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“Nobody in that quiet neighbourhood had a clue about the battle of good and evil that was about to take place in that quaint brick house.”
– Steve LaChance, Author of Confrontation with Evil: An In-Depth Review of the 1949 Possession That Inspired The Exorcist, Llewellyn, 2017
CAUTION! PLEASE READ AT YOUR OWN RISK…
The following post contains language and situations that some readers may find offensive or troubling. Reader discretion is advised.
A Message from the Editor…
Some believe that, when we share words such as those shared here, other…things…travel along with those shared words—whether it be through a discussion, a letter, a phone call, a text message, or the Internet—things of a less beneficent nature than the sharer would have originally intended. This is most likely the very reason why a devoutly religious man, such as Father William Bowdern, chose not to comment very often, if at…
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“The Story of a Ghost”
From a “Letter to Sura”
Pliny, the Younger*, ca. 70s AD
Our leisure furnishes me with the opportunity of learning from you, and you with that of instructing me. Accordingly, I particularly wish to know whether you think there exist such things as phantoms, possessing an appearance peculiar to themselves, and a certain supernatural power, or that mere empty delusions receive a shape from our fears. For my part, I am led to believe in their existence, especially by what I hear happened to Curtius Rufus.
While still in humble circumstances and obscure, Curtius Rufus was a hanger-on in the suit of the Governor of Africa. While pacing the colonnade one afternoon, there appeared to him a female form of superhuman size and beauty. She informed the terrified man that she was “Africa,” and had come to foretell future events; for that he would go…
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The Story of the Rippling Train
Mary Louisa Molesworth, 1888
‘Let’s tell ghost stories then,’ said Gladys.
‘Aren’t you tired of them? One hears nothing else nowadays. And they’re all “authentic,” really vouched for, only you never see the person who saw or heard or felt the ghost. It is always somebody’s sister or cousin, or friend’s friend,’ objected young Mrs Snowdon, another of the guests at the Quarries.
‘I don’t know that that is quite a reasonable ground for discrediting them en masse,’ said her husband. ‘It is natural enough, indeed inevitable, that the principal or principals in such cases should be much more rarely come across than the stories themselves. A hundred people can repeat the story, but the author, or rather hero, of it, can’t be in a hundred places at once. You don’t disbelieve in any other statement or narrative merely because you have never seen the prime mover in it?’
‘But I didn’t say I discredited them on that account,’ said Mrs Snowdon. ‘You take one up so, Archie. I’m not logical and reasonable–I don’t pretend to be. If I meant anything, it was that a ghost story would have a great pull over other ghost stories if one could see the person it happened to. One does get rather provoked at never coming across him or her,’ she added, a little petulantly.
She was tired; they were all rather tired, for it was the first evening since the party had assembled at the large country house known as ‘The Quarries’, on which there was not to be dancing, with the additional fatigue of ‘ten miles there and ten back again’; and three or four evenings of such doings without intermission tell, even on the young and vigorous.
Tonight, various less energetic ways of passing the evening had been proposed. Music, games, reading aloud, recitation–none had found favour in everybody’s sight, and now Gladys Lloyd’s proposal that they should ‘tell ghost stories’, seemed likely to fall flat also.
For a moment or two no one answered Mrs Snowdon’s last remarks. Then, somewhat to everybody’s surprise, the young daughter of the house turned to her mother.
The Legend of Bluebeard is a centuries-old folk tale made popular in 1697 by fairy-tale author Charles Perrault. A classic example of psychological and serial-killer horror tropes, Bluebeard tells the tale of a rich nobleman who is also a violent killer, recognized, feared, and hated due in part to his blue beard—that, and, perhaps, the unnatural, rather macabre habit he has of brutally murdering and saving the corpses of his wives. Wife #8, though, is still alive when we come to the story.
One day, Bluebeard sets out on a little trip, leaving Wife #8 the keys to all the rooms in the castle—including the one room which he insists she never enter. We learn that Bluebeard subjected each of his former wives to the very same “key-to-the-forbidden-room test”. Wife #8, being unable to resist the temptation, becomes curious; so, she unlocks the door to the forbidden room.
The Horror! Inside, she discovers the tortured, mutilated corpses of Bluebeard’s former wives—some crumpled, some hanging, but all extremely dead. Wife #8 drops the key in her haste to leave the horrible room. When Bluebeard returns home, early, and discovers the key, he confronts Wife #8 about it and makes a promise to her that she will suffer the same fate as all of his previous wives.
(Art by Sae Jung Choi)
For your reading pleasure this Halloween weekend, here is a selection of ghost stories from the archive. (I’d suggest starting with either the Collier or the Gallant, both of which are brief and eerie.)
- “Mr. Mackenzie’s Last Hour,” by Sylvia Townshend Warner, March 5, 1949
- “Invitation to a Ghost,” by Richard Lockridge, September 9, 1950
- “Are You Too Late, Or Was I Too Early?,” by John Collier, April 14, 1951
- “A Private Ghost,” by Joyce Cary, November 10, 1956
- “Avizandum,” by Robert Henderson, September 2, 1967
- “From the Fifteenth District,” by Mavis Gallant, October 30, 1978
- “The Making of More Americans,” by Maxine Hong Kingston, February 11, 1980
- “Carried Away,” by Alice Munro, October 21, 1991
- “The Glass House,” by Chris Adrian, January 10, 2000
- “The Juniper Tree,” by Lorrie Moore, January 17, 2005
The entire stories—and the complete archives of The New Yorker, back to 1925—are available to digital subscribers. (Non-subscribers can purchase the individual digital issues.)
Courtesy: Jon Michaud, a novelist and head librarian at The Center for Fiction.