Ghosts of Christmas Past—An Anthology of Old & New Ghost Stories, ed. by Tim Martin, 2017 (TOC+Intro+Link)

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Table of Contents

Title Page
Copyright
Introduction by Tim Martin
M. R. JAMES The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance
JENN ASHWORTH Dinner for One
E. NESBIT The Shadow
LOUIS DE BERNIÈRES This Beautiful House
MURIEL SPARK The Leaf-Sweeper
FRANK COWPER Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk
E. F. BENSON The Step
BERNARD CAPES The Vanishing House
L. P. HARTLEY Someone in the Lift
ROBERT AICKMAN The Visiting Star
NEIL GAIMAN Nicholas Was
JEROME K. JEROME The Ghost of the Blue Chamber
KELLY LINK The Lady and the Fox
Acknowledgements


Introduction

We may think of ghost stories as a Victorian tradition, but the habit of telling spooky tales at the end of the year goes back a long way. Centuries before Dickens and his contemporaries began writing for a mass market fascinated by spiritualism and the occult, workers and families were gathering in the long nights to work, talk and swap tall stories of magic and horror. In 1725 the Newcastle historian Henry Bourne noted that ‘nothing is commoner in country places than for a whole family in a winter’s evening, to sit round the fire, and tell stories of apparitions and ghosts’. Even further back in time is Shakespeare’s character Mamilius, who observes that ‘a sad tale’s best for winter: I have one/ Of sprites and goblins’. In the trough of the seasons, where the days wither and the nights stretch out, our old nocturnal anxieties start to prickle again –and there has always been a delicious Schadenfreude about the ghost story, with its implicit contrast between Them Out There (hag-ridden, bedevilled, plagued by horrors) and Us In Here by the fire with our friends.

Despite the title, this isn’t entirely a book of Christmas ghost stories. The spooky tale set at Christmas, as opposed to told at Christmas, turns out to be less common than one might think –and one stricture feels like enough for a collection. Accordingly, and because misrule is another Christmas tradition, the wandering spirits that throng this collection haven’t had their IDs checked very carefully. Some are ghosts of Christmas past. Others are half-glimpsed Christmas monsters, horrifying Christmas presentiments, amorphous pools of Christmas malevolence, Christmas drunken hallucinations and, in one case, what may well be a Christmas demon. All, however, confine their haunting, chasing, shambling or manifesting to the festive season.

Ghost stories, appropriately, are a moonlighter’s profession: even the big names rarely build entire careers on them. M. R. James, whose Christmas chiller The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance is one of his most frightening pieces, was a medieval historian, director of the Fitzwilliam and translator of the Apocrypha who wrote (and read) his ghost stories to make friends shiver by candlelight. Edith Nesbit, who appears here with the elusive and terrifying The Shadow, fitted hers in between bestselling children’s novels (The Railway Children, The Phoenix and the Carpet) and running the Fabian Society. Writers as austere and waspish as Muriel Spark jostle in these pages with those as foppish and jolly as Jerome K. Jerome; in her bewilderingly calm ghost story The Leaf-Sweeper the ghost is still alive, in his Christmas entertainment (The Ghost of the Blue Chamber) the phantom likes to tempt boozers and strangle carol-singers. Like many such collections, this one is a strange come-all-ye of authors, like a hobbyist’s convention or the cast list for an Agatha Christie mystery.

‘You must have noticed,’ runs a line in Nesbit’s The Shadow, ‘that all the real ghost stories you have ever come close to, are like this … no explanation, no logical coherence’. Literary ghost stories, however, tend to split into two camps: the haunting and the horrifying. Robert Aickman’s The Visiting Star, like all this inimitably peculiar writer’s work, is more Tales of the Cryptic than Tales from the Crypt as it weaves its theatrical Christmas nightmare out of stifled comedy, semi-obscure mythical allusions (Iblis and Myrrha, among others, are worth scurrying to the encyclopaedia for) and moments of heart-stopping dread. In The Vanishing House, by the forgotten Victorian writer Bernard Capes, a bunch of travelling musicians encounter a winter horror in a brief dialect story that starts out as broad and boozy comedy and ends up feeling like a lost fragment of folktale. The yachtsman Frank Cowper’s Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk, a story disconcertingly cast in the documentary tone of real experience, is choked with ambient dread –few ghost stories manage to make sound so terrifying –but similarly light on explanation and dramatic form.

