane but she also told the story through yet another man, the author who created them all!
    For ‘congenial’, please also read ‘conjugal’? — “Was it not possible that the one story had suggested the other – that finding congenial conditions in a morbid mind and a fertile fancy, it had grown to the tragic tale that he had heard?”
    Whatever disguised didactic surprise it may carry, this story is an intriguing discovery for me thanks to this book.

  11. A wholer, not a whaler?

    THE HABITANTS OF MIDDLE ISLET: William Hope Hodgson

    “…’ow bloomin’ clean an’ tidy she is. It aren’t nat’ral.’ He waved his hand towards the surrounding deck furniture. ‘Everythin’ as if she was just goin’ inter port, an’ ‘er a bloomin’ wreck.’”

    This is a suspenseful tale, of a man, with a friend as narrator, who arranges a trip to the South Atlantic to investigate the ship Happy Return in which his beloved and agonisingly missed sweetheart was lost, the ship having been earlier located as a tenantless derelict wreck in a chasmic pit between islets, as located by a whaler who spoke the above words in perfect elision and he accompanies the two men as guide on this mission. It is a whole experience, I guess, much like the Marie Celeste, except the calendar in the cabin has today’s date. And when they return the next day it has been changed yet again to today’s date. A mystery eventually blossoming by means of a vision of a tentacular Kraken creature or the pareidolia of faces in the water, and which of these you will have to find out for yourself. A tale of still unrequited love? All, I can say is that this story possesses its own pareidolia of eliding and eluding images within it that, together, dearly gave me one of those rare deep fiction frissons I ever seek.

  12. Pingback: Deep Sea Frisson | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  13. SEASHORE MACABRE (A Moment’s Experience): Hugh Walpole

    “…and Mrs. A – , the friendly, soft-hearted and deeply pessimistic farmer’s wife, making cakes, hot and spicy….”

    This quite short story is indeed momentous. How have I not read it before? A real discovery. The above quote is from its disarming start — a boy (with his residual threepence of pocket money and wild imaginings generated by the popular literature of the day that he gladly tells us about) on an idyllic day at the seaside with his family (a seaside called Seascale evoked wondrously here) — staying at their usual farm lodgings, but why did I read over those two words ‘deeply pessimistic’ and then forget them? Well, I can only assume I was fazed by the most frightening ending in any story, featuring, at first, the boy’s involuntary following of a local old man back to his cottage…. If I told you more (and there is more), I would become complicit!

  14. THIS HOUSE IS EVIL: Robert Haining

    “It was as if I was standing before an old man, blinded by age, who could still summon up his pride to stand solid and upright before me, his gaze fixed upon some distant vision of hope from which he carefully excluded me.”

    Another old man! This being our first impression of a meticulously abandoned house where the car-journeying narrator has taken us – on a caprice – as he stops to look around it and, finding it empty, he, rather cheekily, stays the night!

    “- a place from which several years before the family then living there had made a slow orderly departure, leaving behind only such items as were deemed dispensable. Indeed all that remained were faded broken remnants.”

    For example, no stair carpet, just stair rods. An almost deliberate naive attempt at building this house from the middle of nowhere as a rough-hewn horror story, discovery by discovery, authorial whim by authorial whim, until we learn about the blue light in the ferns, and the grooves that the narrator finds in the floors, grooves that enable moving tableaux of hinged waxwork dummies from room to room, re-enacting crimes and their subsequent courtroom trials. And he desperately seeks the root of the machinery behind these tricks so as to annul his own implicated presence in such tableaux seeing that he is visibly evidenced within them.
    So, we receive an impression of someone methodically creating such building-blocks of ‘story’. And if the simple reading of this doodled or makeshift work itself does not provide a ghastly or ghostly frisson, worrying about the author’s intentions behind it certainly does. And it’s unfinished business indeed!

