“The Ghost Stories We Tell Around Photon Fires” a Short Story by Cassandra Khaw (Apex Magazine, January 2018)

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The Ghost Stories We Tell Around Photon Fires

Cassandra Khaw, 2018

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Originally published in Gamut Magazine, 2017.

Be careful with trusting navigation systems. Sometimes they lie. They say there is a place where world ships go when they know the end is close. A prism of stars, ravenous, burning like abattoirs, striated by temporal anomalies and transcendentally sublime. If you go there, you’ll see leviathanic corpses suspended between asteroids belts, their bones polished to incandescence by solar winds and cosmic debris. But don’t get too close. Not every ship waits for its crew to evac first.

Still, if you make that mistake, all is not necessarily lost. If you’re quick enough and clever enough, if you can inject the right code, the right algorithms before the first revenants appear, chances are you’ll be fine. Ghosts, whether allegorical or discorporate victims of recursive timelines, only want space to sleep.

At least, that’s what they say.

§

“You don’t really believe there are ghosts, do you?” drawls Fatimah through a mouthful of cherry cola gum. The tips of her black hair are knife-frayed, stained cinnamon and lime.

Allen bristles. “There’s no empirical evidence—”

“There’s no empirical evidence that the sun isn’t secretly rainbow-colored either,” Fatimah retorts as she decants from her perch, an elegant motion, a gymnast’s descent. She sweeps thick hair from a sharp-boned face, eyes liquid and bored. Against her brown skin, the vintage headphones, meticulously maintained, gleam like the ferryman’s wages. “But you don’t see anyone complaining about that.”

He scowls. Fatimah grins. Were it not for the way she makes his pulse jackhammer against the membrane of his throat, the way her voice makes reason the exception, he wouldn’t tolerate her. Allen’s sure of that. Stupid crush, he thinks before Fatimah’s proximity devours all autonomy.

“You’re sweating.”

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“Before the Play”—The Lost Prologue to Stephen King’s novel, The Shining

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Alternative film poster for The Shining, a Stanley Kubrick film, 1980. Artist unknown. (Popbuzz.com)

“Before the Play” was originally part of the novel, The Shining, written by Stephen King and published in 1977; but, the Prologue never made it into the novel. It was published a few years later, separately, in August of 1982, in Whispers, Volume 5, Number 1-2.

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Scene 1: The Third Floor of a Resort Hotel Fallen Upon Hard Times

It was October 7, 1922, and the Overlook Hotel had closed its doors on the end of another season. When it re-opened in mid-May of 1923, it would be under new management. Two brothers named Clyde and Cecil Brandywine had bought it, good old boys from Texas with more old cattle money and new oil money than they knew what to do with.

Bob T. Watson stood at the huge picture window of the Presidential Suite and stared out at the climbing heights of the Rockies, where the aspens had now shaken most of their leaves, and hoped the Brandywine brothers would fail. Since 1915 the hotel had been owned by a man named James Parris. Parris had begun his professional life as a common shyster in 1880. One of his close friends rose to the presidency of a great western railroad, a robber baron among robber barons. Parris grew rich on his friend’s spoils, but had none of his friend’s colorful flamboyancy. Parris was a gray little man with an eye always turned to an inward set of accounting books. He would have sold the Overlook anyway, Bob T. Watson thought as he continued to stare out the window. The little shyster bastard just happened to drop dead before he got a chance.

The man who had sold the Overlook to James Parris had been Bob T. Watson himself. One of the last of the Western giants that arose in the years 1870-1905, Bob T. came from a family that had made a staggering fortune in silver around Placer, Colorado. They lost the fortune, rebuilt it in land speculation to the railroads, and lost most of it again in the depression of ’93-’94, when Bob T.’s father was gunned down in Denver by a man suspected of organizing.

Bob T. had rebuilt the fortune himself, single-handedly, in the years 1895 to 1905, and had begun searching then for something, some perfect thing, to cap his achievement. After two years of careful thought (during the interim he had bought himself a governor and a representative to the U.S. Congress), he had decided, in modest Watson fashion, to build the grandest resort hotel in America. It would stand at the roof of America, with nothing in the country at a higher altitude except the sky. It would be a playground of the national and international rich – the people that would be known three generations later as the super-rich.