Other stories train their sights on emotions more complex than terror. Jenn Ashworth’s clever, despairing Dinner for One, not the only story in this volume to be narrated by the ghost, casts its central haunting as a ghastly co-dependent relationship or a form of domestic abuse. Louis de Bernières’s My Beautiful House is an oddity: a supernatural story, told with an admirable lightness of touch, that turns out to be more interested in heart-tugging melancholy than in bald horror. Kelly Link’s rather wondrous The Lady and the Fox, meanwhile, mixes timeworn notions of Christmas ghostery with a crackling contemporary tone and a fantasy story as old (and everlastingly youthful) as Tam Lin himself.

Not all the revenants here are quite so subtle. Neil Gaiman’s Nicholas Was, written for a Christmas card, is a 100-word exercise in jet-black comedy, describing a seasonal favourite who is less St Nicholas than Old Nick. Someone in the Lift by L. P. Hartley (famous for The Go-Between, but a dedicated producer producer of supernatural stories as well) is a Twilight Zone-style shocker whose nastiness is almost too blatant –that dot-dot-dot ending!–but manages a genuinely unsettling tone of supernatural foreshadowing in the first part. Written with dreadful relish, E. F. Benson’s The Step may be the least subtle of the stories in this collection: it’s a tale that demands to be read aloud, with the kind of climactic ‘boo’ that should send listeners howling into the festive night.

And what a long night it is, out there beyond the warm rooms and the firelight. Don’t worry about the noises. Ignore the moving shapes. It’s time to step out. Turn the page. Oh, and happy Christmas. If you come back.

Link

The Red Lodge—A Ghost Story for Christmas by H. Russell Wakefield (Info+Link)

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Reading a ghost story on Christmas eve was once as much a part of traditional Christmas celebrations as turkey, eggnog, and Santa Claus.

The “Red Lodge” is a magnificent Queen Anne house, the ideal rental for a young family on a much-needed holiday. But something is wrong at the Red Lodge. What caused the drownings of so many previous occupants? What dark presence lurks in the river? Why has the son grown sullen and afraid?

About the Author

HR Wakefield (1888 – 1964) was an English author and editor, considered one of the greatest ghost story writers of all time.

Read more, here…

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._Russell_Wakefield


Praise for “Seth’s” Christmas Ghost Stories Series…

“[This] series of Christmas ghost stories, miniature books chosen and illustrated by the cartoonist Seth … [offers] chills―and charm.”

―John Williams, New York Times Book Review

“I just bought my set of these and they … are … PERFECT. I hope they do these every year.”

―Patton Oswalt

“These are beautiful little books … [My family’s] been reading them at home, and we’ve actually put them away so we can re-read them on Christmas Eve.”

―Matt Galloway, CBC’s Metro Morning

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Art by Seth.


“For Seth, this is really a labour of love.”

―Peter Robb, Ottawa Citizen

“The two classic Christmas ghost stories that Seth and Biblioasis fashioned last year were a huge success for us. Nifty packaging, striking design―so Seth.”

―Ben McNally, Ben McNally Books, Toronto, ON

“Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories series resurrects the legacy of fireside tales at Christmas with these beautifully illustrated editions.”

―John Toews, McNally Robinson Booksellers, Winnipeg, MB

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Illustration for Dicken’s ghost story “The Signalman” by Seth.


About the Artist

5E15B7DA-A881-457D-9CB9-D9B761554905“Seth” is the pen name of Gregory Gallant (born September 16, 1962), a Canadian cartoonist best known for his series Palookaville and his mock-autobiographical graphic novel It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken (1996).

Read more, here…

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seth_(cartoonist)

Get the Books

http://biblioasis.com/product-category/fiction/seths-christmas-ghost-stories/

A Homosexual, a Pioneer, a Human rights Activist, & a Fiery Freedom Fighter—Hung by the Crown for Treason: Meet Sir Robert Casement

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Untold story of one of the most horrifying crimes of the twentieth century.