    “What an absurd and gruesome hobby…”

  15. THE THREE Ds: Ogden Nash

    “‘No girl has ever had a taller, livelier companion than my shadow,’ thought Victoria, and she breathed deeply and spread her arms, and her shadow breathed with her and spread crooked arms…”

    This is a perfect little terrifying gem and yet another discovery by this book. The tale of Victoria who wanted to join the select group at boarding school by “a feat Daring, Deadly, and Done-never-before.”
    I dare not tell you more about the plot of the story because the story is wholly its own daring, deadly, done-never-before plot.

    A brief personal aside: I see the select group already comprises Amanda, Miranda, Amelia and Cordelia. And now Victoria? You will see, depending on what she left behind in the shape of her anonymous self. At least she had the qualification of an ‘a’ at the end of her name! A name is the shadow of us all, a blend with the person it names as done-never-before?

  16. Pingback: THE THREE Ds: Ogden Nash | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

  17. MÈRE MAXIM: Elliot O’Donnell

    “He was now so frightened that he ran, and queer – indefinably queer footsteps ran after him, and followed him persistently…”

    Horror for horror’s sake. Unmitigated by any message it holds. A young man who meets the ultimate Maxim as a sexy witch in the heart of the (mind’s?) deep forest — a maxim such as: don’t blame humanity’s ills on any other? — and thus destroys himself.
    His beloved fiancée, back home, becomes a monster herself, as transferred collateral damage.


  18. THE DEAD SMILE by F. Marion Crawford


    This has a Gothic and melodramatic feel, often florid and overblown, with evil stained into every word, but such drawbacks  do not obviate the sheer terror and eventual suspense of seeking out its core secret, a terror that has haunted me all these years, to the extent that I once sought secondhand bookshops for more books  by F. Marion Crawford, many of them tedious and long since ditched…


    Indeed, I think the central idea embodied in the title — “the dead smile that would not die”— is so ingenious by the contiguity of the title’s constituent  words, I felt, even while I  actually re-read it, what ‘they’ actually felt within the story itself: “— they felt the dead smile crawling along their own lips.”


    And the fact that the family’s corpses could not keep lying down when laid to rest! — and the fact they defiantly stood up drying in their tombs was a mote I could not remove from my mind’s eye, for they stood up again in desiccation and desecration even when they were re-laid to rest.


    ***


    Let me take you through it, but please beware spoilers – or worse!


    “Nurse Macdonald, who was a hundred years old, said that when Sir Hugh smiled he saw the faces of two women in hell — two dead women he had betrayed. The smile widened.”


    That somehow gives the ending away – straight from the start. But it fooled me again, and the suspense grew and grew, until, at the final elbow-moment of revelation shown later below, it was relieved by knowing what the secret was. Not half so bad as I expected, and I wondered if the two ‘cousins’, Gabriel and Evelyn, were going to indulge in incest!


    And the dead smile and the yearning for the secret of that very smile are like L.P. Hartley’s autonomous THOUGHT that I encountered HERE, fortuitously, only a few days ago. In the FMC, it is called ‘the master thought’!


    “It was like a bad dream, for he tried not to smile and smiled the more.”


    “The smile was like the shadow of death and the seal of damnation upon her pure, young face.


    “‘If he dies with it,’ answered Gabriel, ‘let it be on his own head!’”


    “‘On his head!’ echoed the dim hall. It was a strange echo. Some were frightened by it, for they said that if it were a real echo it should repeat everything and not give back a phrase here and there — now speaking, now silent. Nurse Macdonald said that the great hall would never echo a prayer when an Ockram was to die, though it would give back curses ten for one.”


    “They say an Ockram will not lie in a coffin.”


    “And their faces, that were so strangely alike, met and touched. Gabriel knew that the kiss had a marvelous savor of evil. Evelyn’s lips were like the cool breath of a sweet and mortal fear that neither of them understood, for they were innocent and young. Yet she drew him to her by her lightest touch, as a sensitive plant shivers, waves its thin leaves, and bends and closes softly upon what it wants. He let himself be drawn to her willingly — as he would even if her touch had been deadly and poisonous — for he strangely loved that half voluptuous breath of fear, and he passionately desired the nameless evil something that lurked in her maiden lips.”