Construction began in 1907, forty miles west of Sidewinder, Colorado, and supervised by Bob T. himself.

“And do you know what?” Bob T. said aloud in the third-floor suite, which was the grandest set of apartments in the grandest resort hotel in America. “Nothing ever went right after that. Nothing.”

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The Timberline Lodge in Mt. Hood, Oregon picture here, was the model for The Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s film, The Shining, 1982.

The Overlook had made him old. He had been forty-three when ground was broken in 1907, and when construction was completed two years later (but too late for them to be able to open the hotel’s doors until 1910), he was bald. He had developed an ulcer. One of his two sons, the one he had loved best, the one that had been destined to carry the Watson banner forward into the future, had died in a stupid riding accident. Boyd had tried to jump his pony over a pile of lumber where the topiary now was, and the pony had caught its back feet and broken its leg. Boyd had broken his neck.

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“The Lady’s Maid’s Bell”, a Chilling Vintage Ghost Story by Edith Wharton (Restless Spirits: Ghost Stories by Women 1872 – 1926)

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Antique Austrian “Tereszczuk” Lady’s bell crafted of ivory and bronze. (Pinterest)

The Lady’s Maid’s Bell

Edith Wharton, 1905
(1862 – 1936)

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“The Lady’s Maid’s Bell” originally appeared in a 1902 issue of Scribner’s Magazine.

0CC7EADF-B75C-4738-A503-D37EBCC19C47The author of novels, novellas, short stories, poetry, and travel books, Edith Wharton achieved both popular and critical acclaim during her lifetime. Born Edith Newbold Jones into the most exclusive New York society, she was educated at home by governesses. At age twenty-three she made a proper society marriage to Edward Wharton, scion of a prominent Boston family. Although she had early displayed writing talent, it had been discouraged, and her career did not get fully underway until she was thirty. Wharton’s marriage was never happy, and after her divorce in 1913 she took up permanent residence in France. A devotee of the ghost story, she claimed that “till I was twenty-seven or eight, I could not sleep in the room with a book containing a ghost-story,” and that “I have frequently had to burn books of this kind, because it frightened me to know that they were downstairs in the library!” Wharton’s ghost stories, among the finest of her time, provide chilling investigations of gender roles and relations. “The Lady’s Maid’s Bell” made its debut in Scribner’s Magazine in 1902. It most recently appeared in The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985).

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It was the autumn after I had the typhoid. I’d been three months in hospital, and when I came out I looked so weak and tottery that the two or three ladies I applied to were afraid to engage me. Most of my money was gone, and after I’d boarded for two months, hanging about the employment agencies, and answering any advertisement that looked any way respectable, I pretty nearly lost heart, for fretting hadn’t made me fatter, and I didn’t see why my luck should ever turn. It did thoughor I thought so at the time. A Mrs. Railton, a friend of the lady that first brought me out to the States, met me one day and stopped to speak to me: she was one that had always a friendly way with her. She asked me what ailed me to look so white, and when I told her, “Why, Hartley,” says she, “I believe I’ve got the very place for you. Come in tomorrow and we’ll talk about it.”

The next day, when I called, she told me the lady she’d in mind was a niece of hers, a Mrs. Brympton, a youngish lady, but something of an invalid, who lived all the year round at her country-place on the Hudson, owing to not being able to stand the fatigue of town life.

“Now, Hartley,” Mrs. Railton said, in that cheery way that always made me feel things must be going to take a turn for the better; “now understand me, it’s not a cheerful place I’m sending you to. The house is big and gloomy; my niece is nervous, vapourish; her husbandwell, he’s generally away; and the two children are dead. A year ago I would as soon have thought of shutting a rosy active girl like you into a vault, but you’re not particularly brisk yourself just now, are you? and a quiet place, with country air and wholesome food and early hours, ought to be the very thing for you. Don’t mistake me,” she added, for I suppose I looked a trifle downcast; “you may find it dull but you won’t be unhappy. My niece is an angel. Her former maid, who died last spring, had been with her twenty years and worshipped the ground she walked on. She’s a kind mistress to all, and where the mistress is kind, as you know, the servants are generally good-humoured, so you’ll probably get on well enough with the rest of the household. And you’re the very woman I want for my niece: quiet, well-mannered, and educated above your station. You read aloud well, I think? That’s a good thing; my niece likes to be read to. She wants a maid that can be something of a companion: her last was, and I can’t say how she misses her. It’s a lonely life . . . Well, have you decided?”