In September 1910, the human rights activist and anti-imperialist Roger Casement arrived in the Amazon to investigate reports of widespread human rights abuses in the vast forests stretching along the Putumayo river. There, the Peruvian entrepreneur Julio César Arana ran an area the size of Belgium as his own private fiefdom; his British registered company operated a systematic programme of torture, exploitation and murder.

Fresh from documenting the scarcely imaginable atrocities perpetrated by King Leopold in the Congo, Casement was confronted with an all too recognisable scenario. He uncovered an appalling catalogue of abuse: nearly 30,000 Indians had died to produce four thousand tonnes of rubber.

From the Peruvian rainforests to the City of London, Jordan Goodman, in The Devil and Mr. Casement, recounts a crime against humanity that history has almost forgotten, but whose exposure in 1912 sent shockwaves around the world. Drawing on a wealth of original research, The Devil and Mr Casement is a story of colonial exploitation and corporate greed with enormous contemporary political resonance.

Reviews

“Meticulously researched … A riveting, if harrowing, narrative which, in its treatment of corporate greed and exploitation, is full of contemporary resonance. A rich, moving, important book.” – Independent on Sunday

Above, clockwise: Casement in his 50s, he would be executed shortly; walking out of court after his appeal had been denied; Casement’s funeral in Ireland.

The New Yorker:

In 1910, the British government asked Roger Casement, a consular official, to investigate reports that a British-registered rubber-trading company was exploiting Barbadian workers in the Amazon. Intrepid and resourceful, Casement gathered testimonies about the armed extortion and debt bondage that supported the rubber trade. Back in London, he championed the rights of the Barbadian migrants as well as those of the indigenous Indians, tens of thousands of whom had died harvesting wild rubber for their masters. Casement was knighted for his efforts. But the adulation did not last. An Irish nationalist, he eventually left the consular services and devoted himself to organizing and arming the Irish Volunteers. In 1916, he was arrested and hanged for treason. With vivid touches of imagination and humor, Goodman captures the drama and paradox of Casement’s varied life. ♦

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In 1910, the British government asked Roger Casement, a consular official, to investigate reports that a British-registered rubber-trading company was exploiting Barbadian workers in the Amazon. Intrepid and resourceful, Casement gathered testimonies about the armed extortion and debt bondage that supported the rubber trade. Back in London, he championed the rights of the Barbadian migrants as well as those of the indigenous Indians, tens of thousands of whom had died harvesting wild rubber for their masters. Casement was knighted for his efforts. But the adulation did not last. An Irish nationalist, he eventually left the consular services and devoted himself to organizing and arming the Irish Volunteers. In 1916, he was arrested and hanged for treason. With vivid touches of imagination and humor, Goodman captures the drama and paradox of Casement’s varied life. ♦

Further Reading

https://www.firstworldwar.com/bio/casement.htm

http://www.easter1916.ie/index.php/people/a-z/roger-casement/

https://www.planetromeo.com/en/blog/gay-history-sir-roger-casement/

https://www.rte.ie/centuryireland/index.php/articles/the-life-and-death-of-roger-casement

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/28/roger-casement-gay-irish-martyr-or-victim-of-a-british-forgery

https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/roger-casement-easter-rising-executed

https://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n17/colm-toibin/a-man-of-no-mind

https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/11/roger-casement-the-gay-irish-humanitarian-who-was-hanged-on-a-comma

Click thumbnails to enlarge images:

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Link to The Devil and Mr. Casement

Gay or Mentally Ill? A Tragic Story of Canada’s finest symbolist poet…

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French-Canadian Poet Émile Nelligan (1879-1941), shown here at about age 20, was a francophone poet from Quebec. Highly influenced by the symbolist poetry of Paul Verlaine, Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Allan Poe and others, Nelligan was a precocious talent and published his first poems in Montreal at age 16. He supposedly suffered a major psychotic breakdown in 1899 and never finished his first book of poetry, which according to his notes, was to be named The Recital of Angels. His Collected Poems were published in 1903, and his reputation has only grown in the years since. He is now considered a Quebecois literary icon.


Above: Nelligan as a youth and at age 41 after 20 years in the asylum.

Christ on the Cross

I’d always gaze into this plaster Jesus
pitched like a pardon at the old abbey-door—
a black-gestured solemn scaffold
with saintly idolatry I’d bow before.