    “‘It is as if we loved in a strange dream,’ she said.”


    “‘I fear the waking,’ he murmured. ‘We shall not wake, dear. When the dream is over it will have already turned into death, so softly that we shall not know it. But until then…’”


    Nurse Macdonald’s “thumbs grown longer than the fingers with age.”


    “His writhing lips began to smile across his yellow teeth, and his toadlike eyes glowed like evil jewels in his head.”


    “…the fear-shriek of a tormented corpse out of which the soul cannot pass for shame of deadly sins.”


    “They know it in hell.”


    “Sir Gabriel and Evelyn were left standing alone at the head of the table before the wreck of their feast, not daring to turn to look at one another, for each knew that the other smiled.”


    The Irish maid “was knitting fast. Her needles clicked like three or four clocks ticking against each other. But the real clock on the wall solemnly ticked alone,…”


    Even the Nurse’s cat had the dead smile! Probably the most frightening moment of all.


    And the clinging ‘master thought’:


    “The dream faded far and in its place there came the master thought that racked his life.”


    “There was a frightful stench of drying death.”


    And then that elbow-trigger of impending catharsis….


    “Slowly he lifted it. It clove to the half-dried skin of the face, and his hand shook as if someone had struck him on the elbow,…”


    ***

    My other reviews of this author in comment stream here: https://nullimmortalis.wordpress.com/26857-2/

  19. SKULLS IN THE STARS: Robert E. Howard

    “This was heaping horror on horror in an intolerable manner.”

    I used to read much Robert E. Howard, but not for many many years. This Solomon Kane story now comes as a subsuming of shapelessness battling with the shape of self, indeed, a story possessing an archetypal Judgement of Solomon to choose between two roads, one across the moors and the other swamps. It is what it is and what you expect it to be. Great to be reminded of what I had not missed till now. And never too late to to find a track to the road I did not choose, without going back. Crossing from fiction’s cerebral smoke ghost and mirrors to its fanged fungal flesh — the final battle for my gestalt. Business still unfinished.

    “If he must die he would die in his tracks, his wounds in front.”

  20. A VIGNETTE: M R James

    “….there is nothing that diffuses a mysterious gloom or imparts a sinister flavour – nothing of melancholy or funereal associations. The place is well clad, and there are secret nooks and retreats among the bushes, but there is neither offensive bleakness nor oppressive darkness.”

    This is another revelation for me. I did not know or failed to remember that this MR James story existed. A posed “You are made to think…” situation whereby the eventual spookiness is one that you need to induce into non-spookiness. And it somehow becomes spookier as a result, a sense that something spooky is outside your home wherever it is, to be glimpsed from the window or is it something inside you? Was it a dream of the soft shapelessness that had transmigrated from the previous story and is now behind the hard Plantation gate and you can see it moving behind the gate’s square latch-aperture? It is utterly real! A sort of hide and seek with a hideous idea? “…’the hidea of such a thing!’”
    Puckishly Aickman-like, and Elizabeth Bowenesque. Walter de la Mare, too.

    “…dreading that in some quarter my fear would take a visible shape.”

    My previous reviews of M.R. James: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/my-ongoing-reviews-of-m-r-james-stories/

    ***

    This book genuinely musters its own induced series of fears and terrors against the backdrop of what you think you see as the non-fiction truth in your own life. The shapes or ideas hiding between each most remarkable colour artwork, twenty of them if you include the ‘The Rose Garden’ cover. The ghostly gestalt of this anthology’s editorially bespoke spookiness that just unmistakably spoke in your ear, after merely whispering in it till now. A business that is finished, but with a lingering imaginative space to be filled with fiction truth. Hidden, sought, and now found.

    end

  21. Pingback: Links to some of my recent reviews of miscellaneous and older ghost or horror stories…. | The Gestalt Real-Time Reviews of Books

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