“Why, ma’am,” I said, “I’m not afraid of solitude.”

“Well, then, go; my niece will take you on my recommendation. I’ll telegraph her at once and you can take the afternoon train. She has no one to wait on her at present, and I don’t want you to lose any time.”

I was ready enough to start, yet something in me hung back; and to gain time I asked, “And the gentleman, ma’am?”

“The gentleman’s almost always away, I tell you,” said Mrs. Railton, quick-like”and when he’s there,” says she suddenly, “you’ve only to keep out of his way.”

I took the afternoon train and got out at D station at about four o’clock. A groom in a dog-cart was waiting, and we drove off at a smart pace.”

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Restless Spirits: Ghost Stories by American Women, 1872 – 1926, ed. by Catherine A. Lundie, TOC & Introduction

 

Above, right: “Once I tried to go back; but she turned and looked at me.”
Illustration by Walter Appleton Clark for Edith Wharton,
“The Lady’s Maid’s Bell,” Scribner’s Magazine 32 (1902).
(Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library)

Table of Contents

Introduction…1

I: Until Death Do Us Part . . . and After: Marriage
The Lady’s Maid’s Bell (1902)…Edith Wharton…27
The Readjustment (1908)…Mary Austin…46
The Shell of Sense (1908)…Olivia Howard Dunbar…52
Spunk (1925)…Zora Neale Hurston…62
A Legend of Sonora (1891)…Hildegarde Hawthorne…68

II: The Tie that Binds: Motherhood
The Children (1913)…Josephine Daskam Bacon…73
Broken Glass (1911)…Georgia Wood Pangborn…91
The Little Gray Ghost (1912)…Cornelia A. P. Comer…99
Hunger (1907)…Katharine Holland Brown…112
The Giant Wistaria (1891)…Charlotte Perkins Gilman…123

III: The “Other” Woman: Sexuality
At La Glorieuse (1898)…M. E. M. Davis…133
The Past (1920)…Ellen Glasgow…154
Secret Chambers (1909)…Mrs. Wilson Woodrow…175
Her Letters (1895)…Kate Chopin…192

IV: Madwomen or Mad Women? The Medicalization of the Female
The Second Wife (1912)…Mary Heaton Vorse…203
Her Story (1872)…Harriett Prescott Spoffor…217
The Gospel (1913)…Josephine Daskam Bacon…235
Clay-Shuttered Doors (1926)…Helen R. Hull…252

V: Shades of Discontent: Widows and Spinsters
Lois Benson’s Love Story (1890)…Anne Page…271
A Dissatisfied Soul (1904)…Annie Trumbull Slosson…284
Mistress Marian’s Light (1889)…Gertrude Morton…300
Luella Miller (1902)…Mary E. Wilkins Freeman…305

Introduction

“You’re wondering why I take this so cool, as if it wasn’t anything so much out of the common. . . . It appeared to come about so natural, just in the course of things. . . .”

– Annie Slosson, “A Dissatisfied Soul”

These homely words of explanation, spoken by Annie Slosson’s Mrs. Weaver about the day her dead sister-in-law walked through the front door, could stand as a motto for all of the tales collected here. In these ghost stories by turn-of-the-century American women, there is free and easy passage between the natural and supernatural worlds. This does not mean that the appearance of a ghost isn’t frightening; even the placid Mrs. Weaver feels “‘a swimmy feeling in my head and a choky feeling down my throat, and a sort of trembly feeling all over.'” Yet she sees no point in making a fuss: “‘I says, ‘Why, good-morning, Maria, you’ve come back.’ And she says, ‘Good-morning, Lyddy: yes, I have.'” Mrs. Weaver is not alone in her no-nonsense attitude toward the supernatural. Her emphasis on realism and the everyday ”’we sort of got used to it after a spell, as you do to anything'” is characteristic of most seers of ghosts in these stories. In the worldview espoused by the authors gathered here, the doors stand wide open between living and dead, present and past, natural and supernatural.