Now as I sat around at the hour of cricket’s play,
in funereal fields, blue-viewedly musing
one near-past night with wind-blown hair, reciting
Eloa, in that swelled esthetic ephebic way,

I noticed near the debris of a wall
the heavy old cross heaped up tall
and crumbled plaster among primroses

and I froze, doleful, with pensive eyes,
and heard spasmodic hammers strike, in me,
the black spikes of my own Calvary.

(Trans. by Marc di Saverio)


Above, left: A bust of Nelligan as an adolescent by Roseline Granet (2005); Carré Saint-Louis, Montréal. Above, right: A monument to Nelligan in Québec by Gregory Pototsky (2004).

Soir d’Hiver

Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre
À la douleur que j’ai, que j’ai.

Tous les étangs gisent gelés,
Mon âme est noire ! où-vis-je ? où vais-je ?
Tous ses espoirs gisent gelés:
Je suis la nouvelle Norvège
D’où les blonds ciels s’en sont allés.

Pleurez, oiseaux de février,
Au sinistre frisson des choses,
Pleurez, oiseaux de février,
Pleurez mes pleurs, pleurez mes roses,
Aux branches du genévrier.

Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah ! comme la neige a neigé !
Qu’est-ce que le spasme de vivre
À tout l’ennui que j’ai, que j’ai !…


About the Poet

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Émile_Nelligan

Voir aussi:

https://fr.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Émile_Nelligan

Émile Nelligan was a talented and poet, born in Quebec in 1879. His first poems, heavily influenced by the work of Charles Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe, were published in Montreal when he was only 16.

By age 20, in 1899, Nelligan began exhibiting strange behavior. He would spend nights sleeping in chapels and yelling out poetry to passing strangers on the street. He became plagued by hallucinations and attempted suicide. It is said that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed to a psychiatric hospital by his parents.

Some biographers claim that Nelligan was likely gay   and may have become mentally ill due to inner conflict between his religious upbringing and his homosexuality. Others have suggested that he was not mentally ill but was committed by his parents because of homosexuality.

Once hospitalized, Nelligan stopped writing poetry. However, in 1903 his collected poems were published to great acclaim in Canada. When he died in 1941, it is believed that he was completely unaware that he was counted as one of French Canada’s greatest poets.

Antique Books! Ghost-Land: Or Researches into the Mysteries of Occultism—Illustrated in a Series of Autobiographical Sketches by Emma Hardinge Britten, 1876 (TOC+Preface+Introduction+Link)

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Free Linking  to the Book in the Public Domain!

https://ia801408.us.archive.org/2/items/ghostlandorrese02britgoog/ghostlandorrese02britgoog.pdf

 

Current Read: The Isle, A New England Gothic Novel by John C. Foster! (Chapter 1+Link)

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Chapter One

“I need you to bring back a body.”

Bone decided to drive off the end of the pier, but his foot had already slipped from the accelerator to the brake, a betrayal so automatic that the opportunity was missed before he could seize it.

Wind leaned against the hearse, rocking it on its springs as he sat and considered his orders. He considered corpses and the function of the vehicle he drove. He considered the drifting nature of his movements since the accident and slid out of the hearse before the spiral became inescapable, a long man wearing a black raincoat and fresh facial scars.

Dawn was a red rim of anger on the horizon as the storm gathered its strength and the wind tried to rip the door from his grip. Waves detonated against the rocks with loud explosions of white foam, the ocean matching the swirling fury of the storm clouds overhead.

“I need you to bring back a body.” Marching orders. He looked away from the hearse, remembering the last time he had seen such a car, freshly waxed and gleaming in the October sun. This one was dirt-streaked and hunched against November. He thought it more appropriate to its function. The Atlantic beckoned to him, and he touched the change in his pocket, thinking about coins for the ferryman.

“Some sonofabitch is standing out on North Pier,” old Vic said from the window inside the cramped Dock Office. His big-knuckled, arthritic hands were holding a bulky pair of binoculars he had owned since his time in Vietnam, and he adjusted the focus to see better.