The present collection itself hopes to open a door into a part of America’s literary past that has been closed for the better part of a century. 1 Although aficionados of the ghost story will probably recognize the names of Edith Wharton, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and Ellen Glasgow, they will not likely be familiar with those of Gertrude Morton, M. E. M. Davis, or Anne Page. Yet these women, and others whose tales appear here, had enormous popular success with the ghost story in the turn-of-the-century United States.2 These authors contributed a uniquely feminist chapter to the annals of supernatural literature. Unlike most fiction produced during this heyday of the genre, with its male narrators, ghosts, and protagonists, American women’s ghost stories revolve very much around a female world. The narrative voice is (almost always) female, the characters are (almost entirely) female, even the ghosts are (almost without exception) female. Male characters are generally peripheral, because they show themselves to be antipathetic to the very possibility of the supernatural. As Mary Heaton Vorse’s Beata realizes with resignation in “The Second Wife,” her husband “couldn’t admit what he had seen. In his man’s world such things couldn’t be.”

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Listen to “4 More Creepy Old Lady Stories”, Read Aloud by G. M. Danielson

Click here to read “3 Creepy Old Lady Stories”…

Listen to “3 Creepy Old Lady Stories”, Read Aloud by G. M. Danielson

Click here to listen to “4 More Creepy Old Lady Stories” …

Tales from a Talking Board, a Horror Story Anthology, ed. by Ross E. Lockhart, Word Horde, 2017: Introduction & TOC

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Cover Art & Design by Yves Tourigny.

“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord.”

— Deuteronomy, Chapter 18, Verses 10–12, Holy Bible (New International Version)

“Ages 8 to Adult.”

— Ouija board packaging, 1972

Table of Contents

  • Other books by Ross E. Lockhart
  • Full Title Page
  • Frontmatter
  • Dedication
  • Epigram
  • A Brief History of Talking Boards – Ross E. Lockhart
  • “YesNoGoodbye” – Kristi DeMeester
  • The Devil and the Bugle Boys – J. M. McDermott
  • Weegee Weegee, Tell Me Do – Anya Martin
  • When The Evil Days Come Not – Nathan Carson
  • Grief – Tiffany Scandal
  • Spin the Throttle – David James Keaton
  • Pins – S.P. Miskowski
  • Deep into the skin – Matthew M. Bartlett
  • The Burnt Sugar Stench – Wendy N. Wagner
  • Worse than Demons – Scott R Jones
  • The Empress and the Three of Swords – Amber-Rose Reed
  • Questions and Answers – David Templeton
  • Haruspicate or Scry – Orrin Grey
  • May You Live In Interesting Times – Nadia Bulkin
  • Copyright Acknowledgments
  • About the Editor

Introduction: A Brief History of Talking Boards by Ross E. Lockhart

Not long before the Civil War, a movement swept across the United States, one that held the belief that not only did the soul continue to exist after the death of the body, but that these souls, these spirits, could be communicated with, and could impart wisdom, warnings, and pathways to better connect the living with a supernatural, infinite intelligence. This movement, known as Spiritualism, flourished, boasting nearly eight million followers worldwide by the turn of the twentieth century, despite holding no central doctrine, no canonical texts, and no formal organization. Initially appearing in upstate New York, birthplace of religious movements such as Millerism, Adventism, and Mormonism, Spiritualism boasted its celebrities—the Fox Sisters, Cora L. V. Scott, Achsa W. Sprague, and Paschal Beverly Randolph, to name a few—but a big part of its appeal was its promise to put the power of spirit communication into the hands of its adherents. Advancing technology and American entrepreneurial spirit intervened, and complex divinatory systems like spirit cabinets, table turnings, and alphabetical knockings soon gave way to simpler, more foolproof methods. First came the planchette in 1853, a “little plank” of heart-shaped wood with a pencil incorporated, a means of channeling spirits through automatic writing.

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