“Yep,” the dock boss said from his perch at the rickety metal desk. The white paint was mostly gone and salt air had rusted the legs, but it held his ledger, dock schedule and overstuffed ticket book—he was a demon for writing tickets—and worked “well enough” as he liked to say about anything that didn’t need change. “Bastid asked to charter a boat out to the Isle.”

Vic turned away from the window with its view of fishing boats bobbing at anchor in the small bay. “Ain’t no one fool enough to run ‘im out there,” he said.

The dock boss leaned over and spit a mass of phlegm and tobacco juice into the Folger’s can he kept on the floor for just that purpose.

“Could be I mentioned that, and could be that’s why he’s standin’ over there on North Pier waitin’ on the Isle boat herself.”

Vic returned to looking out the window at the slim, black figure waiting alone. “Well I’ll be. Is that his hearse parked out there?”

The front door banged open just then and two fishermen bundled inside. “Gonna get big weather today,” a bearded fisherman in a thick sweater said as he headed over to the coffee pot and poured dubious-looking sludge into a Styrofoam cup.

“What you looking at?” the other newcomer asked, nicknamed Babyface for the obvious reason.

“Fella wants to charter a boat out to the Isle.”

Babyface and his partner exchanged looks.

“Isle folk are awfully jealous about their waters,” the bearded man said.

“Ain’t no one fool enough to run him out there,” Babyface said.

“If another body repeats that phrase, I believe I will shoot him,” the dock boss said, spitting a wad that rocked the Folger’s can. The bearded fisherman glanced in the can and gave the dock boss a nod of respect before taking a sip of coffee.

“Jesus Christ, this is awful,” he said, frowning at his cup.

“Second pot,” Vic said, and the other man nodded. The dock boss was in the habit of using coffee grounds at least twice to save money.

“Say,” Vic said as Babyface held out a hand for the binoculars. “What’d he want out there?”

The dock boss shrugged. “Didn’t rightly say, but he showed me a badge. A Federal badge no less.”

“FBI, DEA?” the bearded man asked as he put on a new pot of coffee. The dock boss ignored him.

“So you get a man with a Federal badge, which means he’s carryin’ a Federal gun, and he shows up drivin’ a hearse. Ain’t too hard to jump to a certain conclusion,” the dock boss said, not entirely sure what that conclusion was but enjoying the expressions on the faces of the two younger men.

“If Old Jenny gets her teeth into him, this Federal man might be finding himself in the back of that hearse on the return trip, badge or no badge,” Vic said.

“Yep,” the dock boss said.

“Yep,” the bearded man said.

Babyface surrendered the binoculars and echoed the common wisdom. Hell, everybody knew to avoid that stretch of the Atlantic. Boats that didn’t had a habit of not returning to port.

“Yep.”

Link

“Redneck Bouquet”—A Poem by Jeff Mann

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Redneck Bouquet

(for John)

A mason jar
of blooming thistles

on the mantelpiece,
the same belligerent blossom

inked into my left forearm.
Scotland’s echo,

Nemo me inpune lacessit,
or, in Scots, Wha daur meddle

wi me? or, in hillbilly
Nobody fucks with me

and gets away with it.
Nearly every inch a thorn

or prick, guarding
that lavender bloom

soft as duckling feathers,
as a man’s glans, hair-

rimmed areola or musky
nether gate.

Scent of summer meadows,
of the sweaty hayfields,

savagery brandishing
a sword, born to shield

what is beloved, what is tender.
Stick your rules up your ass,

is its snarled language.
Don’t get too close.

I will live as I please.
I will grow where

it is isolate and free,
far from groomed lawns,

in the rebels’ lofty bastions,
in the outlaws’ waste places.

—Jeff Mann

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Source: https://www.chelseastationmagazine.com/2018/07/redneck-bouquet.html

________

Jeff Mann has published five books of poetry, Bones Washed with Wine, On the Tongue, Ash, A Romantic Mann, and Rebels; two collections of essays, Edge and Binding the God; a book of poetry and memoir, Loving Mountains, Loving Men; six novels, Fog, Purgatory, Cub, Salvation, Country, and Insatiable; and three volumes of short fiction, A History of Barbed Wire, Desire and Devour, and Consent.  The winner of two Lambda Literary Awards and two Pauline Réage Novel Awards, he teaches creative writing at Virginia Tech.  His website is jeffmannauthor.com